The tongue-twisting pleasures of Zweigelt

When we are young, popularity is everything. And, as all of you Gertrudes, Hectors, and Penelopes out there know, a name can do a lot to lower your standing. Think of Germanic wines as the Throckmortons of the wine world—alone in the corner with their skinny necks and cryptic labels, still struggling to overcome the blunders of their youth (remember Blue Nun?). As if the erroneous assumption that every German and Austrian wine is sweet wasn’t enough to send people running for the California hills, there are the unmelodious names like Rotgipfler and Dunkelfelder to contend with. But, don’t let fear of mispronunciation keep you from exploring these countries brimming with vinous treasures. One name most certainly worth learning to pronounce is Austria’s star red wine, Zweigelt.
Pronounced ZVAI-gelt (first syllable rhymes with “hi,” second syllable starts with a hard “g”), Zweigelt was invented in 1922 by Austrian scientist, Dr. Fritz Zweigelt, who crossed Blaufränkisch with another native red grape called St. Laurent. (Bummer his name wasn’t something catchier, like Dr. Syrah, but given he initially called his invention Rotburger, Zweigelt is a considerable improvement.) With greater than 70 percent of Austria’s production being white wine, Zweigelt and Blauburger (a cross of Blaufränkisch and Blauer Portugieser) account for half of Austria’s red production with straight up versions of the parent grapes and Pinot Noir (or Blauerburgunder) making up the other half. Although Austria contains four major wine regions and 16 sub-regions, the majority of the country’s total wine production and nearly the entirety of its red wine production occur in Lower Austria and Burgenland. 
Just as all good spawn ought to, Zweigelt combines the best qualities of its parents, inheriting Blaufränkisch’s spicy fruit and St. Laurent’s full body, without any of their bad qualities (Blaufränkisch is difficult to grow and St. Laurent is prone to disease). The result is an aromatic, light- to medium-bodied wine with invigorating acidity and a gentle tease of tannin. Reminiscent of a young Pinot Noir, an Italian Barbera, or a cru Beaujolais, but with its own plucky character, Zweigelt tastes like…well, the color purple. Not that the grape doesn’t have very distinct red, sour, and sometimes black cherry aromas and flavors, but with the earthiness of violets and the warmth of cinnamon and nutmeg swirling around in there, I always think, “Mmmm, purple.”  



Anton Bauer Wagram Zweigelt 2007. Wine Warehouse. $14.99

Fritsch Wagram Zweigelt 2007. Greenwood Gourmet Grocery. $14.49

Leo Hillinger Burgenland Zweigelt 2006. Tastings of Charlottesville. $17.95

Nittnaus Burgenland Blauer Zweigelt 2007. Beer Run. $15.99

Steininger Kamptal Novemberlese Zweigelt 2007. Market Street Wineshop. $15.99


While there has been a recent trend for Austrian reds to be aged in new oak, most Zweigelts avoid such a dreadful fate as their freshness and acidity would suffer from it. It is precisely Zweigelt’s balance of brightness, moderate alcohol, and low tannins that makes it an ideal dinner companion, flexible enough to pair with everything from fish to lamb. Its dream date? How about a fennel-crusted pork tenderloin with creamy polenta and garlic-sautéed kale. Oh, Dr. Zweigelt, you are good, you are really, really good! There are stouter versions of Zweigelt meant for aging (think of a husky Zinfandel), but I still prefer it young and full of spunk.  
Syrah and Pinot Noir may roll off our tongues with more panache than Blaufränkisch and Zweigelt, but just as Throckmorton’s parents assured him after Jenny chose Adam, we are so much more than our names. Give these mouthfuls a shot and you will be most colorfully rewarded.