Lemberger is a wine that I have enjoyed for years even though it has been one of the Northwest's best kept secrets. Known as Blau Fränkisch (blue grape from France) in Europe, Lemberger hails from Germany where about 1000 acres are grown. Lemberger is also produced and bottled in Austria and Hungary.
Originally it was spelled, "Limberger" and then re-spelled “Lemberger” by a marketing group in an attempt to disassociate the grape from the stinky cheese. It has been speculated that the name and spelling had a connection to the Croatian capital of Lemberg.
The most extensive plantings of Lemberger are in Germany with over 3,000 acres. Washington state and the Finger Lakes area in New York are two of the few places in the United States where the Lemberger grape is being grown, with Washington state being the largest. I checked the WAWGG stats and Lemberger starts with the year of 1997 of 100 acres producing 500 tons and in the last crush of 2005, it came in at 500 tons with 103 acres. The origin for Washington Lemberger begins when Drs. Eugene and Virgil Rittich brought it to British Columbia from Hungary and in 1941 it was introduced to Washington State when Dr. Walter Clore (Father of the Washington State wine industry) of WSU established it at the research station in Prosser. It also caught the interest of Julio Gallo, who spent considerable time in Washington state in the 70's, evaluating this new varietal. Apparently he preferred it to Washington’s Cabernet. The story goes that during one of Gallo's visits, Clore asked him if he’d be interested in the variety. Gallo responded with "Sure, but I want a whole trainload." As Gallo went on to explain he needed to have millions of gallons to put any of his wines on the market. There went our claim to fame - Gallo of Washington!
Producers of Lemberger wine at this time (or at least the ones that I am familar with) are Kiona, Thurston Wolfe, Covey Run, Latah Creek and most recently, while visiting the College Cellars at the Viticulture and Enology Institute at WWCC, I was delighted to see they had produced a Lemberger. Of course, I had to buy a bottle. The first new world commercial Lemberger planting was by Kiona in 1976 and in 1983 they released the first commercial vintage for 1980. Kiona produces about 3,000 cases of Lemberger each year. I often find Latah Creek and Covey Run labels of Lemberger at the supermarket and always very affordable.
So how does a Lemberger taste? First of all, it is more of a ruby red color than Merlot and Cabernet and often has an intense nose of cherry and strawberries. Always less tannic than a lot of reds, but with a nice crisp and balanced acidity. The flavors found can be brambleberry, strawberry and pomegranate with a spicy finish such as of black pepper and/or cloves. It is a very food friendly wine that I would pair with turkey, bar-be-que, lamb, and red sauces. And of course, unlike the cheese - - it ain't stinky!