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Wachau Nikolaihof

Tasting Year




2022 Hefeabzug Grüner Veltliner

LABEL NOTE: for reasons either unknown or obscure to me, this wine is “downgraded” to Niederösterreich (from Wachau), but is still estate bottled. Presumably there are grapes from another region in the cuvée.


Should you have forgotten, this is a tank-fermented and vinified GV that’s bottled in the early Spring, off its gross lees. It’s in essence a “Steinfeder” (itself a vanishing species with global warming) with 11.5% alc. And yet for all this, it has a freaky capacity to age for many years.


Remember also, the bio-dynamic regime usually creates physiologically ripe grapes with less sugar ripeness, so that “11.5%” doesn’t denote a scrawny wine. And while this wine is atypical of the wines of the domain, it is quite typical of the overall mentality of this singular property.


This ’22 is a forthcoming and seriously charming vintage of this oyster-shell leesy beast. In this case the lees are brisk and saline and the wine has always been like liquefied Belons. While vintages don’t really vary that much, the ’22 has the open-armed greeting of the vintage, and the mid-palate is rather more rugged than usual. If you’ve liked it before you may like this vintage particularly. It is also surprisingly lingering for such a light fella.


The wine is sui-generis in some ways. Muscadet is made from a lower-acid variety, and apropos of “variety” this guy isn’t all that typical for “Grüner Veltliner,” so that it becomes just a WINE for oysters to drink at their birthday parties.


Just a whiff of funk two days later when I tasted it again, but no matter. Coming soon to a seafood tower near you….


2022 Zwickl (Grüner Veltliner)

This one’s in “cask” (which can also mean “tank” as it’s used in German) for six months on its fine lees, and is bottled unfiltered. This means you get two wines in one bottle, because if you stand it up for a few days the top 1/3rd is clear – so you pour out a clear wine and then shake the bottle to disperse the lees, and presto: Two wines. (You can also shake the whole bottle before you open it, but what’s the fun of that?)


Effectively a fraternal twin of the Hefeabzug (and also with 11.5% alc) it has always tasted different to me, especially the “clear” segment. That said, even the cloudy segment isn’t too murky, nor is the wine terribly outré, though I’m familiar with the flavor from tasting thousands of pre-filtered cask samples over the years.


In this case the lees are sweetly herbal, giving a denser mouthfeel to what remains a relatively light wine. It’s in keeping with a core value for Nikolaihof; the principle of drinkability, of usefulness, all in keeping with a larger ideal of wholesomeness.


We have more green here, more fennel-frond and tatsoi, and the lees confer an improbable hint of nutmeg along with a phenolic element you may or may not like. While I like this wine, I find it more of an “idea” and less of a glass of something drinky. For that I’m reaching for Hefeabzug.


2022 Grüner Veltliner Federspiel


I’ve sometimes found this to be a quintessence of Nikolaihof, not their “best” wine but the one most imbued with their soul and identity.


This is a classic example of a theta-wave wine. You have to wonder how a wine with so much energy can induce so much calm. It’s hardly a glass of wine any more; it’s a glass of pensiveness, or reflection. Sure, it shows flavors of green beans and maitake, but these matter less than the feeling tone. The wine is gentle but it isn’t soft. It has an allusive fragrance that makes you think of the cellar in Spring when all the barrels are full.


In a crucial way it elides the usual ways we “evaluate” a wine. It’s perfectly good if it comes to that. Just don’t expect it to put on a show for your senses.


Don’t drink it too cold. Leave some white space around it. Let it keep you company in its discreet way; it’s not so good that you need to “study” it obsessively. It’s a dog with its head in your lap, comfortable with you.


The wine can be “used” in the predictable ways, with green veggies and cruciferous things. It’s almost too demure for asparagus. The thing I love most about it is, it’s the smell of being itself. Imagine you have brown jasmine rice cooking, and you start registering the wonderful aroma that’s filing your house, and if someone demands that you tell what it “smells like,” you can’t answer because you can’t know. It smells like what it is! Its brown rice, dude; leave me in peace.


Before tasting it again we drank a glass while dinner was cooking. I still think that any noise detracts from the wine’s sub-audible music. As I “taste” it again now, it reverses the typical development of a Nikolaihof wine, and seems to break apart somewhat, so that an aldehydic rancidity arrives – at least in the Jancis glass. Yet this is nowhere to be seen on the palate, so I guess we have a little fleeting burp of something or other, that needn’t trouble us.


The finish is a flowing stream of green beans and nut-butter.


