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The wines of Nikolaihof, Wachau, Austria

Nikolaihof Wachau, Nikolaigasse 3, A-3512 Mautern, Austria
Tel: +43 2732 82901, E-mail: wein@nikolaihof.at, Web: www.nikolaihof.at
UK agent: Richards Walford (karen@r-w.co.uk)  

Nikolaihof, a family domain owned by Nikolaus and Christine Saahs (right), has the distinction of being the first biodynamic wine estate in Europe. But it was a bit of a coincidence that they turned to biodynamie. ‘I have always had good luck in my life’, says Christine Saahs. ‘I married my husband and his mother was an anthrosophical doctor’. [Anthrosopophy is the Steiner-inspired philosophy underlying biodynamics.] ‘At the time I was 20 and knew nothing: she is my spiritual mother and formed me. I had four children and we only used anthrosophical medicine and food. It is a whole-life philosophy’. Indeed, one of the Saahs’ daughters is herself an anthrosophical doctor.

The Saahs work with old vines (40 to 50 years old), and while they grow six different varieties, it is Riesling and Grüner Veltliner that star, with the former in particular achieving a remarkable elegance. The combination of biodynamic viticulture, which aims to encourage deep rooting, with old vines means that their vineyards do well even in difficult years. ‘2002 was a great year for us: our neighbours had problems with rot but we had none’, recalls Christine. ‘In 2003 when it was very hot we had no problems with alcohol and acidity: the root system means our vines never show stress’.

As befits a biodynamic producer Nikolaihof don’t use cultured yeast. ‘Artificial yeast is the biggest thief of energy in the wine’, claims Christine. She adds that, ‘quality is always in the aftertaste’.

In their youth the Nikolaihof wines are tight and reticent, showing bright, mineralic flavours with good acidity. The 2004 Vom Stein Riesling Smaragd yasted below is typical: it shows bright, focused fruit with a touch of herbs. The palate shows high acid, minerals, lemony fruit and is really long. Alcohol is just 12.5%. Nikolaihof’s practice of releasing small volumes of mature wines under the Vinothek label (here I tried one from 1991, a current release) shows that these wines repay cellaring, and the 2004 Vom Stein is certainly one to keep.

Nikolaihof Gelber Muskateller 2005 Wachau, Austria
Bright, sweet, open, grapey and perfumed. Light and fruity. 87/100

Nikolaihof Im Weingebirge Grüner Veltliner Federspiel 2005 Wachau, Austria
Pure, fresh nose. The palate is fresh and subtle with a herby, peppery edge. Very bright and expressive; mineralic and long. 89/100

Nikolaihof Vom Stein Riesling Federspiel 2005 Wachau, Austria
Lemony, herby, minerally nose is focused and pure. The palate is crisp, clean and minerally with a touch of herbiness. Long and mineralic. 90/100

Nikolaihof Vom Stein Riesling Smaragd 2004 Wachau, Austria
Focused tight nose with a touch of herbiness. The palate is quite taut and dense with high acid and lemony fruit. Minerally, savoury and long 91/100

Nikolaihof Im Weingebirge Grüner Veltliner Smaragd 2002 Wachau, Austria
This is apparently the oldest vineyard in central Europe, planted in the 5th century. Focused, bright, sweet fruit on the nose. The palate is concentrated and herb-tinged with lovely bold, spicy complexity. Some richness, and a long and spicy finish. 92/100

Nikolaihof Grüner Veltliner Vinothek 1991 Wachau, Austria
This was aged in cask for 15 years and bottled in March 2006. Complex, deep, sweet herby nose leads to a concentrated palate with lime, spice and minerals. Long and full, this is a lovely wine. 92/100

(Wines tasted February 2007; the wines below were tasted in February 2006)

Nikolaihof Grüner Veltliner Hefeabzug 2003
Fresh, lemony, minerally nose is very crisp. Precise palate with a slightly herbal edge. A subtle wine. Very good+ 88/100

Nikolaihof Grüner Veltliner im Weingerbirge Smaragd 2003
Very fresh, herby and minerally on the nose. The palate is focused and has laser-sharp acidity, with a sort of green edge. Very precise and minerally. Very good/excellent 90/100

Nikolaihof Riesling vom Stein Federspiel 2002
Lovely open, precise minerally, lemony nose. Very pretty and minerally, focused, lemony palate with high acidity. Fresh and full. Very good/excellent 92/100  

Nikolaihof Riesling vom Stein Smaragd 2003
Very minerally, subtle nose. Very fresh and quite perfumed. The palate has some richness of texture. A lovely expressive wine in a fuller style. Very good/excellent 91/100

Nikolaihof Riesling Steiner Hund Reserve 2003
Focused, slightly herb-tinged nose which is pure and minerally, and quite aromatic. The palate is tight but rich with clean, pure lemony fruit and richness of texture. Very good/excellent 92/100

Nikolaihof Riesling Steiner Hund Reserve 2001
Fantastic open aromatic nose is pure and rich, with a delicate perfumed liminess and a sweet edge. Lovely clean, fresh palate with lively acid and some residual sugar. Very expressive, a fantastic wine. Excellent 95/100

see also: the wines of Austria

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