The History of Zweigelt Wine

Zweigelt wine has risen to prominence as more and more people enjoy its unique taste. The wine has a fascinating history on the back of the legacy of its creator, Friedrich Zweigelt. Zweigelt, an Austrian entomologist and phytologist, created the Zweigelt grape used in making Zweigelt wine by blending two varietals, Blaufränkisch and St Laurent.[1] Zweigelt created the Zweigelt grape in 1922, which then rose in popularity during the second world war. Despite Austria being known for white wines, Zweigelt has distinguished itself and become the most-planted red grape in the country.[2]

Blaufränkisch and St Laurent are complimentary wines, with Blaufränkisch being sweet and St Laurent sour. The combination of these properties led to Zweigelt wine having an intense fruitiness and acidic tartness; this property distinguishes the wine from many red wines. A classic wine, it has a short cellar period. Therefore, it must be consumed within a few years of production.

Zweigelt Wine, The History of Zweigelt Wine

Figure 1: Zvy-Gelt by Joe Shlabotnik

Zweigelt grapes were first planted around the lake Neusiedlersee region in the Burgenland appellation. The region is surrounded by towns that are key wine producers in Austria. The lake offers marine-like conditions, producing botrytis in vineyards in its proximity.[3] These conditions influence grape farming and are essential in the growth of Zweigelt grapes. Since its first vintage, Zweigelt wine has become a staple of Austrian culture.

Zweigelt Wine’s First Name

You may be surprised to hear that the wine’s first name was not Zweigelt. At its creation, Zweigelt named the breed Rotburger. The breed was registered in the ‘Hungarian National Variety Catalogue’ in the early 1980-s The name led to confusion, with a distinct German wine variety with the same name existing at the same time. Lenz Moser, an Austrian viticulturist, resolved this confusion after advocating for Rotburger to be renamed in honor of its creator. As a result, in 1975, it was renamed Zweigelt.

Friedrich ‘Fritz’ Zweigelt

Renaming the wine as Zweigelt sparked another controversy due to Friedrich Zweigelt’s reputation. Zweigelt, famously known as Fritz, was born on 13 January 1888 in Hitzendorf. His work in viticulture began when he joined Austria’s imperial school of Viticulture and Horticulture in Klosterneuburg. Zweigelt’s first crossing was the Blaufränkisch and St Laurent, which has since become Austria’s most-planted grape.

Zweigelt was brought up near Graz, where he involved himself in reading botany. In 1912, he joined the imperial school of Viticulture and Horticulture, where his superior crossing skills were exhibited. With Nazi ideology on the rise, Fritz became a Nazi enthusiast who would reveal the names of his colleagues who were against the movement. “Zweigelt expected to be made principal of Klosterneuburg Wine School, but in this, he was temporarily thwarted, and for the time being, he stood up for a head who was indisposed. He concentrated on purging the institution of its non-Nazi staff, observant Catholics or members of the hated Christian Social Party, sneaking to the authorities that they were indolent or drunken.”[4]

Fritz was promoted in 1938 when Adolf Hitler reclaimed his country of birth, Austria. In his publications, Fritz praised Hitler for what he did for Austria. Besides, the Nazi regime adopted the most advanced viticultural policies, to which Fritz was a major contributor. Fritz was elected as a Reich official, participating in international viticultural congresses organized by the Nazi regime.

Zweigelt Wine Name Controversy

While Fritz was an acclaimed viticulturist, his legacy has proven a problem for Zweigelt wine. His fervent support of the Nazis is a blemish on his great work in Austrian viticulture and the wine industry. The atrocities committed by the Nazi regime are forcing people to call for the wine’s name to be changed back to its original, Rotburger.

Since the Zweigelt grape is the most planted and established in Austria, the name-changing process is complex.[5] Most vignerons and other people have divided views on changing the name owing to the legacy of its creator and his relationship with the Nazi regime. The current Austrian winemakers are succumbing to the pressure as some winemakers have decided to market Zweigelt wine under different brand names.[6]

Zweigelt Wine Quality

Zweigelt wine presents freshness and richness, making it ideal for summer servings. It has been compared to Pinot Noir and Piedmont’s Barbera. These wines boast refreshing acidity and are elegant. These properties make them exciting and food-friendly.[7] As a result, they pair very well with most foods and are best served during the summer for a bit of freshness in the heat.

