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Owned by the Saahs family for more than a century, Nikolaihof is the perfectionist arch-traditionalist of the Wachau, Austria’s greatest wine region.
Through methods both ancient and original—including the aging of white wine for up to 17 years in barrel—fourth-generation winemaker Nikolaus Saahs Jr. makes Rieslings and Grüner Veltliners of multi-faceted complexity, surreal texture and fantastic aging potential.
But then, the uncommon and the unprecedented are part of the fabric of this hallowed estate—Austria’s most ancient—with a documented history dating back to 470 A.D.
The source of some of the domaine’s greatest wines—the Im Weinegebirge vineyard—is the oldest named vineyard in Europe. And in 1971, Nikolaihof became the world’s first biodynamic wine estate, long before these methods became more widely practiced. But the switch was easy; Nikolaihof has always been farmed without chemicals.
But it isn’t just these “firsts” that set Nikolaihof apart. The biodynamic farming not only produces beautifully healthy, ripe fruit, but at moderate sugar levels, key to the wine’s wonderful balance.
And the family’s vinification methods have far more in common with those of several hundred years ago than they do contemporary techniques.
Pressing is extremely gentle, using a four-century-old vertical press made from a massive elm tree and the native yeast fermentation takes place in wooden vats, with little temperature control. Sulfur use is minimal and there is no fining or filtration.
Above all there is the extended lees-aging in massive Austrian oak fuder. While such lengthy cask aging was once more common in the Wachau, today only Nikolaihof makes wine this way.
Even Nikolaihof’s Fiederspiel cuvées—analogous to Germany’s Spätlesen—see a full year without racking. And when Nikolaus feels that a fuder has the right stuff to develop magically over many years in his ancient oak barrels, he leaves it to do so until he deems it ready for bottling.
The dry Riesling “Steiner Hund” Reserve—called “a torrential force of nature” by David Schildknecht, owes its kaleidoscopic complexity both to its highly mineral terroir, and its development over three-to-six years in fuder.
Nikolaihof’s Steinriesler, is a rare bottling of dry Riesling from half-century old vines in the top Vom Stein vineyard, allowed to slumber for up to 12 years in barrel. The result is the essence of this alluvial gravel over primary rock terroir’s gracefully bracing character.
But the ultimate example of Nikolaihof’s willingness to let nature take its course is the extraordinary Riesling Vinothek. The 1997 Vinothek, sourced from the historic Im Weinegebirge vineyard, was barrel-aged for 17 years in Nikolaihof’s cold, dark 700-year-old cellar.
The result is an absolutely unique and extraordinary white wine, endlessly nuanced, surreally textured and potentially immortal. Its singular character makes us rethink what is possible, not just for Austrian Riesling, but for all dry white wines.
Please note: In common with other long barrel-aged wines, Nikolaihof’s long-aged cuvées require aeration to become fully expressive. Opening a bottle a day in advance is highly recommended.
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