2018 Grüner Veltliner Smaragd Ried Im Weingebirge                    +

The current release is a relative brute with 13% alc. It’s an enigmatic being, about which I’ll make a wild (and probably inaccurate) guess….


I suspect the slight naphthalene aroma is bacterial in origin and I suspect in turn that is had to do with limitations of space in the old small cellar, whereby certain wines were bottled not at the best possible moment, but when they needed the barrel for the next vintage. Again, I may be way off base.


Regardless, there’s a duality of impression here, one being the lovely personality of 2018 (that savor! Like cooking farro in a really good homemade stock) along with the echo-y floweriness along with the porcini aroma when they’re sliced but you haven’t put them into the hot pan. And with all this salivating yum, there’s a teeny off note. Re-tasted after two days, an oxidation manifests as well.


The finish, though, is searching and free of doubt, and since you know that aftertaste matters hugely to me, you’ll get it when I say I’ll drink this wine for pleasure and easily overlook what *might* be a technical “issue.” And like many Nikolaihof wines, this one improves with air. Its very umami seems to offer a kind of spiritual umami that doesn’t leave you with a fortune-cookie “insight” but invites you into reverie with no purpose other than to be calmly human for a little while.


And most curiously, there’s a tooth-scraping texture that wouldn’t seem possible for a wine with such a tender impression, but ‘18s could be phenolic, I recall, and this wine does have its “edges”. No Yanni-wines here….


2012 Grüner Veltliner Steinterassen

After 12 years in large cask this was bottled in May 2023. It comprises part of a series of long-aged normal wines of the type that no one ever ages. Note: the variety only appears on the back label.


These things can go right (in which case they are rapturous) or go wrong (in which case they are merely strange), but I like the ’12 vintage and my hopes are high.


It is subdued at first, and the first aromas to show are the sous-voile scents that came to live in this cellar around 7-8 years ago. With that in mind, the palate is (happily) shocking, even powerful, and in any case full-throatedly expressive. It connotes a masterly wine that sits under a transparent veil, and I have two thoughts. One is, I like the sous-voile flavor, and two, I know where to go to taste it, and that place isn’t the Wachau. If you like, you can reduce it to “Terry happens to think this flavor is foreign to the Wachau, but we all know what a pill he is.”


What’s really surprising is how much energy and torque this wine has with just 12% alc.


Let’s come at it from a different angle. Wines that sat in cask for many years are often perturbed (if not dismayed) by bottling, and they may need a few years before retaining their equilibrium. The best I can do is give this bottle a week or so, to see what mysteries have embedded themselves in its inscrutable depths. For I am deeply intrigued, yet anyone in whose hands I placed this glass would say “Jura” when sniffing; the doubts would enter when tasting.


With a second look – having had a glass with dinner in the interim – I find the wine compelling, if strange. The Jura note is gone, but in its place is something oddly coarse – but only aromatically. On the palate it shifts to “rustic” in a rather pleasing way. For a Nikolaihoif wine, it walks with a heavy tread. Yet when I took the wine outside (on a 23º day; I suffer for my art, dude) it grew suave and gracious. And the empty glass smells beautiful. 


So? Don’t ask me; I just work here.




2022 Gelber Muskateller                                                                       +

The minute they started making this, it became a huge favorite of mine, and (In my view) one of the most singular Muscats in Austria.


But this is interesting. It has a flavor I also tasted in many of the ‘22s from Merkelbach, which I recalled from the 2014 vintage, and which is derived from a parliament of rots and mildews. This dubious flavor is less evident in the Jancis glass, which suggests it may be fleeting.


Taken outside to taste, it starts to show its elderflower and melon flavors, finds clearer lines, indicates the minerality I love about this wine, and waves a few fronds of mint under my nose. The questionable scents are nearly vanished – but where to, and how did they arrive?


I’m not an enologist, but I’ll hazard a guess. The thing I smelled and thought was/were rots were actually volatile substances reminiscent of rots but actually fleeting compounds that dissipate in oxygen. Pouring again from the screw-capped bottle, all was well.


Indeed all was very well. A vein of wintergreen and verbena came along to partner the elderflower, and the tactile crust of mineral remained, and the wine became beautiful. I can’t explain it, but I’m glad it happened, and even gladder to have been mistaken.


I had essentially the same experience the second time through. The close study given by a professional will identify the bit of H2S, which most normal drinkers won’t register. Neither would I, on the many occasions when I’m just another normal drinker, and what I would register are all the fresh charms this wine shows so generously. The question is, what “flaws” are forgivable, and why?


