I met up with Christoph Wachter, who heads up the Eisenberg DAC group, to taste some wines from the region. The focus of the tasting was on a new initiative: the designation of villages within the broader Eisenberg DAC.
Eisenberg is part of Burgenland, in the south of Austria, and there are 515 ha of vines here, of which 180 are Blaufränkisch. The DAC was created in 2008, and a second tier, Reserve was introduced a year later (this is just for Blaufränkisch). Now Eisenberg is delineating the village level for the first time.
The Blaufränkisch wines here have a freshness and elegance, and as well as being eminently drinkable, they have some seriousness. ‘It’s like it was in the the 1960s and 1970s,’ says Wachter. ‘The region was known for fresh, elegant Blaufränkisch. It was always a fresh style. Then the 1990s saw a red wine boom in Austria and everyone focused on rich, overpowered oaky wines. Eisenberg was marginalized: no one wanted it.’
But in the 1960s and 70s the vines were cropped to heavily and most of the wines were a bit green and harsh. ‘The optimum is 5-8 tons/hectare,’ says Wachter. This is an area influenced by the Styrian climate, with some rainfall and cool nights, and there’s some altitude here, too.
There are 45 producers in the area, but only around 20 of these live solely from wine, and the group who are really actively taking part in this initiative is 10. They all tend to favour making wine in a more elegant style, and tend to use large oak rather than small barrels, for example. ‘Blaufrankisch has everything,’ says Wachter, ‘and you don’t need new wood for it.’
He took me through some of the village level wines, including his own. These are beautiful expressions of a brilliant grape variety, showing just what it is capable of when handled properly. Some were cask samples, so if this is the case my score is given as a range.
Poller ‘Höll’ Blaufränkisch 2017 Eisenberg DAC Reserve, Austria
Höll is the village. Vivid, focused bright raspberry fruit here with nice elegance, and a bit of coffee oak. Very expressive with nice precision. 92-94/100
Stubits ‘Harmisch’ Blaufränkisch 2017 Eisenberg DAC Reserve, Austria
From loam/clay soils with a bit of schist. Vines planted in 1965. Wild ferment. Elegant, fine, supple red cherry fruit with freshness and a sappy edge. So expressive with good acidity. Lovely stuff. 93/100
Kopfensteiner ‘Deutsch Schützen’ Blaufränkisch 2017 Eisenberg DAC Reserve, Austria
Deutsch Schützen is the village. Soils are iron-rich clay and some sand. 500 litre barrels are used for this. Very supple and bright with cherries and plums, showing freshness and focus. Has a bright raspberry palate with lovely purity and elegance, with some spicy tannic structure. A fresh, elegant style. 92-94/100
Stephano ‘Deutsch Schützen’ Blaufränkisch 2017 Eisenberg DAC Reserve, Austria
20% new oak here, matured in 500 litre barrels. Supple and fine with nice texture, showing concentration but also lightness and elegance with nice precise red cherries and plums. Fine-grained structure. 92-94/100
Wallner ‘Deutsch Schützen’ Blaufränkisch 2017 Eisenberg DAC Reserve, Austria
Supple and smooth with cherries, plums and even some apples. Lovely freshness with appealing cherries and nice spiciness. Supple and rounded. 91-93/100
Wachter-Wiesler ‘Deutsch Schützen’ Blaufränkisch 2017 Eisenberg DAC Reserve, Austria
Big barrels, 40 year old vines. Very fine grained and elegant with good structure. Has concentration as well as elegance, with fine, aromatic, floral fruitiness and good acidity. Fresh red cherry finish. This is really serious. 94-96/100
Wachter-Wiesler ‘Eisenberg’ Blaufränkisch 2017 Eisenberg DAC Reserve, Austria
From the Eisenberg village, with green schist soils. Lovely aromatic nose of sweet cherries and fine herbs with subtle leafiness. The palate is refined, fresh and elegant with good acidity. This is astonishingly good, with refinement, structure and finesse. 94-96/100
Thom Wachter ‘Eisenberg’ Blaufränkisch 2017 Eisenberg DAC Reserve, Austria
Thom is the uncle of Christoph. 500 litre used oak. Supple and elegant with liqueur-like red cherries and plums. Has brightness and freshness with lovely raspberry hints. Fine and textural. 92-94/100