Wine Lover’s Guide to Austria

Tucked into the postcard-perfect countryside, Austrian wine producers have been crafting superlative wines—sparkling, dry, and sweet—from white and red grapes in small quantities at competitive prices for centuries. If those aren’t reasons enough to visit, here are five more to motivate you before the rest of the world finds out.

You Don’t Have to Leave Vienna to Visit Vineyards

Vienna, or Wien, boasts 1,512 acres of working, economically viable vineyards in the city’s outer districts, accessible by metro, tram, and bus. Their existence speaks to a long tradition of winemaking and heurigers (known as wine taverns, dating back to the Middle Ages) ingrained deeply enough in the local economy and culture that they are protected against urban sprawl.

Wines produced range from Pinot Noir, to Riesling, to Pinot Blanc, but the region is most notably associated with the recently DAC-awarded specialty, Wiener Gemischter Satz. The difficult-to-pronounce name essentially recognizes a field blend of high-quality white grapes, harvested and processed together from the same vineyard. This style, once perceived as a humble quaff, has been elevated in both quality and status by a visionary group of producers.

Don’t Miss: The excellent wines of Weingut Wieninger; make an appointment to taste. For classic heuriger food, drink, and live music, head to tradition-steeped Mayer am Pfarrplatz winery. Stroll over to nearby Nussberg Vineyard with a glass of Gemischter Satz for a view of glittering Vienna.

World-Class Whites in Wachau, Kremstal, Kamptal

Between the grand Baroque Abbey at Melk and the picturesque town of Krems, thousands of day-trippers travel along the Danube River as it flows through the UNESCO world heritage site of Wachau. Along the Danube’s banks, historic vineyards cascade down rocky hills, laboriously chipped into terraces by Bavarian monks. One feels transported into a pop-up storybook.

Surprisingly, these steep vineyards produce exceptional wines. The plots are small and mostly family-owned for several generations; the current winemaker may be the seventh or eighth steward of the land. Crisp, spicy Grüner Veltliner and citrusy Riesling rule the grape kingdom here.

Bordering Wachau, the regions of Kremstal and Kamptal offer similar grapes and styles, but in a countryside setting. Wine quality is high—leave room in your suitcase for bottled treasures.

Don’t Miss: Start in Krems and rent a NextBike in town or along the river, then cycle from village to village, stopping into heurigers for schnitzel and wine. To avoid riding round-trip, drop the bike off in Dürnstein, Spitz, or finish in Melk, and take a ferry back downstream (you can bring bikes on the boat).

Note: Sections of the Danube are under construction through 2015 for flood protection, requiring detours off the path that may add mild stress to an otherwise casual ride.

Burgenland for Red Wine Lovers

Austria has more than just world-class white wines; the reds of Burgenland, the warmest wine region, are finally earning as much acclaim from international critics as they’ve long received at home.

Dry red wines here taste consistently spicy; grapes include the lively, oft-floral Zweigelt; velvety, cherry-scented St. Laurent; and all shades of dense, berry- and earth-laced Blaufränkisch. (More information can be found at Wein Burgenland.) Look for top producers Umathum, Moric, and anyone from the Pannobile group; for excellent wines mingled with modern architecture, visit the tasting rooms of Gernot Heinrich and Claus Preisinger, a short drive apart in Gols.

Burgenland has yet to develop significant wine tourism infrastructure, making advance planning difficult since property and winery websites don’t exist or are rarely translated into English, and small, family-owned inns and B&Bs make up the majority of lodging options. For descriptions and booking instructions, consult the Burgenland tourism site (translated in English), and visit the Austrian Wine Marketing Board’s new site for countrywide assistance in planning your wine getaway.

Don’t Miss: Dine at the charming Gut Purbach in Purbach, where the quaint manor belies the sophistication of the food. Overnight at nearby Kloster am Spitz, a former monastery that now operates as an inn and winery. Visit a local vinothek; there’s usually one in each town such as in Gols and Purbach, and they offer one-stop tastings of the full range of regional wines.

Legendary Dessert Wine of Rust

Rust, set on the western edge of the Lake Neusiedl, is known for its botrytized dessert wines called Ruster Ausbruch, as well as historic buildings housing adorable restaurants, wineries, and inns. During the day, tasting room doors open to many cellars and wineries that have operated since before the 15th century, with Heidi Schröck, Feiler-Artinger, Wenzel, and Schandl among the most well known.

The excellent and popular Heuriger Schandl (serving outstanding wiener schnitzel), has a lovely B&B attached. Diners at the beautiful Hofgassl can sit in the garden during the summer. One of few four star hotels in Burgenland is the lakeside See Hotel Rust; down by the dock, visitors can take a ferry across the lake. Adding to Rust’s charms, African storks—the kind fabled for delivering newborns to families—nest with their own babies on town roofs.

Austria’s Hotels Are Steeped in Wine

From within the Viennese city limits to the lakes of Salzkammergut, Austria is filled with fabulous hotels that ardently support its wine industry.

Vienna’s Palais Coburg, a neoclassical palace built in 1839, prides itself on its remarkable wine collection. Each of its six cellars is dedicated to a category: old world, new world, French, Champagne, rare wines, and Château d'Yquem (over 100 vintages). In total, the hotel cellars 60,000 bottles, 13,000 of which are Austrian. Visit the atmospheric wine bar to page through the list. 

Set amidst vineyards, the Loisium Wine & Spa Hotel in Langelois, Kamptal has a partnership with the adjacent wine museum: hotel guests receive vouchers for a tasting at the museum’s bar. Beyond the indoor display on wine production awaits a seven-kilometer vineyard tour loop originating in the hotel’s backyard. The moderately strenuous hike (especially the uphill start) weaves through vines, rewarding hikers with sweeping views while passing wine-inspired sculptures, informative placards, viewing platforms, and wine-tasting stations.

Outside the wine regions, Schloss Fuschl Resort & Spa, a former castle perched on Lake Fuschl in Salzkammergut, continues the theme of grand hotels with equally grand wine cellars. In addition to the Austria and Europe-heavy wine list, the property features beautiful rooms with lake views, an enormous spa, a cigar lounge, boat rentals, and a chauffeured ride in a vintage Rolls Royce, as good a reason as the wine to stay overnight.