Südsteiermark, Austria: A Food and Wine Lovers Guide to the South Styrian Wine Road
We’re going to let you in on a little secret, especially you food and wine lovers. If ever there was a culinary region begging to be explored, it’s Südsteiermark (South Styria) in the southern region of Austria along the South Styrian Wine Road. This patchwork of woodlands, lush rolling hills, and verdant vineyards just an hour from the culinary city of Graz and northern Slovenia is known as the green heart of Austria, and it reminded us more of Tuscany than central Europe. It may be hard to pronounce for non-German speakers, but don’t let that keep you away. Austrians call it the Steiermark, and their closely guarded secret is being discovered.
We visited in early fall when the fruits of the vine greeted us at harvest time — bright orange and green pumpkins and luscious sauvignon grapes. Through the gentle breeze came an unusual clack, clack, clacking sound of the klapotetz windmills spinning slowly through the countryside, designed to ward off birds and other pests who dare to gobble up precious grapes. All this idyllic scenery and soil translates into one of the most vibrant wine and food cultures we’ve ever explored, that should be on every foodie’s European bucket list.
LANGUAGE TIPS for ENGLISH SPEAKING WINE LOVERS: If you’re like us and don’t speak German, don’t let that keep you from visiting Südsteiermark. Many Austrians are fluent in English and some locals speak enough to communicate with you, which makes taking a self-guided tour much easier. We recommend that you rent a car. You can go at your own pace, stop wherever you like and truly enjoy the beauty, and food, of the area. Although most road signs and tourist brochures are geared to German speakers, here are some basics to know if you’re driving:
Austrians speak German.
The German word for road is “strasse”. Wine road = “weinstrasse”. You’ll also see it written as “weinstraße”. That’s not a B, it’s the German eszett, and is pronounced like a quick, sharp S in English. Weingut is German for “winery”.
So… Südsteirische weinstraße, Südsteiermark weinstraße, and Weinstraße Steiermark, all translate to the South Styria - or South Styrian - wine road.
Got it? The important thing to remember is no matter how you pronounce it, all roads in Südsteiermark lead to wine!!!
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südsteirische weinstraße | The South Styrian Wine Road
The 44-mile long South Styrian Wine Road runs from Glanz-Leutschach, and Gamlitz-Ehrenhausen to Strass. Starting near the village of Ehrenhausen, the road winds through Berghausen and quaint Austrian towns into the heart of the south Styrian wine country. You’ll travel through Ratsch an der Weinstraße, then Gamlitz past scenic vineyards and inviting wine taverns until you reach the small wine growing village of Sulztal. The end point of the Southern Styria Wine Road is Leutschach.
The wine road here is self-guided and driving is easygoing, so we recommend renting a car. Like other drives through wine regions in Chile, through the Val d’Orcia in Tuscany, wine trails in Virginia, and the Williamette Valley in Oregon, you’ll pass by lush green vineyards and can pull over to take closer looks now and then. People are friendly and are happy to chat and answer questions.
Why Foodies & Oenophiles Will Love it Here
The wine in South Styria (wein steiermark) is famous for the intensely aromatic Austria white wine like Gelber Muskateller and Chardonnay they refer to as Morillon. But without a doubt Sauvignon Blanc steals the tasting show, with its crisp, full flavors bursting through. The crispness was similar to the mineral-y Vernaccia wine we tasted in San Gimignano, Italy, though much more balanced and elegant overall. You’ll never think of Sauvignon Blanc the same way again.
The only chapel in Styria dedicated to the patron saint of wine growers, St. Urban of Langres, is located here with a charming chapel built in the early seventies. Their church wine must be amazing!
In the fall, wine lovers look forward to tasting the first press of wine called stürm, which is generally higher in alcohol and always a fun shared experience among friends.
Where to Eat in Südsteiermark
The lovely Sattlerhof hotel, restaurant, and winery in Gamlitz sits high on a hill perfectly blended in with the countryside. Our good luck, it was a nice sunny day so we were seated at a table on the terrace overlooking surrounding vineyards. Our first tastes of two wines that Südsteiermark produces, a dry sauvignon blanc and a fruity but dry Muskateller, were hardly disappointing. The wines were excellent and paired perfectly with our food course - Gamlitz-style pumpkin soup, a local favorite, drizzled with pumpkin oil and a whisper of vinegar. Our salad greens, very tender roast pork and chicken fried in the local style were all farm fresh and delicious. We finished with their very own Sauvignon Gamlitz which was excellent. This is a great place to begin the journey through this beautiful region.
