First published in The Irish Times on Saturday 11th June, 2022
Freshly returned from a trip to Vienna, I am full of enthusiasm for Austrian wines. Grüner Veltliner, covered a few weeks ago, is the country’s flagship grape, but Austria produces a range of other world-class white wines, from Riesling, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and other varieties too. If you haven’t caught up with the changes in Austrian red wine, then you have a treat in store, and now is the time to try them out. Most have a vibrancy and freshness that makes them perfect for summer drinking. Many can be enjoyed by themselves, but these are among the most food-friendly wines of all. Don’t make the mistake of believing that lighter red wines will always be simple. They can be every bit as complex and stylish as more full-bodied reds.
The best-known indigenous Austrian red grape is probably Blaufränkisch, a variety capable of producing great wine with succulent dark fruits. Less well-known is Sankt Laurent, the best examples of which have a beguiling purity of blackcurrant and dark cherry fruits, leading some to speculate that it might be related to Pinot Noir. This has never been proven. Both of these varieties can also be found, in smaller quantities, in neighbouring countries, including Germany, Czechia, Hungary and Slovenia.
However, today a look at Zweigelt, Austria’s most widely grown red grape. A cross between the two above varieties, it has a growing reputation. The cross was made in the 1920s by Dr Friedrich Zweigelt who worked in the Austrian wine school at Klosterneuburg. The logic was simple; Blaufränkisch is late-ripening, high in acidity with firm tannins, whereas Sankt Laurent is early ripening with moderate tannins and delicate fruit. Crossing grape varieties is a hit and miss exercise, often creating something unintended. However, with Zweigelt it worked; it is generally mid-ripening and produces fruit-filled wine with soft tannins and acidity. Handily, it also gives good yields and isn’t too fussy where it was grown.
Not surprisingly it has grown in popularity, both in Austria and elsewhere. The best wines generally come from Burgenland and Carnuntum and vary in style from crowd-pleasing light fruity summer wines to quite serious bottles that repay ageing. I have tasted sparkling, sweet and rosé Zweigelt, but the vast majority are light and fruity, leading to comparisons with good Beaujolais. And, like Beaujolais, they go with a wide variety of foods, from richer fish dishes to cold meats, firm cheeses, schnitzels, roast pork and mushroom risottos. I find they go really well with grilled chicken and pork chops and other foods that we love to serve from the barbecue.
As well as the four wines below, I featured one of my favourite Zweigelts, the Pittnauer Heideboden (€22-25) in this column last month.
Zweigelt 2021, Niederösterreich
Lively, juicy ripe raspberry and red cherry fruits with no oak flavours and a smooth rounded finish. A good all-rounder to partner with medium-bodied pasta recipes, white meats and tomato dishes. From:Marks & Spencer.
Allram Rosé vom Blauen Zweigelt 2021, Niederösterreich
An attractive salmon pink colour, with subtle rhubarb and redcurrants fruit, good persistent acidity and a bone-dry finish with a gentle tannic bite. With sushi, sashimi, and light shellfish dishes. From: DrinkStore, Dublin 7; Thomas’s of Foxrock; Nectar Wines, Dublin 18; SC Grocer, Monkstown, Co Dublin.
Judith Beck Ink 2020, Burgenland, Biodynamic
Made from a blend of 80 per cent Zweigelt and 20 per cent Sankt Laurent, this is a delicious exuberant fruit-filled wine bursting with red cherries and raspberries. Perfect summer drinking with firm cheeses, charcuterie, chicken and pork dishes. From: Saltwater Grocery, Dublin 6; Avoca, Ballsbridge and Rathcoole, Co Dublin; Baggot Street Wines, Dublin 2; Bradleys, Cork; DrinkStore, Dublin 7; Fallon & Byrne, Dublin 2; Gibneys, Malahide; Le Caveau, Kilkenny; Green Man Wines, Dublin 6; Martins, Dublin 3; The Wine Pair, Dublin 8; Pop-up shop at Ballymaloe; L’Atitude, Cork.
Zweigelt Nouveau 2021, Dorli Muhr, Carnuntum1
Delicious silky smooth vibrant dark fruits that dance around the palate. Free of tannins, this is a posh picnic wine to enjoy lightly chilled with an array of cold meats, salads and cheese. From: Ely Wine Store, Maynooth, Co Kildare; Lilith Wines, Dublin 7; Sweeneys, Dublin 3.