Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2017: Day 14

14 12 2017

By Raymond Lamontagne

We’re back in DAC. The Old World classics continue to roll with an Austrian red, and I’m on deck for my third Austrian wine of the blogging campaign. The Calgary wine scene has seen a recent proliferation of Austrian sips, many natural or biodynamic, and the vast majority that I’ve sampled are charming, characterful, and delicious. A few have been stunningly superb. The entry level Krutzler Eisenberg Blaufrankisch is a textbook example that the winemaker describes as a “people’s wine”:  uncomplicated, approachable, congenial, and Krutzler’s best seller, yet still hearty enough to pair with richer meals. This is the Reserve, however.

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I wonder if its Austria??

Blaufrankisch is often deemed “the Pinot Noir of the East” due to its proliferation across Eastern Europe and presumably also its taste characteristics. I can see the analogy, although to my palate, crossing partner St. Laurent often seems more quintessentially “Pinot”. Blaufrankisch can yield densely tannic wines (see Fox Run’s offering from the Finger Lakes, NY, which was sublimely floral but excoriated my tongue). This young impetuosity often gives way to a velvety mouthfeel and deep cherry and woodland berry flavors with age, while retaining a pronounced acidity. So yes … A Pinot relative at least in spirit.

One of Blaufrankisch’s parents is the fascinating Gouais Blanc. Gouais is a vinous Genghis Khan: decried as a barbarian, but sowing its seed far and wide. This white grape was deemed coarse and far too rustic, banished to the hinterlands early in the Middle Ages. This ill will almost rendered it extinct. Gouais did however have ample opportunity to cross with Pinot numerous times, perhaps imbuing the latter with some degree of hybrid vigour, and those crosses live on as some of the top wine grapes in the world today (Gamay and Chardonnay!). Fortunately extinction was forestalled and Gouais persists as a prime source of genetic diversity, if not a stellar offering in the glass. The other parent of Blaufrankisch is the ultra-rare Blaue Zimmettraube, recently re-discovered in the German Rheinhessen region. Most evidence suggests that Blaufrankisch itself originated in Lower Styria (in present day Slovenia), spreading to Germany (where it is called Lemberger, the name also used in NY and other US states), the Czech Republic (where it is called Frankovka), Slovakia, Croatia, Serbia, and even Italy. Finally, Blaufrankisch is a rising star in Hungary, where it goes by the pert handle “Kekfrankos”. Some claim that these names lack market appeal. I say slap on an appropriately Gothic font and let the flavours speak for themselves. Besides, “Lemberger” sounds like a cheese.

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Great economy of space on this label!

The Eisenberg DAC sits in the deep south of the large Burgenland region. The Eisenberg hill itself is the focal point, covered with crystalline rocks and slate soils that are high in iron. The area was indeed an iron ore mine in Roman times. Although the exact mechanisms by which soil characteristics impart flavor remain mysterious (and rather controversial), wines from the Eisenberg are said to display a unique spicy note “found nowhere else”, a fine minerality, concise fruit, and an intricate, so-called “charming” tannic structure. Hot days and cool nights keep acidity levels constant and longer grape hang times contribute to complexity on the palate. The present offering is intended for cellaring, but I am enticed by the prospect of having to drink it now. Reinhold Krutzler himself represents this estate’s fifth generation. The estate includes 12 hectares of vines, largely devoted to Blaufrankisch. The Krutzler website is concise, well-organized, matter of fact, and devoid of puffery and references to moon goddesses and the like, although a clear commitment to quality shines though. I speculate that this spartan vibe conveys the winemaking ethos as well: keep it simple and take a no frills approach, letting the grapes and terrior reveal themselves with minimal BS. No cultured yeast is used. Grapes for the Reserve hail from 15 to 30 year old vines. Malolactic fermentation occurs in steel, followed by 17 months aging in a combination of large oak barrels and steel tanks; this DAC specifies little or no oaky character.

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Read up on Blaufrankisch and its obscure parents.

So this is one earthy wine. Wow. The nose suggests cherry throat lozenges, new baseball glove, damp black humus (or potting soil), raspberry canes, black plums, potpourri, and a looming cairn of stones. More fruit emerges with time: black cherries (but still mentholated black cherries), tart plums, raw blackcurrants, cranberries. I’m still thinking about granite boulders, and maybe a trail of black powder that someone could light to blow up said stack of boulders. Herbs that recall resins and even a little tar … marjoram and ajowan seeds (that’s a weird note, but legitimately). One wonders what this will be like down the line, but damn. Its a straight up “Blauspankish” right now, and not in a bad way. Keeping it rated-G, I’m having the experience of rather bold yet intricate tannins somehow being tempered by the monolithic minerality and a fruitiness that is forcing its way up through the bedrock. This is muscular and puissant but very poised. I suspect over the coming years it will reveal more of itself. Drinking it now is like a surprisingly pleasant wrestle with a golem. But a lordly golem.

91+ points

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Cork Rating:  8.5/10. I’m a sucker for the animal imagery.

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