Monday, January 14, 2013

Mapping New Territory

It’s my pleasure to welcome my long-time friend and certified wine professional, Durella Degrasse, back to Book Blather. How about a lovely glass of Austrian wine along with your current read?

If you’re one who looks for new adventures in wine tasting, some day you may walk into a wine store and see some or all of these words:  Blaufrankisch, St. Laurent and Zweigelt.  These Austrian reds will reward you with a sense of adventure!  It’s just more evidence of the bounty of interesting, distinctive, world-wide wines ever more available to consumers.

Burgenland is Austria’s second largest wine region after Lower Austria.  Burgenland huddles against Hungary on the far eastern border.  It is mostly known for its opulent sweet wines, but some remarkable, assertive reds also come from here.  Though decent red wine has a long-established foundation here, superb red wine is rare and a more recent phenomenon.  Quality improved in the mid-1980s as advanced winemaking techniques and improved vineyard practices became the standard by young professionals.

The foremost red grape is blaufrankisch and when it is good, it can become a daring wine, suffused with the unusual flavor of raspberries dusted with white pepper.  In texture, the wine’s crushed-velvet softness and juiciness are reminiscent of the best California zinfandels.  This grape variety is known and grown in my home state of Washington as lemberger.  Hungarian growers who first planted it in British Columbia brought Lemberger to the United States from central Europe in the early twentieth century.  From there, it was introduced to Washington State in the early 1940s. 

The St. Laurent grape is related to pinot noir and Zweigelt is a cross between St. Laurent and blaufrankisch.  What these three red grapes from Burgenland have in common is they look dark and smell dark and spicy, bursting with blueberry and blackberry fruit as well as some juicy plums.  One would think these are big red wines from the look and the nose.  However, in the mouth they are surprisingly light-bodied.  They can offer tastes of sage, tarragon, and other spices, sometimes along with some licorice.  In addition to having an authentic sense of place, these wines were made for food.  Some foods that you can pair with any of the three Austrian reds:  game, black bread, venison, foie gras pate, rabbit stew, veal stew, sauerkraut, oily fish, mushrooms, curried lentils.  Though these are unusual food pairings, the Burgenland reds from Austria offer unusual tastes, but are very approachable and easy.  So keep an open mind and a sense of adventure in trying any new wine.

Cheers and Happy New 2013.

Durella DeGrasse
Certified Wine Professional

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