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Gemütlichkeit: The Ideal Descriptor of Austrian Gastronomy

Live in Iberia long enough and you’ll quickly realize that cozy is not part of their lexicon. Neither the Portuguese, nor the Spanish, have adopted a word that fully encompasses a term that is intimately familiar to colder climate regions. Cozy to me connotates a sense of comfort, warmth, ease, relaxation and peace. It might be exemplified by a candlelit restaurant with a roaring fire, dark wood furniture, heartfelt laughter, and of course, a thick lingering aroma of grilled meats and roasting garlic among subtle notes of wine glasses chiming in celebration. In many ways, I equate cozy with a sense of home.

Throughout the past 6 years we’ve lived in Iberia, I can’t say that I’ve ever truly felt a sense of coziness. Iberia has embodied an odd mix of intense Latin passion as seen in their big, bold red wines, with a gentle Mediterranean light-heartedness experienced in their fresh and vibrant sparkling wines. Spain and Portugal have seduced me with their delectable goat cheeses, their bone dry Finos, their fresh fish and their stunning cured meats. We’ve also learned how to live on the streets among friends enjoying impromptu concerts, long leisurely meals and fabulous afternoons spent playing in the sea. However, it wasn’t until we co-hosted the European Wine Bloggers Conference in Austria that I realized how desperately I’ve missed a sense of gemütlichkeit. (Flickr photo by Wien Wein)

Every year, Robert McIntosh of the Wine Conversation, along with Ryan and myself, organize an annual conference to unite social media influencers and wine professionals from around the world. This year’s conference was hosted in Vienna, Austria, where 200 passionate wine lovers from 30 different countries were not only able to learn about new innovations in the digital wine arena, but were also able to taste a wide variety of wines and foods from across Austria.

So how does Austria embody this delicious state of being. My limited experience with gemütlichkeit came in the form of a Heuriger, which refers to a traditional Austrian wine bar. Found in Upper and Lower Austria, Vienna and Burgenland, it refers to wines served from that vintage. In the south of Austria, however, such as Styria and southern Burgenland, a Heurigar is referred to as a Buschenschank and is a protected term referring to a private bar that only sells homemade wines. And if you come across a Mostheurige in Upper Austria and Lower Austria, you’ll find delicious mugs of homemade apple or pear cider. (Flickr photo by Ryan Opaz)

According to Angelika Deutch of Kulinarischer Salon, Gemütlichkeit has to do with something set deep inside an individual.

“It’s not the place itself, as there are a lots of cozy places around. It’s the simple things that cause Gemütlichkeit – a fire place, good music, a glass of wine can also give this feeling. But what you have seen at the Heuriger is a special thing, always a little bit if chaos, with everyone feeling good. You find this type of Heuriger only in the eastern parts of Austria; I suppose there is a kind of desperate feeling underneath. In Tirol where I live Gemütlichkeit is quite different. So it doesn’t necessarily depend on what you eat or drink, but rather how you do it.”

Historically, the Heuriger was created when a group of wine farmers from the town of Görz came together in a united front to Emperor Joseph II complaining that the local noble landlord was aggressively threatening them to sell his wines. Thus in 1784, the Emperor, in retaliation to the nobleman, allowed all farmers to have full rights to sell their own production. Hence, small bars were opened across Austria allowing farmers to peddle their vinous delights from “that year”.

Today, one can find Heurigers throughout Vienna selling everything from beer to wines from various outside sources. But traditionally, an authentic Heuriger will only sell wines from their local community and only during certain times of the year.

Having dined in 2 different Heurigers in Austria, one in Vienna and one in Reichersdorf, I can wholeheartedly say that I loved the warm, familiar atmosphere I felt at both places. In a tightly packed restaurant with large wooden tables, we feasted on enormous plates of roasted meats garnished with sauerkraut; piles of liver and pork weinerschnitzels served alongside mounds of freshly diced tomato, cucumber and potatoes; thick fillets of smoked salmon, and of course, freshly baked apple strudel. (Flickr photo by Ryan Opaz)

For Julia Sevenich, author of ‘Uncorked in the Alps‘, Gemütlichkeit is a word to describe a special feeling you might have in a homey place.

“When it comes to food I think if you think of the word ‘nourish’  not just in a physical sense, but on a deeper level – nourishment of the heart and soul and combine is with coziness and certainly a lack of hurry and hectic. For me, the dish that most embodies Gemütlichkeit is Wiener Tafelspitz – a tip of Viennese Pot au Feu made from a beef tri tip. First you have the broth and there are an entire array of things to put in the soup like frittaten, milzschnitten, tiny diced root vegetables, bone marrow, etc. Then you eat the beef also with an assortment of  side dishes like spinach, roasted potatoes, chive sauce and apple sauce with horseradish thickened with bread crumbs. Heartwarming, satisfying and leisurely. And what does one drink with Tafelspitz? A Grüner Veltliner or a dry Zierfandler!”

For me, the Austrian Rieslings gave me that homey feeling with their crisp acidity, delicate apricot and peach aromas and lush, full body. For example, the 2008 Riesling Steinmassl, Kamptal DAC Reserve, chock full of ripe stone fruit flavors, a touch of apple blossom and a lovely, vibrant, yet rich, citrus finish. Equally elegant and enticing was the 2006 Schloss Gobelsburg Riesling Urgestein that gave off an intriguing aroma of fresh hay intermixed with ripe banana and minerals. The acidity was bright and inviting, with great structure and a lovely stone fruit and citrus finish. Simple and inviting, the wine harkened to warm spring days relaxing among the wildflowers in the Rocky Mountains.

For Sylvia Petz, co-founder of the Austrian communications company Havel & Petz, Gemütlichkeit goes beyond Riesling to and can incorporate a host of Austrian wines that provide the perfect lubricant to a memorable evening.

“Gemütlichkeit to me means also coming home when it’s cold, having hot maroni (chestnuts) and a glass of wine which can also be a Grüner Veltliner, Zierfandler, Traminer or as well a Blaufränkisch or Pinot. Or, and that’s great and makes you warm inside, Glühwein (hot wine) if it is homemade (you boil up red or white wine with not too much sugar, cloves, cinnamon and a piece of lemon peel).”

Admittedly, I’m an avid fan of Glühwein, having first sipped upon it on a frigid, rainy day walking the streets of Prague in 2005 with my friend’s massive Labrador in tow. Savoring the rustic fruit and spices emanating from the fiercely hot plastic cup, we roamed the streets for hours taking in bustling streets, and simply made a detour to refill whenever my cup ran dry. It made my experience absolutely unforgettable. (Flickr Photo by Ryan Opaz)

In short, I suppose one could say that Gemütlichkeit is a state of being, a sense of belonging, community and contentment. The EWBC has always brought about a deep sense of friendship and appreciation for the many gifts in my life. And to have hosted it in a country that knows how to create a warm and inviting feeling, whether it be in a heuriger or a winery, I’m incredibly appreciative of the experience.

If you could choose a wine, food or experience that embodies Gemütlichkeit, what would it be?


Gabriella Opaz

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