Eisenberg - Austria's Southern Burgenland Press trip 24-26 April 202324-04-2023
Eisenberg is a wine region in the south-east of Austria, next to the Hungarian border. A rather small, yet very diverse and unique region, famous for its legendary Blaufränkisch wines. It is a region full of history, diverse micro-climates and a quite a special geological composition. This not only leads to great wines, but also great stories from different wine makers. Get ready to discover the magic of this wonderful region!
The wine region was known as Südburgenland and has changed to its specific name Eisenberg in 2009. With this change they go back to the original name of ‘Eisenberger’ with the classic image that it once stood for. The region has always been known for its typical wines of Blaufränkisch, that excel in minerality, acidity and spiciness. It is a very small region, with 500 hectares, but has enjoyed a lot of good attention the last few years as wine makers have united themselves to improve quality and promote the region. Both the region and the wines get to flourish thanks to the hard work of the winemakers under the Verein Eisenberg DAC.
The DAC came after the Austrian wine laws became stricter since the late 80’s and it improved the quality throughout the country. In order to be recognized under the DAC, the wines from Eisenberg have to be made up of at least 85% Blaufränkisch, but all the winemakers choose to use 100% of the grape, to really reflect the character of the grape, terroir and climate. An application is being processed as we speak to add another grape variety to the appellation, the white Welschriesling. DAC stands for Districtus Austriae Controllatus and is the highest level of wine quality regulated by Austrian law.
The region has had quite the history, but wine always played a big part of it. In fact, it was not the Romans that brought viticulture to the region, but it was the Celts. Making Eisenberg one of the oldest wine regions in modern day Europe. The name Eisenberg talks about the soil of the region. The 415 meters high mountain is translated of being the ‘Iron Mountain’, which gives you a good guess of what the soil mostly contains. It was of course the Celts that obtained a lot of wealth due the iron trade. Being so close to the border the region has been part of both Austria and Hungary from time to time, with now being completely separated since WO I, you can still see the Hungarian influence in parts of the region and in spelling of the names of the vineyards. Especially in the use of the letters “C” and “S” next to each other or a large use of the letter “Y”.
Eisenberg is compacted by the Little Hungarian plain on the east side, bringing in warm winds, and with Steiermark on the west side, bringing in cool winds from the forests. This ensures a big difference between day and night temperatures, so that the natural acidity in the grapes can be preserved.
Main grapes of Eisenberg
The Welschriesling is the only white that is currently considered for the appellation. The grape is not related to the Riesling, but there is a lot of unclarity about its origin. Welschriesling is widely planted in countries like Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia, and Czech Republic, all under a different name though, but is assumed to be coming from somewhere in Italy. There is no real proof to support this theory, all I can say is that the winemakers from the Eisenberg region are doing wonders with the grape!
The access to this grape is hard in The Netherlands, so I never had the chance to taste this wine, but I did expect a wine with high acidity and a light aromatic nose. However, I never expected the level of quality and diversity of the Welschriesling wines, as presented to me in Eisenberg! The wines had a high level of minerality, along notes of spiced citrus and a creamy mouthfeel. Some of them have been aging on wood for a short time, but to preserve the subtle presence of the wood, Austrian wood has been used. There are similarities in the wines, but many differences as well, especially in the aromatic way. Some of them are still really closed off and need some air to give more of themselves away, as others have aromas that practically jump out of the glass.
The Blaufränkisch grape is the star player of the appellation and is good for over 1/3 of the all the grapes planted on Eisenberg. It is a very diverse grape that provides us with an expression of the terroir, everywhere in the region. The Blaufränkisch gets beautiful results when it has been aged for a few years. The minerality, spiciness and fresh red fruit remains the red thread throughout all the wines from the DAC. From origin the grape would come from Austria, however Hungary might dispute this. My guess it originated from the borderland of Burgenland, dancing on the border between both Austria and Hungary. In both countries the grape reaches the highest level of quality but does change its name to Kékfrankos when produced in Hungary. German wineries will refer to the grape as being the Lemberger.