This Day in Wine History

17 August 1784 – On this day, Austrian Emperor Joseph II published a decree allowing individuals to set up establishments and sell food, including wine and fruit juices, at whichever prices they wanted. Earlier, individuals were not allowed to set up such establishments to prevent competition with established restaurants. The decree led to the rise of Heurigers in Eastern Austria. A Heuriger refers to a tavern in eastern Austria where an individual winemaker could sell their wines under Emperor Josep II’s decree. Therefore, the emperor’s decree led to the rise of wine taverns in eastern Austria.

22 June 1905 – On this day, Lenz Moser III was born in Rohrendorf, Austria. Moser was an oenologist and winery owner who contributed significantly to the Austrian viticulture industry. Moser graduated with a degree in viticulture from the Higher Federal College and Federal Office for Viticulture and Fruit Growing. He conducted several experiments on various grapes using different spacings. His experiments debunked notions held by most vignerons at the time concerning the fact that vines had to be planted close to the ground and be protected from winter frost. Moser’s experiments with vine-planting techniques started in 1924, leading to efficient vine cultivation and high yield. After World War II, many winemakers visited his farms to observe his experiments and learn. In addition, Moser instigated the change of Rotburger wine to Zweigelt to honor Friedrich Zweigelt, its creator, for his legendary work in the Austrian viticulture industry.[8] Today, Moser is considered the pioneer of high culture in the Austrian viticulture industry.

30 0ctober 2002 – On this day, the London Tasting 2002 took place. The wine tasting was held by Jancis Robinson MW and Tim Atkins MW. The wine tasting was historic and likened to the legendary 1976 Judgement of Paris. During the wine tasting, renowned wines from different parts of the world were tasted against new or “unknown” wines. The tasting was instrumental for the Austrian wine industry, as eight of its wines made it to the top 10. In particular, Austrian wines Gruner Veltliner and Chardonnay won the first four places, with the other four making it in the top 10 wines. These wines are compared favorably to elite wines such as Mondavi from Napa Valley, Ramonet and Jadot from Burgundy, and Penfolds from South Australia. The wine tasting put Austrian wine on the world wine map. Similar results were recorded in subsequent Singapore, Vienna, and Tokyo tastings.

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References

[1] Austrian Wine, “Zweigelt | Austrian Wine,” www.austrianwine.com, accessed June 15, 2022, https://www.austrianwine.com/our-wine/grape-varieties/red-wine/zweigelt.

[2] Eric Asimov, “The Unspeakable Delights of Zweigelt,” The New York Times, June 13, 2007, sec. Food, https://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/13/dining/reviews/13wine.html.

[3] Vinography, “The Taste of Zweigelt,” Vinography, March 17, 2012, https://www.vinography.com/2012/03/the_taste_of_zweigelt.

[4] Giles MacDonogh, “Friedrich Zweigelt,” Connoisseur Magazine, December 26, 2019, https://www.connoisseurmagazine.co.uk/2019/12/26/friedrich-zweigelt/.

[5] Valerie Kathawala, “Through a Glass Darkly: Confronting the Nazi Legacy of Dr. Zweigelt and the Impact on Growers and Importers of Austria’s Most Popular Red Wine Grape,” grapecollective.com, September 23, 2019, https://grapecollective.com/articles/through-a-glass-darkly-confronting-the-nazi-legacy-of-dr-zweigelt-and-the-impact-on-growers-and-impo.

[6] AFP, “Austria’s Most Popular Red Wine Bears a Nazi’s Name and Must Change It, Group Argues,” The Local Austria, December 14, 2018, https://www.thelocal.at/20181214/austrias-most-popular-red-wine-bears-a-nazis-name-and-must-change-it-group-argues/.

[7] Kristian Kielmayer and Ágnes Herczeg, “Zweigelt,” winesofhungary.hu, 2021, https://winesofhungary.hu/grape-varieties/black-grape-varieties-red-wine-styles/zweigelt.

[8] Mark O’Neill, “Zweigelt, the Grape with a Nazi Name,” Blog de vino de Mark O’Neill, May 21, 2020, https://markoneill.es/en/zweigelt-the-grape-with-a-nazi-name.

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