When a vintner is considering adding a new variety of wine grape to their vineyard the thought process involved in choosing which vines they eventually plant can be very tedious and time-consuming. The most important consideration when making that decision is the vine’s compatibility with their growing conditions but it’s not the only factor to study when making a selection. Of all the other variables probably the most important influence on a winemaker’s decision to grow a particular grape is their belief they can make a premium wine from it. Winemakers often begin their search for that “perfect” match in wine regions around the world that are similar to their own and are producing quality wines from the grape under consideration so they can use them as a guide.
Zweigelt (pronounced TSVYE-gelt) is beginning to attract attention from growers in the northeastern United States and a few Canadian vineyards in British Columbia and Ontario’s Niagara Peninsula. Zweigelt is a cool-climate Austrian hybrid red grape developed in 1922 by the hybridization of two Austrian grapes, Blaufrankisch (Lemberger) and St. Laurent. Zweigelt is the most extensively planted red wine grape in Austria. It is a very fertile grape that requires intensive leaf control and yield regulation because of its prolific yields. Zweigelt is a good choice for growers as an insurance grape because it’s bud break is later in the spring than many other varieties when the danger of a killing frost has passed and it ripens mid-season before most of the bad weather that damages the crop later in the harvest. These are some of the reasons why the acreage of this red grape has increased substantially in Austria between 1999-2015 but has now stabilized in recent years. Zweigelt displays characteristics from both of its parents. Blaufrankisch makes a bigger, bolder and deeper wine while St. Laurent is described as being fresh, agile, and akin to a Pinot Noir but with more muscle. Zweigelt is generally made into a dry, medium/light-bodied wine with low tannins and medium/high acidity but can also be made in a sweet style or ice wine. In the glass, it has a violet/reddish color and flavors of red cherry, raspberry, black pepper, and chocolate with a spicy floral aroma.
Zweigelt is a fresh light wine that pairs well with a wide range of food, making it a great picnic wine. It is common to find Zweigelt as a varietal but it is also widely used in blends with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot to yield an Austrian spin on the classic Bordeaux blend. It is frequently blended with Blaufrankisch to double down on its Austrian lineage.
The great thing about wine is that there are so many completely different wines to explore. With that in mind, I suggest when judging a new wine grape don’t base your impression on a single bottle because with these unusual wines every winemaker has their own vision for the wine. It is a good idea to try as many samples as possible before forming your opinion. If you would like to taste an American Zweigelt consider trying one made in the Finger Lakes Wine Region of New York by Rob and Kate Thomas at their Shalestone Vineyards. http://shalestonevineyards.com