Zweigelt - a crossing of Saint-Laurent with Blaufrankisch, created in 1922 - is the most widely planted red-wine grape in Austria. It's popularity is demonstrated with the variety grown in every Austrian wine region and the finest examples coming from Burgenland, particularly the Neusiedlersee. A classic Austrian Zweigelt is richly colored with a deep, bright core of spiced cherry and raspberry flavors. The finest examples have the potential to cellar well for a decade or so, but the majority are best consumed within a few years of release.
Although varietal Zweigelt wines are very common, the grape is also commonly used in blends. It is often combined with Cabernet and Merlot to create an Austrian twist on the classic Bordeaux Blend. Just as commonly it is married with its parent-variety Blaufrankisch for a pure-blooded (if somewhat incestuous) all-star Austrian blend.
Not just limited to dry styles, Zweigelt is used to produce sweet wines in various forms. The world's most expensive wines made from Zweigelt are either strohwein made from dried grapes, or ice wine. And these are not just limited to Austrian vineyards; at least one top-end Zweigelt ice wine is produced in Canada's Okanagan Valley.
Zweigelt was developed by Dr Friedrich "Fritz" Zweigelt, who originally named it Rotburger. This led to confusion with an entirely distinct variety (see Rotberger) created at around the same time in Geisenheim, Germany. It wasn't until the 1970s that this duplication was finally resolved, when Dr Zweigelt's variety was renamed "Zweigelt" by the influential Austrian winemaker Lenz Moser.
A truly successful crossing, Zweigelt has inherited desirable characteristics from both of its parent varieties (see Saint-Laurent and Blaufrankisch). From Saint-Laurent it gets its bright, Pinot-like cherry aromas and the ability to create silky, elegant wines. From Blaufrankisch it has taken a certain spiciness and good acidity. Both parents are capable of creating wines with deep, rich purple-crimson coloring, so it is no surprise that Zweigelt wines tend to very richly colored; the best have a dark, brooding appearance in the glass. Unfortunately, this latter characteristic creates a natural temptation for some winemakers to overcrop their Zweigelt vines, resulting in wines with acceptable depth of color but rather diluted flavors and aromas. Austria's relatively stringent wine laws have helped keep yields in check to a certain extent, but there are still marked differences between those Zweigelts from high-yielding vineyards and those made by more quality-conscious producers.
A key indicator of Zweigelt's success as a crossing is that it has now become parent variety itself, most notably with Cabernet Franc to create Cabernet Moravia, but also with Rathay to create Austria's little-known Roesler.
Because Zweigelt buds later than Saint-Laurent and ripens earlier than Blaufrankisch, it provides a kind of insurance policy in the vineyard. While the other two varieties are susceptible to harsh weather conditions (spring frost and autumn rain respectively), Zweigelt vines typically dodge these seasonal threats. Zweigelt also has the advantage of being a high-yielding variety, further contributing to its popularity with winegrowers.
Thanks to Zweigelt's popularity in Austria, the variety is now becoming popular in the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary and Slovakia. Small-scale plantings have also been trialed further afield, in Canada, Japan and England.
Synonyms include: Blauer Zweigelt, Zweigltrebe, Rotburger.
Food pairings for Zweigelt include:
- Roasted ham hock
- Grilled sausages with mustard
- Duck confit