Austrian Wine Adventures – Part 7; Blaufränkischland



“Urknall,” Alfred says. “You know, the start of universe, the big bang theory.”

“This is the German word for it, Urknall.”

The surroundings are just dreamlike. We’re sitting in a saint-like memorial place just outside Horitschon, an oasis in the middle of a vineyard. In one corner there’s a statue. Maybe the local patron saint protecting the vineyards? Anyhow, this is Mittelburgenland – or as it also is known as; Blaufränkischland.

A weak breath of air. Tasting wine outside can be difficult but not now. Not with the 2009 Urknall in the glass.

“I took over from my parents in 2004,” Alfred explains. “My father wanted to sell our small vineyard but when I heard about his plans I returned from Vienna.”

“I’m a painter but didn’t want to see the family vineyard being sold. Now I’m combining the two professions.”

It’s easy to behold the artist when tasting the Urknall. No, I don’t have have prejudiced thoughts about artists, but Alfred is genuine. He radiates of it. Therefore it feels like an ‘of course’ when he tells us, his vineyards are organically practiced since 2006. No herbicides. No fungicides. No insecticides. Furthermore, his labels are hand made of felt, Alfred’s own design.

In addition to his artistry and organicially treated vineyards, Alfred Moritz also experiments with untraditional cask ageing. Besides the classic oak casks, he also tries cherry barrique and chestnut. And why shouldn’t he? The region is crowded with cherry trees.

“You have to be very careful though,” Alfred explains. “The wine can easily be steamrolled by the dominant cherry casks. At one occasion I quickly had to pump over the wine when I noticed it was going the wrong direction,” Alfred explains and laughs at the same time.

Lebendig. Erdig. Echt. That are the words of Alfred Moritz.

Alfred Moritz, owner of the Rotweinbau Moritz, represents one part of the Horitschon producers; so does the guy sitting next to him, at the local patron saint place. Michael Lehrner, from the Weingut Iby-Lehrner, is in a way the total opposite to Alfred Moritz. And then not at all. Michael is trained at Klosterneuburg and has besides his enology training, also worked in South Africa. Michael goes for a modern approach, “I want to produce wines that has a clear style and are recognizable,” he says.

We jump in to the car and goes to Horitschon, to visit Michael’s production centre and taste some of his wines. He’s the third generation, taking over from his grandfather some years ago. We’re tasting the wines of Iby-Lehrner – Blaufränkisch, Zweigelt and some blends as well. They are in total contrast to the Moritz wines but both of the wineries still represents a new way of thinking – and approaching wine production – so that in some extent they are the same. Questioning the tradition, taking advantage of the tradition, curiosity and looking at other countries way of making wine.

“I keep a reference library in my own cellar,” Micheal says and shows us his collection of wines from all over the world. “You need to taste others to understand what you can achieve yourself,” he says.

At Iby-Lehrner it is more about using modern technology, new barrique (not all wines of course) and adapting that to the Mittelburgenland style. None of the two guys shows any action to diminish the typicity of the region in their wines. After all, this is Blaufränkischland and the pride is evident.

Michael brings us a cask sample of the 2009 Cuvée Prelude, a blend consisting of 50 per cent Blaufränkisch, 20 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon, 20 per cent Merlot and the rest being Zweigelt. It’s a good glass, really good. The 2009 is an outstanding vintage in the region and this just confirms what one can expect.

“The 2008 is a cooler year, with more difficulties along the way,” Michael explains, “but the 2009 vintage was just a great one, calling for little intervention.”

Besides Horitschon the main wine villages of Mittelburgenland are Deutschkreutz, Lutzmannsburg and Neckenmarkt. The DAC consists of roughly 2,000 ha of cultivated land and yes, the Blaufränkisch rules, backed up by Zweigelt and some more internationally recognized grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. As a red wine producing region, Mittelburgenland is a relative newcomer, starting around thirty years ago. The region is protected by hills from three sides; in the west is the Bucklige Welt, in the south is the Günser Gebirge and in the north is the Ödenburger Gebirge. Consequently, the warm wind from the Pannonian plain in the east, will stay in the region and promote viticulture. The soil consists mainly of deep, heavy clay with the ability to store – and absorb – water. A good feature in the hotter and drier years.

Mittelburgenland is the easternmost province of the country, close to Hungary. The DAC, that is Districtus Austriae Controllatus, was introduced in 2006 to market wines of regional typicity. A Mittelburgenland DAC needs to reach a minimum alcohol of 12,5 per cent and may only have a maximum residual sugar level of 2,5 grams per litre.

We’re invited to Alfred Moritz for a dinner and besides him, Michael Lehrner from Iby-Lehrner, Daniel Bauer from Bauer-Pöltl and Franz Reinhard Weninger from Weninger joins us. And everyone brings a bunch of their wines.

We end up talking with Franz Reinhard Weninger, a man with a clear vision and determined thoughts. Amongst many topics, we’re having one especially interesting one; why Blaufränkisch wines never receive top scores by the established wine critics. Why? Simple, according to the young winemaker; the wines diverge too much from the patterns of what is narrowed down to a great wine. Having tasted a lot of Blaufränkisch, I can only endorse his thoughts. Blaufränkisch ages beautifully, offers classy acidity, restrained fruit and mineral feel – and lots of personality. And yes, it can challenge at the top as well!

Next part of the Austrian wine adventures continues exploring Mittelburgenland with more detailed notes from several producers.

PS. Have you missed any of the previous parts of my journey through Carnuntum and Burgenland? Like what you read? Then click here for part 6, part 5, part 4, part 3, part 2 and part 1.

PS.2. Blaufränkisch as a single variety and even single vineyard vs Blaufränkisch in a blend? It all comes down to what style you prefer.