Imagine a grape variety that gives you the silkiness and grace of pinot noir; the dark fruits, pepper, and floral notes of syrah; and the joyous lift and moderate alcohol of gamay. This grape shares nebbiolo’s knack for making a variety of wines–everything from easy everyday wines to important site-specific ones, not to mention singular rosés and sparkling wines. And, to make it even more palatable, it boasts an appealing quality-to-price ratio, with most coming in at under $25. Voilà: we give you blaufränkisch!

The best-known name of the grape, blaufränkisch, gives us an idea of its pedigree: From the Middle Ages onward, German-speaking peoples used variations of fränkisch (“from Franconia”) to distinguish higher-quality from run-of-the-mill varieties. Blaufränkisch is the name that’s used in Austria, which is the most important source of quality wines made from the variety. But there are lots of synonyms, depending on where it’s grown: kékfrankos in Hungary, limberger/lemberger in Germany, borgonja in Croatia, and gamé in Bulgaria, among others. (I’m not the only one to have noticed the partial resemblances to pinot noir and gamay!)


Whatever you call the grape, the wines made from it are as much fun to pair with food as they are to drink, thanks to their lively acidity, moderate alcohol, and judicious dollop of fruitiness. Start with the dishes you love to eat with pinot noir or syrah, especially savory things like mushrooms, tomatoes, sausages, and smoked meats. Then dial up the spices if you want: paprika, barbecue sauce, capsicum…. If you’re up for going Hungarian-style native, importer Eric Danch suggests offal (“bloody, minerally stuff”), culminating with kakashere pörkölt (rooster testicle stew). Back here in the Bay Area, experiment with izakaya plates: grilled and fried bites, pickled vegetables, and the like.

Here are eight examples of this variety from Paul Marcus Wines. (Continue reading for a special discount.)

2020 Pfneisl Blaufränker 1-liter [Austria]

Sisters Birgit and Katrin Pfneisl farm their family’s certified organic vineyards in eastern Austria, near the border with Hungary, and make this deliciously gulpable blaufränkisch. The wine is light, fresh, fruity, and just 12 percent alcohol. Chill it for 20 minutes to enhance all of these qualities. It’s great for barbecues, picnics, and camping–the full-liter bottle is finished with a screw cap, for easy access.

2019 Schreiner Blaufränkisch Burgenland – Rust [Austria]

Gernot and Victoria Schreiner practice certified organic farming in their hometown of Rust, on the western shores of Lake Neusiedl. This wine is from a parcel called Gemärk (limestone, sand, and sandstone). It’s aged in large, old oak casks for 14 months and is classic Burgenland blaufränkisch: inky black and blue fruits without heaviness and with a pleasing bitter hint. At 12.4 percent alcohol, it’s lively, fresh, and fun, yet with a serious, elegant side.

2017 Burg Ravensburg Blaufränkisch Sulzfeld [Germany]

Here’s a German example of blaufränkisch/lemberger. It’s perhaps a little higher-toned than the Austrian and Hungarian versions, with especially bright acidity. The grapes are farmed organically, and the wine comes in at 12.5 percent alcohol.

2017 Stumpf Pinceszet Kékfrankos Nagy-Eged [Hungary]

Father János and son Péter Stumpf dry-farm 20 hectares of vines in the Eger appellation of Hungary, halfway between Budapest and Tokaj. This wine is from 40-50-year-old vines. Nagy-Eged means “Eged Mountain,” and it’s the highest-altitude red-wine vineyard in Hungary. The wine is aged for 20 months in 500-liter acacia and Hungarian oak barrels and bottled unfined and unfiltered. The only addition is a small amount of SO2 at bottling. This is a kékfrankos that’s sophisticated and even a touch flashy, with dark fruit and noteworthy structure. It gains complexity with bottle age.

2020 Wetzer Kékfrankos [Hungary]

Peter Wetzer is a producer in the appellation of Sopron, right next to the border with Austria. His kékfrankos is a blend of several organically farmed 40-50-year-old vineyards, with loam, limestone, and mica-schist soils. Fermentation is in open vats and aging in used 500-liter Hungarian oak barrels. It’s bottled unfined and unfiltered, with a small addition of sulfur. Vivid dark fruits are etched with vibrant minerality and acidity. This is a lot of wine for the money.

