Zweigelt is a red wine grape varietal developed by Dr. Fredrich ‘Fritz’ Zweigelt in 1922, at the Federal Institute for Viticulture and Pomology in Klosterneuburg, Austria. It was a crossing between two indigenous Austrian red varietals St. Laurent and Blaufränkisch. In an attempt to produce a red grape varietal with greater resistance to vine diseases, and yet capable of producing higher yields.
It combines the ripe, fruity character of Blaufränkisch with the round body of St. Laurent. It appears to grow well on all but the most chalky soil types, and is not sensitive to frost or to most vine diseases, and generally ripens quite early - making it well suited for Austria’s early spring frosts and fall cold weather and rains.
By 1975, as part of the intensive restructuring of the Austrian wine laws and regulations - the ‘Qualitätsweinrebensorten-Verordnung’ - (Quality of Wine Grape Varieties Regulation) - Zweigelt - which was originally named ‘Rotburger’, was growing in number, and it was felt that it was too easily confused with the dark-skinned ‘Rotberger’ grape, an unrelated grape varietal developed in Germany (with Riesling as one of its parents). So it was decided that the Rotburger grape was officially renamed ‘Zweigeltrebe’, literally Zweigelt grape, in honour of Dr. Fredrich Zweigelt.
Zweigelt plantings now comprise approximately 14% of Austria’s vineyards - with an increase of nearly 50% over the past decade. It is now the most widely planted red grape varietal across Austria, with approximately 6,476 hectares as of 2009, having expanded over the past decade due to Austria’s growing interest in red wine.
Zweigelt vines can also be found in the Canadian wine regions of Ontario's Niagara Peninsula and British Columbia. Limited plantings in Hungary, and the Czech Republic it is known as Zweigeltrebe and is the third-most widely planted red varietal. Also grows in most wine regions in Slovakia, and as of 2010, Belgian and Polish vineyards have also started to plant Zweigelt. As of 2014, Washington State in the U.S.A. has several small plantings of Zweigelt.
Zweigelt red wines have been compared to everything from young Italian Barbera’s to French Côte du Rhône's, to even spicy Pinot Noirs. Currently almost 75% of Austria’s total wine production is consumed domestically, though this unique varietal and its expressive wine is starting to be enjoyed around the world. The variety demands little from the soil but, because it is a very fertile grape, requires intensive canopy management and yield regulation. In order to create high quality wines with good ageing potential, yields must be rigorously limited.
While most Zweigelt wines are crafted to consumed within a few years of their release many have the potential to cellar well if oak aged. In fact, Zweigelt is well-suited for maturing in small barriques, as well as large wooden barrels, to add an intensity and depth to an otherwise smooth and balanced structure.
Wine made from the Zweigelt grape can be quite rich with soft, subtle tannins and pleasant acidity with fresh morello cherries and fruit aromas, along with cinnamon, violet, and is often known for its pepper and spicy qualities. Zweigelt wines are deeply coloured, often ruby red to dark violet in colour, with a fruit forward taste and clean finish. Zweigelt is very versatile - its acidity, moderate alcohol and subtle tannins all make it ideal for meat dishes, grilled, bbq’d and tapas’, yet without being overwhelming for poultry, salmon and cheeses. With a lively, fruit forward nature, Zweigelt is also excellent for summer drinking.