The Südsteiermark (Southern Styria)is a stunning region in south-east Austria. Here picturesque hills and valleys are carpeted in vineyards punctuated only by the occasional field of pumpkins and shady patch of woodland.
The region is perhaps Austria’s best kept wine secret with the vast majority of its wine is consumed on home turf & only a handful of pioneering producers exporting overseas. Südsteiermark’s premium wines are much appreciated by Viennese restaurants & wine collectors but I’m pretty sure that the majority of these tasty wines are consumed on site in the numerous wineries themselves that occupy prime hill top locations whilst enjoying picture postcard views and tucking into local culinary treats.
The region’s beauty really gives Tuscany a run for its money and offers a similarly seductive synthesis of food and wine and scenery. Whilst many serious wines are produced here wine is very much part of a wider offering.
Wineries have always been open to visitors serving their own wines in outdoor gardens overlooking the vineyards. Traditionally these Buschenschank (taverns) were only allowed to pour their own wines and serve food grown and made on the premises. However since I first visited the region 25 years ago Brettljause, a simple platter of cold meats, cheeses & pickled vegetables with rye bread, was pretty much the staple fayre. However menu’s in even the most basic Buschenschank have now been expanded to include such delights as fresh salads dressed with local pumpkin seed oil & the local speciality Stierische Backhendl (fried breaded chicken made from ‘happy’ local hens). Look out too for a range of super dishes made with Eierschwammerl (chanterelle mushrooms). Many of the wineries also let rooms on a bed and breakfast basis so that you can stay right in the heart of the action and there are an increasing number of boutique hotels with gourmet restaurants perched on prime spots for those seeking a bit more luxury.The Südsteiermark is best known wines for white wines and in particular Sauvignon Blanc which seems to sit in a satisfying spot somewhere between the steel & mineral of the Loire and the greater florality & fruitiness of New Zealand. Traditional whites include the fragrant & fresh early drinking Gelber Muskateller, a perfect aperitif especially when made into a sparkler, Welschriesling, another fresh food friendly white, Weissburgunder (Pinot blanc) with more body but good acidity and the perfect fit for Backhendl and of course a bit of Gruener Veltliner. Chardonnay seems to do well and often comes with a bit of oak too. There are also tasty reds too often blends of indigenous grapes like Blaufränkisch and Zweigelt with international varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon & Merlot.
The vineyards go up to about 400m above sea level and although continental enjoy a long ripening season thanks to an increasingly pronounced range between daytime and night time temperatures reaching up to 18 degrees towards harvest.
With so many Buschenschank and Weingut to visit each offering so much good eating and drinking the Styrian tourist board have helpfully joined the dots on the map up with a series of picturesque wine trails. The main Weinstraße runs from Leutschach to Gamlitz & Ehrenhausen. Running largely along a ridge it connects many of the best winemakers and the loveliest locations. Instead of driving the route far nicer choice is to ramble along one of the many walking routes also mapped out which allow one to pass right through the vineyards & by quaint farmhouses complete clucking chickens & vintage tractors.
However to cover a wider sweep of the area there is no better form of transport than the e-bike. Modern electric bikes flatten out the many steep hill climbs but take nothing away from the pleasure of rolling through this fabulous country side following part of the Weinstrassen Tour for bikes. Maps of all three types of trail are widely available and extremely well sign posted on the ground making it super user friendly.
We’ve stayed in three places over the years and enjoyed them all:
Weingut & Buschenschank Tinnauer picturesquely situated on the bike route near Gamlitz. http://www.weingut-tinnauer.at/
Skoff Original, the home of Sauvignon Blanc and right on the spectacular Weinstraße. Stunning panoramic views & great food. http://skofforiginal.com/?lang=en
Hotel Gut Pössnitzberg. A stylish hotel with heated outdoor pool & cool glass box dining room overlooking the vineyards. The hotel is owned by the Polz Winery and there is a tasting of their wines, including some great traditional method fizz, for guests at 5.00pm each day. E bikes available. http://www.poessnitzberg.at/
Winzerhotel Wurzenberg is a modern hotel in a spectacular location but we haven’t visited it yet!
Places to eat:
All the above serve great food. However a visit to the Südsteiermark should definitely include a traditional spit and sawdust buschenschank.
There are many to choose from and it’s worth asking for a local recommendation. We enjoyed Eory Buschenschank. Great location, traditional fayre and friendly landlord.
For more information visit:
Tourist information: http://www.steiermark.com/en/styria/regions/southern-western-styria
For accommodation, restaurants & wineries: http://www.suedsteirischeweinstrasse.at/
On the wine region: http://www.austrianwine.com/our-wine/wine-growing-regions/steiermark-styria/
It’s about a 2 ½ hour drive from Vienna
Or 45 minutes from Graz international airport.