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Zweigelt waltzes into town as red counterpart to Grüner

Published:  15 July, 2022

Austria’s Zweigelt may be 100 years old, but on the evidence of a tasting laid on by Neusiedlersee DAC at London’s Trivet restaurant, the variety is as fresh as they come.

In addition to tasting flights of unoaked wines and oaked reserve wines, Zweigelt blends, plus rosés and sparkling, the wines shown for lunch also delivered great matches with the distinctly rich and punchy flavours of chef Jonny Lake’s cooking, also drawing on the pairing skill of sommelier Isa Bal. 

As such, the wines revealed a versatility that mirrors Austria’s signature white, Grüner Veltliner.

The latter is perhaps an apt parallel, as the event – The Many Faces of Zweigelt – was organised by Neusiedlersee DAC, which has ambitions to elevate its flagship grape towards the success that Grüner has enjoyed since it burst onto the global stage as a quality-focused and highly flexible food-pairing wine.

Torsten Aumüller, MD, Neusiedlersee DAC, told Harpers: “Our target is to make Zweigelt the next big hit from Austria.

Following on from virtual tastings during the pandemic, the event marked the start of a concerted push to raise the profile of the variety and region in key markets such as the UK.

“The producers are doing more than Zweigelt, but they are very focused on Zweigelt, and this tasting is meant to show that focus, from basic to more serious, from young to aged… to show not only the diversity of Zweigelt but also the versatility and the longevity.”

One such example was a 2002 Zweigelt Reserve Ried Altenberg from Allacher, reminiscent of Pinot Noir of that age, being elegant and soft and still drinking well.

Zweigelt, of course, was born of a cross between St Laurent and Blaufränkisch in 1922, and Austrians do sometimes refer to the former as ‘the Austrian Pinot Noir’, being a lighter, fresher variety in comparison with Blaufränkish’s richer style.

The cross, though, is very much an individual variety, at its most pure offering characteristic freshness and vibrancy, often combined with a distinct cherry note, making for a refreshing and moreish red.

However, the tasting revealed that both the unoaked wines and oaked reserves can express complexity and a sense of place, reflecting the diversity of the Neusiedlersee DAC soils.

Master of Wine Dirceu Vianna Jr, a champion of the wines, gave a key-note presentation, explaining why his head had been turned by the variety and region.

“Like most of you, when I think of Austria, I think of white wines, but I’ve tried some fantastic red wines from Austria,” said Vianna.

“But it was in 2019 when I had the opportunity to go back and visit Neusiedlersee and focus on tasting the wines – at the end, people asked me what I thought,” he added.

"I said, ‘it’s a wonderful variety, [it can be] light, elegant, a good food wine, but it can also make full-bodied wines, wines that can age, still be holding up after 20 years'.”

Vianna highlighted the growth in plantings of Zweigelt. It has grown from humbler beginnings as mainly experimental plantings until the mid-century, gaining a significant boost when leading winemaker/winery Lenz Moser released Hochkultur in the 1960s. This started a boom in plantings, with the variety becoming the most planted red by area in Austria in the 1990s, with Zweigelt now accounting for over 42% of red wine vines.

The Neusiedlersee DAC, wrapped around the southerly half of the lake from which it takes its name, has become synonymous – at least domestically – with high-quality, vibrant expressions of the variety.

“It is a variety that can show a sense of place,” explained Vianna. “It does very well in clay soils, it does very well in gravel soils, and it does very well in iron-rich soils…. and also interprets the climate very well.”

The tasting showed how Zweigelt is also flexible in terms of the styles it can make, with dry and sweet reds plus rosé and sparkling wines all produced from the variety.

Aumüller said the UK had been targeted as an important “prestige market” to help raise Zweigelt’s profile beyond Austria’s borders.