Hugging the border between Austria and Hungary is where you’ll find BURGENLAND, something of a New Frontier for Austria’s winemakers.
Not ‘new’ in the sense of wine-making, but rather in the way that everything strikingly starts turning from WHITE to RED. You’d be right to think of Austria as a producer of fine white wines. Centuries of viticultural records successfully keep that on the spin. Yet, in recent times, south of Vienna and only a short distance from the shore of the Neusiedlersee lake, the tide has begun to turn. One particular native Austrian grape is beginning to create serious waves.
You’ll have gathered from our regular delving into their lives that the existence of native grapes is generally rooted in centuries of natural evolution. THis often makes point of origin difficult to determine. Yet with this dark skinned Austrian variety, happily that’s not so. Why? Well, because we know exactly when and where ZWEIGELT was born. It was 1922, just north of Vienna, in a lab at the Klosterneuburg Viticultural Institute. There you go… no Roman involvement!
What began as a mere glint in the eye of biologist Fritz Zweigelt, this 100% Austrian love story sprung to life with the birth to proud parents, Blaufrankisch and Sankt Laurent. Both of these red varieties are considered native to Austria, although surprise surprise, their precise point of origin remains a little hazy. Of course it doesn’t help that, geo-politically speaking, pre-1900’s Europe had a different shape to it.
We’ve also yet to learn what might have actually inspired Fritz’s parental choice in this grape love match. Could he have known about Blaufrankisch’s parent/offspring rapport with the Casanova of grapes, Gouais Blanc ? Or that it’s a half-sibling to Gamay Noir or that it’s identical to Hungary’s Kekfrankos? And what about Sankt Laurent ? Was any of this considered pillow talk in 1922 ?
If it was that Fritz Zweigelt was working purely on instinct, then were he with us today, no doubt he’d be stoked with the progress his namesake is making in Austrian red wine circles. In a relatively short time, Zweigelt has become the local red grape of choice, accounting for more than 40% of red variety plantings countrywide (mostly in Burgenland), while it’s parents (Blaufrankisch/20 & Sankt Laurent/5) account for 25%.
But with a combined countrywide figure of 65% of total Reds planted, this makes their contribution more than significant.
…and purely by chance, we picked up a selection of all 3 varietals from one producer, ZANTHO…
A skimming stones throw from the lake on its westside and a hop to the Hungarian border on the eastside,
ZANTHO strikes us as inspired project. It’s one that combines the renowned vineyard acumen of Josef Umathum, together with the winemaking skill of Wolfgang Peck, his cellar team and the growers of Winzerkeller Andau.
A healthy, deep ruby with youthful violet rim. Forest Fruits and Black Cherry take the lead with a light floribunda wash in the background. Nice fresh acidity, lightly tannic with good mineral support underpinning an able medium+ body. As a young vintage ’15, it’s really pleasant, pleasingly rotund with a feather dusting of powdered sweet spice and chocolate flake. Really likeable balanced ‘lines and curves’. The fact that this wine only saw steel is very encouraging for Zweigelt. Worthy!! Note to self: Love to taste this one again in 1-2 years to see how its aged. Also gotta check out some oak aged Zweigelt reserves as there appears good potential for this variety to extend beyond its youth.
Medium intensity on the eye, rich ruby tones that again show youth on the violet rim. First whiff offers the flower of youth with dark berried fruits. Soft and warm. The acidity is fresh, although not overly forward and the tannins are light. Delicate spice and ripe fruit come through to round out the feel. Yes, we’re talking balanced. However this isn’t what we would describe as ‘a high wire’ act… As in, there’s not too much tension or suspense. But hey, that’s fine with us. It’s a young 2015, made for the now and as we all know, ‘easy going’ has it upside. Interesting! Would be good to checkout some aged vintages to measure different vintage performance.
Rich ruby verging to light garnet on the rim tells it’s own story. You know that kinda Pinot / Nebbiolo colour intensity, just a little darker. A little slow opening perhaps. Nothing too intense on the nose but you’ll feel some growing complexity. No real fruit to mention. Mostly scented wood, underbrush, subtle spice & faint dried herbs. On the palate is where it wakes up with a fresh attack delivering a memorable zippy mouth-feel. Blackcurrant and spiced blackberry. Just enough tannin and a tasty hickory char to build intrigue. The vapour feedback points us towards secondary and evolutionary notes. We plumped for a Pinot glass as for us anything larger just wouldn’t trap the aromas. While the fruit does subside quickly, the lively acidity remains a lifeline to a real tasty peppery, spiced vibe that follows through. And it goes long where for us it hit some lovely smoked porter and cool coffee notes. Nice trip! We’ve definitely gotta dig out some books to learn about this one, not to mention a few other bottles.
Putting not 1 but 3 of Austria’s most important native reds on the worlds table, with innovative style and substance, all in all
ZANTHO, we think you guys should take a bow.
It’s time people… time to prepare for that trip to Burgenland
… ‘cos there really is nothing like the challenge of a new frontier !
ZWEIGELT, SANKT LAURENT, BLAUFRANKISCH…
…unique native austrian reds that’ll push a few buttons !