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Austria’s most popular red wine bears a Nazi’s name and must change it, group argues

A debate thrown up by Austria's troubled history is gripping the normally sedate wine-growing scene: should the renowned "Zweigelt" variety ditch a name harking back to a Nazi party member.

Austria's most popular red wine bears a Nazi's name and must change it, group argues
Zweigelt grapes with signs of withering. Photo: Karl Bauer

Created in 1922 by Austrian breeder Fritz Zweigelt (1888-1964), the variety is a cross of the Saint-Laurent and Blaufraenkisch grapes.

It is the most popular red wine in Austria and was initially called “Rotburger” before being renamed after its creator in 1975.

However, this week an artists' collective launched a campaign for the name to be changed again, pointing out that Fritz Zweigelt was an early member of the Nazi party and a fervent anti-Semite.

“No other sector in Austria which was implicated in the Nazi system of terror has stayed as silent as the wine industry,” the collective said. 

Two growers and a Vienna restaurant have already pledged to start marketing the wine under the name “Blue Monday”, an allusion to the possible effects of enjoying the product too much over the weekend.

The Austrian wine promotion body Österreich Wein Marketing has said it is open to a debate on the name but that Fritz Zweigelt's past needed to be investigated more thoroughly.

This isn't the first time the German-language name of a wine has thrown up troubling connotations.

A white variety named “Dr. Wagnerrebe” as an homage to a Nazi politician had to be renamed after the Second World War.

The name was changed to “Scheurebe” in Germany after its creator Georg Scheu and in Austria is sold under the label “Sämling 88”.

The figure 88 refers to the serial number of the seedling that Scheu chose for the variety but by unhappy coincidence is also used as code in neo-Nazi circles for the slogan “Heil Hitler”, H being the eighth letter of the alphabet.

Austria, annexed to Nazi Germany in the Anschluss of 1938, took a long time post war to examine complicity in Nazi crimes, preferring instead to paint the country as the “first victim”.

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FOOD & DRINK

Tips: How to buy wine in an Austrian supermarket

Austrian supermarkets have a reputation for being expensive, but it is possible to pick up affordable and decent wine in supermarkets across the country.

Tips: How to buy wine in an Austrian supermarket

For oenophiles, shopping for wine often involves checking ratings and reviews, but price comes into the decision-making process too.

This is where Austrian supermarkets come in – most of which have a decent selection of both Austrian and international wine (Wein) at reasonable prices.

Although it will depend on where you shop, many of the varieties found in smaller, boutique markets can be found in Austria’s supermarkets much cheaper (although wine is less likely to be chilled). 

Here’s what you need to know about buying wine in an Austrian supermarket.

READ ALSO: How to drink wine like an Austrian

Top wine varieties in Austria

Here are the top Austrian wine varieties to look out for, as well as a few tasting and pairing notes.

Grüner Veltliner: Possibly Austria’s most famous white wine (Weisswein). Grüner Veltliner is usually dry but there are also semi-dry and sparkling styles available. 

Riesling: Austria produces lots of highly rated Riesling, so you can’t go wrong with this wine. In fact, sommeliers often describe Riesling as the “king of white wines”.

Gemischter Satz: A white wine made from a variety of grapes (at least three and up to 20) from one vineyard. The term Wiener Gemischter Satz is now regulated by law after Vienna became a protected area for this wine.

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Sekt: Also known as Austrian sparkling wine, Sekt can be found in most supermarkets. It is a classic aperitif that is usually served at special occasions, and it goes well with appetisers and fish.

Zweigelt: One of Austria’s most popular red wine (Rotwein) varieties that is grown in almost every wine region in the country. Perfect with Wiener Schnitzel or sausage.

Blaufränkisch: This is a typical Central European red wine that is mostly grown in Burgenland. This wine also pairs well with meat, such as beef, sausage or Wiener Schnitzel.

How to choose wine in a supermarket

Even people with limited knowledge of wine can find a decent bottle of plonk in the supermarket – as long as you know what to look here. Here are some tips to get started.

Screwcaps: Many beginners think a bottle of wine with a screwcap will be the one to avoid, but experts recommend if there are two bottles at the same price, you should go for the one without a cork. This is because screwcaps keep white wine fresher for longer and prevents wine from being compromised by bacteria in the cork. 

Labels: Knowing a few key wine terms in German will help you to understand wine labels in Austria. For example, Prädikatswein is the top tier wine in Austria and means “Distinction”. Qualitätswein is the second tier of classification and means “Quality Wine”, whereas Landwein is the third tier and translates to “Country Wine”, similar to Vin de Pays in France.