2022 Neuburger

All of 11% alc now. The variety runs nutty and umami-driven and can give a rare and forthright happiness if one’s brain hurts from trying to suss the Rieslings and GVs.


Just so you know, I’m tasting this right after the 1997 Riesling “Vinothek,” (keep reading!) and when that happens the shock of freshness in the young wine can cause one to overrate it. Aware of that, I can still claim…..

If this variety shares a bread-like character with Chasselas, Neuburger tastes like it was in the toaster an extra three minutes. Or, that it was a whole-grain bread with no white flour. In any case, what you’ll smell here is the aroma of a “fresh, young ’22,” rather than anything more specific – and that’s just fine. It has the lovely anonymity of the best Gemischte Satz in a slightly lower register.


The wine is completely drinky, and I see no reason to demand more of it.


1987 Burggarten Grüner Burgunder                                       ++

It is actually Neuburger Federspiel. I think it is a gift-bottle, because they know how intensely curious I am about old wines.


The vintage was cold – maybe the last cold one before the climate altered? The color is shockingly young – it still shows chlorophyll.  “I’ll bet Terry never tasted this,” I can imaging Nikki saying as he looked for a bottle to fill the case.


But did he know how fond I am of the “green” vintages? And how sad I am that so few of them remain? For this is an absurdly delicious and fascinating wine I wish I had twenty more of.


Okay, ’87 is grassy on the surface and vegetal below the surface, but not yucky-vegetal but rather like good parsley root and burdock and salsify, and there were fifty ways this wine could have gone wrong and yet here it is – the one perfect way it could have gone right. If I’d had this on the usual tasting trip, I’d have recalled it as one of the highlights of that trip – one of those ridiculous unforgettable wines that basically shouldn’t exist and yet they do.


I’m sorry you won’t get to taste it. Really! If you had, you’d have been a little put-off if you don’t relish brassica notes.



Quick note; if there’s a Riesling Federspiel (which there usually is) it wasn’t included in the sample case, so we begin with the current vintage of Smaragd, which is….


2017 Riesling Smaragd Ried Vom Stein                                           +

A pure aroma from this “delicate” (and regionally atypical) Smaragd with just 12.5% alc. Relatively speaking “Vom Stein” is the weight-lifter while “Im Weingebirge” is the dancer, and here we have the essential smoke and ruggedness of ’17 – and yet the initial impact is refined and allusive. In effect there’s nothing in the fruit-and-flower family but everything in the spice-and-herb community.


It's a classic Nikolaihof, redolent of antiquity, wholesome yet infinitely evocative; even its length is tactful.  Yet none of this especially applies to the expressiveness from the Jancis glass, in which the wine is dramatically more explicit and detailed. So I went back to my “control glass” (the little Spiegelau) and now there’s new things emerging, mirabelles and even white peaches. I’d forgotten how diffident these wines could seem at first glance, and what depths are incipient in their quietude.


Does the wine ask for quiet around it, or does it actually supply quiet? It asks, with careful politeness, for oxygen and time, because after I insist there’s nothing flowery in it, in fifteen minutes it blazes with osmanthus  and flowering hyssop. In effect this wine teaches you to be patient. It’s never wise to jump to conclusions. Mull it over, why don’t you. How important is it to always take a stand? Listening is an imperiled art.


Yet for all this wine invites absorption (and rewards it) it’s also just a glass of wine to drink, as is done in the estate’s restaurant day after day, with all the distractions of food and conversation and conviviality, and what’s the wine’s job then? This is a circle I can’t seem to square. My limitations notwithstanding, I’m in a kindly and quiet thrall to this tenderly introverted Riesling.


The next day, I’m tasting it again. I notice the burnished color, maybe a little darker than it should be. Again the aromas dance around in and out of key and shade, and if I’m really severe I’d say that it dances close to the line between hale and….doubtful. This changes from sniff to sniff. Yet – the sips are another thing entirely. Here we have a firm, convincing mélange of facets, enacted in this estate’s typically analog way.


At the end there’s a redcurrant and currant-leaf finish that’s like a marl-grown Sauvignon Blanc, one that’s less pyrazine-y and more earthy. It takes a good fifteen minutes, but there’s a lovely glass of wine laying in wait.


2017 Riesling Steiner Hund                                                                 ++

A Kremstal wine from a supernally great vineyard, and a wine that has often been great but has recently been troubled.


This bottle does not appear to be troubled. It has all the druidic mystery of these Rieslings at their (infrequent but haunting) best. 


