Wine of the Week: Zweigelt, a Red to Chill for Summer

1888 was a momentous year in the history of Western Civilization. It was the year that Nietzsche went mad and the year he scribed his last cogent and coherent works (I, for one, am a huge fan of Twilight of the Idols, or, How to Philosophize with a Hammer). And it's also the year that marked the birth of an Austrian viticulturist named Fritz Zweigelt, who crossed Blaufränkisch and St. Laurent grapes to create the eponymous Zweigelt grape.

Dr. Zweigelt was an undeniable product of the zeitgeist that surrounded him. Like many of his contemporaries and peers, he experimented with grafting and breeding to create hybrid grapes that would yield greater and more consistent quantities of grapes for the production of table wine. According to most accounts of his life, his career ended in 1945 -- another momentous vintage in Western Civilization (he died, they report, in 1964). But the legacy of his life's work lives on in the grape he named after himself: Zweigelt is the red grape variety most widely cultivated today in Austria.

While some steadfastly claim that Zweigelt is related to Pinot Noir, others maintain that it shares a kinship with Gamay (the latter theory seems more plausible to me based on my own experience with the grape). But no one denies that it makes for sturdy, fresh red wine, generally vinified in stainless steel, bright in acidity, balanced in its alcohol content, and happily affordable. But it's one of those wines that I love to reach for and chill during summer, and when I saw 2009 Gobelsburg at Spec's for less than $20, I didn't hesitate to pick up a bottle.

True to its category, the Gobelsburg delivered the goods: Clean, fresh red and black berry fruit flavors, vibrant acidity, and restrained alcohol -- the perfect combination for a pork chop sautéed and deglazed with white wine on a Texas summer eve. (My recommendation is to chill this wine slightly, not to mute its flavor but rather to accentuate its freshness, the element I love about this variety).

The last time I visited Berlin (in the summer of 2008), all of my friends were drinking Zweigelt. It's the perfect red wine to pair with the briny and salty foods they eat there during warmer months. And it goes well with the classic foods of July in Texas (think smoked sausage and sweet pulled pork).

It's not a grape that will widen your philosophical horizons or help you to see "behind the sacred texts," as Nietzsche wrote in The Twilight of the Idols. And frankly, I've never tasted a Zweigelt that has changed my life. But I have Nebbiolo and Nietzsche for that...

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