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Sunday, 7 November 2010

Wine-buying (and dining) in Vienna, Austria; Wein & Co

A few years ago, I used to travel to Vienna regularly on business - it's a wonderful city, not that easy to live in as a foreigner, but great to visit.

It's also where I learnt about how wonderful Austrian wines are - even if very few people are aware of it. I have written elsewhere about the recently history of Austrian wine-making, the glycol scandal of the mid-'80s and subsequent clean-up of the industry and shift towards a fully-dry style.

Austrian wines are now some of the best in the world and quite unique - the Wachau produces Rieslings that are full and ripe, yet crisp, minerally and completely dry from the likes of Prager and Knoll; in Styria, Tement and Polz cultivate more aromatic varieties, such as Sauvignon Blanc, that are fully ripe yet piercingly dry, due in part to the long growing season, in vineyards up to 650m above sea level; the Neusidlersee region of Burgenland, with its ideal conditions for botrytis, produces some of my favourite dessert wines of anywhere in the world from Velich and Kracher.

This is not the place to give a history of Vienna as the seat of the Habsburg monarchy and later capital of the Austro-Hungarian empire, but suffice it to say that the city was important enough for long enough to have quite a few nice buildings - rather more than quite a few, actually.

Prague may be the favourite historic city of back-packers and stag-nighters and Budapest may have the new buzz, but Vienna remains classy, elegant and sophisticated, if still resolutely traditional and old-fashioned in some ways.

Austria shook off the slumber of 40 years' independent isolation in the mid-1990s by entering the European Union; since then, it has become an increasingly vibrant country, leading to a feel of there being both a "new" and "old" Austria co-existing in the same physical space.

Stephansdom, with Haas Haus
in the left foreground
Just one example of this can be found on Stephansplatz, the centre of Vienna, where the beautiful gothic Stephansdom stands opposite the controversial, post-modern Haas Haus - a shiny, curved shopping mall with a restaurant favoured by Nikki Lauda at the top.

Just round the corner from here is Wein & Co's central Vienna wine shop and bar - this independent Austrian chain of upmarket wine merchants has just under 20 branches, mostly in Vienna but also in other major Austrian cities such as Salzburg, Innsbruck and Klagenfurt.

Wein & Co seems to epitomise everything that "new" Austria stands for, without losing any of the charm of "old" Austria. It stocks an excellent range of new-wave Austrian wines and also has an extremely sophisticated website which includes their "Movie Stars" series of podcasts - short films of telegenic Wein & Co staff presenting the company's wines.

Another innovation is the Wein & Co bars, of which there are three in Vienna - the flagship Stephansplatz branch was a regular haunt for me not just for buying wine, but also for dinner after work.

The concept is simple yet brilliant - half the floorspace is given over to a traditional wine shop, whilst the other half is a bar; the wines available in the bar come from the shop and the mark-up is just €2. For that, they will even chill your white wine down to cellar temperature in a couple of minutes.

The menu is typical bar food - simple, but well-made and full of flavour, and as you'd expect, all well-matched to a range of wines; each item on the menu has a coloured sticker to indicate the type of wine suited to it (red, white, light, full-bodied etc) and then there is a suggestion list for each style of wine.

Austrian food is traditionally stodgy and heavy central European fare reflecting the tastes of the various vassal states over which Vienna held sway - Hungarian goulash, Czech dumplings, that sort of thing. You won't find any of that at Wien & Co, however, and the food tends to be more Italian-inspired, with pasta dishes and fish frequently featuring. Just the kind of food that washes down well with a ripe-yet-dry, minerally and crisp Riesling from the Wachau.

After all that modernity and "new" Austria, you then step out into the street opposite the front of the Stephansdom from where a wander up the Graben to the Hofburg is the perfect round-off to an evening.

And suddenly it all makes sense; the "old" and the "new" co-existing harmoniously and producing something infinitely more interesting than either on its own, just as the wines themselves seem at first contradictory - harsh and forbidding, yet balanced and full - but on closer acquaintance show great balance and concentration.

Wein & Co, Wien Stephansplatz, Jasomirgottstrasse 3-5, 1010 Wien


Wein & Co - http://www.weinco.at/

Knoll - http://www.loibnerhof.at/

Prager - http://www.weingutprager.at/

Polz - http://www.polz.co.at/cms/start.php

Tement - http://www.tement.at/index.cfm?action=intro

Velich - http://www.velich.at/

Kracher - http://www.kracher.at/


  1. Fun post to read.

    My experience at Wein and Co. was similar as well. Great wine. Lively. Original. All as you describe.

    The Cathedral in that district functions as a beacon, like certain buildings in NYC and Paris. It let me navigate the district by foot without getting too terribly lost constantly.

    Need to put in a plug for the MoMuk, Leopold and Albertina museums. World class in every respect and I spent a few days hanging out in them.

    I'be posted pics and reflections of the museums and cafes on my Tumblr blog.

    Thanks for sharing this.

  2. Thanks Arnold - Vienna is such a great mix of the new and the old; it's amazing how it, despite the weight of all its history, it has managed to transform itself into a really vibrant city.

    Lovely place - and great wines, too.

    Cheers, Tom