Austrian wine adventures – Part 3; summarizing Zweigelt


I really can’t get it out of my mind. Is it simply all about different expectations?

I’m at the Weingut Netzl in Göttlesbrunn, tasting my way through a Zweigelt line-up. We’re in the center of Zweigelt land, in the region of Carnuntum, an old Roman army camp. Here Zweigelt reigns, a crossing between Blaufränkisch and St. Laurent. The most grown red grape varietal in Austria has seen an explosion thanks to a new generation winemakers in Carnuntum, emphasizing on ripe fruit and oak. The wines seem popular and happily consumed by the Viennese citizens.

So, why am I not convinced? Is it simply a matter of preference? I realize I’m discussing sensitive stuff; what divides a more experienced taster from a happy untouched end consumer. The use of oak. As a starting point hear this; I’m an oak guy. I like it. A lot. But there’s quite a big difference in how oak is handled. In many of the Zweigelt wines we’re tasting the oak is almost over-explicit, as if the producer doesn’t want the end consumer to doubt. Oak is a sign of expensive wine; the consumer demands it in a wine where the price tag exceeds a tener. If the oak is not evident enough the consumer might get disappointed and hence not continue buying the product.

Many Carnuntum Zweigelts has an oak character that simply wont integrate with the wine. The question is; is that a deliberate action taken by the producers, since the style is requested? The physiological maturity is there, in the grapes – and the grapes has all the prerequisites for offering Zweigelt typicity and Carnuntum character, yet that is hidden behind a layer of oak. Now, don’t read this as every Zweigelt is an oak monster; they’re not. I’ve had really fine and carefully oak treated wines as well, wines which shows there’s a potential. Still, I can’t help but think in terms of different expectations and what is expected by the wine writer. Am I supposed to write and accept the style of a wine, since obviously the end consumer do so, or should I challenge a prevailing fact? Who am I to question a preference of the consumer? Just because I prefer a Zweigelt showing its cherry character, mineral driven scents and that herbal, leaning towards green,  note, then should I?

No, I haven’t seen the Matrix and have all the answers, but there’s so many wines already in the world, where oak leads the way. Why not stress the uniqueness of Zweigelt then – and Carnuntum? The wines with careful oak treatment, or none, simply are more interesting – and unique. It’s 2011 and indigenous is the word of the year.

Going from Göttlesbrunn to Neusiedl am See, for a lunch and continued tasting, I’m sampling one of the best, in my opinion, Zweigelts for the day. A blend. The 2008 Haideboden from Umathum is an excellent glass and a blend of Zweigelt, Blaufränkisch and Cabernet Sauvignon. Structure, depth and complexity. I can’t help but wonder if this isn’t what Zweigelt is all about, life in a cuvée?

The end consumer’s expectations do probably matter. But searching for identity is likely also a part of the answer. There are wineries out there, producing excellent Zweigelt which I love and follow with great interest. Glatzer, Pitnauer, Claus Preisinger, Netzl and Schwarz all produces fine examples, some with a good portion of oak but then the raw material has all the prerequisites to integrate it. Try the delicous 2009 Dornenvogel from Glatzer for example, the 2008 Pannobile from Claus Preisinger and the 2009 Bienenfresser from Pitnauer. Or what a helping hand from Mr. K can do!

Zweigelt deserves attention. There’s potential, no doubt. But for the moment, the Spitzerberg vineyards of Carnuntum, where Blaufränkisch reigns, are number one in the region. Still, I’ll be back….

PS. I was invited by the AWMB to discover Carnuntum and Burgenland.

PS.2.Not all Zweigelt wine producers mentioned in the post are in Carnuntum.

PS.3. Photographs taken at the Weingut Netzl in Göttlesbrunn.

Coming up: Part 4 – The liquid gold of Burgenland