Plenty has been written about the Vienna wine scene, and a whole lot more plastered over social media. You don’t really need a guide to eating and drinking natural wines in Vienna (although, as always, the Raisin app is your friend). But after several trips to the Austrian capital I do have a couple of favourites when it comes to dining, and I’m going to tell you about those. Vienna has so much to interest the food and drink lover for such a relatively small city, so I’ll also mention one or two other places – a wine shop, a café and a few market stalls and so on, as well.
When people talk about natural wine in Vienna there are a number of “usual suspects”. Don’t worry, we’ll go to one of those next. But the reservation we had for our first night, on arrival, is one you don’t often hear about on Instagram and Twitter. It’s actually a restaurant recommended to us my Vienna friends and acquaintances alike, people who are not really into “natural wine” per se. But after a first encounter in 2015, I would say we are likely to return there on every visit to Vienna.
Glacis Beisl has been around for a while, much longer than the trendy Museum Quarter (housing Mumok and the Leopoldsmuseum in the former Imperial stables), but since the area on this edge of Mariahilf (Vienna’s 6th District) has been redeveloped, it has reinvented itself. What was once merely a very traditional Beisl is now a vibrant restaurant full of young and old alike.
A Beisl is a traditional Viennese eatery offering local specialities, most often in an old and dark wood-panelled dining room. There is such a room ay Glacis, and one often suspects that its dark corners offer a certain degree of privacy and anonimity. In addition, Glacis now has a light and airy garden room and, even better if the weather is fine, a nice outdoor garden space. As well as giving the diner a range of options, it thankfully allows for more covers. It does get full and booking is pretty much essential, at least around the weekend.
Glacis Beisl offers a really well executed selection of local specialities which go well beyond the ubiquitous (but excellent) schnitzel and very good tafelspitz (usually boiled beef, sometimes veal, with minced apple and fiery horseraddish). Alongside the menu you will be given a wine list with a pretty decent selection of mainly Austrian, sometimes natural, wines with a small selection available by the glass.
Kopitsch Petnat, Preisinger KalkundKiesel 2016 and Nittnaus Zweigelt btg at Glacis
It took me a while to wise up to something which is common in Vienna, as in restaurants in all major cities – there’s always another wine list. As I was reminded by an Instagram comment from Glacis themselves, “ask for the red book”. It is there you should find enough to satisfy the geek inside you…though to be honest even the small list will give you plenty to enjoy if you don’t want to spend a long time about choosing.
I should also mention here that Vienna is well able to cater for vegetarian and vegan diets. Menu tweaking doesn’t seem to be a problem. At Glacis, a delicious vegan mushroom goulash was prepared, slightly adapted from the menu, and a vegan dessert with fresh fruits and sorbet was offered, though not on the menu. All this without any huffing and puffing whatsoever. Schnitzel, for the meat eater, comes as veal or pork, priced accordingly.
If anywhere deserves the praise heaped on it in this city, it is surely Mast, or Mast Weinbistro to give it its proper name, which does stress how important wine is at this establishment on Porzellangasse, in an up-and-coming neighbourhood to the north of the city centre, just a ten minute walk outside The Ring. Mast has a small wine list, but as one would expect, there’s a twenty page list if you ask for it.
The Austrian section is a delight, packed with exactly what any discerning natural wine lover would expect (though the wine list is not exclusively “natural”). For those who want to stray, large groups, or those coming multiple times in a trip, the wines (and other beverages) from other countries are as wide and varied as anywhere – from Ganevat and Cidrerie du Vulcain to De Moor, Emidio Pepe, Testalonga, Pearl Morissette, Kutch and Equipo Navazos, to name just a few..
We had to try this collaboration between Mast and Vienna’s own young star, Jutta Ambrositsch, Gemischter Satz Rechts der Donau
Matthias (Pitra) and Steve (Breitzke) have fashioned a wine list that has made Mast famous across Europe and beyond, but that doesn’t mean we should forget the food here. Rather than traditional, as at Glacis, I would characterise the food at Mast as inventive. Very inventive. Martin Schmid is in the kitchen and the style here is what is described as “modern and free”. The food is presented relatively simply to look at, no froths nor jellies as the web site says. But using perfect and fresh ingredients, locally sourced where possible, Schmid manages to conjure flavour combinations just a little out of the ordinary. Inventive, but not to shock. Mast fully deserves its Michelin Bib Gourmand.
If, like us when we visit, you are renting an apartment, you might need to buy some wine to take home. The clear choice here is between one of the well known city stores or somewhere small and specialist. For the former, head to Vinifero. It’s at Gumpendorfer Strasse 36, the road which runs more or less parallel to Vienna’s big shopping street, Mariahilfer Strasse. The sign on the shop also says “Naturwein”, so you know what you are going to get – as their web site says, no chemicals, natural yeasts and low sulfur (sic).
Vinifero is only a short trek from the centre of Vienna, and though small, worth the walk (though also worth checking opening times, “usually” 2-8pm Tues to Fri, 10-6pm Sat, closed Sun and Mon).
If you are pushed for time its worth paying a visit to Wein & Co. This is one of the bigger wine chains in Vienna with (I think) eight stores. Their flagship store is near St-Stephen’s Cathedral, at Jasomirgottstrasse 3 (it’s the small road which directly faces the front of the cathedral, upstairs is their restaurant and the shop is down the stairs on the left).
Wein & Co sell a very good range of Austrian wines. You will, for instance, find the Styrian speciality made from the Blauer Wildbacher grape, Schilcher (or Schichersekt) here. There is also a reasonably good natural wine section. If you are nearby, take a look at least.
