Profile: Weingut Nikolaihof Wachau

Posted by | Posted in Grape Adventures, Wine Reviews | Posted on 01-29-2013

Organic, biodynamic and other ‘natural’ wines seem to get a lot more attention these days, and yet it’s surprising how little the name “Nikolaihofof” comes up. After all, this great producer was the first winery ever certified by Demeter as biodynamic and more importantly, belongs in any conversation of the elite producers of great white wines in the world. Increasingly, it’s a producer I’m looking to buy from every vintage, regardless of its reputation.

Christine Saahs of Nikolaihof

Nikolaihof isn’t a particularly large winery, with just 20 hectares of vineyards and an annual production of only 8,300 cases — only a small part of which seems to make it to the US each year. The winemaking philosophy there is focused around a belief in organic and sustainable growing methods, great care and attention in the vineyards, and little intervention in the cellar. Christine Saahs,  the proprietor, has mentioned before her dislike of using cultured yeasts.

The wines can be challenging to taste when young. Some of my experiences with the wines soon after release have been initially disappointing; they’ve come across aromatically unyielding and dominated by their acid structure, yet even with a short time in bottle, I’ve found them much more expressive. Although Nikolaihof’s vineyards are mainly planted with Riesling and Gruner Veltliner, it’s worth keeping an eye out for its Neuburger, an unusual grape that in their hands produced a remarkable wine in 2010 (the only vintage of that which I’ve been fortunate to try).

In recent years, Nikolaihof has also been releasing small amounts of old, bottle-aged library wines (Vinothek), as well as recently bottled Rieslings that have aged in old casks for several years — its Steinrieslers. My few experiences with these wines have all been incredibly memorable: neither are cheap, yet the aged Nikolaihof’s Rieslings I’ve enjoyed are some of the most compelling wines I’ve been fortunate to enjoy.

Tasting notes on several of Nikolaihof’s wines follow below the fold:

Review: 2010 Nikolaihof Muskateller
Austria, Niederösterreich, Wachau
Very pretty; bright and floral, slightly sweet up front but the acids kick in on the back end and it finishes almost dry.

Review: 2010 Nikolaihof Neuburger
Austria, Niederösterreich, Wachau
A remarkable scent with barely any suggestion of fruit, but instead evocative of minerally, saline and other umami flavours, and a sensation of incredible freshness and clarity on the palate with the acidity keeping it very precise and light on its feet. I have no idea what this will turn into with some age, but given the balance and depth already apparent, I’m looking forward to seeing where this goes.

Review: 2009 Nikolaihof Grüner Veltliner Smaragd Im Weingebirge
Austria, Niederösterreich, Wachau
All about purity and clarity. Green Gruner fruit, minerality and other savoury notes conveyed with such remarkable lightness.

Review: 2008 Nikolaihof Riesling Smaragd Vom Stein
Austria, Niederösterreich, Wachau
Vividly stony and layered with pale, fresh Riesling fruit. Very light on its feet again, yet packed with material and flavour.

Review: 1998 Nikolaihof Riesling Federspiel Steinriesler
Austria, Niederösterreich, Wachau
Aged in cask without sulfur for a decade, and just bottled and sold last year. First impressions are all about incredibly fresh, pure Riesling fruit over a vivid stony base, and then with time and air it starts to really transform with more mature honeyed, smoky and other savoury elements emerging. There’s a sense of wonderful freshness and elegance here and stunning length. Absolutely compelling.

Review: 1995 Nikolaihof Riesling Vinothek
Austria, Niederösterreich, Wachau
Hauntingly pure and delicate; incredibly fragrant and perfectly integrated with white flowers, stone, fresh pear and citrus fruit and herbal, leafy and other savoury elements all coming together into a seamless whole. A thrilling wine to sit down with and follow, as it keeps getting more aromatic and developing more layers and nuances the longer it’s open.

Review: 2007 Nikolaihof Riesling Reserve Steiner Hund
Austria, Niederösterreich, Kremstal
Serene, delicate and understated; this is a wine that really needs time and air to show its best. It’s utterly compelling though with an amazing purity to the fresh fruit flavours, greener herbal and leafy accents and a base of pure stone beneath the fruit.

Review: 2008 Nikolaihof Riesling Reserve Steiner Hund
Austria, Niederösterreich, Kremstal
Somewhat austere and tight when initially opened, but this really opens out with air. It’s a very understated wine with a sense of calm about it; the flavours never hit you at once but keep gently unravelling with air; a spectrum of fresh Riesling fruit, vivid stony and saline mineral notes and higher toned herbal/leafy complexity on a delicate, light bodied frame. There’s superb acidity and balance here, a real purity of flavour and stunning length.

Comments (1)

  1. Great notes Salil, thanks!! I like your comment on how you plan to buy in all vintages regardless of the perceived quality of said vintage. First, I like this from the stand point that as consumers of wine we should focus on sustaining not just nature but those that harness its powers to make the wines we enjoy. Second, this sentiment stands strong with Weingut Nikolaihof’s philosophy of biodynamics. The family has stated that what they have noticed is that before biodynamic practices there were serious vintage variations. However, once they converted they not only noticed the vines becoming healthier and producing cleaner (be it less) fruit but the vintage’s were closer to a mid line, forming a sine curve if you will. Well there is less dramatic differences, I think that vintage “variation” becomes more dynamic, ie a “lean” vintage will show mineral but not lack fruit notes allowing one to see the way vines react to their environment while producing delicious wine!! A true gout de terroir!