The best traditions are always worth drinking to, time and time again
Traditions emerge out of the elusive soil known as culture, but when backed up with the force of law, they can thrive through centuries. Such is the history of the Heuriger, a Viennese tradition since 1784, when the Emperor Joseph II declared that the Austrian wine growers had the right to sell their own wine and provisions on the premises without the prohibitive cost of a restaurant license.
Today there are hundreds of such Heuriger, or wine restaurants, over a hundred in Vienna itself. The inner districts are, in fact, surrounded by vineyards, with about 770 hectares of vineyards under cultivation within the city limits. Usually on location at the vineyard (there are in Vienna) the Heuriger wine is served by waiters in shirt and vest or waitresses in Dirndls, and the buffet offers an assortment of salads, fresh bread, cheeses and spreads, and traditional meals to everyone in the neighborhood and whoever happens to be passing through.
Over the years, the tradition has expanded to include Stadtheuriger in town and sometimes an à la carte menu with more typical restaurant meals.
Many Heurige traditionally had musicians on hand, in the typical grouping of one or two violins, an accordion and a clarinet, or sometimes a guitar, ideally a specially designed contra-guitar with a double neck carrying sympathetic strings. And if you’re lucky you’ll still find authentic Heuriger music today, although the musicians are more likely to come from Slovakia or Hungary than the Steiermark. But Heuriger music of the Old Empire knew no boundaries, and lives on in good hands thanks to these talented musicians from the East.
Some of the Heurige in Grinzing, in the 19th District, are quite elegant places, called Nobelheuriger, frequented by politicians and the city’s jeunesse dorée. Others though, including some of the most beautiful terraces and gardens and more than serviceable wines, are well kept secrets. Heuriger Hirt perched on the hillside halfway down the Kahlenberg is a favorite of locals. Reachable by car from Kahlenbergdorf on the Donau, you climb up through sweeping vineyards on every side. Or you can take a 38A bus from U4 Heiligenstadt to the top of the mountain and walk down the Wanderweg past the newly renovated and glistening Modul University of hotel management through the wine fields from above. Either way, the views are sensational. Inside the décor is unspectacular, but the offerings include a fine Rostbraten as well as specialties in the salad and cheese departments.
Across town, below the Kahlenberg is Buschenschank Worseg, run by a Carinthian surgeon who acquired the century-old Heuriger in 2000 on the promise he would continue the wine tradition. After a thorough renovation, he has created a little spot fresh-cut from paradise, on a verdant hillside with only one other Heuriger nearby.
A pleasant walk along Grinziger Steig from the last stop on the 38 tram, you are rewarded with an exhilarating view out over the vineyards combined with the delicious feeling of the familiar – timeless and contemporary at the same time. The setting is Austrian, but also somehow Mediterranean, stone facades with climbing roses, accented by milk-white statuary in the blossoming garden, along with two over-reaching cherry trees, a covered well in the middle of the garden and little kids on tricycles playing around you – at home in your own provincial villa.
Neustift am Walde
To escape the tourists, try Neustift am Walde, on the edge of the Vienna Woods, where Wolff and Das Schreiberhaus are open almost year round and have the warmth and family feeling these establishments are famous for. The latter is smaller and slightly cleaner, with a longer à la carte menu of traditional Austrian cuisine.
Slightly less accessible, but well worth the find, the nearby Heuriger Weinhof Zimmermann proudly bears an Austrian family legacy, and offers the best of Heuriger cuisine and a spectacular terrace.
It is tucked around the bend from the more tourist-friendly stops along the 35A bus route, and is nestled in vineyards. There at sundown, seated outside with a glass of house wine in hand and a plate of all the best their buffet has to offer – the dishes are Heuriger-standard but memorably tasty – an air of Tuscanic-feel settles deep in the hills and in the wine-warmed bodies of the Austrians and tourists. Child friendly, lovers friendly, friends and family friendly, Weinhof Zimmerman is happily congenial for all.
Some area wine makers produce wines that can hold their own anywhere. One of these is Fritz Wieninger, one of Vienna’s best "Winzer" (wine growers). His vineyards produce a fine Grüner Veltliner as well as some of the best Chardonnays in Austria, a renowned Pinot Noir, and a notable Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot cuvée. Some of his much-prized vintages are available for tasting at the Heuriger Wieninger, managed by his brother Leo, with a varied buffet just right for a wine tasting palette.
"Is it not our holy obligation to serve every creation of the garden," says the credo of Heuriger Artner, – "the forest, the waters and the air, which they offer to our pleasure, on a plate and in a glass in the most perfect form?’
Heuriger goes classy with the Artners, one of the most successful winery families in Austria. A 40-minute drive east from Vienna will get you to the Roman settlement of Carnuntum, a place where style and tradition collide, creating an explosion of sensation. Indulge with a banquet of tastes, through the play of color of the setting sun on your glass of wine. Indulge in the harmony of the sounds of nature, and let the time slide by.
And if you don’t want to make the long trek East, but still long for something a little more sophisticated, try the fine Restaurant Artner, at Floragasse 6, in the 4th District. Just make sure to reserve: It’s often fully booked. As in most Heurige, you can also take a bottle or two of Artner’s finest home. It’s up to you to decide whether to get your wine in the ab-Hof Laden by the Heuriger, in the wine boutique at the restaurant or order through their virtual Vinothek.
Vienna Stadt Heuriger
Vienna also boasts a few authentic city Heuriger, perfect when schedules are tight. Even without the vineyard out back, the good ones still retain the unpretentious flair of their country cousins.
One of the best is Gigerl, hidden in a bend of the tiny Blumenstockgasse, off Weihburggasse and just a couple of minutes walk from Stephansdom – like a family secret, there’s a naturalness to the intimate setting that, along with the good wine and satisfying feast, needs no explanation. Another city favorite is the Esterhazykeller, located in a tiny street off Naglergasse at the end of the Graben. It has an enormous, deep cellar with winding tunnels connecting many rooms. They also serve beer (not all Heurige do), but most insiders stick with the wine, particularly the whites.
The most romantic of the Stadt Heuriger is perhaps the Zwölf Apostelkeller (Twelve Apostles) on Sonnenfelsgasse, an ancient cellar dating from 1339 in what was once a Jesuit monastery. Here you sit in the lanterns glow under the heavy stone arches and the benevolent eyes of the saintly statuary, to enjoy one of the most varied and artfully prepared of Heuriger Buffets, that can be ordered in advance for group events to be served at table on vast platters – feast for a king. The wine is also particularly good here, selected from half a dozen local vintners including the award-winning Krems Sangrube wines.
For beer, you’re better off at the Salm Bräu on Rennweg below the Belvedere in the 3rd District, one of a number of comfortable Gasthäuser in Vienna where it’s brewed on location.
2465 Höflein – Carnuntum
(02) 162 63 148
Restaurant Weinkellerei Artner
4., Floragasse 6
(01) 503 50 33
1., Haarhof 1
(01) 533 34 82
1., Rauhensteingasse 3
Entrance: Blumenstockgasse 2
(01) 513 44 3 1
19., Neustift am Walde
(01) 440 38 44, or 440 38 39
19., Kahlenbergerstraße 210
(01) 320 59 28
21., Stammersdorfer Straße 80
(01) 290 10 12
Neustift am Walde
19., Rathstraße 50
(01) 440 37 27
19., Wildgrubgasse 44
0676 749 0377
19., Mitterwurzer Gasse 20
Neustift am Walde
Bus 35 A: Neustift am Walde
(01) 440 12 07
1., Sonnenfelsgasse 3
(01) 512 67 77