Undoubtedly one of the most popular red wine grape varieties not just here, but throughout Central Europe, is Frankovka (Blaufränkisch). It’s had a remarkable story – for curious reasons not having made much of a mark yet globally, and also the subject of one of the greatest scandals in the modern history of wine. Today, however, Frankovka is said to be one of the most remarkable “undiscovered” wine varietals.
Frankovka is an ancient grape variety, and was produced by the natural hybridisation of Gouais Blanc and an unknown mother variety – scientists believe it was likely the now extinct Blaue Zimmettraube. Its geographical origins are also shrouded in mystery. Some believe it came from Austria, while other sources claim Germany, and another of the variety’s names (Lemberger) refers to the town of Lemberg. But there are towns with this name both on the border between France and Germany, and in Slovenia.
The first official document referring to Frankovka dates back to 1862, from a wine exhibition in Vienna. Eventually, it arrived in the territory of today’s Czech Republic – it was entered into the so-called State Variety Book in 1941, representing one of the first varieties to be recorded in the book.
Wine of a thousand names
Central Europe is Frankovka’s home. Hungary boasts of the largest plantings what they call Kékfrankos, and it has also achieved acclaim in Austria, where it is called Blaufränkisch. Frankovka modrá is also a popular variety in Slovakia.
But it is this inconsistency in naming which has paradoxically complicated the variety’s success globally. For the common consumer, it is hard to get a grasp on the different names used for the variety in different countries, and furthermore their names do not have the same attractive ring as grapes such as Merlot and Sauvignon do. This is most apparent on the American market, where Frankovka is known as Lemberger. This name, very reminiscent of the smelly Limburger cheese, has even led some winemakers to refer to the variety instead as Blaufränkisch. But this name has not been a particular marketing success in English-speaking countries either.
Dragged down by scandal
Despite all this, in recent years Frankovka’s renown has been rising slowly but surely. It became the symbol of Austria’s red wine revival, for example, following one of the greatest scandals in the history of wine, which caused the collapse of the country’s wine industry in the mid-1980s. This occurred when chemicals contained in antifreeze were found in expensive Austrian wines. As a result of a number of rogue winemakers, Austrian wine’s reputation collapsed, and winemakers who had done nothing wrong saw almost zero sales, with exports falling by 95 percent.
But every cloud has a silver lining. The scandal led to stricter rules for production, which in the end led to great improvements, and not just to Austrian wine, but also to Frankovka as a wine varietal. Even the renowned New York Times has praised Frankovka, claiming it is one of the most remarkable European varieties, deserving of much greater acclaim than it currently receives. It is not without good reason that Frankovka was a favourite drink for German chancellor Otto von Bismarck, Empress Maria Theresa and Napoleon himself.
Frankovka in the Czech Republic
Currently, Frankovka and Svatovavřinecké (Saint Laurent) are jostling for top place as the most widespread red grape variety in the Czech Republic. Both are planted over an area of around 1 150 hectares, but due to late ripening they aren’t found in Bohemia, being grown essentially only in Moravia. Frankovka is particularly common in the Velké Pavlovice and Slovácko sub-regions.
It is from the latter sub-region that Dog in Dock’s 2019 vintage Frankovka comes from. This wine has enjoyed great success this year, chosen as Wine of the South Moravian Region for 2020. It will be representing the wines of South Moravia at official events not just in the Czech Republic, but also abroad. You’ll find notes of forest fruits and plum jam in this wine’s elegant nose, while on the palate you’ll detect blackberry, with a subtle chocolate finish. It is rich and full in flavour, yet still wonderfully smooth.
Quality comes first
So if when choosing a red wine you ever find yourself hesitating over whether to go for a more grand-sounding wine from France, or what is considered the common Central European Frankovka, do bear in mind that the name is not everything. Quality should always come first, and quality Moravian Frankovka is more than a match not just for the wines of neighbouring countries, but even for more well-known red wines.