Austria also has its own classification system for typical regional wines known as Districtus Austriae Controllatus (DAC). There are 16 DACs in Austria including Wiener Gemischter Satz, Weinviertal (Gruner Veltliner only) and Wachau.

Additionally, look out for some other key terms such as Extra Trocken (extra dry), Halbtrocken (medium dry), Süss (sweet), Weingut (wine estate) and Winzergenossenschaft (wine growers’ cooperative).

Medals, awards and ratings: Falstaff is a highly rated food and drink publication and you will regularly come across wine in an Austrian supermarket with a high Falstaff rating. This means the wine has been sampled by experts and given a favourable result.

There are also many other wine awards that are displayed on bottles, although it doesn’t always mean award-winning wine is the best option.

Legal age to buy alcohol in Austria

In Austria, there is no national law related to the purchase of alcohol. Instead, it is regulated at a local level by state governments, although it is illegal for anyone under the age of 16 to purchase alcohol across Austria.

From the age of 16 to 18, it is legal for most people to purchase and consume wine and beer, but there are slight differences between the provinces. 

FOR MEMBERS: Everything you need to know about Austria’s wine industry

For example, in Salzburg, 16 to 18-years-olds are not allowed to purchase or consume drinks with an alcohol level of more than 0.5 percent. Whereas in Vienna, people in this age group can buy and consume beer and wine but not spirits.

For anyone in doubt about the rules where they live (or where they are visiting), here is a useful overview of the law in each Austrian province.

Drinking in public is also legal in Austria. This can be a surprise for Brits or Americans wanting to picnic in the park. 

Keep in mind that even though drinking in public is allowed, anti-social behaviour and public drunkenness will not be tolerated. 

Reader question: Is it legal to drink in public in Austria?

Supermarket opening times

Most supermarkets in Austria are closed on Sundays and public holidays, with exceptions at major train stations and in certain towns during peak tourist seasons. 

For example, branches of Eurospar and Hofer in the Alps are often open for a few hours on Sundays during the winter season.

Supermarkets in Austria also close early in the evening (around 7pm), apart from a few stores in larger cities that are open longer. This can be a shock to people from places like the UK where most supermarkets are open until 10pm or 11pm.

Spar

Spar is the most common store in Austria with more than 1,500 shops across the country. It became the market leader in Austria in 2020 with sales of €8.3 billion.

Interspar is the hypermarket version of this brand, followed by Eurospar that offers a wide selection of food and drink. Then there is Spar Gourmet, which is a “lifestyle supermarket” in Vienna and the surrounding area, which stocks lots of wine.

As Spar is the biggest supermarket brand in Austria, it is a good place to start when shopping for wine. It has a wide selection from Austrian wineries, ranging from cheap and cheerful to highly rated, as well as international wines, including products from Italy, France and Spain.

At the time of writing, The Local found an offer of 25 percent off all Sekt, Prosecco and Champagne at Eurospar.

READ MORE: Everything you need to know about supermarkets in Austria

Billa

Billa has more than 1,000 stores across Austria and can be found in most towns and cities. It is easy to spot with its bright yellow and red branding and is known for stocking regional produce.

Billa also operates the larger Billa Plus stores in some locations, as well as an online shop for click and collect orders. 

When it comes to wine, Billa is proud of its Austrian wine offerings and more than half of its stock comes from Austria, including organic wine brands. 

Billa has even partnered with several Austrian winemakers, making it the place to go to find wine by Renner & rennersistas, Hiedler, Zahel and Huber (Falstaff’s Winegrower of the Year in 2015).

MPreis

MPreis is the main supermarket in Tyrol with branches in Salzburg, Vorarlberg, Carinthia and Upper Austria. The independent chain works with 250 regional suppliers and is a proud stockist of regional products, including wine.

The wine selection at MPreis changes regularly and every week there are special offers on selected bottles advertised as buy one, get one free (Gratis). 

For example, at the time of writing, MPreis offers included an Italian red wine for €13.99, an organic Grüner Veltliner for €9 and several brands of Prosecco starting from €11.99 – all of which were buy one, get one free.

MPreis also stocks a wide range of European wines and a selection of higher-end bottles that aren’t included in the weekly offers.

Hofer

Hofer is essentially Aldi but with a different name for the Austrian market. It sells cheaper, lesser known brands that Aldi is famous for, as well as some Austrian products, including a decent selection of wine.

Wine prices at Hofer range from around €3 for standard Grüner Veltliner or Zweigelt, to around €10 for organic wine or bottles with a high rating from Falstaff. 

However, you typically won’t find any special offers on wine at Hofer as the prices are already quite low.

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