Going 'Heuriger' Hopping!
Summer is the season for Vienna’s local wines in courtyard gardens and terraces overlooking the sloping wine fields of the Kahlenberg
It was a warm evening in early June as a friend and I climbed down from the bus at the top of the Kahlenberg, an ancient mountain 484 meters high, in the northeastern foothills of the Alps. Here from the broad terraces of the tourism university Modul, the entire city of Vienna lays spread out before you, and on the clearest days even parts of Lower Austria. There is nothing lovable about this pristine complex that replaced an older restaurant and abandoned hotel on the site; the new construction is too barren, too Bauhaus for many. But at least it doesn’t block the view.
It was now just after 18:00 and a pleasant-sized crowd has gathered on the terrace; the gentle sounds of laughter and conversation floated over the light breeze and we were tempted to stop for a first drink under one of the umbrellas.
But we had other plans: We were going Heuriger-hopping!
So we peeled of to the right, following the stony path down the mountain on a self-fashioned ‘watering tour’ of several of our favorite haunts, where we would sample this year’s local wines served by the vintners themselves, according to Austria’s beloved tradition consecrated by more than two centuries of pleasure. And in the process we would also get to imbibe the lush scents, sounds and scenes of the Wienerwald in Spring.
There are two routes down, the easier, a well-paved road that snakes its way by hairpin turns through woods and wine fields (a favorite training route of mad mountain bikers, whom one passes straining through the masochistic exercise of actually riding up the hill!); the other is a much steeper foot path, marked by a wooden "Wanderweg" sign, that turns into stone steps at the sharpest places. Sheltered, serene and splendid for the legs!
As we emerged from the woods and back onto the road, we could see the yellow facades of a villa in Nußdorf down past the vineyards to our right; to the left when there is a break in the trees, a glimpse of the church spire in Kahlenbergerdorf.
A little farther on, the road splits and we turn off to the left and head for Heuriger Hirt. This is a favorite, owned and run by Helmut and Romy Klapf, tucked into a fold in the hillside with a view up to the castle of Leopoldsberg above, and down to the river in the middle-distance below. This is a no-frills Heuriger, with only a small inside seating area with the rough wooden charm of a hunter’s cabin and the far more generous outside seating, partially sheltered under open sheds. So hopes were high… until we arrive at the final turn… Closed on Tuesdays. Sigh. So be warned.
So back up we go and 15 minutes later we are coming up on to Sirbu, the veteran of so many happy occasions past. On this late spring evening, the entry walk is a riot of flowering shrubs, apple blossoms and climbing roses. We were about to turn in when… "Na, hallo!" A squeak of brakes and two old friends in racing togs and helmets screech in to a halt in front of the gate. They had been cycling the mad-mountain roads and – of course – just happened to appear at exactly that moment. "Wien ist ein Dorf" – Vienna is a village, as we learned once again.
The Gastgarten at Sirbu stretches out behind the Heuriger, in stepped levels of long wooden tables and benches, shaded by leafy walnut trees and hung with brilliant baskets of petunias. We meander through the rows and pick a spot, second row from the far end, raised just enough to enjoy the full loveliness of the vineyards sloping away into the distance. My friend agrees to stay at the table to order our liters of wine and mineral water, and I volunteer to stand in line inside to select our menu of Heuriger specialities: Kummelbraten (roast pork seasoned with caraway seeds), Schnitzel Cordon bleu (a cutlet folded and filled with ham and cheese), a spinach Strudel, and a cheese and tomato casserole (Auflauf) and the wondrous array of salads without which a Heuriger is not worth of the name: shredded carrots, tomatoes, roasted stuffed peppers, pickled onions, red beans and garlic and (my favorite) Schwarzwurzel, sunflower root in a yoghurt dressing. And teeming baskets of salted bread sticks and fresh sesame roles.
My head filled with visions of succulent roasts and luscious casseroles, I slide out from between the bench and the table, making a mental list of my friend’s requests, when… PLOP! My ankle buckled underneath me and I took a dive to the ground, just barely missing the table corner opposite, and landing in a heap on the gravel, elbow bruised and prize jeans torn at the knee. Those stepped levels….
I sat stunned, collecting myself, as two men from across the way offered to help me to my feet. I rose awkwardly, regained my balance and headed inside. Didn’t I want to switch roles? No. Somehow I sensed it would be better to move, to be upright and get the whole machinery back in gear.
No spoiling my evening!
Minutes later, I was making my way back to the table, tray in hand, hardly the worse for wear. The prospect of a blushing pitcher of new wine put my injuries rapidly in perspective and half a glass later, all was forgiven. We sat, nibbling away at our feast, sipping our wine and gazing out over the beauties of the countryside. Nothing better.
Later, as dusk had fallen, we made our way down the hill, stopping in at another Heurger whose name we cannot, for the life of us, remember. What we do remember is that they had wonderful big basket chairs and we snuggled in, hidden from the world, and had one of the finest Welschrieslings I ever had the pleasure of coming across.
Then we wandered on down to our regular haunt, Schübel-Auer, in Nußdorf, where we had our final glass—of Grünerveltliner—under the shade of the chestnuts that shelter the back garden. From there, we had only to step out to the street to hop the D Tram and ride in style back to town.