Blaufränkisch - which is German for blue Frankish - is a dark-skinned red wine grape varietal. For a long time before DNA analysis, Blaufränkisch was thought to be a clone of the varietal Gamay Noir, due to certain similarities in morphology and possibly due to its name Gamé in Bulgaria. But DNA profiling has recently identified Blaufränkisch is a cross between Gouais Blanc and as yet, an unidentified Frankish grape varietal. One of the leading candidates for the Frankish parent is ‘Blauer Silvaner’ - though still to be verified.
While the first documentation of Blaufränkisch did not occur until 1862, when the grape was included in a viticultural exposition in Vienna, Austria, it is thought it is much older, and has perhaps been around as long as the Middle Ages under a variety of Fränkisch synonyms.
The term Fränkisch itself comes from Franconia, the German wine region that includes Bavaria, the north-eastern reaches of Baden-Württemberg around Heilbronn-Franken, and parts of southern Thuringia. During the Middle Ages the wine from this region was highly praised, and grapes that were capable of producing superior wines were called 'Fränkisch' to distinguish them from the less highly prized 'Hunnic' grapes. It is likely that for some time during this period up until the 1900s, Blaufränkisch started to be grown in the region. The varietal is much more important in Austria than it is in Germany. In Austria, it is the second most planted red varietal behind Zweigelt, which itself is an offspring of Blaufränkisch and St. Laurent. It accounts for about 5% of the total vineyard area in Austria.
Despite the close association to Franconia, ampelographers believe that the grape likely originated somewhere in the area of Dalmatia through Austria and Hungary. Due to the proliferation of synonyms originating from these areas as well as DNA evidence showing that the old Hungarian wine grape Kékfrankos was, in fact, Blaufränkisch, and that Gouais Blanc and an unknown grape varietal are the parents of Blaufränkisch.
The grape is grown across Europe in; Austria, Czech Republic, Germany, Slovakia, Croatia, Slovenia and Italy. In Hungary the grape is called Kékfrankos (also meaning blue Frankish) and is grown in a number of wine regions including Eger - where it is a main component in the famous red wine blend known as Egri Bikavér (Bull's Blood). In America it is grown in California, Idaho, Washington State and the Finger Lakes region of New York State, where like in Germany it is known as Lemberger, Blauer Limberger or Blue Limberger.
The German name Lemberger derives from the fact that it was imported to Germany in the 19th century from Lemberg in Lower Styria in present-day Slovenia and then in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In 1877 there are documents confirming the export of Lembergerreben to Germany. The almost identical name Limberger refers to Limburg at Maissau in Lower Austria, where in the late 19th century un-grafted Limberg Blaufränkisch vines were made available. In 1875, the International Ampelographic Commission in Colmar, France adopted Blaufränkisch as an officially sanctioned name, and today Blaufränkisch is planted across the globe.
The Blaufränkisch vine is known as an early budding varietal that can be susceptible to early spring frost. It is a late ripening varietal, and tends to be planted in warmer sites. Among the viticultural hazards that Blaufränkisch is most prone to are powdery and downy mildew.
Blaufränkisch is considered a very productive vine easily capable of producing high yields if not controlled. In some parts of Europe, it is not uncommon to see it harvested at 100 hectolitres/ hectare. However over-cropping the vine has a tendency to produce thin wines with green, herbaceous notes. Though Blaufränkisch is known as a late-ripening grape varietal, it can produce red wines which are typically rich in tannin, medium in palate weight and can express pronounced spicy characters.