No visit to Vienna is complete without a trip to one of its Heurigen, or wine taverns.
The name ‘Heurigen’ derives from the Austrian-Bavarian word for ‘young wine’. It’s not an exaggeration. Many of the vintages served at these Viennese wine taverns are not even fully fermented. Most is a cloudy, sweet grape juice. Sturm, by comparison, is really just fermented grape juice, not wine. But, don’t worry. There’s plenty of the real thing in an authentic heuriger.
For over 250 years ‘authentic’ has been defined by law. Any winemaker who wanted to serve his own wine on the premises could do so and pay little tax. One way to tell it’s the real deal is by the pine branches hung on the door to indicate that the establishment is open for business. Look for a notice with Ausg’steckt emblazoned on it inside the entrance and you’re assured of a genuine Viennese young wine.
You’re also assured of having a good time.
There is such a variety of establishments in the region north of the city that you can’t fail to find one you’ll enjoy. Grinzing is a popular destination, as anyone could see by the busloads of tourists that visit as part of a tour.
Sievering and Nussdorf see similar-sized crowds at the height of the tourist season. Less populated wine tasting areas like Stammersdorf and Strebersdorf north of the Danube still see a healthy amount of business, though.
In any of them, visitors can enjoy a glass of wine, a fine sausage, and more along with a traditional song from one of the colorfully dressed entertainers. Some are strictly shlock, others are carrying on a beloved tradition that goes back more generations than America even has. But whether theatrical or heartfelt, the enjoyment flows as readily as the fine wine.
For those who favor a red, the Blauer Burgunder may be recommended. For a more traditional white of the sort Austria is famous for, try one of the Neuburger’s or a fine Riesling. For something a little less familiar, but still delightful, go for the Gruner Veltliner.
You’ll have a chance to chat with the locals while you sip because the heurigen are popular not only with tourists but those who have lived all their lives in Vienna. The friendly atmosphere leads to a lot of conversation and the wine helps encourage goodwill.
Plan ahead, though, since some of the highest quality Buschenschank (as they’re also called, from the German ‘bunch’, as in a bunch of pine branches) are open only at select times of the year. The ones open year-’round (although there are many exceptions) generally cater more to the average tourist. The somewhat more authentic versions may be only open for a month or two during the summer.