The other day I was talking with someone, when they mentioned that they had found Lemberger wine for the first time.
They were surprised that it was so good, and nothing like the name sounded. I guess they had expected something to come out of the bottle and rot on the end of their noses or something. Lemberger wine is not stinky cheese wine. Quite to the contrary, Lemberger is a fabulously mellow and yet complex red that is easy to drink.
Blaufränkisch, which means "blue Fränkish" in German, is a dark blue grape that is rich in tannins. Grown throughout the Slavic regions of Europe, the grape is known in Germany and Austria as Lemberger. The grape is known throughout Europe as the Pinot Noir of the east because of its rich velvety tannins mixed with deep dark fruit flavors, and a touch of earthiness.
One thing that is oddly known about this grape is that outside of Eastern Europe there are few regions that this variety is grown. One of the only serious yields of this variety outside of Europe is in the Yakima region of Washington State. There are also a few vineyards in the Olympic Peninsula growing this grape, because it handles lower temperatures so well.
Of the Lembergers that I've had in this region, none is more memorable to me than the one produced by Kiona winery in Benton City. The Williams family has been producing this varietal since 1980, when they were the first and only vineyard in the United States to grow it. Priced at around $10 per bottle, Kiona has produced some amazing, award-winning Lembergers over the years out of their estate vineyards.
The current vintage is extremely smooth and drinkable, with flavors of fleshy, dark, fresh fruit and a spiciness that lingers. I especially like the velvety tannins in the finish.
If you are interested in exploring more about the world of Lemberger, I highly suggest that you attend Chateau Champoux's eighth annual Lemberger Lamburger barbeque. This event is a fantastic time, with a showcasing of the variety along with food, music, and artists. This year's barbecue will be held June 19, at the Chateau in the Horse Heaven Hills on the other side of the river from Boardman. The featured wineries will be Camas Prairie Winery, Olympic Cellars, Yellow Hawk and Fairwinds Winery. Entertainment will be by my friends at the Tri-Cities Big Band, and lamb burgers (and chicken) will be served by Tip Pit barbecue.
If you're interested in exploring the world of Lemberger, I would highly suggest you attend this fun event. The cost is $55 per person, or $90 for a couple. Get your tickets right away by calling 509-894-5005. There is more information also available on the Chateau Champoux website at www.chateauchampoux.com. You can even make an entire weekend out of it by getting a camping site at Crow Butte State Park near Paterson, which is just a few miles away from the event. The website to reserve a space there is www.crowbutte.com.
Rich Breshears, the East Oregonian's wine columnist, is a commercial photographer and marketing consultant for the wine industry in Oregon and Washington. He lives with his family in Kennewick. You can reach him by e-mail at email@example.com