Other grapes of Eisenberg are of course the Furmint. This white grape used to be the star of the region before phylloxera left its path of destruction. When the region worked on its revival (mainly after WO II) the vineyards were planted with Blaufränkish. From Austria the Furmint made its way to Hungary, where it is very popular! However, some wineries still have planted Furmint and reach incredible results with it!
Here and there some Grüner Veltliner and Zweigelt rears its head, but mainly used for entry level wines. Apart from these Austrian classics, in very small amount Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon will be found as well. These two grapes are not recognised under the Austrian law but do provide wines with incredible finesse.
Styles and subdivisions
Eisenberg DAC can be divided in different divisions or styles, each having a more complex and higher quality level than the previous one. We dived three levels of quality:
- Eisenberg DAC
- Eisenberg DAC Reserve
- Eisenberg Single vineyard
Eisenberg DAC is the most general level of the appellation. This regional level is a classic representation of what the wines from the region are about: mineral, fruity, acidic, and spicy 100% Blaufränkisch. The production of the wine follows a similar process in each winery, so that the typical characters are preserved, vintage after vintage. Fermentation and the maturation that follows, takes place in stainless steel tanks or in large oak barrels, to minimize the aromas of oak. For that reason, a lot of Austrian oak will be used instead of French oak.
Eisenberg DAC Reserve brings us wines with a more distinctive character, a higher level of complexity and power. The Blaufränkisch grapes either come from warmer vineyards or are harvested later, so that a further development of the grapes is ensured. The wines are mostly made to age. They only get released in the second year following the harvest. Reserve is mostly dominated with spicy, herbal notes along with minerals and a beautiful acidity.
Eisenberg Single Vineyard is the most specific level of all. Selected vineyards have their Blaufränkisch reflect their own unique terroir, as it can change a lot from vineyard to vineyard, along with micro-climates.
- Szapary and Saybritz vineyards from the Eisenberg subregion are known for producing fruit oriented Blaufränkisch with a high acidity level and a very recognisable minerality.
- Reihburg vineyard from the foothills of the Eisenberg gives us wines with the minerality of both clay and a high level of iron.
- The vineyard of Fasching from Eisenberg enjoys all-day sunshine and in combination with similar soil of Reihburg it results in a full-bodied Blaufränkisch, yet still with plenty of elegance and distinctive minerals in the structure.
- The Hummergraben vineyards lies a little higher above sea level, so that natural acidity in the grapes can be retained. This is necessary because the loamy soil retains a lot of water, resulting in a fuller bodied Blaufränkisch.
- The mountain and vineyard of Csaterberg will be divided in Klein-Csater and Hoch-Csater is known for its high levels of opal, so very elegant yet mineral Blaufränkisch is made.
- Due to the surrounding pine forests in Deutsch-Schützen a later harvest can be obtained, so that a longer growing season leads to perfect ripening of the grapes. The vineyards Ratschen, Weinberg and Bründlgfangen can ensure us with Blaufränkisch with a lot of aging potential. Earthy notes with juicy, succulent fruit characters with of course beautiful minerals.
Soil and rock compositions
As stated above, the level of iron in every layer of the soil in the region is quite remarkable, but it is all the rest of the compositions that create difference between different sub-regions and even single vineyards. Looking at the different sub-regions, we see we can divide them between six different larger ones, after that it gets divided into the single vineyards. We are talking about:
- Deutsch Schützen
All the sub-regions are not that high on hectares, with the largest one being Eisenberg with 110.
Rechnitz is found close to the Hungarian border in the north part of Südburgenland. The soil contains a lot of greenschist, phyllite and quartz phyllite, filling up vineyards of the highest altitude of all of Burgenland, between 350 and 480 meters. This combination ensures wines with a lot of freshness and vibrance. Not only does the Blaufränkisch gets planted here, but it is also home to the white Welschriesling.
