Pennsylvania Wine School: What is a Lemberger?

Chambour-huh? Vidal who? Need some help demystifying some of Pennsylvania’s most essential wine words? The PA Wine Land Post is at your service, schooling you on the grapes you need to know.

Varietal: Lemberger (pronounced LEHM-ber-ger)

Grown: Across Pennsylvania

Similar to: Zinfandel or Pinot Noir

Also known as: Blaufränkisch, Kékfrankosin or Blauer Limberger

What’s in a name? That’s certainly a central question when it comes to this red-wine grape.

Known in the United States by the name Lemberger (the varietal was imported to Germany in the 19th century from “Lemberg” in present-day Slovenia), the grape also goes by Blauer Limberger, Blaufränkisch in Austria, and Kékfrankos in Hungary. That Austrian suffix — Fränkisch — has been associated with the grape since the Middle Ages, when it was applied to superior wines in Franconia, the German wine region that includes northwest Bavaria, the northeastern reaches of Baden-Württemberg and southern Thuringia. The vine has a storied history and was rumored to be beloved by both Bismarck and Napoleon.

These days, the varietal is becoming increasingly popular in Pennsylvania, where conditions are favorable for central European grapes bred for humid summers and cold winters (see the boom in Riesling and Grüner Veltliner). That said, the name thing persists: The preferred American moniker, Lemberger, has created some branding troubles for winemakers — no, the wine has nothing to do with the infamously stinky cheese from Limburger. Fortunately, this versatile wine’s considerable charms do wonders towards dispelling those associations.

Wines made from Lemberger tend to fall into two broad categories: strong, full-bodied styles reminiscent of California Zinfandel, or lighter, softer wines that recall Pinot Noir. Despite that divergence, the wines share a dark blue-red color, aromas of ripe cherries, blackberries and chocolate, notable spice, medium tannins, and high acidity. That high acidity can be mellowed out via barrel aging, and it can also be an asset in red blends. The grape can also be made into powerful port-style wines.

Pair Lemberger with earthy, savory favorites such as grilled lamb, roast beef, or mushroom ravioli — the acidity and spice will serve as a tasty foil. The wine is also forceful enough to be served with briny, funky cheeses such as feta or Stilton.

Below is a sampling of PA Lemberger wines for you to try from all across PA Wine Land. Check your local wineries for more PA Lemberger wines.

NorthWest:
South Shore Wine Company, Lemberger

NorthCentral:
Fero Vineyards & Winery, Estate Lemberger
Shade Mountain Winery, Lemberger

NorthEast:
Nimble Hill Winery & Brewery, 2016 Lemberger

SouthCentral: 
Briar Valley Vineyards & Winery, 2015 Lemberger

SouthEast: 
Black River Farms, Lemberger
Vynecrest Winery, 2016 Lemberger

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