The Wineries of Vienna and Drinking at the Heuriger

Wineries of Vienna and Dining at the HeurigerThe first time that I had traveled to Austria was 2010 and my plan was to visit the wineries of Vienna. My then-girlfriend, now-wife, and I took the subway to the end of the U4 line, Heligenstadt, hopped on the 38A bus that journeyed uphill, and then disembarked at Armbrustergasse, where the road split. For the vineyards, we were told that we had to continue from there on foot.


We walked along a stone wall that gave way to country. And when we reached the first of the wineries, the sun was near noon. Entering the vineyard, we were eager to reward ourselves for the journey, just as we had done while cycling the vineyard circuit in Mendoza, as we do after battling Long Island traffic for North Fork varieties, as all wine drinkers the world over do when visiting the vines.


“Can I help you?” an employee of the vineyard had asked.


“We’d like to do a tasting,” I said, noticing the nondescript, uninviting building on the hillside overlooking the grapes.


“We don’t do tastings.”


“Then a glass will be fine.”


“We do not serve glasses of wine here,” said the employee of what was absolutely a vineyard.


I asked her if perhaps another winery farther along the road would offer a tasting, or even just a glass. In fact, I would have settled for anything pressed from a grape. She informed me that to do a tasting, we would have to head back into town.


“Don’t the vineyards in Vienna do tastings?” I had never been to a wine region that did not.


“We grow grapes,” she said without irony. “The wine taverns sell wine. But most won’t be serving until about 4pm.”


We returned back to the city center, abandoning the idea that one did wine tasting in Austria, and drank beer at the famed Schweizerhaus instead.


Seven years later, I returned to Vienna, and kept hearing one recommendation: You must visit the wine region.


Ha, I thought. The great joke on tourists. I already knew: One does not taste wine at the wineries in Vienna.


The vineyards had the same philosophy, it seemed, as a Temperance Movement meeting, and the place to taste wine only offered such after the day had waned, when one no longer wanted to taste wine, but settle down instead with a bottle inspired by the day of tasting wine.


But as this odd recommendation resounded, and the first attempt to tipple there had left me unsatisfied, I decided to give it one more chance.


Train to bus to the fork in the road.


There I found the familiar wall that had led me to the country road, but this time, before reaching that road, I followed new instructions: pass the long-ago residence of Bruno Kreisky, the former chancellor, and turn onto Probusgasse, a street named for the Roman emperor who had supposedly brought wine to the region, though the legend is disputed as the remains of older grape vines had been discovered in Vienna.


Probusgasse is home to the Beethoven Museum–one of several places in this district of Vienna that claims the prodigy as its resident. But more interesting to me were the doorways with the hanging pine needles above. The mistletoesque display signifies something just as fortunate as standing beneath that parasitic Christmas plant with a romantic interest; the pine means wine is flowing at the Heuriger, or the Austrian wine tavern.


Another symbol of the Heuriger is the decree nailed to the door that dates back to the 18th century, when Joseph II–the People’s Emperor, as he’s known–permitted producers to sell their wines straight to consumers without having to use the once mandated middleman. Joseph II also opened the parks to the public and lifted discriminating laws on oppressed people, including Jews, (though he gave them no new rights). Legend has it that the nobles complained to him about these changes that would have them mingle with the common folk. We will not be among ourselves, they said. Joseph II replied simply, If I were to be among my own, I’d be in the crypt.


I walked Probusgasse searching for the beneficiaries of Joseph’s edict. I passed a few pine-peaked doorways, which, from the street, framed beautiful Heuriger courtyards, like Wesler, which is known well for varietals and for a variety of strudel.


At the end of the road, which fed into a small square, stood the Mayer am Pfarrplatz, my Heuriger for the evening, and yet another establishment that claims Beethoven as tenant.


It was summer and the woods around us were bursting with chanterelles. This meant that nearly every dish at the Heuriger would have mushrooms, not as an embellishment, but in abundance. The menu was seasonal, and switched out every few months for menus heavy on asparagus or whatever else was prolific in the forest and fields.


On tables, there stood two types of wine glasses: typical stemware, and short, stubby jars with handles, which seemed more appropriate for a beer than a white–the grape that does best in Vienna. But the little handle wine glass has history. When the Viennese would drink wine, they typically did so while enjoying fatty finger foods. This left hands slippery and stemmed glasses greased. So they preferred the mugs with handles. While utensils became more popular over time, the locals could not depart from their beloved mug, and the handle wine glass remained a fixture in the Heuriger. (Today, they are typically used for house wines.)


I began with the Germischter Satz (a wine made from a variety of whites), and then moved through the line-up. The Gruner Veltliner evoked apples and pears, the Rieslings had notes of cinnamon and orange zest. Both paired nicely with the pork knuckle that arrived like a little hive of meat onto my table, joined with the tart and bitter condiments of horseradish and mustard.


Wineries of Vienna and Dining at the Heuriger


As I foraged through the cream, which wrapped lake-like around the boulder of dumpling, home to a regatta of chanterelles, I sipped the Muskateller, with a zest comparable to lemons and bouquets of elderberry flower. The chardonnay was a journey as complicated as the seven years it took me to find a happy conclusion to that first visit.


Most surprising was the dessert wine that accompanied the apricot dumpling. I typically do not like dessert wine, nor the sound of apricot dumplings. But like the unexpectedly tart fruit set pit-like in the dough, the Heuriger’s 1999 offering was not as sweet as most over-sugared concluders.


The accordion player serenaded couples. The vines hung overhead. And the tasting, late into the evening, was perfect, as this was the way the Viennese preferred to enjoy their wine.



Posted on by Noah Lederman in Europe, I Ate What?, Somewhere

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