Greet the Grape: Zweigelt

So a little over a year ago I visited Weiden am See, on the banks of the Neusiedlersee in Burgenland. I had been invited to take part in a jury-tasting of new red-wine releases by the Österreichische Gastronomie Zeitung (Austrian Gourmet Digest, sortof) along with a wide range of wine people from various disciplines—tasters from France, Belgium, England, Sweden and Bavaria—plus a couple Austrian wine-journalists. I greatly value these international gatherings, and one ought never miss an opportunity to emphasize the enormous progress that Austria has made with her red wines in the opening years of this century—which a widely contrasting team of tasters confirmed. The growers have recently emerged from an “international” phase and the wines are becoming unique expressions of possibilities that are only Austrian—and frequently unique only to Burgenland or only Carnuntum…

In this tasting, we sampled some one-hundred thirty-five Zweigelts, and I would happily have drunk one-hundred twenty of them.

The experience made clearer to me that which I had long believed: there is no other grape-crossing which produces such consistently reliable and oftentimes delicious wine as does the Zweigelt. Not even Scheurebe offers serious competition, and Pinotage comes nowhere close.

A crossing is not a hybrid. Crossings result from the uniting of two vitis vinifera subspecies. Pinotage is a crossing of Pinot Noir and Cinsaut, for example. Popular hybrids include Seyval Blanc and Chambourcin—matings between vinifera and American vines.

Zweigelt is a crossing of Blaufränkisch with Sankt Laurent. It was created in 1922 by Dr Friedrich Zweigelt. He named it Rotburger because of its birthplace in Klosterneuburg, but due to occasional confusion with the Riesling/Trollinger cross RotbErger, Austrian wine pioneer Lenz Moser brought the current name into official use long about 1975. In creating this cultivar, Fritz Zweigelt was looking for prolific grape-bearing, good deep colour, and resistance to disease. And Zweigelt is indeed  resistant to frost, drought, and to various ailments of the vine, but by crossing Blauf with SL, Dr Z came up with a grape that tastes like neither. Spicy with luscious fruit, it rarely shows the lactic texture of SL, nor the occasionaly stiff notes one might find in a Blaufränkisch.

Zweigelt is wonderfully versatile in its applications. It flourishes as a monovarietal, but also blends beautifully with Blaufränkisch—as well as with French varieties Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon—and of course the two Bordeaux brothers together.

Feiler-Artinger Zweigelt

We prefer the monovarietal expressions here—and are very proud of Josef Umathum’s entry-level Zweigelt, which as any fine wine should shows perceptible variation with each new vintage. The 2007 was racy and spicy, with a vivid edge to it—it sold mostly by the glass in some of the better addresses in NYC. In contrast, the 2008 is ripe and round and succulent—reminiscent of the wines from 2001-2006 that I gladly drank back when they were imported by someone else! Feiler-Artinger’s 2007 is satiny and smooth, a soft sipper that is nearing the end of inventory. One excellent surprise is the 2008 Zweigelt from Rosi Schuster, which we brought in as an exclusive for Astor Wines—taking a few boxes off the top for a favorite by-the-glass Lokal… Zip, zing and everything just short of Zinfandel—they’ve reordered another batch, which will hit the water soon.

While occasionally profound, Zweigelt is so frequently delicious, and handles such a wide range of culinary demands, that one is amazed at its versatility. Try it with highfalutin’ Mexican cuisine, molé or adobo—take it to tandoori, pair it with panang—Zweigelt paints the very picture of panache…

A VERY SHORT LIST OF WHERE TO GET A TASTE OR A BOTTLE OF OUR ZWEIGELTS (besides here of course) list current as of Feb.7, 2011:

Gotham Bar and Grill

Astor Wine & Spirits
Crush Wine & Spirits
Die Blaue Gans
Edi and the Wolf
Gotham Bar & Grill
Grapes the Wine Company
Sip Fine Wine
Trestle on Tenth
Union Square Wine & Spirits

Baker & Banker
Bar Bambino
BLT Steak
Bottle Barn
Cin-Cin Wine Bar & Restaurant


Hotel Biron
K & L Wines
Robert’s Market
Rosso Pizzeria & Wine Bar
Slanted Door
Soif Wine Bar

The Mansion on Turtle Creek
Tavola Bistro




Pick your state!