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Vienna: Europe's Hottest Wine Scene

Vienna is the only global capital with world-class vineyards. And it's full of exciting places to taste Austria's most thrilling new wines.

For centuries in Vienna, simple, young white wine has been as basic—and almost as cheap—as bread. Only in the past few years has the Austrian capital emerged as Europe's most dynamic wine destination. Sleek wine bars are becoming as popular as old-world cafés, hotel minibars now stock vintages from emerging producers and wine-centric restaurants are plentiful. Vienna's current wine boom is unexpected yet entirely natural: After all, this is the only world capital with 1,700 acres of vineyards within city limits. Another reason for the boom is the dramatic rise in the quality of Austrian wine. Wien (Vienna) and Wein (wine)—even the words are almost identical.

Wine Bars and Stores

Wein & Co.

This city-center spot—one of the newest in the Wein & Co. chainlet—combines a wine store, tasting bar and terrific Mediterranean restaurant, all under one roof. At happy hour, young Viennese pack the handsome bar, which serves 60 to 100 wines by the glass alongside artisanal charcuterie. At lunch the restaurant's wooden banquettes are occupied by wine-industry honchos ordering dishes like cockles in parsleyed Chardonnay sauce. Wein & Co. showcases a huge selection of Austrian bottlings: classic-style Grüner Veltliners from such elite Wachau producers as Prager and Knoll; crisp, playful Sauvignon Blancs from the up-and-coming Styria region; and luscious dessert wines from vintners like Alois Kracher that have delighted critic Robert M. Parker, Jr. The store's most popular shelf is devoted to vintners from the Burgenland region, Austria's current red-wine epicenter. Wein & Co. also boasts a midnight closing time and a nifty corkage program in the bar (where any of the store's wines can be opened for a small surcharge) that includes a big bottle of mineral water. DETAILS Jasomirgottstrasse 3-5; 011-43-1-535-09-1612.

Unger Und Klein

A dapper leader of the Viennese wine revolution since the 1990s, Helmuth Unger still attracts discerning oenophiles to his wine bar–cum–store in Vienna's textile quarter. The striking design features a wall of wine bottles that curves like the side of a piano. The owner's refined palate is reflected in the ever-changing selection of 50 wines by the glass; these might include such standouts as the 2005 Lagler Grüner Veltliner, which has the scent of a peach milk shake. Unger is especially proud of his collaboration with Gernot Heinrich, a Burgenland vintner who is regarded as the rock star of Austrian reds. The two have created a hip, inexpensive cuvée with a bold label and the catchy name Red—a soft, drinkable blend of the region's signature Zweigelt, St-Laurent and Blaufränkisch grapes. For snacking with these wines, there's gorgeously smoky salami made from a rare breed of pig. DETAILS Gölsdorfgasse 2; 011-43-1-532-1323.

Hotel Rathaus Wein & Design

Most self-styled wine hotels offer afternoon tastings and, possibly, a grapeseed scrub at the spa. But this intimate new boutique hotel tucked away in a classic Viennese building takes wine appreciation a lot more seriously. Each of the 33 handsome, high-ceilinged rooms, decked out with dark wood and drapes in earth colors like burnt-orange, is dedicated to a different Austrian vintner, with minibars that are stocked with the appropriate bottles—at a markup of just a few euros. Room 3 showcases the generous fruit-driven reds by the pioneering producer Gerhard Markowitsch, from the tiny Carnuntum region; in number 302 guests find elegant Chardonnays from superstar Viennese vintner Fritz Wieninger, Jr. Guest quarters are also equipped with professional stemware and intense fruit eaux-de-vie from the schnapps emperor Hans Reisetbauer. Downstairs at the swank bar, with its backlit marble counter, the wine list represents all the big shots of modern Austrian viticulture. And the restaurant serves an awe-inspiring breakfast buffet of smoked meats and cheeses from small, secret producers and passion-fruit honey or chocolate-blackberry jam made by Rathaus's owner. DETAILS Doubles from $190; 13 Lange Gasse; 011-43-1-400-1122.

Palais Coburg

Fortunes were spent on the three-year-old Palais Coburg hotel—not just on renovating the gilded hallways of the 19th-century palace, but also on amassing an astounding 35,000-bottle, 100-page list that includes 19th-century first-growth Bordeaux. Wines can be ordered at the soaring lobby wine bar, at the glass-walled Garden Pavilion café, and at the vaulted main dining room, where celebrity chef Christian Petz offers deconstructed coq au vin with garlic-shoot spaetzle. Bottle envy might set in when a sommelier decants a '34 Romanée-Conti for a Russian oligarch, but the 770-label selection of Austrian bottles is just as rewarding. DETAILS Doubles from $650; 4 Coburgbastei; 011-43-1-518-180.

