Say what you like about biodynamics and it’s adherents but there is no doubt in my mind that it is practiced by some of the world’s finest estates.
The Wachau is on the Northern shore of the Danube river. The Bohemian massif, a large granite feature forces the river to take a winding detour leaving a south facing slope of granite leading down to clay silt closer to the river.
It is believed that the Celts brought viticulture to this part of Europe, with the Romans carrying on the tradition, however it is certain that it has been practiced pretty much constantly for the last couple of millennia, for centuries the Krems monastery was it’s focal point.
Similarly the Nikolaihof estate has a good bit of history, it’s first referenced in the time of Saint Severin and the Romans (around 470AD). I mention this because there is something about the wines that seems somewhat ageless. Or at the very least they seem to age on a different timescale to other wines.
The Saahs family started working biodynamically in 1971, if this seems very early, remember that Maria Thun the major proponent for much of second half of the last century was German and it always had a stronger following across the German speaking parts of Europe.
Intrinsic to their wine making is the natural yeast colonies, which Christine says are unique to each vineyard.
‘Every vineyard has a different yeast’ as such young vines don’t ferment properly for about 6 years or so as they’ve not developed a strong enough vineyard yeast culture. The 1st vintage is always half dry as the yeasts are not yet strong enough to ferment the wine to dryness.
Christine went on to mention that when samples of different yeasts were taken from around the area, theirs were the strongest and most efficient at consuming sugar. This leads us to one of the other marvels of the Nikolaihof wines, their low alcohols. 11.5% up to 12.5% but with no attendant lack of body or intensity. A couple of weeks later Christine showed me their 1999 Zu Mautern Jungfern Wein (11.5%) and still incredibly vibrant, with floral, mineral notes, a lovely off dry lime edged fruit. A wine that hardly betrayed anything of it’s 12 years of age.
Certainly I was starting to think of the wines ageing on a human scale. With 18-20 years of age being when they start to have something interesting to say. That’s not to imply that there were no precocious youngsters, as they were all fascinating, but it made sense when one looked at the 1993 Gruner Veltliner Vinothek aged for15 years in old oak casks 1500-12500l and 4yrs bottle. A wine they released when it was legal to drink, makes sense no?
Slightly waxy polished edge, salted preserved lemons (almost an herbal vodka like note). A smooth and almost sensual palette, dry, savoury and intriguing. A hint of dried fruit showing on the finish, but all in all very fresh and remarkable free of oxidative notes.
Gruner Veltliner Federspiel 2010 11.5% from the Urgestein – Granit/Gneiss
Vibrant herbaceous, white pepper, austere, mineral with an underlying breadiness, good length and nice purity, a slight herbaceous tang on the finish.
Similarly the 88 Elizabeth cuvee Gemischter Satz (field blend) Riesling, GV, PB, Neuburger, Fruh Rot Veltliner, from a vineyard they planted in 85 to celebrate the estate anniversary. They chose to interplant the varieties in the old style, and commensurately harvest them all at the same time. Not unlike the great Marcel Deiss crus this has the richness, complexity and satisfaction that comes from a blend of varieties all quite at home where they belong.
Ripe apples, some complex old floral type notes, a lovely richness intertwined with the bottle aged characters, a very delicate acetyl note (not enough to be bad) finishing with some tasty ripe apple notes. Some lovely acidity gave it structure (from the slightly early harvest Riesling).
Other wines tasted.
2007 Steiner Hund, Riesling Reserve 12.5%
Complex minerally lime (thai lime?) green apple skin notes, medium bodied but with a creaminess to the acidity. Very assured and intense.
1990 Riesling Smaragd, Zu Mautern/Wachau
Maturing vegetal notes betray some bottle age, cream and a hint of peach. Incredibly mineral palette, medium ripe with stunning length.
1986 Honigfogel GV (Honigfogel predates Smaragd as a category)
Slightly toasty nutty sort of nose, reminds me of old Champagne, some lovely fading fruit over a mineral skeleton, citrus, crushed slate, great acidity and a caramel edge bottle age character.
1983 Gruner Veltliner (1st great year)
Dusty subtle cellar mould like note, like smelling damp age worn rocks, some ghostly fruit notes and lovely length.
Finally a last word of wisdom, ‘Green matter is always the link between sun energy and animal life’.
The tasting was held at Spring Boutique, 56 Rue de l'Arbre Sec, 75001, Paris.