If I go back a bunch of years into my catalogues I can find a text about the Steiner Hund paradigm that…wasn’t bad at all. I sort of grabbed it. Having done it well, my choices are to do it less well here or to copy myself, and I’m not pleased with either. So I’ll start over.


Steiner Hund can present a concatenation of minerality and herb that expresses fervently but not aggressively. The result is “esoteric” in the truest sense of the word. It defies logic and seems to ask you to suspend your assumptions about possibility and even “reality.” It has that in common with Bründlmayer’s old-vines Heiligenstein, though that wine is more muscular and this one’s more lithe and sinewy.


A teensy bit of sous-voile shows from the Jancis glass and I’m glad to forgive it for all the other things that glass makes explicit. For this is a wine, if you seek to reduce it to words, that will kick your ass all over the tasting room, and the Jancis sincerely tries to help. Still, these herbs and salts and even this tiny surmise of sweetness taste as though they emerged from an isolated island with its own flora and fauna.


At the end there’s a lanolin waxy note that makes me think of Chenin, or even Semillon, but neither of those varieties has the riotous clamor of every green thing you can eat on this earth, striding arm in arm over huge piles of rock-dust and scree.


The wine was, impossibly, even better after a day open. It’s the best “young” Riesling from Nikolaihof for quite some time.


2016 Riesling “Klause”

This has had several names over the years, most saliently Klausberg. It’s a near neighbor to Steiner Hund, and was a favorite spot of Nikki’s father, who had a little shack there where he could rest if the sun was too hot. The 2008 was one of my most beloved wines of the estate.


This ’16 has the oxidative aromas the vintage begins to show, and that have taken up residence in the estate’s cellar in recent years. It’s the first wine in the group to show those aromas, which I happen to find decadent, but maybe that’s just me.


In any case, the palate is fresher and livelier, and so there’s a schism between the “old” aromas and the lively, even frisky activity on the palate. It seems to be a wine without a single “truth,” but rather one with several truths that do not congrue. And with all that accounted for – I like drinking it. I like the spearmint and lemon grass and ginger and I love its puppy-energy and honestly, I can’t make as lick of sense of how that all coexists with the decadent aroma, unless that aroma is not in fact decay, but instead is something else.


Because it is never wise to decide you know a Nikolaihoif wine, unless it is blatantly dubious or amazing. What showed decadent at the outset is now showing a candle-wax fragrance like certain Furmints, not to mention this spastic chamomile, and if I was showing it to my wine group – as if I’d ever have a “wine group” – and I said it was Chenin, no one would say “It can’t possibly be Chenin.”


Much of this was true the following day, though the wine is, let’s say, tenuous in its stamina. It stretches upward for the first 15-30 minutes but can’t sustain the effort, and then retreats somewhat wearily. But catch it at its apex and you will have some fun.


1997 “Fass Severin” Vinothek (Riesling)                                       ++

Bottled after twenty five years in cask (the so-called “Severin” barrel) in February 2022, this continues a series that began with a 1990 wine offered a decade-plus after the vintage.


When these wines are good – and more often than not, they are great – they have such an improbable freshness it’s as though they’d been embalmed. With two years in bottle, this is still holding its cards close, as though it had actual eternity to unfurl itself.


Curiously, for an estate that makes so many “antique” tasting wines, this one isn’t one of them. It’s less wizened than even the 3-year Tradition wine from Gobelsburg. Decanting would help, but I don’t like to shove such a wine along, because I have the time to see it wake up as it prefers to.


I write as impressions follow one another, and later ones may contradict earlier ones, but right now I’m finding puff-pastry and patisserie overtones here. We’re not discussing “mineral” but we are, kind of helplessly, trying to identify just what’s going on here. It doesn’t small obviously of cask; it doesn’t have the “cellar” smell; it has an echo of the purple aromas of the ’97 vintage (iris, lilac, violet, wisteria) and what it really has is the taste of STRUDEL just at the point you can smell it baking.


This appears to persist until a lava-flow of ester and mineral pushes up from the lower layers so that finally you have a savory porridge on a bed of buttery rocks. And I am quite aware I’m tasting maybe 40% of what this wine will finally reveal. I knew there was a reason I cleared a whole week to taste Nikolaihof….

Indeed the wine is more visible a day later, though what one sees is a clearer picture of what one already saw. I’d still describe it as “patisserie with spices” and there’s even some dried peach and butterscotch in the mix, though the wine is dry. It offers a sort of sutra of complexity built upon a lavishness of good will. I can imagine, if I try really hard, a “greater” wine than this, but I can’t conceivably imagine a wine more loving, or more quietly gorgeous.

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