Better Know a Grape: Zweigelt

Better Know a Grape: Zweigelt

There’s something about the cold weather that makes me crave crisp, easy-drinking reds from cooler climates. That’s because they’re great, refreshing matches for the kind of rib-sticking cuisine that makes winter bearable. I’ve already written about a few of these, like Lagrein from northern Italy and Germany’s Dornfelder. Another old favorite — and one of the best grape names, hands down — is Zweigelt. (It’s pronounced ZVAI-gelt. The first syllable rhymes with “hi” and the last begins with a hard “g.” Seriously, it’s a great word.)

Austria’s most popular red grape, it’s a crossing of two other varieties, Blaufränkish and St Laurent, that was created by one Dr. Zweigelt in 1922. Austrian and German researchers have long been at the forefront of this kind of tinkering, breeding new varieties that can cope with their frigid climates. Some crossings sacrifice quality for hardiness, but Zweigelt, thankfully, is not one of them. The grape produces spicy, plummy, peppery wines that tend to be low in tannin and high in acidity, with only moderate alcohol levels. While there are some examples that will age, most of what you’ll see in the U.S. are simple, refreshing, versatile wines that are meant to be drunk young. As I’ve tried to indicate from this photo, they’re also great with a little chill on them (20 minutes in the fridge should do the trick.)

All of the above applies to this 2008 Martinsholf Zweigelt, which we served with a day-after-Christmas spread of spicy roast pork loin and herbed potatoes. The acidity helped to cut through the fatty pork action, and the spicy, earthy flavors in the wine played up the cumin rub and the red chili and garlic sauce we served on the side. Zweigelt and sausages are another winning combination. If you’re not a pork fan, then how about some Buffalo chicken wings? Or a black bean quesadilla? In fact, as Bowl season approaches, I can’t think of a better wine accompaniment to a football-themed feast. It comes in at a very beer budget price of $14 for a full liter bottle and even has a flip top cap.

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