Is that a cheese that smells like dirty feet? Is it related to a hamburger? No and no. Lemberger (not Limberger, which is a cheese from the an area on the Belgian/German/Dutch border) is a red grape grown in the Württemberg area of Germany that is also called Blaufränkisch in Austria or Kékfrankos in Hungary.
Although I've had my share of German and Austrian wines, I have to admit that I've never had one that was 100% Lemberger/Blaufränkisch/Kékfrankos before. But when the nice folks at Valckenberg (a major German exporter) sent me this one as part of a big shipment that I'll be reviewing in the coming weeks (there's my disclosure, but I'll still be honest, as you already know), I was really excited to pop it open and see what it tasted like.
Most of us don't associate Germany with red wine, and for good reason. It's freaking cold in most parts of the country and red grapes need a little more sun to get pigment and flavor than whites. Stands to reason that red wouldn't be the grape of choice in most parts of this Central European nation.
That said, about a third of German vineyards are planted to red grapes like Spätburgunderr (said SHPATE-Burg-uhnduh) or Pinot Noir, Schwarzriesling (Pinot Meunier, as in the grape used in Champagne) and Central European grapes like Trollinger, Portugiesier, Dornfelder, and Lemberger. And in the Anbaugebiet (AHN-bow-guh-beet), or wine region, of Württemberg over 70% of the grapes are red.
This big region in Southern Germany is on the Neckar River and a lot of the vineyard land is on steep terraces that line the river and its tributaries. Most of the wine is made by co-op, with hundreds of growers who own about 2.5 acres all contributing.
As a personal note, I kind of like what I read about Württemberg... the region has the highest per capita wine drinking rate of any place in Germany. It seems like Stuttgart (the big city in this area) should go on the map for a place to have fun. Frankly you'd have to go there to see what they've got to offer -- to satisfy local demand, not a ton of the stuff is exported. I guess they conform well to the locavore movement!
My travel aspirations aside, I'll get back to the grape. Lemberger is a mixed bag. It's a dark skinned and can have good mouth-drying tannin and spice but it can also make light, wussy wine that's not that good. It's grown all over central Europe -- in the Burgenland region of Austria, where the wines are called Blaufränkisch and are pretty highly regarded, in the Czech Republic, in Slovenia, in Croatia, and in Hungary where it's a main component of the Egri Bikaver (aka, Bull's Blood, a blended wine that can be powerful or awful depending on the producer). In Germany, it was imported to Württemberg from Slovenia in the 19th century, from Lemberg (hence, the name).
Whatever they're doing, they are doing right. This stuff was good. I love me a spicy wine and that's just what I got...
The Wine: Grafen Neipperg
The Grape: 100% Lemberger
Where it's from: Württemberg, Germany
Color: This wine was so beautiful. It had a pink, rose color to it. Although it was pretty light, it had a real shine to it -- like it was smiling up at me. I lingered on the color for a while because it was so pretty (dorky, I know).
Smell: I LOVE the smell of this wine. It was like a spiced orange or apple cider drink. It reminded me of mulled wine with a spicy cinnamon stick in it (Renaissance Festival, anyone?). There was also a rose-like potpourri smell on the second whiff. Spice, flowers, and citrus -- homerun for my big schnoz.
Taste: My first impression: this wine is SASSY. It was like little electrodes on my tongue -- prickly and electric with spicy flavor. It was medium weight -- kind of filled up my mouth and coated my cheeks, but not too much. I liked the texture, and the flavors were good, albeit a little artificial-tasting. Manufactured candy came to mind -- like fake raspberry flavor or a candy apple Jolly Rancher. It had some great spiced cherry with black pepper and nutmeg notes to it too.
Pairing: I had this with Israeli couscous and vegetables with herbed goat cheese and it was great. Lighter pastas, appetizers that feature veggies (think spanikopita or mushroom tarts) would let the wine shine. I think it would be great with chicken, turkey, or pork with thyme or rosemary-based rubs would be ideal. Don't pair this with anything too heavy or you may overpower the spicy nuance, which is what makes this wine so delicious.
Drink or Down the Sink?: Drink. What a fabulous medium-bodied wine. In a world where it's hard to come by something on the lighter side that still has umph, this is a real gem. Seek it out and remember that brand is important in looking for Lemberger, so look for this wine or another VDP producer to make sure you're not getting the German equivalent of Franzia boxed wine!