Mmmm, liters and liters of Wieninger wine:
Heurigen are uniquely Austrian establishments. At these cozy neighborhood wine taverns on the outskirts of Vienna, wine-growers serve patrons their newest vintages - the "neue wein." And, thanks to a decree issued by Emporer Franz Josef II in 1784, which stated that proprietors may, along with wines they've produced, sell "other food," there's usually a substantial selection of homemade goodies - things like cheese, bread, dumplings, salads, sweets - on offer as well.
And in keeping with the unhurried Austrian approach to all things pleasurable, a heuriger is a place to while away as many hours as you please, to sip and snack and unabashedly relax and enjoy life. I definitely approve.
When planning your visit to a heuriger (or heurigen, as visiting multiple taverns in one day or evening is certainly an acceptable pursuit) it's important to do a little research. If you're anything like me, you want to avoid Tourist Central. In the Grinzing area, for example, some (but not all) heurigen cater to tourists. Buses drop off hoardes of them here so they can down some wine and food and be entertained with cartoonish displays of Austrian folk music performed in costume.
We had other plans.
For our first outing we chose Nussdorf, also a well known heurigen area, but with fewer tourists. (In fact, the only tourists we met here were a German couple.) Before settling down to the serious business of eating and drinking, however, we strolled through some vineyards, climbed some monster hills, and took in the unbelievable view from the top:
Having worked up an honest appetite, we headed for our first heuriger, the picturesque Kierlinger, which has been run by the same family since 1787. The inviting outside promised good things within:
It took us a few moments to understand exactly how things work at a heuriger. You get your wine from the waiter, and then you go to the buffet - which is really a glass case filled with food - and pick out what you want. You pay for your food at the buffet, and you pay your waiter for the wine. It's a little complicated, which I like. So, after our rot wein (red wine) arrived (in delightfully large containers, I might add) we headed for the buffet:
The Liptauer spread, a piquant blend of soft cheese and spices, is a specialty here, and is made from their 100-year-old secret recipe. Of course we had this, as well as a lentil salad, another cheese spread, and what I think was a salsify salad in a creamy dressing:
I was surprised at the many vegetarian (albeit cheesy) options. By now the heuriger bug had bit us hard, so we decided to wander out and try another one. We didn't have to go far, as there was one right next door, Steinschaden. While the buffet was in no way lacking ...
... there was something about Kierlinger that we preferred. Somehow it seemed more homey and authentic. So, after sampling some sauerkraut, Gorgonzola cheese spread and vegetable strudel (we had been walking a lot after all), we headed back over to Kierlinger for more drinks, where we ended up chatting for hours with Frank and Diane, those German tourists I mentioned earlier. They agreed that Kierlinger was indeed much more gemutlich!
Besides, just look at how friendly and welcoming Shohel, the Kierlinger cook, is:
The next week we decided to try a more upscale heuriger, Wieninger, located in Stammersdorf, an area rarely overrun by tourists. Knowing full well that we would eat and drink to bursting, we paired this visit with a trip to the Vienna Woods (Wienerwold), where we climbed the terrifyingly high Jubilaumswarte, a spindly tower that rises high above the trees. It was so windy that day, I seriously thought we were going to be blown off. But the view made it worth the vertigo-induced adrenaline overdose:
Climbing and hiking accomplished, we now had heurigen (and wine!) on the brain. Next stop, Wieninger:
Where Kierlinger is rustic, Wieninger is elegant. The food at Kierlinger is homey, like something your Austrian mom might make. At Wieninger, even though there's still a traditional buffet, the food is more like cuisine. Clearly there's a serious chef at work here. We sampled spinach dumplings, pumpkin gnocchi, beans in pumpkin cream sauce, and of course cheese spreads:
That spread in the photo above right is cheese with barlauch, a unique local plant that tastes like chives with a touch of garlic. I love it, and I even bought bags of Maggi barlauch cream soups to bring back with me! It just happened to be in season when we were there; in fact, we saw people picking it in the Vienna Woods:
But here's the best part of our evening at Wieninger. After Poppa Trix and I nearly closed the place down (I guess I wasn't really thinking clearly when I asked for the full liter of wine ... for myself), I had the chance to speak with Mike, the chef ... and he gave me his recipes for the pillow-like gnocchi with pumpkin sauce and to-die-for beans in pumpkin cream! Those will be the subjects of future posts, I promise:
He was so sweet to take the time to give me these recipes - I could have stayed and bugged him for more, but we had to catch a tram home. After all that wine, we were lucky that we even managed to find our way back!