Despite what the date might indicate, spring doesn’t truly arrive until the sun comes out, the temperatures reach a balmy level, and everything blossoms. You can feel it in the air. Thankfully, this happens sooner than later in the Bay Area, except for the occasional patch of fog. In Austria, however, an even bigger transformation takes place. The frigid winter temperatures and bracing winds give way to rolling green hills and budding vineyards as far as the eye can see. Around this time of year I like to sit outside in the sunshine, especially with friends in the Styrian countryside.
Styria, Austria’s second-largest federal state by geographical area, is also known as the “Green Heart of Austria”. Situated in the southeast of the country, culture here shares many similarities and traditions with neighboring Slovenia to the south and Hungary to the east. The wines of Styria are also exceptionally unique, due to a milder, more Mediterranean climate, which is trapped in the “bowl” formed by the Alps to the north. These wines, almost exclusively white varietals, possess crisp, clean acidity and a lightheartedness that make them perfect to enjoy on the terrace in the warm spring breeze.
In keeping with truly Styrian tradition, springtime is synchronous with the opening of the Buschenschank, the small family-owned wine taverns where strict regulations ensure everything is made on site. You’ll find no coffee, cola, or beer here – only liter jugs (and sometimes towers) of homemade wine and juice, and local dishes including the signature Brettljause (brettel-yowza).
To the southwest of Graz, the Styrian capital, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s birthplace, and my second home, I discovered a hidden gem. You can’t throw a rock in Styria without hitting a Buschenschank, but the best ones are worth searching for, which brought me on a two-hour round trip drive to Buschenschank Reiterer, close to the Slovenian border.
Styria is famous for its seasonal specialities, and in the springtime I always associate it with the seductive Schilcher (pronounced shil-hyur). This rosé is made from the indigenous varietal Blauer Wildbacher, a light red grape with acidity so high one finds it almost prickly – the ideal answer for your “skeptical-of-sweet-rosé” friend (there’s one in every crowd). One sip of this Gaumenkitzler (palate tickler) will quench your thirst in a juicy explosion across your tongue, and leave you almost instantaneously craving something fatty and salty. Say no more, your prayers have been answered. Almost on cue, the Brettljause arrives – a tree stump covered in intricate layers of salami, ham, pork loin, an assortment of cheeses and spreads, boiled eggs, pickles, and freshly-made dark bread. Schilcher and Brettljause go together like Arnie and one-liners; you can’t have one without the other. Each sip of Schilcher takes me back to a beautiful sunset descending behind the green hills, sitting perched on the stone terrace of Buschenschank Reiterer, with wooden picnic tables, delicious food, endless Schilcher, and fantastic conversation in thick country Austrian dialect. Pick up a case of Schilcher, load up on gourmet deli meats and cheeses from your local shop, and create some springtime memories of your own. Viel Spaß!