A century after its elaboration, wines made from Austria’s most planted red grape variety are beginning to attract attention abroad.
Austria may be most famous for its white wines, but the statistics for Zweigelt are impressive. From 1971 to 1978, the area of Austria under Zweigelt vineyards more than tripled to reach 2,292 hectares. Today, 42.3% of all red vines in the country are those of this cross between Saint-Laurent and Blaufränkisch.
Neusiedlersee DAC is the epicenter of the variety, just south of Vienna. In 2012, it became the country’s first designated home area for Zweigelt.
For winemakers, it has a particularly useful attribute. “It’s an early ripening, so even in difficult years we have that assurance,” explained Hannes Reeh of the eponymous vineyard when speaking with db.
When asked why the variety had exploded, Weingut Pöckl’s René Pöckl said, “There’s an old saying in Austria, ‘To be successful you have to be one of two things: you can be the most profitable or the best”. favorable climate was a great help for both.
Although Lake Neusiedl is less than two meters deep at most points, it still retains heat, resulting in warm nights during the growing season. This microclimate has been beneficial for viticulture long before the emergence of Zweigelt, with evidence suggesting that the ancient Romans grew grapes in the area.
Beyond favorable temperatures, Zweigelt’s ubiquity is also a result of its ability to adapt to different soils. Dirceu Vianna Junior MW said: “[Zweigelt] has this ability to show a sense of place… He does very well in clay and gravelly soils”.
This adaptability results in wines that can range from easy-drinking and smooth to full-bodied and complex. Verein Neusiedlersee DAC managing director Torsten Aumüller claimed that Zweigelt had been misunderstood: “Sometimes people think it’s a base wine because none of the singular characteristics stand out. I believe its potential lies in its balance… we always talk about dynamism and freshness.
These attributes make it a perfect “party wine,” as Mario Galler of Moser Wines put it. db. “It has to be a wine that suits the whole table… It’s a sweet, full and fruity red that goes well with meat dishes from Asia and Europe,” Galler explained. Some winemakers have even suggested that it pairs well with lake fish.
Franz Schneider of Artisan Wines argued that it pairs particularly well with anything tomato-based: “Italian pasta and Hungarian goulash work great!”
Despite these qualities, Johannes Kummer of Kummer Wines notes that it is often overlooked internationally: “We sell a little to southern Germany, a little to the Netherlands and Belgium… Denmark too, as tourists come to Austria to ski, taste the wine and then want to have it again when they return home.
However, Galler said ‘word of mouth’ has meant there is growing interest in these wines, and not just from those visiting for ski trips.
An informed winemaker db that the water level of Lake Neusiedl has dropped by half a meter due to this summer’s heat wave. However, there was still cautious optimism for the upcoming harvest due to the resilience of the variety.
Zweigelt’s inner rise over the past few decades has been relatively sudden, but not surprising. Vianna Junior believes that his “potential” will be increasingly recognized abroad: “we want to make Zweigelt the next great Austrian story”.