2019 Moric Blaufränkisch Burgenland [Austria]

Roland Velich started Moric (MOR-itz) in 2001 with the goal of doing with blaufränkisch in Burgenland what producers have achieved with pinot noir in Burgundy, syrah in the Northern Rhône, and nebbiolo in the Langhe. (Read Alder Yarrow’s article “MORIC: The Apogee of Blaufränkisch.”) This wine is from 10-50-year-old vines growing in limestone, primary rock, and loam. Farming is uncertified organic, and fermentation is with indigenous yeasts in open vats and steel tank. Aging is in a combination of barrels ranging from 600 to 4,500 liters in size. No fining or filtration and minimal SO2 added at bottling. This is a super-classy wine that manages to be both impressive and understated at the same time.

2017 Karner Vitézföld Kékfrankos [Hungary]

Here is the wild and kinky side of kékfrankos. Gábor Karner is the godfather of natural wine in northeast Hungary (as well as a progressive metal drummer with the band Æbsence). His daughter Fanni works with him in the wine region of Matrá, between Budapest and Tokaj. Their wine is from the organically farmed single vineyard Vitézföld (“the good soldier’s land”). It sees one week of maceration and then 18 months of aging in stainless steel. Unfined, unfiltered, and no additions of any kind, including SO2 (ØØ). This is a serious natural wine: concentrated and complex, while walking the line between sauvage and fine.

2021 Kobal Blaufränkisch Pét-Nat Rosé Bajta [Slovenia]

We’ll finish–but maybe you should start–with an utterly hedonistic fizzy pink wine from Lower Styria (Štajerska) in Slovenia. Four hours of skin contact give the electric-pink color. Fermentation finishes in the bottle, resulting in a wine that’s juicy, yeasty, fruity, and exuberant–the opposite of serious!

Special Offer
Take 10 percent off any three or more blaufränkisch/kékfrankos that you buy through April 15th. The offer is mix-and-match: three different wines, three of the same thing, or anything in between. Use discount code frankish10 (no “c”) if you shop at our online store.

Last month, I wrote about dry wines (and one sweet ringer) from Tokaj, in northeast Hungary. This month, we’ll fan out into other Hungarian wine regions and explore more of the dazzling plethora of characterful indigenous grapes, wine regions (many of them, like Tokaj, with volcanic soils), and small, family-run producers.

Most Hungarian white wines offer some body and texture, along with prominent acidity and minerality. They’re also low in alcohol; all but one of the wines presented here are under 13 percent. Don’t let the unfamiliar words on the labels scare you off: I’ve included some pronunciation guidance below, and in any case, the proof is in the glass. If you love French, Italian, Iberian, and higher-acid domestic white wines, these wines will expand your horizons and add a new dimension to your meals (or Zoom happy hours).

Hungary Wine Map

The Hungarian wine appellations mentioned in this article (plus Tokaj, from last month’s article).

2013 Fekete Béla Somló Hárslevelű ($23)

Somló (SHOWM-low) is a wine appellation in western Hungary, not too far from the border with Austria–a low volcanic mountain rising out of the plain. Fekete Béla is by local acclaim the “Grand Old Man” of the appellation. This very wine is the last vintage that he made before retiring in his 90s. Hárslevelű (harsh-LEV-el-oo) is the grape variety, a genetic offspring of furmint that’s more aromatic and a little softer in structure.

This wine is aged in large Hungarian oak casks for two years before bottling. The nose is a festival of dried herbs, with some dried flowers playing supporting roles. There are lots of texture and body, plus a hint of sweetness, with just enough balancing acidity and a whisper of bitterness. Those who like aged Sancerre will enjoy this. And how often do you get to drink seven-year-old Hárslevelű?! Try it with herb-y pizza or pasta sauce, or just on its own at the end of a meal, maybe with an herb-crusted semi-aged cheese. (13.5 percent alcohol)

2017 Sziegl Pince Hajós-Baja Olaszrizling Birtokbor ($22)

Hajós-Baja (HI-yosh-BYE-uh) is located in southern Hungary, near Serbia. Olaszrizling (OH-loss-reez-ling), called welschriesling or riesling italico in other countries, has no genetic relationship to true riesling. It’s widely planted throughout Eastern Europe and the most widely planted white variety in Hungary. The Sziegl family started their winery in 2012, with husband Balázs in the vineyards and wife Petra running the cellar and making the wine–a new generation following the old Hungarian custom of men working in the vineyards and women running the cellars. (Pince (PEEN-sa) means cellar; it’s a word you see frequently on Hungarian labels.)