Wine-Obsessed Hotels

Sacher Eck'

A few years ago, the palatial Sacher Hotel updated its portfolio of restaurants with this smart, stylish wine bar overlooking the Opera House. With its rich palate of golds, the place evokes a luxe chocolate box. The streamlined menu offers terrific vitello tonnato scattered with big, juicy capers, while the wine list includes a little-known Franz Sommer Merlot—with firm tannins uncharacteristic of the normally mellow Austrian reds—and the outstanding 2005 vintage of Wachau Grüner Veltliners. There's no way around it: You'll end with the hotel's signature Sacher torte, perhaps with a glass of the dry, aromatic Bründlmeyer Sekt. DETAILS Doubles from $470; 4 Philharmonikerstrasse; 011-43-1-5145-6699.

Österreicher Im Mak

When he was chef at Vienna's brazenly modern, Michelin-starred Steirereck restaurant, Helmut Österreicher helped push Austrian cuisine into the future. At his new namesake restaurant, located in the same building as the must-see Museum of Applied Arts, he says he's finally come home to the cozy, traditional food of his childhood. In the cool lofty space with a glassed-in extension decorated in blocks of eye-popping color, he serves a mix of tweaked Viennese specialties and comfort food classics like silky diamond-shaped noodles with caramelized cabbage. The well-priced, exclusively Austrian wine list represents a range of regions and styles, from old-school Wachau Rieslings to new-wave Cabernets and Pinot Noirs from Kamptal and Burgenland, near the Hungarian border. Österreicher's crisp, puffy Wiener schnitzel is a perfect match for the award-winning Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc) from a Viennese winemaker called (incredibly) Christ, who harvests his grapes in the hills above Vienna during the full moon, claiming it improves the quality of the wine. DETAILS 5 Stubenring; 011-43-1-714-0121.

Restaurants for Wine Lovers

Meierie

In 2005 Vienna's fanciest restaurant, Steirereck, reinvented itself when it moved to its flamboyant new city park location and brought in the country's most inventive young chef, Heinz Reitbauer. Below the cutting-edge main restaurant is a brilliant bistro and dairy bar, Meierie, a theatrical, starkly white space decorated with lime-green swirls and a wall of milk bottles bathed in an otherworldly blue neon glow. To accompany the interesting wines-by-the-glass list, Reitbauer serves dishes like a complex pork hock soup scented with horseradish, and stellar beef tartare with wisps of fried onion. He pays tribute to the restaurant's former incarnation as a dairy depot with an exotic selection of milks—horse milk, goat milk, milk in flavors like tonka bean or geranium—and an astounding list of 150 farmhouse cheeses, many of them Austrian. The undecided can opt for themed plates, such as the "Cheese Tour through Styria," showcasing six of the region's cheeses that can be paired with a glass of Sattlerhof Sauvignon Blanc with hints of spring grasses and elderberries. DETAILS Am Heumarkt 2A im Stadtpark; 011-43-1-713-3168.

Hengl-Hasselbrunner

Heurigen, the taverns serving young wines and food made from home-grown ingredients, have been fixtures on the outskirts of Vienna for hundreds of years. Now, however, even these bastions of cheap white wine are raising their standards. An insider favorite is Hengl-Haselbrunner, in Grinzing, on the outskirts of Vienna. It's presided over by Matthias Hengl, a 40-year-old ex-musician whose family has been making wine for more than four centuries. Back in the '80s, Hengl's father experimented with international-style Cabernets and Chardonnays, but Matthias believes that the future belongs to indigenous Austrian grapes. He might pour his guests a sprightly Grüner Veltliner or a terrific house Riesling: floral, minerally and compulsively drinkable. He's also the chef and serves prosciutto-flecked baked noodles, awesome potato salad in a puddle of aromatic pumpkin seed oil and divine farmer-cheese dumplings. DETAILS 10 Iglaseegasse, Grinzig; 011-43-1-320-3330.

Bars and Taverns

Vis-a-Vis

When it opened some two decades ago, the pint-size Vis-a-Vis was the first wine bar in town to offer wines by the glass (and one of the first to serve their pedigreed vintages in Riedel). Owner and grape guru Hans Weibel has since expanded his business with two excellent restaurants: the traditional wood-paneled Weibel's Wirsthaus and the more modern Weibel 3, both with inexhaustible cellars and lusty Backhuhn (fried chicken) and Tafelspitz (boiled beef) on their menus. And Vis-a-Vis remains Vienna's best-loved wine bar, drawing a boisterous crowd of politicians and actors who gossip over glasses of aromatic Gelber Muskateller (Muscat Blanc) from Styria and potent walnut and apricot schnapps. One thing you won't find too many of at Weibel's establishments is old bottles. Though they might be sophisticated wine drinkers these days, the Viennese are still in the habit of consuming wines when they're young; 2002 is considered by most locals to be an old vintage. DETAILS 5 Wollzeile; 011-43-1-512-9350.

Published October 2006
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