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A Breath of Fresh Air from Austria
By Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Nov 29, 2011
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Zantho, Burgenland (Austria) Zweigelt, 2009 (Vin DiVino, $14):  If you were to attend a seminar on the wines of Austria, you would hear that most of them are white and that Austria’s wines represent less than one percent of the world’s wine.  True to the small scale of the nation’s wine industry, most Austrian wines on export markets such as the U.S. are limited in production and are priced at a level more acceptable to connoisseurs than mainstream wine drinkers.  This situation explains what distinguishes this particular wine: not only is it a red wine but also its production is large enough for wide availability and its price is an affordable $14.

Zantho is a brand name for a line of wines produced by Josef Umathum and Wolfgang Peck at a cooperative winery in Andau, Austria.  Umathum, a highly respected producer for his namesake winery, oversees the grapegrowing for the Zantho wines and Peck, the managing director of the cooperative, handles the winemaking.

“Zantho” is an old name for the village of Andau that dates back to the 15th and 16th centuries.  Andau is in the Burgenland region, a relatively warm wine region bordering Lake Neusiedel, which separates Austria from Hungary.  Because this area is fairly southern within Austria and fairly flat, and because the shallow lake exerts a warming influence, the lakeside area of Burgenland is a key area for red wine production, unlike more northerly or hillier Austrian wine zones. 

Zweigelt (pronounced ZWY ghelt), the grape variety of this wine, is uniquely Austrian.  The name means “two grapes” and speaks to the fact that the grape was born of a cross-breeding of two varieties, Blaufrankish (known elsewhere as Lemberger) and St. Laurent.  Blaufrankish is a grape that can give spicy, edgy red wines, while St. Laurent -- related to Pinot Noir -- makes softer and mellower wines.  This wine is not a blend of the two grapes but a varietal wine from a single grape that combines the characteristics of both of its parents, both energetic and mellow.  Zweigelt is Austria’s leading red variety, accounting for about 40% of Austria’s red-grape vineyards.

The 2009 Zantho Zweigelt is a dry, medium-bodied, unoaked, fruity and flavorful red.  I tasted it blind along with a random (yet typical) international selection of reds that were, for the most part, very oaky, alcoholic and tannic, and in that context this wine was a breath of fresh air.  Its low-key aroma suggests ripe, slightly baked fruit, but in the mouth that fruit character comes across as juicy and delicately jammy rather than baked.  The wine is smooth and soft in texture with more fruit than tannin.  The aromas and flavors suggest black cherries and red berries, with a hint of black pepper.  Keywords: soft, smooth, easy, flavorful, drinkable.

I like to drink this wine with a slight chill on it.  It is flavorful enough to pair with grilled or roast meat dishes, but maybe too fruity for stews.  Risotto, pizza, and burgers should all be good matches.  With its good fruitiness and low tannin, I bet it would also go nicely with spicy dishes, as in Mexican or Indian cuisines.  This is a wine to drink and enjoy now, not to age.

89 Points