Exploring the Wine Taverns of Vienna

In Vienna, they are as famous as that city’s Boys Choir, the Lipizzaner or Schonbrunn Palace.

They have served as backdrops for many films. Songs have been written about them. And because they are so comfortable and welcoming, the locals love them.

We speak of Vienna’s wine taverns, or heurige. The word does not describe just the tavern itself, but also the wine from the current vintage—and only Viennese wines are served.

To find an authentic heurige, look for a bunch of pine branches and the word Ausg’steckt written on a board. That board also will display the tavern’s hours. Inside, you’ll find local wines available by the glass or bottle, tasty culinary creations (often served buffet style) and live music.

No other city on earth embraces local wine like Vienna. In fact, it’s the only metropolis that grows enough winegrapes and makes enough wine within its city limits to even be worth mentioning. At last count, more than 1,700 acres in Vienna were devoted to vineyards.

The city’s wine heritage is reflected not only by the numerous heurige, but also by several beautiful old wine cellars.

One of the oldest is Villon Wine Center, located four floors underground in the heart of the city. A tour of the 500-year-old cellar is offered, complete with tastings of both wine and Viennese spring water.

The magnificent wine cellar in the Palais Coburg was constructed within historical ruins from the 16th century. The “Wine Archive” and Champagne Cellar consist of six different rooms, each with unique character. The collection of rare wines is among the best in the world, and at any given time, the total bottle count hovers around 60,000.

At the Artner Restaurant on Franziskanerplatz, some parts of the cellar vaults date back to the Middle Ages. A few modern elements have been added in recent years, making the cellar accessible to the public.

More than 2 million bottles are stored in the Schlumberger Champagne Cellars, housed in the original Schlumberger building in Vienna Dobling. Tours of the 300-year-old edifice are provided, and end with a tasting of sparkling wine.

While varietal wines such as Gruner Veltliner are popular, a unique Viennese wine has been enjoying a renaissance in recent years. Gemischter Satz combines two concepts familiar in California wine circles — one modern, the other nearly “extinct.”

Like modern “Meritage” wines, Gemischter Satz is a blend, consisting of at least three locally grown varieties. But unlike Meritage wines—and very much like California’s “field blends” of the early 20th century—Gemischter Satz may include up to 20 different varieties, as long as they’re grown in the same vineyard, harvested at the same time, and fermented in a single batch (not as individual varietal lots).

These tasty blends have regained popularity among locals, providing a sense of national pride, and also among visitors who are seeking an “authentic taste” of Vienna.

Gemischter Satz even has been honored by the Italy-based Slow Food Foundation with inclusion in the “Ark of Taste,” recognizing high-quality and traditionally produced foods (alternatives to industrialized agriculture).

While unique variations of Gemischter Satz can be enjoyed at the individual heurige, a good way to compare and contrast the local specialty is to visit Wieno (www.wieno.info), considered Vienna’s first wine bar.

Wieno is located near City Hall, sports a slick, minimalist interior, and offers 100 wines from Viennese producers. All eight of the city’s wine-producing areas are represented, as are all of the top producers. A well-selected “small plates” menu also is offered.

Of course, no visit to Vienna is complete without a stop at a local coffee house. Vienna’s “coffee culture” even has been recognized by UNESCO. In addition to a wide array of morning pick-me-ups, these shops offer wonderful pastries and a variety of international newspapers. Some also schedule live music on a regular basis, and are referred to as “concert cafes.”

Beginning with the coffee houses, continuing with the heurige, and finishing with the wine bar, it never has been easier to drink one’s way through Austria’s capital city.

Posted in Our Wine Travel Log
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