Sernau 2a, 8462 Sernau, Austria
Alte Post Restaurant
Located in the heart of Leibnitz, Austria, the Alte Post Hotel and Restaurant dishes up local Styrian specialties prepared with a twist. With a nod to fresh locally produced seasonal products, the menu here is full of hearty schnitzels, roast pork and other regional specialties including Backhendl, Styrian style fried chicken. In the fall, try a bowl of their pumpkin bisque. The cuisine at Alte Post is excellent and has been recognized by the restaurant guide Gault Millau. And as always, save room for dessert as the homemade pastries are divine.
Sparkassenpl. 7, 8430 Leibnitz, Austria
A Local Buschenshank or Heuriger
A buschenshank (BOO-shen-shank) is a small inn run by a local grape farmer with just a few overnight rooms for rent. They’re a wonderful cultural tradition in Südsteiermark. The word literally means “bar in the bushes” with a tradition of hanging a small bush or bundle of twigs upside down at the entrance to signal that they’re open for business. Buschenshanks are happy social places and not at all formal in South Styria. In some parts of the Austrian wine country buschenshanks open near the beginning of autumn signaling the start of the harvest, although many in South Styria are open year round. By law they can only serve cold food - cold-cuts of meat, local cheeses, cold salads in pumpkin seed oil, and homemade bread. Don’t ask for beer or coffee, as they’re not allowed. The winemaker will sell only his own wines, but the star of the show in the fall is a little something called stürm (stOOrm).
We passed places along the road that appeared to be small roadside gardens with picnic tables and strings of small lights overhead with people enjoying sturm wine. Not really a Buschenshank but the party was definitely on. Don’t pass them up!
Heurigers, on the other hand, are formally licensed restaurants where you can enjoy local dishes served warm as well as beer and other beverages. Heurigers are generally not as quaint as a buschenshank and can be touristy and sometimes crowded. On some nights you might even enjoy musical entertainment. So if you prefer a more restaurant-y experience with a full menu, bar, and maybe a buffet, a heuriger is a good choice.
What’s the Difference?
By law they only serve cold food - cold-cuts of meat, local cheeses, cold salads in pumpkin seed oil, and homemade bread.
Winemakers/Grower selling only their own wines
Formally licensed restaurant most often affiliated with a winery or vineyard to showcase and serve only their wines.
Serve a full menu of warm dishes as well as beer, wine, cocktails and other beverages.
Often will have musical entertainment.
Buschenshank Dreisiebner Stammhaus
The family-run Dreisiebner winery and buschenshank Südsteiermark serves their own smoked meats and homemade breads along with their own incredible white wines. They’ve been awarded the "Excellent Quality Booklet” emblem (Ausgezeichneter Buschenshank Steiermark) and our experience there shows why. The food and wine were excellent and the folks around us were all very friendly and tolerant of our very bad German. It was a very fun night. If you have a chance, don’t hesitate to eat here — and spend the night too.
Sulztal an der Weinstraße 35, 8461 Sulztal an der Weinstr., Austria
Where to Go WIne Tasting in Südsteiermark
If you’re looking to taste some wine, maybe buy a bottle and plant yourself for a few hours at a charming Austrian weingut, Steiermark has no shortage of places to choose from.
It’s always interesting when you’re able to meet a gifted winemaker and have a glimpse into their world. Katharine Tinnacher speaks gently and with her warm smile explains her philosophy and love affair with her land, the grapes, and the wine that she produces. Her knowledge and commitment to winemaking is evident in every tasting at the modern, cleanly designed tasting bar. You wouldn’t think this was inside when you first arrive at the 400-year old restored farmhouse. But it is and there’s more.
The modern barrel room at Weingut Lackner Tinnacher features giant oval shaped barrels and intimate spaces with chairs and tables for you to enjoy some wine. One very cool artifact is the huge beam from a 300-year old winepress that serves as a wine bar. This is a very well thought out organic certified winery with impressive wines and a must visit for wine lovers.
Steinbach 12, 8462 Gamlitz, Austria
What to See and Do in Südsteiermark
Taste Styrian Oil at Resch Kernölpresse (Pumpkin Seed Oil Factory)
It’s hard to find a soup or salad that isn’t garnished with locally produced pumpkin seed oil and the Styrian oil produced here is one of the very best you’ll find. Why? Because the variety of pumpkins is unique to Styria — the seeds don’t have to be shelled, which makes the process of roasting and extracting the oil easier though labor intensive, and the oil much more flavorful and highly prized. This small pressing facility at Resch Kernölpresse uses the seeds of only locally grown Styrian pumpkins. They’re quite tender and have a mild nutty taste when roasted. Producing the oil is time consuming with the pressing moved by hand from stage to stage. The seeds are first ground, mixed with salt and pure water, then heated to remove moisture. From there they are roasted then pressed. After sitting in vats for 5 days to allow any sediment to settle to the bottom, the oil is bottles in cans or glass and can be kept for up to a year and a half at room temperature. This stuff is so delicious it’s addictive, and you’ll find yourself looking for things to garnish with it, like vanilla ice cream. Don’t laugh — it was deeeelicious! Thanks to Bernd Resch for the in-depth tour of his facility.
