Ok, so it isn't really spelled that way.... But it certainly makes me want to run out and get some! Zweigelt, that is, a little Austrian red wine goodness that's perfect for this time of year. (It's said Z-vye-gelt, if my title was of no use to you this delightful, holiday Monday!) What? Austrian wine? WHAT?!
Yes. Austria! I'm too young (if I do say so for myself) to really remember the (drinking) days when Austrian wine was a horrifying "No, No" - and, frankly, my experience with Austrian gastronomy has only been pure pleasure. (Who doesn't love herb-encrusted game? Cured meats? Hard cheeses? And delicious, oh-so-delicious, sweets!) I think of the Alps, the fascinating history of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and those fine foods before I recall Austria has had its sad disaster of a period in modern wine making history.
To refresh your memory, Austria used to be known for its sweet wines. Things only got tricky in 1985 when a group of corrupt wine brokers tried to salvage poor harvests by adding diethylene glycol (found in antifreeze, no joke...) to the wines to increase the sweetness and then, worse, sell these wines as legit for a decent profit. I think NOT! Well, it didn't work out so well for these greedy businessmen; but it did ultimately work out well for serious winemakers. Austria can now boast the strictest wine laws in the world. And that's saying something when you recall the restrictions offered up in France and Italy, for example. It also allowed serious winemakers to refocus their energies on making truly fabulous, dry wines.
Austria may still churn out 80% white wines (Gruner Veltliner is the major player on the white stage), but their reds are something to behold, too. Zweigelt is a test tube baby, or a man-made hybrid of St. Laurent (Austrian clone of Pinot Noir) and Blaufrankish. Why man-made? Well, Pinot Noir/St. Laurent is a tricky, tricky grape to grow because it is so delicate and, therefore, suseptible to so many different vineyards pests (bugs and birds alike), climatic challenges (frost, heat, hail, etc.) and even the human touch. Zweigelt is less prone to frost, bud-breaks later and becomes a more mature fellow (ripens) earlier in the season. This is a godsend in Austria where the weather is a bit, shall we say... chilly?
Zweigelt is a white and red wine drinkers happiness. And it is perfect this time of year when you are thinking about the light fruitiness of Gamay (aka Beaujolais) and want something with a bit more character for both a warm day and cooler evening. The best part is that Austrian wines can be very reasonably priced - they do, afterall, have to redeem themselves in the global market!
If this is a new grape to you, try the Sepp Moser Zweigelt. It should retail for about 10 bones. It delivers cranberry and cherry fruit right up front and center stage. It can be a little on the tart side on the back palate and as it finishes, but I don't mind it (and I usually do!). The flavors in this little wine gets me excited about fireplaces and Thanksgiving dinner to come!
Are you a Zweigelt lover? Have you gotten (back) on the Austrian wine bandwagon?