Heurige: The Winemaker as Cook

The best places in Austria in which to taste home-style food, drink local wines, and immerse yourself in everyday Austrian life are not cafés or restaurants. They are heurigen (HOY-rig-en)—rustic eating and drinking rooms, which are often attached to winemakers’ homes. Heurigen date from 1784 when a royal decree allowed every Austrian to “serve and sell their own produce including wine.” Traditionally, all of the food at a heurige is made from scratch by the winemaker and his family. Similarly, the wine offered must be only the winemaker’s. The word heurige, in fact, refers both to the wine of the latest vintage and the place where it’s drunk. By law, a winemaker may only keep his heurige open for business as long as his supply of heurige lasts. Most heurigen are utterly modest gathering spots, with communal tables and often a small playground for the children of their patrons. People go as much to socialize as to eat or drink. Most wine is ordered and drunk by the glass or is made into a spritzer and served in a mug. (Interestingly no coffee or beer is allowed to be sold).

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