When you hear the words “Austrian wine,” your first connotations are unlikely to be either “summery” or “red.” Although Austrian wines appear with increasing frequency on wine lists and in wine shops, almost all of it will be Grüner Veltliner (along with an occasional Riesling). I love a good Grüner Veltliner — it can pair particularly well with spring vegetables such as asparagus — but this oddly named variety can only barely be considered odd at this point. Instead, let’s talk Blaufränkisch and Zweigelt.
As I noted in this post about Austrian St. Laurent, it can be difficult to find red Austrian wines, so I was particularly excited to be able to try several in succession at the “Austria Uncorked” tasting. I already knew I liked St. Laurent going into the tasting, but I felt skeptical about Blaufränkisch and Zweigelt wines. I visited Vienna in my early and mid-20s, and I remembered these wines as a little boring and bland.
As I tasted wine after tasty wine at “Austria Uncorked,” it became increasingly clear I had been drinking at the wrong bars! These wines had excellent fruit, some balancing earth and even a touch of spice. They were great fun, and with a slight chill, they would complement any picnic or barbeque.
Blaufränkisch has been a popular variety for quite some time; it dates back at least 1000 years to pre-medieval times, when “it was common to divide grape varieties into the (superior) ‘fränkisch’, whose origins lay with the Franks, and the rest,” according to The Oxford Companion to Wine. The Companion as well as The Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia note that it grows in abundance near the warm, shallow Neusiedlersee (Neusiedler Lake) in Austria’s Burgenland region.
Zweigelt, on the other hand, is a much newer variety. Also known as “Blauer Zweigelt,” this grape dates back only to 1922, when Dr. Zweigelt crossed Blaufränkisch and St. Laurent. According to the Companion, Zweigelt “at its best combines some of the bite of the first with the elegance of the second,” although sometimes it produces “too much dilute wine.” Sotheby’s agrees, praising the best examples but cautioning that “the norm is rather light and lackluster.”
Fortunately, that certainly wasn’t the norm at the “Austria Uncorked” tasting. Here’s a roundup of some of the Austrian reds I particularly enjoyed, most of which are (or will be) available in the United States:
2010 Claus Preisinger Zweigelt: This winery sandwiched between the Neusiedlersee and the Hungarian border grows its grapes biodynamically, following the principles of Rudolf Steiner. It seems to be working — I certainly enjoyed this Zweigelt. The wine had an aroma dominated by iron, and lots of red fruit on the palate. The finish was surprisingly dry and tannic.
2009 Claus Preisinger “Pannobile”: This garnet-colored blend of 60% Zweigelt and 40% Blaufränkisch smelled of dark fruit and iron. The flavors took me on a memorable journey, moving from rich fruit to metal to earth to spice. Delicious.
2010 Lenz Moser Zweigelt: Since Burgenland-based Lenz Moser is one of Austria’s largest wine exporters, you might be able to find this brand at your local wine shop. This brick-red Zweigelt had the telltale aromas of fruit and iron and a rather simple, fruity flavor profile, finishing with a bit of spice. Easy to drink, and probably best with a touch of chill.
2011 Pfaffl Austrian Rosé: Pfaffl’s vineyards grow in the aptly named (and very large) Weinviertel region north of Vienna, and Sotheby’s cites this winery as one of the few in the area worth knowing about. This charming Zweigelt rosé had the color of a watermelon Jolly Rancher, ample fruit and a pleasantly chalky finish. An ideal picnic choice.