How to drink wine like an Austrian

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.

Austrian wine culture is well worth getting acquainted with. Photo: Kym Ellis/Unsplash

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.

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.

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.

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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.

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.


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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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.


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.


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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EXPLAINED: Everything you need to know about retiring in Austria

Retiring to Austria to spend time in fresh alpine air is a dream for many people, but who is actually eligible to retire to the Alpine Republic? Here’s what you need to know.

EXPLAINED: Everything you need to know about retiring in Austria

People from all over the world can retire to Austria, but unlike some other European countries, Austria does not have a specific retirement visa.

Instead, it has a residence permit that can be applied for by people that don’t intend to work in Austria – like retirees.

This means anyone wanting to retire to Austria has to go through the standard immigration channels, with different rules for EU and non-EU citizens.

Here’s what you need to know about retirement in Austria and who is eligible to retire in the Alpine Republic.

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What are the rules for retiring to Austria as an EU citizen?

The process for citizens from EU and EEA countries to retire in Austria is relatively simple due to freedom of movement across the bloc.

There are a few rules though.

To stay in the Austria for longer than three months, retirees will need to be able to support themselves financially (e.g. through a pension) and have sufficient health insurance.

When it comes to accessing a pension from another EU member state, this is typically taken care of by an insurance provider in Austria who will deal with the approval process between the states. Access to public healthcare in Austria is also available to all EU/EEA citizens.

Currently the pension age in Austria is 60 for women and 65 for men. More information about pensions in Austria can be found on the European Commission website.

FOR MEMBERS: Five reasons to retire in Austria

What are the rules for retiring to Austria as a non-EU citizen?

According to immigration lawyer Patrick Kainz, the most popular visa route for non-EU retirees hoping to live out their golden years in Austria is to apply for a settlement permit. 

This is issued to people that do not intend to work in Austria and is referred to as “residence permit gainful employment excepted” (Niederlassungsbewilligung – ausgenommen Erwerbstätigkeit) by Austrian immigration.

Kainz said: “As the name suggests, it will allow you to live in Austria, however you do not get access to the Austrian job market.

“Austria even expects that you do not pursue gainful employment anywhere outside Austria – be it employed or self-employed – while you are holding this residence permit.”

To qualify for the settlement permit, applicants must prove they have sufficient funds, comprehensive health insurance and a place to live.

Proof of sufficient funds means applicants must have a regular monthly income from a pension, profits from enterprises abroad, income from assets, savings or company shares. 

The minimum amount is €1,030.49 for a single person, or €1,625.71 for married couples or those in a partnership. 

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There is also a limit on how many settlement permits are issued to retirees each year (at the beginning of the calendar year) – something that Kainz says could be a barrier.

Kainz said: “These residence permits with gainful employment excepted are in high demand in most of the regions Austria.

“Many regions, such as Vienna, have implemented a pre-registration procedure, with a strict deadline and only people who managed to get a spot during pre-registration will be entitled to file their application.

“For this reason, potential candidates should explore the options and requirements to be granted such a permit well in advance of actually planning to move.”

As well as proof of funds, third-country nationals have to provide evidence of basic German language skills at Level A1, in line with the Common European Framework of References for Languages. The diploma must be no older than one year when submitted with the application.

However, the application process will be entirely in German so for people that don’t have advanced German language skills, it’s best to hire an English-speaking immigration lawyer.

Additionally, Austria has a social security agreement with several non-EU states, including the UK, Canada and the USA. This allows some people to access their pension directly from Austria, depending on the agreement.

Again, it can be useful to find an English-speaking advisor to help with the bureaucratic part of accessing a pension in Austria if you don’t have strong German language skills.

After five years of living in Austria with a settlement permit, visa holders can then apply for permanent residence.

Want information on pensions? Then check out the following link. 

EXPLAINED: How does the Austrian pension system work?

Useful vocabulary

Retirement – Ruhestand

Pension – Rente

Social insurance – Sozialversicherung

Health insurance – Krankenkasse

Settlement permit – Niederlassungsbewilligung