In 1975 I had the opportunity to travel to Austria and visit their wine-growing region on the banks of the Danube River. This country produces many great wines but until recently they were mainly for local consumption. One wine that impressed me was a red wine made from the Lemberger grape. This is an odd name and some growers did refer to it by its ancient name: Blau Frankisch, literally blue grape from France. These were very nice wines full of berry fruit flavors and great color but with little tannin or harshness.
These wines remained in my memory and when I began consulting for Columbia Crest Winery in the early 1990s I discovered that there was a significant planting of Lemberger in Washington States Yakima Valley appellation. The winemakers in Washington loved the variety but universally hated the name as it brings up bad memories of the strong cheese of the same name. I decided that the wine was worth pursuing and recalled the other name for the varietal in Austria. I chose to call our version Blue Franc. In a flash of inspiration I selected a French Franc note as our label, getting approval for which was no easy task. Each year we choose to watermark a person on the label who has continued to have a good time with wine varieties and labels.
This wine is very similar to the wines that I tasted in Austria more than 25 years ago. Unlike other Steele and Shooting Star red wine bottlings, our Blue Franc receives little, or no, oak aging. Some liken our Blue Franc, depending on vintage, to Pinot Noir in lighter years and Zinfandel in the riper vintages. Sometimes it is totally akin to a top-flight Gamay from Beaujolais. The wine is clean, crisp, and unpretentious with tons of fruit, including warm berry pie, complementing the traces of pepper, almond, cherry and cinnamon. Our Shooting Star Blue Franc has soft tannins, medium body, great color and is the perfect red wine to enjoy over the summer with any festive occasion. It is excellent with appetizers, cheeses, BBQ, and picnics. Recently we had the opportunity to try the Blue Franc on the deck with a toasted sandwich of smoked chicken, grilled onion, and avocado quintessentially quaffable!
Most of the wineries in this state are located east of the Cascade Range, where the climate is desert-like, with hot days and cool nights. The irrigated vineyards produce high yield, but the flavor is nevertheless very good. Traditionally Rieslings have been the most successful here, but currently Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc are doing well. Chardonnay is successfully fermented in new oak barrels, yielding distinctively crisp and delicate flavors, like fresh apples. Washington Merlot, with its cherry flavors and aroma, tends to be more full-bodied, moderately tannic and slightly higher in alcohol than its Bordeaux cousins and higher in acidity than those from California. Acreage for the Syrah grape has increased substantially in the past few years, and in Washington it turns into big, dark, intensely concentrated wines with aromas and flavors of blackberries, black currants, roasted coffee and leather. A little-known German grape, Lemberger, does very well here. It produces a fruity but dry red wine in the Beaujolais or Dolcetto style.