Eric Asimov of the New York Times has a brief but interesting report on some Austrian Blaufrankisch wines. He makes the very good point, which I agree with whole-heartedly, that Blaufrankisch is best when made in a lighter, more elegant style, rather than a super-ripe, super-extracted, ‘international’ style. I don’t drink that much of the stuff these days (Gernot my old friend, why did you have to leave us? We all miss you and your excellent taste in wines, please visit), but those I have had always seemed best when they were elegant, refined and more expressive of where they come from.
Some grape varieties lend themselves very well to making bigger, more international wines. There is nothing wrong with making wines like this from grapes and regions that can manage it; a lot of people love that style and good luck to them. However, this is not a recipe for success everywhere with any grape. These days it would be technically possible to harvest, with the right clones and vineyard management, obscenely ripe Gamay in Beaujolais, make it in an extractive style with rotary fermenters, season it with some expensive oak and push it as ‘new wave Beaujolais’. But it would be disgusting. Gamay is just not up to managing such international-style winemaking treatments.
You probably would not be surprised to learn I also think that the wonderful, wonderful grape Pinot Noir should not be treated in such a manner. If you’ve ever had a super-ripe Australian Pinot that just smells of Bovril mixed with HP Sauce, or a 15.5+% monster from California which has had all character apart from jamminess baked out of it you should realise that Pinot needs a light hand. I’ve had truly vile Australian Pinot that has been blended with the world’s ripest Shiraz grapes; a waste of both grapes. Some consultant oenologists in the US will suggest to their clients that they blend a proportion of Zinfandel in with their Pinot in the hope of scoring lots of points (although it is unlikely a winery will admit doing this). Again this misses the point of Pinot and, if you ask me, of Zinfandel too*. The Pernand-Vergelesses we had with our lovely friends last night shows the utter ravishing beauty and vast amounts of pleasure that light to medium-bodied Pinot can, and should, be delivering. Sure, Burgundy Grand Crus or the best producers in warmer regions (I love the Californian single-vineyard Pinots from Calera and that brilliant Australian geezer Gary Farr’s lovely Geelong Pinots) will produce somewhat more powerful wines, but Pinot is always about elegance and refinement. Beauty is a marvellous thing, as I hope you would all agree.
Back to Blaufrankisch. I’m out of the loop with decent producers these days so if any of my dear and much-appreciated readers are more up-to-date with what I should be looking out for then please let us all know in a comment.
*Californian Zinfandel can have so much personality, even when it is quite large scale, all of that lovely brambly fruit and power is a lot of fun. Big Zin is clearly a regional style unique to California and if people are growing the stuff they should be celebrating their fortune at being able to produce a properly Californian wine. As Paul Draper of Ridge has conclusively demonstrated, there are more sympathetic grapes that can live in Zin with far more harmony and the arranged and frankly scandalous marriage of Zinfandel and Pinot.