Heurigen was a popular choice that warm May evening. I had taken a local bus out to the wine-growing village of Grinzing on the fringes of Vienna. All of Vienna seemed to be going with me, and most of Vienna was carrying large baskets. They knew where they were heading. I hadn't got a clue, except that I'd been told that the taverns in Grinzing were serving the new wine and that the whole show, taverns, wine, gemutlichkeit, was called heurigen.
Evidently you went there to drink the innkeeper-winemaker's wine, but it wasn't compulsory to eat his food. Out of the baskets came cold meats and cheeses, dark breads and cakes. The Viennese sat outside in the courtyards and gardens, listening to accordions, violins and guitars. And the young fruity white wine flowed faster than the nearby Danube.
It was a lighthearted introduction to Austrian wines; a foretaste of the freshness and charm of so many of its wines. Being south and east of Germany's wine lands, Austria has a warmer climate, with long summer sunlight for producing good sugar levels in the grapes. This means that the wines are fuller, higher in alcohol content and, for the most part, drier than those of Germany. They are wines to drink with food.
Burgenland is one of the best regions. On the eastern border, its climate is moderated by the Neusiedlersee, a tongue-shaped lake stretching through the northern part. With all that moisture in the air, botrytis is a regular occurrence, and growers can produce late harvest- wines right up to the sweetest levels.
The town of Siegendorf is close enough to the lake to feel its influence and is the home of the privately owned winery of Klosterkeller Siegendorf. Its clean, simple packaging (no fancy scrollwork on the labels) and serious, honest wines are supported by reasonable prices.
At the least expensive level, the regional wines are produced from the grapes of other growers in the Burgenland: '81 Schlosswein-Gruner Veltliner Kabinett and '81 Riesling Kabinett, both at $6 for 1.5 liters, $3.50 for 750 milliliters. The gruner veltliner is the most widely planted white variety in Austria and gives a refreshing, lively, light wine. It's easy drinking on its own or with light food. The riesling is the welschriesling, or gray riesling, and is medium-dry and good-anytime drinking.
In the selection of estate-bottled wines, the '79 Pinot Blanc Kabinett, $5, is delightful. Bone dry (atypically so, say the producers: "It's the wine we sell to the French restaurants in Vienna"), it has a tart, tingly finish.
I had reservations about the '81 Private Reserve Riesling (the rhine or johannisberg riesling, in this case) Spatlese- Trocken, $6. Medium bodied and smooth, it fell between the riesling crispness and trocken dryness. However, other tasters thought that it would develop with a couple of years' bottle age. It's the first time the winery has shipped a spatlese trocken to the United States. And it is selling very well in Austria, where the consumers are looking for fuller, drier wines.
My star on the list was the '79 Pinot Blanc Trockenbeerenauslese, $12.50 for 375 milliliters. It is a true amber-colored TBA, with a soft honeyed nose; medium-rich, sweet and powerful, with 14 percent alcohol, appreciate it slowly.