This European Capital Has One Of The Most Cult-Worthy Wine Scenes In The World

Hint: it's not in France or Italy

By Leiti Hsu

3 August 2018

Pop quiz: name as many important wine regions around the world as you can.

How’d you do? Places like France and Italy probably came to mind, as well as New World heavy-hitters like California, Argentina, and Australia. But if Austria wasn’t on your list, you’re missing a true hidden gem.

Though Austria may not produce as much wine as some of its neighbors, it boasts excellent vintages that deserve to be in your cellar. Quality, not quantity, is key, and that’s reflected in the types of wines being produced. Best of all, many of the country’s finest vineyards sit within easy reach of Vienna, meaning your next trip to one of the world’s most important cultural centers can—and should—include plenty of top-notch drinking.

Climate, Terroir, Grapes—Vienna Has It All

Great wine comes from great grapes, and the climate of Vienna is particularly suited to viticulture. As winemaker Fritz Wieninger explains, “We have cold winters and hot summers, but in between it is more cold than in other parts of the world, and that expresses the fruit of the grapes much more.”

In America, the Austrian wine we’re most likely to encounter is Wiener Gemischter Satz. Over 27 percent of the Viennese wine region is devoted to producing this blend, which uses between three and 15 different grape varieties in varying levels of ripeness to produce a distinct style of wine that expresses the terroir beautifully.

Beyond Wiener Gemischter Satz, however, Austria has its own gems. You’ve probably heard of Pinot Noir and Merlot, but in Vienna, the Blaufränkisch grape reigns supreme. Claus Presinger, the first winemaker in Austria to produce skin-contact wines, explains, “It has a lot of style and attitude. The taste, the tannins, the flavors, the uniqueness, the spices—it’s amazing and it's from here.”

To top it all off, Vienna benefits from a variegated terrain. Travel ten miles in any direction and you’ll find a different climate and a different soil, each parcel of land producing a different wine.

Pride Of The City

I’m not exaggerating when I say that wine is central to Vienna’s identity. Sylvia Petz, who runs a public relations agency for wine and food, says, “Vienna is something like the capital of wine. It's the only capital in the world with serious wine regions all around, and it keeps us connected to all another wine regions.”

You’ll notice Austrian wine bottles share a distinctive cap of red and white stripes that matches the country’s flag. The easy-to-recognize design is a clever design of the Austrian Wine Marketing Board, which is responsible for marketing Austrian wine internationally and with which all wineries must register.

Austrians hold their wine to a high standard. The government began imposing stricter regulations on wine production in 1985, and Austrian consumers similarly became more rigorous about evaluating the quality of what they were drinking. According to Fritz Wieninger, “The first question now was not the price; the first question was, ‘Where was it grown? What is the variety? How did you age this, in barrels or in stainless steel?’ People got more curious about what happens with and around the wine than ever before, and this was the best grounds for developing this quality-driven atmosphere that we are still in.”

Austrians take great pride in their wine, and rightfully so. Not only are they unquestionably safe, they’re among the most delicious I’ve ever tasted.

The New Trend Of Natural Wine

If you’ve visited wineries in Napa or Sonoma Valley, you’ll notice something about their counterparts in Vienna: they’re much smaller.

“When American producers come to our wine cellar, they laugh about the small sizes of the tanks,” says Fritz Wieninger. “The sizes are much bigger in other countries because they are much more industrial. We don't know industrial in this country; we are family-driven wineries with family forces in all corners of production.”

Bigger isn’t always better, and that’s definitely the case here. What’s more, small-scale farming goes hand in hand with natural winemaking, a minimal-interference process in which no additives or flavorings are added and filtration is omitted. Because these vintners aren’t under pressure to produce large, uniform quantities, they can focus their attention on crafting a niche batch of wine.

If you’ve never tasted natural wine, I like to describe it as similar to orange juice with the pulp: less refined but more robust than the filtered stuff. Natural wines are a rawer expression of the grapes from which they are made, and because the grapes of Vienna are of such high quality, the resulting product is a wonderful burst of flavors.

It’s like Fritz says: “These are flavors that you can never get out of a regular wine.”

Where To Drink Wine In Vienna

Austria has long been known for its cozy inns and beer taverns, but on-trend wine bars are starting to appear. In Vienna, one such must-visit destination is MAST, co-owned by Steve Breitzke and Matthias Pitra.

According to Matthias, “the wine culture is now much higher-quality than ten years ago. There is a big beer culture in Austria, so I think the beer pub was much more present, and at every corner you could drink a beer, but not a good wine. I think there is more of a wine culture coming now because young people are drinking more wine than beer.”

Of course, the best way to experience wines is to venture out to the vineyards themselves, and no other city in the world makes it as easy as Vienna. Drive for less than an hour and you’ll find yourself surrounded by idyllic vineyards—and that’s entirely intentional.

“The government wanted to save these lands for the Viennese population as a recreation area,” explains Fritz Wieninger, “an area where you can easily go by bus or tram and walk a little bit around, hike a little bit around on the weekends, take your family out, breathe in some fresh air, and sit down and have a glass of wine.”

I can hardly think of a better weekend escape.