Their olaszrizling is bright, mineral, and slightly herbal, with medium body and mouthwatering acidity. It leans more toward grüner veltliner than toward riesling. GV fans, among others, should check it out. Drink it with all of those green things that you’re inclined to eat with grüner veltliner or sauvignon blanc: artichokes, green beans, basil, arugula pesto… (12.5 percent alcohol)

2018 Losonci Mátra Riesling [skin contact] ($22)

This winery, run by Bálint Losonci (low-SHOWN-see), is in the volcanic appellation of Mátra, in north-central Hungary, between Budapest and Tokaj. He and a few other likeminded small producers are rehabilitating the reputation of Mátra from decades of Communist-era industrial farming and winemaking. Bálint farms organically and works naturally in the cellar, favoring skin contact for the white wines, no filtering, and only minimal SO2 addition at bottling. All of the wines benefit from naturally high acidity due to the crazy mix of volcanic, iron-rich clay, and chalky soils in the vineyards.

This wine is true riesling–not olaszrizling—but utterly unlike any you’ve had, thanks to the soils and a week of skin contact. It’s the other end of the spectrum from a Mosel (German) riesling: spicy, smoky, redolent, textured, and powerful, yet still without overt weight or alcohol, and of course completely dry. If you love riesling, you need to try this wine–and if you don’t, you probably should try it, too, because it’s so atypical. Smoked oysters, spring rolls, kolbasz (the Hungarian version of kielbasa), and barbecue all leap to mind. My wife and I also enjoyed it with a bunch of Vietnamese dishes from Tay Ho in downtown Oakland–yes, that’s a plug. (12.5 percent alcohol)

2017 VáliBor Badacsony Kéknyelű ($32)

Kéknyelű (cake-NYAY-loo) is the grape variety, of which there are 41 hectares (100 acres) in existence, all of them in Badacsony (BOD-ah-chah-nya), a region on the northern shores of Lake Balaton in western Hungary. The producer, Péter Váli, has the perfect description of this wine: “It tastes like frosted basalt rocks.” There’s a smoky, flinty minerality. It’s textural, but with knife-edge acidity. This is a special wine; it’s age-worthy, and also drinking great now. Chablis drinkers will love it–and it offers Premier Cru quality at a Village-level price. Think oysters, Petrale sole, and shrimp risotto. (12 percent alcohol)

 

2018 Losonci Mátra Pinot Gris [skin contact] ($23)

Here’s another skin-contact white (or, more properly, gray/gris/grigio) from Bálint Losonci in Mátra. Three weeks of skin contact give a medium rosé color and extravagantly spicy nose with minerals, rocks, and baking spices. Aficionados of skin-contact white wines, step right up: This is your (dry) jam. There’s some tannin, so pair it with proteins: Meats (pork, chicken, tacos al pastor) and hard cheeses work well. Or, if you like a gentle tannic twang unadulterated, go for it. (12.5 percent alcohol)

 

 

Many thanks to Eric Danch of Danch & Granger Selections, the importer and distributor of all of these wines, for his help with this article.

Hungary Wine Map

Vinum Regum, Rex Vinorum (“Wine of Kings, King of Wines”) was the famously enthusiastic pronouncement by King Louis XV as he proffered a glass of Hungarian Tokaji to Madame de Pompadour, the official chief mistress of his court. (Yes, that was a real position in Ancien Régime France.) Louis and his main squeeze were enjoying a sweet wine in the mid-18th century. Though traditional Tokaji remains among the noblest sweet wines in the world, the habits and attention of most of us–noble, bourgeois, and plebs alike–have turned to dry wines.

Luckily for us, modern Hungary is here to help, with a dazzling plethora of characterful indigenous grapes. The white wines tend to have some body and texture, along with prominent acidity and minerality. They’re also low-alcohol; all of the wines presented here are under 13 percent. The words on the labels may be unfamiliar and a little challenging to pronounce, but don’t let that scare you off. With a wide array of wine regions (many of them with volcanic soils) and small, family-run producers, Hungary offers so much to discover and enjoy for those of us who love French, Italian, Iberian, and domestic white wines.

