Vienna's 'heurige' allow guests to drink in local flavor, wines

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VIENNA -- Wine country, oddly enough, is in the city here, albeit at the outskirts. That provides an ample opportunity for tourists to heed the Viennese exhortation: "Gemma zum Heurig'n!"

The exhortation -- "Let's go to a heuriger!" -- refers to a tradition that took root in 1784.

That's when vintners were given permission to open their own establishments to serve wine from their last grape harvest (they cannot, by law, serve someone else's wine).

Today, going to a heuriger gives visitors a chance to get some local flavor, including a down-to-earth atmosphere, a taste of local wine (mostly whites) and some real Viennese home cooking.

The word "heuriger" refers both to the wine from the last harvest and the establishment itself.

When heurige were first introduced, vintners provided the wine and guests had to bring their own food.

But that evolved so that now each heuriger has its own kitchen, and all you need to bring is yourself.

At Mayer am Pfarrplatz, where our group drank and dined, I walked to a deli-type counter and ordered a plate of sausage, Wiener schnitzel and basically one of anything that looked interesting.

The place was packed, even for a weekday night, and many if not most of the customers were locals. This contributed to the atmosphere, as did the songs sung at other tables.

A bonus for tourists in Vienna is that it doesn't take much to get to a heuriger. The vineyards are within city limits and about a 15-minute drive from the city center.

But if you come the way we did, it takes a little longer.

Odd looks greeted us as our bright red and green heuriger train ride wound its way through wealthy neighborhoods, wine-growing villages and Vienna woods.

The motor-driven choo-choo, Tschu Tschu being the actual brand name, pulled an open-air tram in which we were riding.

The Vienna Heurigen Express -- a bit of a misnomer, since it would be pushing it to reach 20 mph and the ride takes 30 to 40 minutes -- was on one of its first rides when we took the trip in mid-April.

That explained some of the looks from residents who undoubtedly had never seen the contraption before.

The rides depart hourly from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m., mid-April through the end of October, from Zahnradbahnstrasse in the 19th District, at the terminus of Tram D. It drops riders off in Grinzing, a popular wine-growing district and within easy walking distance of about 10 heurige, or directly at Mayer am Pfarrplatz, which is in that district.

Every hour at half-past the hour, the Express picks up passengers at the main drop-off point in Grinzing for the return trip home. But customers who miss the last train back, at about 7:30, can take a tram back to the city center.

The Heurigen Express ride costs about $6.30 and offers some time to enjoy views of the homes and scenery. Another option, about $33, includes a three-course heuriger menu and two free drinks.

Remember that the tram is open-air, so if it's cold outside, the riders will be cold on board.

But perhaps they'll be warmed by the humor of Express owner and operator Mario Galler, also Mayer am Pfarrplatz' production manager, an Australian whose ride introduction includes such quips as, "If you didn't pay, your seat will eject."

Vienna Heurigen Express
Phone: (011) 43-1 479-2808
Fax: (011) 43-1 479-2880
E-mail: [email protected]

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