Gregory Dal Piaz: What is the most exciting thing happening with Austrian wine today?
Nikolaus Saahs: Definitely exceptional is our Nikolaihof Vinothek Riesling 1995, which was bottled this year in April after 17 years of storage in big old oak casks – which is worldwide unique for white wine and makes us especially proud!
GDP: What is the character of your wines? What sets one apart from the other? For example, how is the Hefeabzug Grüner Veltliner different from the Weingebirge Federspiel or the Steiner Hund Reserve Riesling different from the Vom Stein Riesling Smaragd?
NS: The character of Nikolaihof wines is very special. The terroir is very distinct because we do not use any artificial yeast. The wines have a very long finish and are very profound. The alcohol is quite low and once you open a bottle you can drink it at least over two weeks without losing its depth.
Nikolaihof Hefeabzug Grüner Veltliner is made after a very traditional way of winemaking. After fermentation, the wine ripens for six months on the lees. The vineyard consists of primary rock with a loess layer on top.
Nikolaihof Im Weingebirge Grüner Veltliner Federspiel is a single vineyard, the wine is removed after fermentation from the yeast and ripens in big, old oak casks (as all our other wines - except the Hefeabzug). Terroir consists of primary rock and a humus layer on top.
Nikolaihof Steiner Hund Riesling grows at the left bank of the Danube. Terroir is only primary rock, it grows in a kind of basin. Extremely cold air at night from the north makes for a highly mineral Riesling.
Nikolaihof Vom Stein Riesling Smaragd is primary rock with alluvial gravel from the Danube, nutritious soil.
GDP: When pairing food and wine, do you approach Riesling differently from Grüner Veltliner?
NS: With Riesling I generally recommend fish and Grüner Veltliner matches very well with all food because it adapts very well. Apart from that, it is very important not only to differentiate the varieties but also vintage and food.
GDP: When not drinking Austrian wines, what are some of your favorite wines?
NS: If it is very hot, I love Prosecco and wines from the Loire (especially the ones by Nicolas Joly). I also love trying wines from over the world.
GDP: How has climate change altered your vineyards? Can you describe the last five vintages in style and quality?
NS: Climate change has affected our vineyards in so far that harvest starts four to five weeks earlier than it did 30 years ago. The biodynamic way of working and the biodynamic preparations can compensate for the eventual stress of the climate change in the vineyards.
2011: the first bigger harvest after five years at an outstanding quality. In Demeter, wine growing is not allowed to add acidity - but it is even not necessary. This is again a proof that the wines are not stresses and that they can cope very well with the climate conditions.
2010: a quite small vintage - very characteristic wines with very nice acidity structure that sticks out.
2009: a quite small vintage, very high in quality – the character of this vintage is very outstanding.
2008: is similar to 2009.
2007: very small vintage; very distinct character.
GDP: What is your favorite summertime food and wine pairing?
NS: What I like most in summertime is salad and vegetables, which I usually pair with Nikolaihof Im Weingebirge Grüner Veltliner Federspiel (dry). I especially recommend a wild herb salad with Nikolaihof Im Weingebirge Grüner Veltliner Federspiel. I also love to have cheese-stuffed celery slices with Nikolaihof Vom Stein Riesling Federspiel (dry). As a dessert on hot summer days, I love most saffron chocolate mousse paired with Nikolaihof Klausberg Riesling Privatreserve (semi-dry).