Body: Light to medium
Age: Drink while young and fresh. Bigger, barrel-aged wines can improve for several years.
Zweigelt (ZVY-gelt) is native to Austria and is the country’s most planted red grape variety. It was created in the 1920s by Professor Fritz Zweigelt when he crossed St. Laurent (see entry in the Smooth style) with Blaufränkisch (a.k.a. Lemberger – see entry in the Fruity style). The grape was originally called Rotburger, which would not have helped its prospects in the English-speaking world! Thankfully, it was subsequently named after its creator.
It is a high yielding grape and is quite reliable and easy to grow on most soil types (except chalky soil). Consequently, in favorable conditions, it can produce very large crops. For the production of quality wine it is therefore essential to apply good vineyard management techniques to control yields and thus ensure good quality fruit.
Zweigelt is normally used to make light wines, which are characterised by good acidity and low tannin levels. Aromas of violets, red fruits and spice (cinnamon) are followed by flavors of cherry, cranberry, raspberry and sometimes blackberry, together with peppery notes and earthy undertones. It is best to drink these wines while they are young and fresh, as they have limited aging potential. They can also benefit by being served slightly chilled.
At their best, these wines are stylish, graceful and quite delicious. They are ideal for summer drinking, as they are light, lively and pleasantly refreshing. These qualities, and especially their good acidity, also make them very food friendly wines. Some producers make bigger wines by restricting yields and using oak, but generally the most satisfying wines are made in the light Fruity style. As well as being made as a varietal wine, Zwigelt is often blended with other varieties, such as St. Laurent.
The quality of Austrian wine has risen dramatically since the turn of this century and while only a relatively small amount is exported, this is increasing. However, other cool climate countries are now planting and experimenting with Zweigelt. It will be interesting to see if the excellent wines it produces in Austria can be replicated in different terroirs, in different countries.
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