Resch Kernölpresse, Schlossberg 89, 8463 Schloßberg, Austria
Drink Sturm Wine
So what the heck is stürm? It’s new wine, or young wine if you like, made from freshly pressed and fermented grapes, usually about a month old and only available from around mid-September to mid-October (a lot depends on the weather and the time of grape harvesting). Generally this stuff is cloudy and still a bit sweet and fizzy like a lightly carbonated grape juice, but make no mistake, it’s usually quite potent. Here’s the kicker — because it’s so much fun to drink it’s easy to maybe have a bit too much. Roads in this part of Austria are twisty and narrow and unlighted after dark so it’s always a good idea to have a designated driver or use one of the taxi services to get you back and forth to your lodging. Wine taxis are quite common here and always a good idea. Prost!
The term genussregal translates literally to “the shelf of pleasure” which is fitting given the amount of local food and wine products here which appeal to all your senses. From the outside, with its three-tiered steel i-beam rack holding colorful metal freight containers, it’s hard to tell what exactly is going on here. Located in Sankt Veit am Vogau just across the river from Ehrenhausen, what looks a bit wild on the outside holds lots of surprises inside.
If you want to see the incredible number of local food and wines of South Styria you owe yourself a visit. And bonus — it’s located at the start of the South Styrian Wine Road. The facility boasts 2,500 Styrian wine and culinary products from over 250 regional producers which includes the Vinofaktur, the largest wine store in Styria. Walking into the wine store section of the building is overwhelming.
So, where do you begin? Fortunately there’s a knowledgable and friendly expert on duty to lead you through a tasting. For a nominal fee, it’s worth taking the short tour — it’s not only educational but also entertaining. There are displays everywhere on the history of production, organics, how things are produced, and the influence of the different soil types in the region. Most importantly though are the many nods to the slow food movement for the conscientious sustainable production of regional foods, farm to table vs. mass food production, something near and dear to our hearts. Walk around with the porcelain spoon included in the fee and taste honeys, vinegars, jams, and cold-pressed oils. There’s a full size model reclining pig (aw, isn’t he cute?) with a butchering schematic and small videos with different products. Austria doesn’t shy away from the reality of farm-to-table which is very refreshing. An entire section is dedicated to native Styrian Sulmtaler chickens and their eggs which are numbered to indicate the farm they came from. You can taste most of the products and purchase them at the shop counters. Or grab a table at the onsite Vinofaktur Vogau cafe and wine bar and order a local specialty from their menu. Vinofaktur Genussregal is so impressive and worth a visit .
Vinofaktur Genussregal, an der Mur 13, 8472 Vogau, Austria
Find Love on the Heart Shaped Road
Where better place for a food and wine lover to end their tour along the South Styrian Wine Road than on the famous heart shaped road in nearby Špičnik, Slovenia. That’s right… South Styria and Slovenia are close neighbors in the EU, as you can see from our picture below… we’re sitting in Austria and the heart-shaped road is in Slovenia, not too far from the gorgeous herdsmen settlement of Velika Planina and the glacial region around Lakes Bled and Bohinj. Contrary to some claims, the road really is heart-shaped, and no you don’t have to be in a certain position or out in space to see it. Just drive out to Dreisiebner Špičnik, park, and take a quiet walk to the vineyard’s edge. See how lovely international neighbors can be, especially when wine is involved?
Where to Stay in Südsteiermark
Weingut Dreisiebner Stammhaus
Not only was this an excellent buschenshank, they also have lovely overnight suites at Dreisiebner Stammhaus. Our stay here could not have been nicer. The spacious room was modern, with an ultra comfy Queen bed, and a small outside deck overlooking the vineyards. The beautiful sunrise here alone was worth the stay, and as peaceful as our natured-filled as our experience glamping in Slovenia, only more luxurious. Check rates and availability.
Sulztal an der Weinstraße 35, 8461, Austria
We were guests of Südsteiermark and Dreisiebner Stammhaus during this part of our travels through South Styria. As always, all opinions are our alone based on our first hand experience.
IF YOU GO
Spring and fall are some of the best times to visit this part of Austria, when visitors have their pick of food festivals and wine events galore. Reserve your stay at a quaint local buschenshank Südsteiermark is known for, and spend your days exploring. This green region is one of the best places to visit in Austria. For more information, visit the Steiermark tourism website.