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How to drink wine like an Austrian

Hayley Maguire
Hayley Maguire - [email protected]
How to drink wine like an Austrian
Austrian wine culture is well worth getting acquainted with. Photo: Kym Ellis/Unsplash

It’s not unusual to be confused by the wine scene in Austria, especially when it comes to things like a Heuriger or a Hugo. Here’s what you need to know.

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Austria has a long history of producing wine and Vienna is considered as one of the classic wine regions in the world.

This is no surprise as Austria is on the same latitude as the Burgundy wine region in France, but there are a few quirks to the wine scene in the Alpine Republic that are distinctly Austrian.

To help you get started, and to avoid looking like a newbie, here are some top tips for drinking wine in Austria like a local.

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Visit a Heuriger

Anyone that lives in Vienna (or in the east of Austria) will be familiar with a Heuriger, but for people in other parts of the country it might be a new wine term.

Basically, a Heuriger (plural Heurigen) is a wine tavern where local winemakers serve their new wine. In fact, the phrase “Heuriger Wein” actually means “this year’s wine”, so for people looking to sample the freshest Austrian wine, a Heuriger is the place to be. Expect cosy, rustic charm alongside carafes of wine and dishes of simple food.

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In Vienna, the Heuriger wine scene goes back to the 16th century when viticulture (the cultivation of grape vines) started to expand across the country, even reaching the western provinces of Salzburg, Tyrol and Vorarlberg.

Today, Vienna is one of the few capitals in the world with vineyards within the city limits and the Heuriger continues to play a central role in city life - especially in the warmer months between spring and autumn when guests can sit outside. 

There is even the Vienna Heurigen Express, which is a hop on/hop off train tour that transports people through Vienna’s wine growing areas and runs from April to October. During September, you can enjoy Sturm season -- semi-fermented wine from the first grapes of the season, available in both red and white varieties.

If travelling outside of Vienna, just be aware that these wine taverns are not known as Heuriger everywhere in Austria. For example, in Styria, Heurigen are better known as Buschenschank, but are essentially the same thing.

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Order a Hugo

A Hugo is an aperitif of prosecco, elderflower syrup (Holunderblütensirup), a splash of sparkling water and fresh mint leaves. It’s a refreshing drink that is often served on terraces across Austria in spring and summer. 

However, despite its popularity in Austria, the Hugo isn’t an Austrian invention.

READ MORE: Explore Austria: Mauer, a charming wine-hiking spot on Vienna’s outskirts

The Hugo actually originates from South Tyrol in Northern Italy and was apparently invented by barman Roland Gruber in 2005 in the town of Naturno.

The drink’s popularity has since spread like wildfire across German-speaking Europe and is regularly served in bars and households in Austria, Switzerland and Germany.

A Kaiserspritzer is an alternative, based on white wine instead of prosecco.

Pro tip: If you are hosting a barbecue in the summer with Austrian friends, make a good impression by serving a Hugo as an arrival drink.

Don’t forget the water

No self-respecting bar or restaurant in Austria will serve wine without a glass of water on the side.

This is a welcome gesture to avoid dehydration and is in stark contrast to pubs in places like the UK where wine is served in almost overflowing glasses with not a drop of water in sight.

The simple white wine spritzer (wine mixed with sparkling water) is also a popular drink in Austria. To really sound like a local, order it as a Weiss-Sauer.

Or at a Heuriger, order a liter-liter for sharing, which is a litre of white wine and a litre of soda served separately in carafes. 

The same applies if entertaining guests at home - always serve water with wine.

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Top Austrian wines

Want to impress friends with your knowledge of Austrian wine? Then stock up your wine rack with the following varieties.

Grüner Veltliner 

Possibly Austria’s most famous white wine and a safe choice in most restaurants. This dry wine pairs well with goat cheese, cold meats, chicken, fish, shellfish and Asian wok dishes.

Riesling 

Sommeliers often describe Riesling as the “king of white wines”, and it is believed the grape originates from a wild vine in the Rhine Valley in Germany. Austria produces lots of highly rated Riesling, so you can’t go wrong with this wine.

Gemischter Satz 

This is a wine made from a variety of grapes (at least three and up to 20) from one vineyard. The term Wiener Gemischte Satz is now regulated by law and should be at the top of the tasting list when visiting a Heuriger.

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Sekt 

Also known as Austrian sparkling wine with origins that go back to the mid-19th Century. Sekt is a classic aperitif and is usually served at special occasions and events. It also goes well with appetisers and fish.

Zweigelt 

One of Austria’s most popular red wine varieties that is grown in almost every wine region in the country. Zweigelt is a medium-bodied red wine and is usually served with Italian food, fish or poultry.

Blaufränkisch 

This grape variety was widely planted during the Habsburg reign and is known as a typical Central European red wine. In Austria, Blaufränkisch is mostly grown in Burgenland and pairs well with Italian pasta dishes.

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