Officially classified under the name “Blauer Limberger,” this red grape variety also goes by the synonyms “Lemberger” and “Blaufränkisch.” The late-ripening Lemberger probably originated in vineyards on the lower stretches of the Danube River. The grape was documented in Austria in the second half of the 18th century and is cultivated there to this day (as Blaufränkisch) in Burgenland and near Vienna. In Hungary it is known as Kékfrankos. In the 19th century a “wine improvement society” advocated replacing high-yielding varieties with high-quality grapes (such as Lemberger) in the Kingdom of Württemberg. Indeed, Lemberger wines from Württemberg were the favorite of the first president of the Federal Republic of Germany, Theodor Heuss, and it is said that the variety was equally as popular with Bismarck and Napoleon.
During the past decades there has been a steady increase in the vineyard area planted with Lemberger. In the '80s it comprised some 400 to 500 ha (988 to 1,235 acres); in 1998, it surpassed 1,000 ha (ca. 2,500 acres); and today there are nearly 1,700 ha (ca. 4,200 acres). It is almost exclusively cultivated in Württemberg, where it accounts for about 13.9% of the total vineyard area.
Lemberger thrives in a warm climate and wind-protected sites, not least because bud-burst is early and it ripens late. In very good sites, this Württemberg specialty brings forth excellent quality. It does well in various soil types, especially fertile, deep, loess-loam soils. Yields are average in size.
For wine connoisseurs, Lemberger is a "coat of many colors"... ranging from light and fruity wines to those that are rich in extract and tannin (of Spätlese and Auslese ripeness). Usually, the wines are extremely dark in color. The bouquet can range from rather quiet to powerful, reminiscent of blackberries, sweet or sour cherries, plums, currants, gooseberries, elderberries, bananas and chocolate, as well as vegetal aromas, such as green beans or green bell peppers. Depending on vinification techniques, the wines have a fruity or a tannic accent and a long finish. Thanks to their acid, extract and tannin profile, even drier versions of Lemberger have good aging potential. Barrique-aging adds another dimension...reminiscent of Mediterranean warmth and charm. Ambitious vintners and cooperatives often blend Lemberger with Trollinger (depending on the percentage of the cuvée's components, the wine will be labeled with the predominant variety named first). Sparkling wine, or Sekt, made from the Lemberger grape is a real speciality.
Light, fruity Lemberger wines (i.e. the proverbial Viertele = quarter liter, or Württemberg's typical wine-by-the-glass serving size) are ideal with platters of cheese and/or cold cuts as well as summer BBQ foods. More tannic Lemberger wines are great with pâtés, grilled foods, Swabian “steak with sautéed onions,” and the whole range of roasted game (feathered or furry); also: pot roast, lamb, roast beef, and cheese, such as low-fat blue, brined (e.g. feta), or ripe Alpine (fairly pungent in aroma and/or flavor) types.