Exploring the Food & Wine of Austria!
When you picture Austria what comes to mind? When you ask most Americans who have never been, lederhosen, schnitzel (not a sausage, BTW!) and the Sound of Music come to mind. Austria, however, has much more to offer. “Klein aber fein,”or in English, “small but fine,” is an Austrian saying that most Austrians would use to describe their small country. With a population just under nine million people, and land-locked between eight other countries, Austria is certainly small but fine. Its gourmet scene holds its own in a Europe saturated with Michelin stars, gastropubs, and wine bars. In a place that defines its seasons by wine harvesting, ball season, Easter markets, and lake lounging, there is no wrong time to visit Austria.
Austrians take their wine and dine time very seriously, and so it is no surprise that from the Alps to Vienna, there is always something worth trying. Typical Austrian dishes, such as the schnitzel, comes in many forms although it appears quite simple. The schnitzel is a thinly pounded piece of meat, such as pork, chicken, turkey, and most importantly veal, which is commonly known as the Wiener Schnitzel. Other typical dishes include the Tafelspitz, or boiled beef, served in a beef consommé with vegetables, which serves as a soup starter.
The most famous wines in Austria known worldwide are mostly whites, specifically an indigenous varietal called Grüner Veltliner, which tend to be drier and have more mineral flavor than other whites in the region. In the Wachau Valley, a UNESCO site and crown jewel of the Austrian white wine regions, generations-old family vineyards produce outstanding Grüners and Rieslings at reasonable prices, especially compared to those of Austria’s German or Italian neighbors. Some of the best makers here include Franz Hirtzberger and Emerich Knoll, while in the neighboring town of Langenlois, Jurtschisch and Bründlmayer are the names to spot. Some of these vineyards offer seasonal restaurants where the food selection delights almost as much as the wine.
Vienna also throws its hat in the ring when it comes to winemaking. As the only capital city in the world that produces sizeable quantities of wine within the city limit, Vienna offers visitors a chance to wine taste even on a city trip. The Viennese “Heurige” or wine taverns allow guests to taste wine production from the current year (or heuer in Austrian German). The outdoor “Heurige” open seasonally beginning normally in mid to late spring and close again in the late fall. In the nineteenth district, Mayer am Nussberg offers beautiful views of its green surroundings, while further out in the twenty-third district, Zahel’s acclaimed whites pair perfectly with a panoramic view of the center of Vienna. Certain “Heurige” open only on specific days or weeks, so it is best to check online before visiting them.
The Austrian Seasons:
Although Austrians speak German, they rarely resemble the stereotypical harsh, strict German picture that some may paint. For many in Austria, celebrations and holidays are the pinnacle of enjoyment, and they happen year-round. In the Fall, the Viennese celebrate the wine harvest with the Vienna Hiking Days, where all hikers are invited to hike up to the “Heurige” and drink their newest vintages. The Viennese also celebrate a smaller Oktoberfest, the Wiener Wiesn, in the amusement park called the Prater. Attending the Salzburg Harvest Festival affords visitors a chance to see the region in its traditional glory, lederhosen and all.
In winter it is almost impossible to avoid running into at least one Christmas market in each city in Austria. Most of the markets still sell only handmade goods, and those who do not shop prefer to sip Punsch, an alcoholic hot punch, or Glühwein (hot wine with spices). After Christmas comes Ball Season in Vienna, although other cities such as Salzburg, Graz, and Innsbruck too have lovely themed balls. The Alpen regions of Austria truly shine during the winter season as glamorous city-dwellers flee to the mountains for superb skiing, mountain-dining, and après.
Spring welcomes another season of markets, this time with the advent of Easter, and Salzburg’s Easter Markets are aesthetically unrivalled. In Vienna it can still be quite chilly and so the Viennese do what their most prized cultural patrons did at the turn of the century, go to the Kaffeehaus to sip espresso and nibble on apple strudel, Sacher Torte, or apricot tarts. When it is finally warmer in the summer months, many Austrians and Europeans head to the lake regions in Carinthia and Salzburg.