Three questions with Christine Saahs of Nikolaihof, Wachau

christine_saahs_nikolaihofChristine Saahs of Nikolaihof was the first to apply Rudolph Steiner’s philosophy to viticulture, thus cultivating her vines in Austria’s Wachau region biodynamically. The Im Weingebirge Smaragd bottling is always one of my favorite gruner veltliners and indeed the 2006 I tasted had great, rich intensity and a long minerally finish. The 2007 Hefeabzug for half the price offered great zip and zest overlain on a mineral core. Nikolaihof also makes several very good Rieslings. I was happy to have the chance to chat about three things during a busy trade tasting on Tuesday.

How was the 2008 vintage for you?
For the biodynamic growers it was fabulous. There was a lot of rain; it rained every day for three months. But it wasn’t often a heavy rain and the leaves were just wet, which caused fungus problems for many growers. But we are so happy with the quality of our wines and harvested our Smaragd in the third week of September, earlier than many others. For us, the vintage was less quantity but great quality.

Describing her Gruner Veltliner “Hefeabzug” (about $25; find this wine):
It’s such a refreshing aperitif. The wine has such energy that customers say they can’t sleep after a glass. It’s much better than anything from the pharmacy–it’s a natural energy drink!

Is Austrian Riesling too high in alcohol? [Hers are 12.5%]
No Austria is one of the best places for Riesling in the world. Rising alcohol is not a problem of global warming; it is a problem of wine journalists who give high scores to high alcohol wines. Customers are always asking me for low alcohol wines because they want to be fresh after a bottle. Have a bottle of 14.5% alcohol wine and you’re dead! Well, not you because you are young, but me, I’d be dead!

As a side note, Christine told me she doesn’t say “cheese” for photos; she says Riesling!

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8 Responses to “Three questions with Christine Saahs of Nikolaihof, Wachau”

  1. I’m wondering if your experience with Austrian Rieslings motivated the high alcohol question?

    Are they letting their grapes ripen more than Germany, than fermenting til bone dry?

    Is there less arrested fermentation?

    I assumed Austria was cooler so brix levels wouldn’t get all that high?


  2. Hi Bryan,

    That question actually was inspired from an interview posted here earlier this month.


  3. What Ms. Saahs has to say about high alcohol wines.. especially Riesling. I’ve been a Riesling lover for some time now, and I’ve even given the occasional Riesling-specific wine club gift to people whom I think would appreciate it as much as I do. It does seem to me that there are quite a few popular Austrian rieslings out there that are “up there” as far as alcohol content, but like she said, perhaps that has more to do with such samples getting higher marks from bloggers, professional tasters, and so forth.

    I’m sure the issue of alcohol content comes down to preference for consumers as well though. Although that’s not really a factor for me one way or the other in regards to whether or not I really fall in love with a particular wine, I know that some of my friends and peers prefer the ones with higher alcohol content — not just for the effect, but for the element it lends to the wine’s flavor.

    However, I can definitely understand not wanting to be muddled because you decided to sit down in front of the fire with a bottle of wine on a relaxing winter evening. Those are usually the times when I reach for my go-to roses, especially if I’m looking to enjoy it in tandem with a nice wheel of brie or some comfort food I plan on snacking on throughout the evening. My favorite roses are relatively low in alcohol as well — around 10%. Many of those were discoveries made through my wine club site as well.

  4. Bryan has part of it correct. Austrians generally ferment to 100% dry, so alcohol levels are higher than a German Spatlese, where fermentation has been stopped short. Add to that the fact that it’s warmer and easier to pick riper grapes in Austria, and you can have problems. I would say in Austria, like in many different countries, you have producers that pick too ripe, chase Parker scores, and end up with “hot wines,” as well as producers who have a more balanced approach and produce wonderful dry riesling at anything from 12 to 13.5%. For the Wachau, stay away from FX and Hirztberger if you don’t want over-ripeness, and stick with Nikolaihof, Prager, and Alzinger.

  5. I love how warm and candid she was in your interview. Do you agree with her Hefeabzug being like a natural energy drink? (Of course, you are young, so the results may vary).

  6. Hi Doc Vino !! Great to see you having one of the better and renown wineproducers from Austria !! I must object on some of what she says however …. Conc. organic growers – whether in Germany or Austria 2008 is not a highlight !! Rot-infections set in too early – partially before time of ripening … making this a feeble vintage – no comparison to 2007 !! But as always winemakers have to sell the latest vintage – compare these attempts to 2008 Bordeaux and you will see what I mean !! Nevertheless as always – at least 20 % good wines will be found in these regions !! And … judge for yourself !! Don´t let anybody – including myself – tell you what you like !!

    Oh yeah, one last word about alcohol contents :
    Off course, global warming will bring more color,sugar and consequently more alcohol into Riesling – this must however not be a drawback !! But in general Mrs. Saahs is right – Riesling should not have too much of it !!

    And again …. Spaetlese – does not imply sweetness !!!! 90 % and more german Spaetlese wines made and consumed in Germany are dry … look for the word “trocken” … its just that the anglo-american market cannot cope with the high acidity and thus prevers sweet wines !!

    Try a “Trocken” Spaetlese Wines or “Erstes Gewaechs” ( equivalent to Premieur Cru ) and you might well be astonished !! ;-))))

  7. I just tasted her stuff at the Theese tasting and was mesmerized, I have liked their wines in the past, but 07 is stellar,, and the library release that that had was sublime.. too bad i can’t afford to stock it.

  8. You loved your interview. Great work! And I love their wine too.


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