We sat outdoors at long communal tables under a canopy of grapevines, sipping Viennese wine and sampling traditional Austrian dishes – just as thousands of Viennese inhabitants had done before us for hundreds of years. We were at the “heurigen” or wine tavern of Mayer am Pfarrplatz winery within the city limits of Vienna, but it felt like we were in the countryside.
Mayer am Pfarrplatz’s first wines were produced in 1683, and the Pfarrplatz building once housed Ludwig van Beethoven while he worked on his Symphony No. 9. Their courtyard heurigen is a place where you will see local families and tourists alike out for a meal, while a live accordionist serenades them from the corner.
With all of the other famed traditions in Vienna from the waltz to the Hapsburg architecture to Lipizzaner horses, it’s easy to give Viennese wines short shrift, but they deserve plenty of your attention. Vienna is the only world capital that produces significant quantities of wine within the city limits – about 700 hectares and 700 growers.
Most of what you will drink in Vienna are light, acidic white wines. Riesling is popular, along with Sauvignon blanc and Weissburgunder. I especially enjoyed the Gelber Muskateller. In summer, during our visit, the light whites were refreshing in the heat and the perfect complement to the salty wiener schnitzel and sauerkraut. Even though whites make up about 85% of the wines in Vienna, an increasing number of today’s winegrowers in the region are producing reds like Merlot, Syrah, and Pinot Noir.
For centuries, the specialty wine blend of Vienna was Wiener Gemischter Satz. Now, wineries are starting to make it again. A law requires that a wine can only be called “Wiener Gemischte Satz” if it includes at least three different grape varieties that have been planted, harvested, and pressed together. Some of the winegrowers are using as many as 20 varieties.
To make it easy for tourists, there’s the “Vienna Heurigen Express,” a hop on/hop off vehicle that takes you through the Vienna Woods to several wineries throughout the city. You will pass the Beethoven House and Beethoven Museum along the way as well. The Express leaves Nussdorf station on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from April to October.
If you’d rather get your exercise while experiencing the vineyards, you can travel to Vienna in late September, when they hold their Vienna Wine Hiking Day weekend. It’s an opportunity to see some private gardens that are usually closed to visitors and sample some culinary treats at the heurigens that were made especially for the event.
However you choose to experience the wines of Vienna, it’s a “must do” when in this majestic city. While you can sample the wines in the centrally located restaurants and wine bars, there’s nothing like venturing out to the greener part of the city and experiencing a heurigen like the locals.