In over 30 years working in wine, I’ve had the chance to travel to most major wine regions of the world, but in October I finally managed to fill a gap in my wine travel experiences and visit the vineyards of Austria. Inspired by the fact that the European Wine Bloggers Conference (EWBC) 2010 was being held in Vienna, Brett and I decided to attend the conference and extend the trip a little to explore some of Austria’s best wine regions.
Snow in the west, vineyards in the east
I have tried a few Austrian wines regularly in London, enjoying particularly their luscious sweet whites, and over the years I have become increasingly impressed by their Riesling and Grüner Veltliner dry whites as well as some interesting reds from local grape varieties, Blaufränkisch, Blauer Zweigelt and St. Laurent. In this trip, I wanted to get to grips with the regions and the geography, to actually visit the wine producers and vineyards, and to taste the wine in Austria’s own restaurants, the only way to really learn about a country’s wines.
At the conference, we were given an excellent introduction to Austrian wines by the ebullient head of their promotional body and main sponsor of the EWBC conference, Wines from Austria. Willi Klinger told us the perfect way, especially for me as a wine and ski lover, to think about Austria’s geography: “Snow in the west and vineyards in the east”. Luckily for wine travellers, Vienna, Austria’s beautiful capital city, lies also in the east, with vineyards actually within the city boundaries, and good connections to most of the important wine regions.
Vienna, City of Wine
In 2009, as a guest of the Great Wine Capitals organisation at their AGM in Bordeaux, I learnt their definition of a Great Wine Capital, but in Vienna, I felt that here was another great wine capital, even though Vienna is not part of the group, and may well never be – the group’s entry criteria is quite stringent. Vienna recently began styling itself as ‘The City of Wine’ and it has certainly proved itself to me as an ideal city for a wine travel lover to visit.
Vienna is particularly famous for its Heuriger – traditional wine taverns mainly in the northern suburbs where you will find most of the city’s vineyards (a not insubstantial 600+ hectares). Heuriger are owned by wine producers and Austria gives them a special licence to open only for a certain number of days in the year, usually restricting them to selling only their own wine, plus some simple regional food dishes. The locals visit them especially to taste the latest vintage (known as Heuriger wine) in the months leading up to the end of the year, but actually the taverns are open on and off all year.
With EWBC we had a great meal and tasting of Vienna wine at the delightful Mayer am Pfarrplatz Heuriger. The tasting was of wines from the WienWein group of six small Viennese wine producers who have linked up to market their wines together. I made a point of tasting a Vienna wine speciality Gemischter Satz, a designation for white wines from one single vineyard, growing a ‘field blend’, a large range of grape varieties that are all vinified together, each grape providing the wine with a different characteristic. The result is typically dry, fresh and aromatic with a plethora of different flavours. I really enjoyed the delicious Rotes Haus 2009 Gemischter Satz from Weingut Mayer, which we had also tasted at the Austrian Undiscovered Stars tasting presented by Wines of Austria and UK on-line retailer Naked Wines – we bloggers chose this wine as our favourite for Naked Wines to import.
Austrian wine regions along the waterways
What also makes Vienna such a great wine capital is its proximity to Austria’s major wine regions. You can easily take a day trip to several by road or public transport from the city; you can even cruise on a Danube boat trip to the vineyards.
Only around an hour north, further up the Danube, is the spectacularly beautiful Wachau wine district, a UNESCO world heritage site, famous for its superb dry whites from Riesling and Grüner Veltliner. I will write more about our 2-day visit there in a future post. Also part of the greater wine region Lower Austria and only just further east is Kremstal and the large, up-and-coming Weinviertel wine district making a name for its wines from Grüner Veltliner, which some EWBC participants took a hand in harvesting for an afternoon.
A great playground for the Viennese is the large Lake Neusiedl to the south of the city under an hour away. Part of Burgenland, we didn’t get to visit the great sweet wine vineyards near the lake on this trip, but we were able to explore the Leithaberg, Mittelburgenland and Südburgenland districts slightly beyond, famous in particular for their red wines as well as their friendly hospitality. I will expand further in a future post, but for the impatient wine lovers amongst you, do read this excellent post about Blaufränkisch from a fellow wine blogging traveller Tim Lemke.
Eating and drinking beyond the Heuriger
Back in Vienna, we found the city offered wine lovers much more than just its Heuriger, with a profusion of wine bars including an excellent chain incorporated in the Wein & Co wine shops. We frequented a branch, by the Naschmarkt food market, which has a wonderful selection of wines from both Austria (all styles available from really top producers) and from around the world. The wine bar allows you to select any bottle of wine from the shop for a 6 euro mark-up – a great deal, and they serve good, simple food platters and have knowledgeable, attentive staff too.
And then, there are the Viennese restaurants, with superb wine lists, proudly showcasing their own country’s wines, though including others too. We ate one night with a group of wine bloggers, needing a change from Austrian food, at Dots Lounge, a Japanese, ‘experimental sushi’ restaurant and were spoilt for choice on their wine list, and by the way, many Austrian wines go brilliantly with Asian cuisine. The wine list was excellent too at an ultra traditional Austrian restaurant, not far from the superb St. Stephen’s Cathedral, Weibels Wirtshaus where Brett and I enjoyed our final lunch in the city. Notably, both restaurants include a link on their websites to their wine list, something I rarely find on London restaurant websites.
Apart from its wine offerings, I was enchanted by the city of Vienna and it is already on my list of cities where I want to revisit to explore its beautiful buildings and museums. Now that I realise that it so much of a great wine capital too, with easy access to not only fine Austrian wines and foods, but also to its wine regions, I won’t fail to return soon.
One day I would love to include Wine Travel Guides to Austria on the main website, and I have already found just the right person to write them, Julia Sevenich, an American wine writer and educator, and long term resident of Austria, who helped enormously with planning our trip. For now, take a look at her enjoyable series of articles, The Austrian Wine Adventure Tour on Haidu.net.
Many thanks to Gabriella and Ryan of Catavino plus Robert of The Wine Conversation, the hard-working organisers of EWBC, and to all the sponsors, especially Wines of Austria for encouraging us to make this much overdue trip!