Friday, April 28, 2023

Grape Spotlight: Neusiedlersee Zweigelt

The creation of the Zweigelt variety in the 1920s, a crossing between Blaufränkisch and St. Laurent, only really gained recognition after the Second World War. Nowadays, Zweigelt is the most widespread red wine variety in Austria and can be found in suitable sites in all wine-producing regions. -- Austrian Wine 

The finest examples hail from Burgenland – particularly the Neusiedlersee. --

Zweigelt was developed by Dr. Friedrich "Fritz" Zweigelt in 1922 and the grape inherited desirable characteristics from both of its parents. Saint-Laurent provides bright, Pinot-like cherry aromas and the ability to create silky, elegant wines; whereas, Blaufrankisch provides spiciness and acidity. Since both parents are capable of creating wines with deep, rich purple-crimson coloring, it is no surprise that Zweigelt wines tend to be very richly colored.

In the vineyard Zweigelt buds later than Saint-Laurent and ripens earlier than Blaufrankisch and thus provides an insurance policy in the vineyard. While the other two varieties are susceptible to harsh weather conditions (spring frost and autumn rain respectively), Zweigelt vines typically dodge these seasonal threats. Zweigelt also has the advantage of being a high-yielding variety, further contributing to its popularity with winegrowers.

Burgenland is a large wine-producing region on Austria's eastern border that occupies a narrow strip of land that runs along the Danube River. On its eastern side is the border with Hungary and to the west lies the most eastern foothills of the Alps. Burgenland is home to four Districtus Austriae Controllatus (DAC) appellations: from north to south; Neusiedlersee, Leithaberg, Mittelburgenland, and Eisenberg. Within each of these zones, any wines which do not conform to the particular classification are labeled with the Burgenland appellation. 


Although Zweigelt is planted in all Austrian wine regions, it is in Burgenland where it thrives.  This is particularly true on the eastern side of Neusiedlersee Lake -- the Neusiedlersee DAC -- where the region's sunny, continental summers meet the Lake's microclimate. The lake stores summer heat from the Pannonian Plain, an expansive, warm area that covers much of Hungary and eastern Austria, effectively lengthening the ripening season into autumn. In essence, the Neusiedlersee DAC is topographically more aligned with Hungary than with much of the rest of Austria.  The soils within Neusiedlersee itself are varied, ranging from the low-lying, botrytis-inducing foggy lakeshore slopes to the drier, sandy-loam and gravel inclines beyond.  In total, the DAC covers nearly 6,700 hectares (16,500 acres) of vineyards, mostly centered on the northern and eastern shores of the lake.

The Neusiedlersee DAC has been recognized since the 2012 vintage and is synonymous with fruity, harmonious red Zweigelt wines. These wines must be at least 12 percent ABV and can be aged in either oak barrels or stainless steel. The designation of origin also includes a Reserve category. To qualify for the DAC Reserve title for Zweigelt, the wine must be 100 percent Zweigelt, must attain 13 percent ABV, and at annual tasting panels show extra depth and power, and aromas of oak aging.

Andau is a city and area lying steps from the Hungarian border and experiences the hottest summers in Austria.  The soil is dominated by "gravel with iron components and a few sand layers; a very warm soil type with good water drainage capacity. The rocks are able to store the warmth during the day and give it off during the night allowing the berries to grow quicker and more homogenous. The high content of iron in the ground gives the wines a fine spiciness." 

Domaine Andau is a cooperative of 90 families located in Burgenland that farms 660 ha of vineyards within the Neusiedlersee. The cooperative was founded in 1959, a difficult economic time in Austrian history, but coming off a remarkable yield the previous year. The families banded together in order to produce and sell this harvest. The domaine has grown into one of the largest cooperatives in Austria supporting numerous small family businesses.  I received a package of their wines through a Hopwine fair and the 2019 Zweigelt (€9.50) is a classic zweigelt. It has a powerful red cherry aroma that transitions to a darker plum and mildly spicy interior. The finish shows soft tannins but a lengthy acidic tail. 

Zantho was formed at the "beginning of the millennium by Josef Umathum, a successful winemaker from Frauenkirchen, and oenologist Wolfgang Peck, together with chosen members from the cooperative Domaine Andau". This subset of the cooperative cultivates 80 ha of vines in the Neusiedlersee. The name Zantho is mentioned in the oldest dated document from 1487, which refers to the founding of Andau, as Andau is mentioned as Anthwaw or in Old Magyar Zantho (s).  Their 2021 Zweigelt (€8.90) was made through hand-harvesting, with no herbicide use, and fermented in stainless steel tanks while aged for 10-12 additional months in stainless steel. The wine is very fresh with an extremely strong cherry aroma, chewy plums and red cherries, surprising tannins, and fresh acids. 

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