Zweigelt: Wine Worth Your Sausage

Adventures with Weird Wine Grapes

There are 1,368 varieties covered in Master of Wine Jancis Robinson's Wine Grapes. Bet you can't try them all.

Note from the author: There are 1,368 varieties covered in Wine Grapes by MW Jancis Robinson, MW Julia Harding, and Dr. Jose Vouillamoz. Bet you can't try them all.


Zweigelts from Paul Achs, Glatzer and Heinrich, ready for pairing with Austrian sausage stew. [Photograph: Stevie Stacionis]

"I don't know if my input is going to be worth your sausage."

That's what she said...

Literally, it's what she said, as the first (and most legible) tasting note I have written down for the Night of Zweigelt I hosted recently with some girlfriends.

It was Valentine's Day. We were having "girls' night in." And we hadn't realized until that moment how clever we were to make sausage stew for dinner. The punchlines were flowing, and we hadn't even really begun drinking yet.

I had three Zweigelts to share. Zweigelt is a red grape known for its rich yet sour-ish fruit. It's fairly common in its home in Austria, but it's special to me because it's a personal favorite, and it happens to be the very last of 1,368 included in the Wine Grapes book.

One observation: "Non-wine" friends do not like sharing tasting notes with "wine" friends. They withhold feelings. They use ambiguity. They steer conversation elsewhere. They make sausage-related jokes. And you know what? This is A-OK. The Night of Zweigelt helped me rediscover all over again two important points:

1) How very, very subjective wine is and how you shouldn't be intimidated by it. I was thrilled by how different my own wine notes were in comparison to those of my friends—who had varying levels of interest in wine as well as a whole different repertoire of subjects, experiences and vocabulary to pull from. And their opinions are just as valid as mine—because that's what all tasting notes are: opinions.

2) I caught on quickly to how boring it can be in some situations (like "girls' night in") to excessively contemplate aromas, to demand conversation about textures or to speculate over winemaking trends:

Are you really getting blackberry? Or is it black raspberry? I think it's black raspberry. Muddled. With a walnut stick. Yes, absolutely.

You said smooth, but I would call this silky. What do you think smooth means, anyway? Oh, that's what you think it means? Well, I thought it meant this other thing.

Part of the beauty of tasting "weird" wine grapes is that you often come to them without really knowing what they're "supposed" to taste like. And this promotes freedom: freedom both to say what you feel and, in appropriate situations, to simply enjoy the wine for what it is and what it brings to your evening, then to move onto more fun conversation... like, um, the best way to prepare your sausage on Valentine's Day.

On that note, I'll move right along and present to you, below, a series of tasting notes we wrote, all intermixed and equally valid, on our Night of Zweigelt.

2011 Glatzer Riedencuvee Zweigelt (Carnuntum, Austria) ($18) "I don't know if my input is going to be worth your sausage." Fierce! Vivid ruby. Bitter brambly red berries. Red apple skins, like you chewed on just the skin for a while. Tart. Nimble. Maple bacon. Umami shellfish?! High-toned. Sour. Spicy.

2010 Paul Achs Zweigelt (Burgenland, Austria) ($24) Juicy. Candy. Alcohol. Candied red fruit. Easier. Better. Fruit roll-up stuck in your teeth. Pine cones! Cinnamon. Softer tannins and higher acid. Ripe, bright and light. Rich red raspberry—or, I don't know, plum or something?

2008 Heinrich Zweigelt (Burgenland, Austria) ($20) Whoa! Rich, rich. Much richer smelling, almost like Burgundy with a heady, earthy, rich texture and pepperiness. Black. Red and black. Very cherry candy. Less sour-brambly. Mouthfilling and succulent. "I want sausage."

About the Author: Stevie Stacionis is a wine writer and Certified Sommelier based in San Francisco. She's currently drinking her way through the 1,368 varieties included in Wine Grapes. Follow her on Twitter @StevieStacionis and check out her snobbery-free wine videos at A Drinks With Friends TV.

Wines provided as samples for review consideration.