Stumbling across Vienna’s outskirts, you’ll see a bunch of small wine taverns situated next to sprawling vineyards. These are heurigen, and they are typically owned by local wineries that serve their own produce.
Going to a heuriger is one of the best things about being in Austria. There’s always a cacophony of clinking wine glasses, raucous laughter and a live band playing songs from a repertoire of Wienerlieder and Schrammelmusik. Heurigen are places to enjoy gemütlichkeit, a sense of warmth, friendliness and good cheer.
But what exactly is a heuriger? And what makes this Austrian institution so darn special?
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What is a heuriger
Heuriger comes from the German phrase heuriger Wein, which means this year’s wine.
This kind of establishment began to proliferate in the 18th century following a decree by Emperor Joseph II in 1784 that allowed Austrian vintners to sell newly-fermented wine directly to their customers without any taxes. Following this, vintners set up wooden tables in their vineyards and started to directly sell wine and other products to the locals.
After the start of the harvest season in late summer or early fall, vintners would place evergreen boughs outside of their gates to notify locals that their heurigen were up for business. A pale yellow liquid called sturm was often served. While a bit peculiar-looking, sturm is actually grape juice under fermentation and in the process of becoming wine.
Drinking sturm is Austria’s way to celebrate the harvest season. While sturm can be made with different types of grapes, all kinds of sturm are all quite fresh, juicy, and slightly fizzy. Unlike other types of wine, sturm is meant to be gulped than savored! Sometimes, euphoric singing and decadent drinking occurs, behaviors encouraged by the good-cheer atmosphere in these venues.
Heurigen originated in Vienna, where these wine taverns were once densely located within the peripheries of the capital city. Today, there are nearly 200 heurigen spread across the country.
At first, heurigen were not allowed to serve food. This was a preventative measure to avoid competition with local restaurants. But over time, the rules turned more loose. Winemakers began to grow vegetables and raise herds of sheep and cattle.
Heurigen began to offer a simple selection of cold and hot dishes that are directly sourced from their own farms. To this very day, many heurigen retain this farm-to-food concept. Many heurigen today have buffets instead of table service. Sometimes, you can catch a glimpse of wine being made at the right angle!
While the wines still remain the star of these establishments, food is what makes people gather, relax and stay.
What to expect in a Viennese heuriger
Vienna has a lively heurigen scene and a remarkable number of wineries — close to 230 — that make more than 1.5 million liters (400 000 gallons) of wine. From my knowledge, Vienna is one of the few capital cities in the world to still have many vineyards around the area, making wine-tasting experiences especially abundant here.
During the sturm season, Vienna’s 19th district, Dobling, has the largest concentration of heurigen to have a heurigen-crawl, in which you can sample a few wines in each heuriger’s wine selection to see which ones you like best. In Dobling, go to the Kahlenberg hill and visit the heurigen offering spectacular views over the Austrian capital.
What can you expect when visiting a traditional Viennese heuriger? Here are some things:
- Views of the countryside and landscape – Many heurigen to this very day are located next to vineyards in the outskirts of Vienna. Those in Kahlenberg offer sweeping views of Vienna and the Danube. If you’re a vacationer wanting to see a panoramic view of the city and enjoy a glass of wine (or ten glasses) visiting a heuriger should be in your bucket list.
- A wine tavern – Expect heurigen to look like wine taverns with a great selection of local wines and Viennese foods.
- Located next vineyards – Heurigen traditionally belonged to vintners and local winemakers who wanted to directly sell their freshly-produced wines to the locals during the season. To this very day, most heurigen have a farm-to-table concept, making it a great experience for foodies and wine-lovers visiting Vienna!
- Open terrace – Of course, many heurigen have open terraces that’s perfect for late afternoon drinks. Sometimes, the actual heurigen is actually just some chairs in the middle of a vineyard that has an amazing vista!
- Live music – Contributing to the gemütlichkeit, some heurigen occasionally have live music featuring traditional Viennese music. Expect songs played on a guitar and accordion, and on themes around wine, Vienna, nostalgia and even death.
Buffet – While some heurigen have a set menu, most only offer a buffet with traditional Viennese foods. But this buffet is not the American type, so be careful! Instead of being all-you-can-eat venues, in heurigen, you pick your food and pay them based on weight.
Great heurigen around Vienna
Located just one hour away from the city of Vienna, Weinhof Zimmerman has a great garden offering spectacular views of the vineyard and the Austrian capital!
They have a buffet with a nice selection of Austrian cuisine and local specialties. Suffice to say, there is a nice variety in choices at reasonable prices.
It’s definitely a good choice for those wanting to get away from the more touristy areas in Vienna, such as Grinzing. While reaching the place requires a bit of hiking, I swear that watching the magnificent sunset with a large glass of wine makes it all worth the trekk.
Mayer am Nussberg
Located right in a vineyard at Kahlenberg, you can have a glass while being surrounded by the beauty of the Viennese landscape. The place is literally just an open field, with long chairs where you can seat back and relax! The wines are affordable, fresh and good.
It’s definitely a great place for a nice break.There’s just one thing to keep in mind: this heuriger only accepts cash. In fact, everything’s quite informal. There’s just a makeshift shack to order wine and drinks.
After hiking around Kahlenberg, you’ll find this place in the northeastern slope of the area and smack right in the middle of the Eserne Handgasse. Young and old people go to this place for its excellent wine and great views of Vienna and the Danube river.
This rustic heuriger is the perfect place to wind down and have a glass of wine. I loved their Grüner Veltliner wine, a type of white wine that’s local in the region. The food is also very typical Viennese, which includes pork roast, sauerkraut, dumplings, black sausages and salads. There’s no food menu, like in most traditional heurigen, so you’re going to have to see what’s available on the spot. During winter, they serve the famous Gluhwein, which is divine, in their cosy Stubbe.
An acclaimed heuriger known for its local wine and delicious food, Weininger is always packed with locals, so you better book in advance if you want to get some seats. Not a lot of tourists know about this place, so it’s a bit of a hidden gem. It’s also a bit fancier compared to the other ones I just suggested. The apple strudel is so tender, full of apples and very delicious. The mushroom salad is fresh and seasonal (as it should). And they also have delicious mint spritzer that I highly suggest. You can choose from a menu or a buffet.
Visiting Vienna soon? Put these heurigen in your Try Outs
You’ve learned about the fabulous world of heurigen and what makes them special. If you’re going to Vienna soon and want to enjoy being in this uniquely Austrian institution, don’t forget to put these in your TWISPER Try Outs!
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