Wine culture has deep roots in the historic capital of Vienna.
The Austrian tradition of ‘heuriger’ provides one of the best ways to experience summer in Central Europe. Quaint country homes and taverns open their doors to serve up their own locally produced wine, cheese, charcuterie, fruit preserves, and many other culinary delights. Many heurigen serve ‘fleischlaberl’ – better known to anglophones as hamburgers. Innkeepers typically offer ‘nouveau’ style wines that are freshly bottled; they may even have a little spritz. In the old-fashioned establishments, wine may be served to you unmarked from a large jug or canister. I firmly recommend visiting Weinbau Regner in the village of Traunfeld for a truly authentic heurige experience.
The Weinviertel is a sprawling region which covers the land north of Vienna, extending all the way to Slovakia and the Czech Republic. Heurigen have a particularly strong presence here. One of the unique wine styles in Vienna and the Weinviertel is called ‘Gemischter Satz’ – a white blend of 3 or more grape varieties. Gemischter satz is just the ticket on a hot afternoon: always tasting light, dry, and crisp with noticeable fruity and flowery notes. The most common grapes included in the blend are gruner veltliner, riesling, welschriesling, pinot blanc, traminer, neuburger, sauvignon blanc, muller-thurgau, and gelber muskateller.
Gemischter Satz is officially recognized by Austrian wine law; its production dates all the way back to Roman times. The wines are forbidden from having any ‘recognizable expression of wood.’ This highlights a common thread in Austrian winemaking: Austrian producers are generally wary of aging their wines in new oak barrels. Drinkers who hope to avoid the toasted, roasted, and smoky flavors common in many modern red wines (and in certain whites) will find a safe haven in Austrian wine. Typically the only Austrian wines to show oaky characteristics will be labelled ‘Reserve.’
Breakfast and brunch are two of Austria’s culinary strong suits. Many people are not aware that the world famous croissant is in fact native to Vienna, Austria! The french actually refer to breakfast pastries as ‘vienoisseries.’ They became popular after an Austrian officer named August Zang opened his ‘Boulangerie Viennoise’ in Paris.
The Viennese pastry game is bar none and the cafe culture is undeniably strong. One of the best ‘kaffe und kuchen’ (coffee and cake) spots in Vienna is Vollpension. This cozy cafe employs retired ‘omas’ (grannies) who bake cakes from their own recipe books. There are a wide variety of cafe drinks and breakfast snacks to choose from – soft boiled eggs, beet spreads, carrot spreads, many different breads and cakes, etc.
One of the most breathtaking vine scapes to behold is less than 100km down the Danube from Vienna. Vineyards seem to tumble from rocky precipices right into the river. The landscape becomes more and more dramatic as you move west from Krems to Spitz. These are the famous vineyards of Kremstal and Wachau, where truly some of the best gruner veltliner and riesling can be found. One of the most scenic viewpoints is the medieval Durnstein Castle, where Richard the Lionheart (portrayed as a lion in Disney’s animated Robin Hood) was held captive. Lower Austria is by far one of the most beautiful wine countries to visit – especially for those who love crisp, dry white wines.