A good Schilchersekt at Wein & Co, the tart but very traditional Blauer Wildbacher sparkler from Western Styria
Another wine shop option is the wine department at Meinl, the smart department store at the top of the Graben (less than ten minutes’ walk from the cathedral). This is the place to find some of the more famous, and more obscure, Austrian bottles you’ll probably not find anywhere else.
All pics from Wein & Co, except bottom right, entrance to Meinl wine bar and wine shop
You can’t escape café culture in Vienna, and frankly why would you want to? To experience one of the famous cafés such as Café Central or Landtmann is pretty essential for any first time visitor, but you soon get slightly fed up with being seated with dozens of other tourists, and anyone who has queued for sachertorte at the Hotel Sacher will probably only wish to do so the once.
The Viennese café was not invented for mass tourism, but to offer a quiet refuge where you can go for breakfast, coffee, or an afternoon cake, where you can catch up with the newspaper or read a book. There are many options aside from the famous establishments, some modern, some from the 1930s, or 1950s, and others offering the same quiet wood-panelled rooms with their old world charm as the ones in the guidebooks.
I shall just mention a new discovery, which we found this last trip (August 2018) – Café Sperl. It was founded on the corner of Gumpendorf Strasse and Lehargasse in 1880. Originally Café Ronacher, it changed ownership and name in 1884. It’s the spitting image of the Ringstrasse cafés without the crowds. In fact it has popular outside tables, so in good weather the interior, with its dark wood tables, billiards and parquet flooring, will be relatively sparsely populated. It’s a true original (so much so that it has appeared several times in movies). If you fancy some peace and quiet, or shelter from the storm, take a look. It’s conveniently quite close to the Museum Quarter and the Naschmarkt.
You might hear some people describe Vienna’s permanent market, the Naschmarkt, as a bit touristy. I think that is a touch unfair. There are certainly many stalls aiming to appeal to the tourists who walk up and down every day, and you can’t get away without stallholders hawking their wares, offering tasty morsels which, once accepted, will almost certainly morally commit you to a purchase, in their eyes.
Among those selling baklava pastries and every kind of roasted and sweetened nuts you will also find wonderful and pristine fruit and vegetables (one stall sells what an older resident told me was “the best in Vienna, but three times more expensive than the supermarket”. If you walk past you will certainly know which one I mean).
Of even more interest might be Feinkost Gerhard Urbanek. It’s a tiny shop, as the photograph shows. It sells perhaps (no, “certainly”) the finest cheeses and cold meats on the Naschmarkt, and inside you can get plates of cheese and meats along with a glass of wine for a lunchtime snack. We went in here with Wieninger’s Georg Grohs after our morning spent with him.
We found about seven or eight people squeezed inside, cheek by jowl, doing exactly that. When one person leaves another squeezes in. Very high quality, and something of an experience to boot. The dry-aged T-bone ribeye was pretty damned good, although for a place that is focussed on meat and cheese they were also quite able to knock together a vegan platter: artichokes, olives and excellent bread.
Urbanek is not far from the bottom (city centre) end of the market on the right hand side of the left hand aisle, as you approach from the city/Karlsplatz. Don’t shout at me if I’m wrong, just ask around. The Naschmarkt is a warren of interesting food outlets…and fridge magnets.
At the far end of the Naschmarkt, up near the Kettenbrükengasse U-bahn station, on a Saturday morning you’ll find the Flöhmarkt (flea market). Full of the most unwanted tat in parts, there are fascinating stalls of everything you can imagine from the days of empire and the jugenstil. Old musical instruments, religious paraphernalia, beer steins and military uniforms, along with cheap toys, antique toys and objects claiming Roman or Greek origin. Whether there are bargains to be had or just rip-offs to be made, I don’t know, but I love an early morning wander on a Saturday morning before breakfast.
Just two more tips. For vegans you’ll find an increasing number of options in Vienna. Probably the best we have found so far is Swing Kitchen, which describes itself as a vegan burger joint. There are three in Vienna. We found the location at Schottenfeldgasse 3, close to the Naschmarkt. The vegan cheesecake (below, centre) was very good.
Finally, for hard core Austrian wine lovers who frankly find Schilcher Sekt a little 2016 (I think I first saw Schilcher in the UK back then, but hardly anyone has tried it), there is this…
Uhudler (in this case a frizzante version) is made from the vitis labrusca grape variety, Isabella. It’s a speciality of Südburgenland. This is one of the better known examples from Weinhof Zieger. Pale red, or rosé, it tastes of very concentrated strawberries and blackcurrants.
If that doesn’t sound quite an unusual combination, you also get the classic foxy smell and flavour characteristic of vitis labrusca grapes (labrusca originated in North America and as it is resistant to phylloxera, it has been used for rootstocks in Europe ever since the late 19th Century… grapes for wine in Europe usually come from vines of the vitis vinifera grape family, grafted onto labrusca roots).
For those who don’t know it, “foxy” denotes a musky, earthy, aroma that to be honest might put a lot of people off. Once you do get used to the foxiness, as some North American wine drinkers are rediscovering, the wine is only a little unusual. Definitely one to say you’ve drunk when the assembled masses are knowingly name checking Schilcher, though Ströhmeier’s Schilcher Frizzante would be my choice between the two if I’m honest. But still, it’s wacky…it’s also the second wine from Isabella I’ve tried this year (the other being from the Azores Wine Company).
If you want to read more about where you can eat in and around Vienna, my article on the summer popup heurigen and buschenschanks on the Nussberg Hill might interest you (see here). It’s also worth checking out Mayer am Pfarrplatz, mentioned in the same article. It’s something of a Vienna institution.
I hope I’ve given you an idea of some of my favourite places in what I would probably say is the European Capital I’d most like to live in. Maybe there are a few recommendations there for the seasoned traveller, and perhaps a few will appeal to the first timer as well.
Klimt frieze, Secession Building, Vienna