I can't prove this, but I would guess that wine drinkers (at least American ones) have a bias for grape names that sound like they originate from a Romance language. If you take a good look at the list of grapes that dominate the marketplace, nearly all of them have a French, Italian or Spanish name. Now, I'm not saying that it's purely a linguistic preference that has elevated Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay to their esteemed positions. In fact, I think it's probably the opposite effect; since most of the big time wine grape names have a certain kind of sonic resemblance, then we are probably more likely to associate similar sounding words with quality wine than we are words that sound drastically different. Like Zweigelt, for instance.
In the pantheon of mellifluous grape names, Zweigelt sticks out a bit, but it could have been worse. It was created in 1922 by Fritz Zweigelt in Klosterneuberg, Austria, who originally named it Rotburger, which would be a very tough sell in the US. There is another red grape created in 1928 by crossing Trollinger (Schiava) and Riesling that goes by the name of Rotberger which is completely unrelated (interestingly, there is also Kerner, which is a white grape with the same parentage). My first thought was that perhaps Zweigelt came to be named after its creator in order to avoid confusion with the other grape, but it appears that Rotberger is hardly planted, and, in some places, the old Rotburger name is still used. My guess is that it was probably a marketing decision that somebody made to make the wine sound a little friendlier to non-German speaking consumers.
In any case, Zweigelt was created by crossing Blaufränkisch and St. Laurent. Austria, like its neighbor Germany, is predominantly a white wine producing nation and most of their focus is on Grüner Veltliner and Riesling (in fact, almost two-thirds of all wine production in Austria is white wine). Zweigelt is the most planted red grape in Austria, accounting for about 10% of the total vineyard area. It is not limited to a particular place, but seems to be grown all over Austria and even Canada is beginning to have some significant Zweigelt plantings. The grape has a late bud break, which allows it to tolerate colder climates a bit better since it can miss many of those early frosts that can decimate vineyards. It is also early ripening which further shortens the growing season, allowing the extremes at both ends of the growing season in many northern climates to be bypassed.
Zweigelt is relatively accessible in US markets. Many larger wine shops may have one or two different bottles kicking around in the German section. I was able to pick up a 2008 Gobelsburger Zweigelt for about $15. In the glass, the wine was a mulberry purple color with medium saturation. The nose had a little funky earth thing happening with raspberry and strawberry fruit and a wet leaf character. On the palate, the wine was medium bodied with fairly high acid and little tannins. There were racy tart cherry, tart plum, and wild strawberry flavors with a bit of clove and allspice hanging around. The funkiness in the nose doesn't really extend to the palate, which is a very good thing for me. Some people are very tolerant of or may even relish those funky, gamey notes in a wine but they are generally unwelcome for me. This wine is very similar to its parent Blaufränkisch and also shares some similarities with Pinot Noir as well. This is a very versatile food wine that could probably cover everything from salmon or tuna fish dishes up to roasted red meats. I would probably stop short of grilled meats with this wine and reach for something with a bit more stuffing to it.
UPDATE - 6/7/11
Bauer Wine & Spirits. In the glass, the wine was a very pale pink color with frothy bubbles. The nose on this was very fruity with nice strawberry and candied red raspberry notes. On the palate, the wine was very fruit-forward with strawberry and raspberry fruit and nice acidity. The bottle says this wine is dry, but it tastes a little sweet, either because of the strong fruitiness or because there may just be a touch of residual sugar here. I'm not sure how this wine was fermented, but it was probably done in the Charmat method or it was laced with CO2. The style here is definitely more frizzante than fully sparkling and there's virtually no chance this is traditional method as it just doesn't have the yeasty, toasty secondary fermentation aromas or flavors that you get in a traditional method sparkler. The wine is actually under screwcap, which is a new one to me in a fizzy wine. It's a very clean, refreshing, friendly wine that would be great with brunch or just to unwind on a hot day.