This month, we’ll discuss white wines from Tokaj (TOKE-eye), in northeast Hungary, with a little chunk of Slovakia. (Tokaj is the name of the region; Tokaji is the wine from that region.) Next month, we’ll cover white wines from four other Hungarian wine regions.

2018 Bodrog Borműhely Dry Tokaj ($16)

Bodrog is the main river running through Tokaj, and Borműhely (bor-MEW-hay) means “wine workshop.” This wine, made with 70 percent furmint and 30 percent hárslevelű (Tokaj’s two most important grapes), is organically farmed, then fermented and aged in stainless steel. Salty, high acid, and fully dry, with some texture, it’s utterly delicious and an outrageous deal for an organic wine of this quality and character. If you enjoy fresh, young Loire Valley chenin blanc, give this a try. Drink it with clams, chicken, or something spicy, or even as an aperitif if you like something with a little body. (12.5 percent alcohol)

2018 Tokaj Nobilis Furmint Barakonyi ($24)

This wine is all furmint, the most noble variety in Hungary and the backbone of most Tokaji, whether dry or sweet. Tokaj native Sarolta Bárdos created this family winery in 1999, and her vineyards are also certified organic. She is among the new generation leading the quality renaissance in Tokaj and part of a long tradition of woman winemakers in Hungary (where the men historically worked in the vineyards, and the women ran the cellars).

This wine comes from the single vineyard Barakonyi, which has been officially recognized as first-class (premier cru, more or less) since 1737. Fermentation and aging are done in Hungarian oak barrels. It delivers pear-like, slightly honeyed fruit with an almost icy minerality and a hint of oak. There’s texture, elegance, purity, and length; those who enjoy white Burgundy or restrained California chardonnay will like this a lot. (Plus, where are you going to find one of those from a premier cru vineyard for $24?!) Drink it with richer fish and poultry dishes, pork, and spicy enchiladas. (12.9 percent alcohol)

2015 Barta Tokaji Furmint Öreg Király Dűlő ($32)

Here’s another 100 percent furmint dry Tokaji, this one from the equally storied, first-class Öreg Király Dűlő (Old King Vineyard). It’s the highest-altitude, steepest, and most distinctly terraced vineyard in Tokaj. The several extra years in the bottle give you the opportunity to see how dry Tokaji ages. Winemaker Vivien Újvári, yet another woman in charge of a Hungarian cellar, uses organic farming and minimalist winemaking techniques, aging her wines in larger Hungarian oak barrels. 

This wine is beautifully expressive and vibrant now, with a more smoky minerality and a saltier, quite savory palate. If Tokaj Nobilis Barakonyi echoes some of the qualities of white Burgundy, the analog for Barta Öreg Király Dűlő might be aged Loire chenin blanc. It’s a perfect accompaniment for white meats and game birds of all species, smoked salmon, and Asian dishes without too much sweetness. (12.7 percent alcohol)

2016 Patricius Tokaji Aszú 5 Puttonyos (500ml, $45)

OK, this is an article about dry Hungarian white wines, but it would be a dereliction of vinous duty not to mention our one sweet wine from Hungary: Tokaji Aszú. (Vinum Regum, Rex Vinorum!) It’s an aristocratically hedonistic and spectacularly delicious nectar made in part from individual berries (mostly furmint, plus in this case some hárslevelű and other local grapes zéta and kövérszőlő) affected by botrytis, a so-called “noble rot” that shrivels, concentrates, and transforms the flavor of the grapes. You’ll find notes of dried fruits, especially stone fruits, along with a thousand other flavors, fruit and otherwise. 

There’s no need to analogize here, because Tokaji Aszú is simply the greatest dessert wine in the world (sorry, Sauternes). It will sing with blue cheeses, chocolate, and even potato chips. (The last pairing is my invention, as far as I can tell. Try it with José Andrés potato chips, made by San Nicasio in Andalucía, Spain, and available at Market Hall Foods.) Or simply have this Tokaji Aszú on its own as a very special way to end a meal, perhaps with some dried apricots. (11.5 percent alcohol)

Many thanks to Eric Danch of Danch & Granger Selections, the importer and distributor of all of these wines, for his help with this article.