A little bit south of Rechnitz, but still north of the mountain Eisenberg, we find the region of Hannesberg-Köningsberg. Soils contain of greenschist, dolomite, limestone, and shale. Chalk and sandy loam can be found as well. Mostly southwest facing vineyards, capturing a lot of sun that leads to a fruitier expression of the Blaufränkisch, but of course still with an intense minerality and elegant palate.
The actual subregion of Eisenberg lies within the centre of the Südburgenland region. Most of the single vineyards stated above, can be found here. Starting with the vineyard of Szapary that has an altitude of 300- 400m and mainly on slate soils. The wines coming from this single vineyard are remarkably fruity, with a vibrant minerality, touch of saline and some spices in the finale. The vineyard has the steepest slopes of all Eisenberg, which makes it very labour intensive. But the wines are worth all the trouble.
Next to the Szapary we find the second single vineyard of Saybritz, just at the Hungarian border. Apart from the sun exposure the vines get from facing southwest, a constant ventilation ensures that the vines stay in top condition. Even though the slope is just as steep as in Szapary the soil differs a bit. On top of slate, we find brown earth with lots of rocks that gives the mineral component to the Blaufränkisch wines, but with a very elegant finish. Green and blue shale with clay soils mark the terroir of the Reihburg vineyard. This along with the heavy iron content, found in the soil everywhere in the region, turs to a real opulence character of the wines produced here.
The vineyard of Reihburg is located between two other single vineyards, that of the Fasching and the Hummergraben. Fasching shows the most similarity in soils as the Reihburg. With its ideal exposure to the sun, in southwest facing direction, the vines enjoy sunshine from early in the day until late in de evening. The Blaufränkisch presents itself in wines with a much fuller body but remaining to hold on to a sophisticated mineral structure. Hummergraben vineyard lies on the other side of Reihburg, at the Hungarian border. The southeast facing vineyards ensures sun in the early mornings, but it is due to the loam content in the soil, and the water retention resulting from it, that the wines get their power and density, with a spicy acidic finish.
Csaterberg and its division into Klein- and Hoch-Csater and their water opal content in the upper layer of the soil lead to a specific aroma in the larger range of minerals. The rest of the layers contain levels of serpentinite and silty clay. The Blaufränkisch shows itself to be, again very mineral, but with a fruity, elegant aftertaste.
The Deutsch Schützen subregion is home to the single vineyards of the Weinberg and the Bründlgfangen, both heavily containing clay soils in their terroir. The vineyards are facing in different directions, but both enjoy sun exposure from the east and the south. The Blaufränkisch wines from these vineyards are meant to age and will only increase in beauty as they grow older.
The third vineyard of the subregion, the Ratschen has a different soil composition with mostly sand results in top-shelf Blaufränkisch with a truly exciting palate.
In the south of the region, we get to the subregion of Pinkatal, which is comprised mostly of rocks remaining from the ancient Pinka Valley such as clay, sand, and gravel. Mostly part-time wine producers live and work in and around the villages, with of course a concentration on Blaufränkisch in most of the villages for the DAC. Yet the two villages of Heiligenbrunn and Moschendorf concentrate on American grape varieties other than the Vitis Vinifera. The style is called Uhulder and is allowed for production until the year 2030.
The Eisenberg region is Austria’s wine ideal with only 500 hectares the smallest region in all of Austria. However, the region is home to some of the most remarkable Blaufränkisch wines there is to find, with unmistakable character. Blaufränkisch is a very diverse grape, that gives a beautiful expression of terroir everywhere in Eisenberg. Even though minerality, freshness of red fruit and spiciness, marks the wines, the Eisenberg DAC Blaufränkisch wines can age very well. A region with unique microclimates, run by passionate wine makers that should be on your list for every wine trip to Austria.
Thank you to Verein Eisenberg DAC for the hosting, enthusiasm and passion shown in the presentations and guided tours throughout the different vineyards and to Wine + Partners for the wonderful organization!