Yesterday it was a Rhône white in McLaren Vale, this time it’s an Austrian red, in Austria, but made by an Australian. Yes, I am doing my part in upholding the difficulty in learning about wine by drawing attention to yet another bit of quirkiness rather than covering the basics, and with that I bring you Blaufränkisch Austrian Wine by Mac Forbes 2009.
But before I begin, I need to relate a sad tale of some students who faced the WSET Diploma Unit 3 exam in January of 2011, a year before I did. They were given this question:
Assess Austria’s strengths and weaknesses as a producer of still, light wines.
The Examiners’ Report (which is always something of a snarky document, to be honest) published after the exam was administered had this to say:
A number of candidates failed this question because in the heat of the moment they misread it and wrote an essay about Australia rather than Austria. This was a heavy price to pay for a lapse in concentration and was particularly foolish as the next question WAS on Australia, and common sense should have told them that there would not be two questions on Australia on the same paper.
The moral of the story is that Austria and Australia are not the same, and that the penalty for confusing them can be quite severe. With that in mind, we have an Austrian wine, made from an Austrian grape variety, by an Australian.
I covered an Austrian rosé Blaufränkisch back in December, but as is the case with many of my pre-exam posts, I didn’t say a whole lot about the grape, region or producer. (However, on the Australia question on the exam I took, I wrote about the right country so I passed.) So let’s start with the grape itself. Around here, Blaufränkisch is generally considered the Austrian red, which I think is because there is a local Australian producer, Hahndorf Hill Winery, making Blaufränkisch so it’s not completely (though mostly) unknown to Australian consumers. Zweigelt, on the other hand, actually is the most widely planted red in Austria, but
I know of none grown in Australia and I’ve only ever seen one imported, and it was from the same producer as the aforementioned rosé Blaufränkisch. [Larry Jacobs of Hahndorf Hill Winery left a comment that he has some Zweigelt vines and will be producing a rosé this year. I will have to give it a try.]
As a grape, it’s dark skinned, early budding and late ripening, which to my mind makes it a curious choice for Austria as it needs a relatively long ripening period. It’s prone to frost damage in the spring, but is generally vigorous and capable of high yields.
As a wine, it delivers in the acidity and tannin departments and takes oak well, making it a good candidate for extended maturation. It can also have a light to medium body, which goes some way to explain that historically it was thought to be the same grape as Gamay. Plantings of it in Austria have increased by 22% from 1999 to 2009, so it may be on the verge of having its fashion moment.
I didn’t get a photo of the back of the bottle but it seems this wine comes from the Carnuntum district of Austria, which is situated between Vienna and Slovakia, along the south bank of the river Danube. (The OCW says it’s along the north bank, but it looks like the south on the maps.) The climate of Austria in general is coolish continental, with cold winters and hot summers, though in Carnuntum they are mitigated both by the river and the Neusiedlersee (Lake Neusiedl) to the south. According to the excellent Austrian Wine website, the “soil structures consist mostly of stony, dense loam and loess or sand and gravel”.
As for Mac Forbes the producer, it is headed by the eponymous winemaker, who is highly regarded in Australia, having been nominated for Gourmet Traveler Winemaker of the Year recently. He worked his first vintage in France, and after some time hopping between Europe and Australia, he returned to the Yarra Valley to make his own wine, starting with a 2005 vintage. In Australia, he began by specializing in single vineyard Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays. He’s since expanded into Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz in the Yarra Valley, as well as Riesling in the Strathbogie Ranges, also in Victoria. In addition, he’s produced what he terms “Project Wines” which include a King Valley Barbera, a Yarra Valley Arneis, and a Tasmanian Riesling. In September 2010 he started planting Blaufränkisch in the Yarra Valley, and in December 2011 undertook planting of Grüner Veltliner in Strathbogie Ranges.
Obviously, Mac Forbes has a soft spot for Austria, where apparently he’s sought after as a winemaking consultant, and he counts among his “Project Wines” two that he produces there: a Grüner Veltliner and this Blaufränkisch.
Speaking of which, this wine had a blood red colour that was a bit deeper than medium but by no means opaque. On the nose it was clean and developing, with fairly intense notes of black pepper and black cherry. The palate was dry, with medium body, medium minus sticky tannins, medium alcohol, medium plus acidity, and medium plus intensity. There were notes of iodine, cranberry, cherry, black pepper, and an interesting sour plum finish of medium plus length.
This is a very good quality wine. It ticked a lot of boxes for me in terms of a good variety of complex flavours on the palate, and high levels of intensity throughout. I also liked that it was a fairly light body, not because that’s something I always want, but when I do want it there seems to be little choice these days in terms of lighter reds. And while I’ll be sad when Hahndorf Hill Winery loses its monopoly on Australian grown Blaufränkisch, I’m really looking forward to seeing what Mac Forbes can do with it in the Yarra Valley.
Pin in the map is approximate – it’s what comes up for Carnuntum on Google Maps. However, it’s closer to the vineyard than using the Australian address in Healesville, Victoria.