The Austrian Trade Commission in New York and the Burgenland Wine Marketing Board came to Boston and presented a trade seminar and tasting on Austrian red wines. We learned plenty about the Austrian wine industry, and had a chance to taste a number of wines from indigenous Austrian grapes, such as Zweigelt, Blaufränkisch and St. Laurent. I've enjoyed such wines before, and this tasting only confirmed to me the delights of Austrian red wines. This is another category of wines which many consumers do not appreciate sufficiently. At the wine store where I work, it is extremely rare for a customer to ask for an Austrian red.
As for red grapes, Zweigelt occupies the largest portion, about 14% of the acreage. Second place, at 7%, is occupied by Blaufränkisch and third place, at 3.5%, is taken by Blauer Portugieser. All of the other ten red grapes occupy 1% or less. In general, Austrian red wines tend to have dark red colors, deep aromas, black fruit flavors and be well structured.
Zweigelt (also known as Rotburger) is a cross of Blaufränkisch and St. Laurent that was created in 1922 by Dr. Fritz Zweigelt. It is a fertile grape which grows well all over Austria. With a good yield, soft tannins and being an early ripening grape, it appeals to the Austrian preference for young wines. As the indigenous Blaufränkisch usually requires some aging, Austrians apparently wanted an alternative, which thus led to the creation of Zweigelt.
Blaufränkisch (also known as Lemberger) is an old variety, which can possess lots of acidity, spiciness, strong tannins and has an excellent ageing potential. In addition, it can be very reflective of its terroir. St. Laurent, a descendant of Pinot Noir, is a challenging grape in the vineyard, often low yielding. The older the St. Laurent, the more it seems to resemble Pinot Noir.
From the first flight, two wines stood out to me, one from Zweigelt and the other from St.Laurent. The 2010 Netzl Zweigelt ($18) had an intense, fruity aroma and on the palate, the bright red fruit flavors shined, accompanied by spicy notes, a bit of earthiness, smooth tannins, and a lengthy, pleasing finish. Good complexity for this price point, but also an easy drinking wine, which can be enjoyed on its own or with food. The 2011 Juris St. Laurent Selection ($26.95) possessed an intriguing smoky aroma, accented by black fruit. Its taste included a nice melange of black cherry, blackberry, dark spices, and earthiness, with moderate tannins and a lengthy finish. A wine of more depth than the Zweigelt, it probably would be best paired with a hearty dish, maybe a nice steak or even wild boar.
The 2011 Iby Blaufränkisch Classic was the easiest drinking of the wines, with bright red fruit flavors, blueberry notes and some mild spiciness. The tannins were the mildest of the group, though the finish was also the shortest. However, this would be an excellent introductory Blaufränkisch for anyone. The 2011 Prieler Blaufränkisch Leithaberg DAC impressed me with its complexity and taste. Delicious black fruit flavors, mild spiciness and smoky elements with an underlying minerality. With a lengthy finish, this is a wine you want to slowly savor. Highly recommended. An earthier choice is the 2011 Iby Blaufränkisch Hochäcker, definitely very different from their Classic. With more spice and black fruits, the earthy aspects dominate, reminding me of some Burgundies. Another hearty recommendation.
Give some Austrian Zweigelt, St.Laurent and Blaufränkisch a try. Go to your local wine store and ask what Austrian reds they carry. Go to your local restaurants and ask what Austrian reds they have on their wine list.
What's your favorite Austrian red wine?