Zweigelt study: is Austria’s ‘Merlot’ capable of greatness?
Although Blaufrankisch is widely seen as Austria’s top red grape, it’s not the most widely planted. That title goes to Zweigelt, a relatively new variety, bred by Dr Fritz Zweigelt in 1922 at the enology and viticulture research centre in Klosterneuburg. [As an aside: there are some moves to rename the variety because of Zweigelt’s Nazi associations: initially it was called Rotburger, and only named after him when he died in 1964.]
But there is a relationship between Blaufrankisch and Zweigelt – a parent-child one. The latter is the result of a cross between the former and another of the leading Austrian red grapes, Saint Laurent.
It’s not uncommon for grape varieties to be successful for reasons other than quality potential. Look at Merlot, which makes wines everyone seems to like, but which rarely hit the heights. Zweigelt could be seen as Austria’s Merlot. It is a mid-season ripener, and it’s pretty versatile, making easy drinking fruity wines as well as some more ambitious barrel-matured bottlings. It’s not particularly tannic.
Carnuntum is a region that is doing particularly well with this variety. A group of top producers in the region have convened a Zweigelt study group to try to do even better with the variety, and see whether they can elevate it to the upper echelons of Austria’s red wines. I tasted through 10 examples, and these are my notes.
Markowitsch Zweigelt Ried Kirchweingarten 1er 2017 Carnuntum, Austria
13.5% alcohol. This is sweetly fruited and a bit spicy with supple, ripe wild strawberry and cherry fruit with a creamy texture and some vanilla oak. It’s a lush, quite dense wine with freshness and a fine spicy finish, but the oak is quite apparent at the moment. 90/100
Lukas Markowitsch ‘Marko’ Zweigelt Ried Haidacker 1er 2017 Carnuntum, Austria
14% alcohol. This is bold and supple with a lovely mineral, spicy edge to the fleshy black cherry fruit with some blackberry richness. There’s a subtle green streak adding to the impression of freshness. This combines sweet, ripe fruit, a bit of power, and also elegance. Really interesting wine. 92/100
Payr Zweigelt Ried Steinäcker 1er 2017 Carnuntum, Austria
14% alcohol. Lovely brightness and freshness here: this is a really fresh, slightly peppery wine with red and black cherry, and a real sense of finesse. Shows good concentration of flavour with fruit to the fore, but also lovely balance and focus. 93/100
Glatzer Zweigelt Ried Haidacker 1er 2017 Carnuntum, Austria
13.5% alcohol. This is concentrated and focused with fresh berry and cherry fruits, a hint of pepper and tar, and some spicy oak hanging in the background. It’s polished, fresh and sophisticated. The oak makes itself felt perhaps a bit too much, but otherwise this is a really stylish wine. 92/100
Artner Zweigelt Ried Steinäcker 1er 2017 Carnuntum, Austria
13.5% alcohol. This is intense, lively, spicy and vivid with sweet cherry and berry fruits. There’s a real sense of brightness here, and the bold but focused fruit combines nicely with the well-integrated oak. Impressive stuff. 93/100
Pimpel Zwiegelt Ried Bärnreiser 1er 2017 Carnuntum, Austria
14.5% alcohol. This is ripe and textured with sweet, generous black cherry and blackberry fruit. It’s supple and fine with some warmth from the alcohol adding a richness, alongside the nicely poised fruit. Has a twist of pepper at the end. 90/100
Taferner Zwiegelt Ried Bärnreiser 1er 2017 Carnuntum, Austria
14.5% alcohol. Open aromatic nose with a slight appley oxidative lift. This is rich with a spicy edge to the very ripe berry fruits. It’s appealing, sweetly fruited and very open. A little over-ripe, but it has lots of fruity appeal. 89/100
Netzl Zwiegelt Ried Haidacker 1er 2017 Carnuntum, Austria
13.5% alcohol. This is spicy and grippy with some nice crunchy berry fruits, and a touch of oak. Quite a dense, fruit-driven wine with a juicy finish. Warm and spicy. 90/100
Pitnauer Zwiegelt Ried Haidacker 1er 2017 Carnuntum, Austria
14% alcohol. This is rich, spicy and dense with a good concentration of blackberry and black cherry fruit. There’s a sophistication and harmony to the fruit with nice weight to the fruit. There’s flesh, with some floral character. A ripe, generous style that really works. 92/100
Grassl Zwiegelt Ried Schüttenberg 1er 2017 Carnuntum, Austria
13.5% alcohol. This is vivid and aromatic with some cedar and vanilla oak underpinning the sleek black fruits. Ambitious, polished and quite stylish, this is a ripe wine with a sense of deliciousness, but the ripeness and oak are to the fore. It will be loved by some. 91/100
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