As a wine buyer for a shop in Denver, Colorado, I am always deeply intrigued by what wines turn the mass public on or off. And why? I hold in-store tastings twice weekly, allowing for me to really peel away the layers of presumption that paralyze so many when it comes to wine.
I get it. Wine can be scary. So often it is easier to simply regurgitate the unwritten manifesto of socially acceptable wine aphorisms: “I don’t really like Riesling. It’s too sweet… I like really, really dry wine… I am not a fan of white wine…” That way, no one will think you sound inept. In fact, the majority will recognize the code immediately and probably identify you as a connoisseur.
Sadly, though, you are likely missing out on some wonderful wines.
Take white wine. That’s nearly half of the world’s wine alone. Gone. Disregarded in flash of a second.
The other day, about half my tasters took one look at the 2007 Nikolaihof Gruner Veltliner Hefeabzug and, with the wave of a dismissive hand, politely turned it down. Only red for these folks.
I dared them. Try it.
At $23 a bottle, I was amazed to see how many self-proclaimed red wine-drinkers walked away, Gruner in satchel. All biases aside, this was a wine that got people’s attention. And for good reason.
Nikolaihof is the oldest wine estate in the Wachau region, dating back 2000 years to Roman times. It is one of the most revered and respected of Austria’s wineries. The breathtaking Wachau valley resides between the towns of Krems and Melk, just along the Danube River. It is the westernmost wine area in Austria. A region that is continually recognized for producing the best quality wine in the country, as the Wachau experiences the greatest fluctuation of temperature, allowing for superb acid development and complexity. Nikolaus and Christine Saahs, the owners of Nikolaihof, grow five other varietals outside of Gruner Veltliner (GV), but Riesling and GV are certainly the source of their pride.
What makes the Nikoaihof Estate Gruners so unique is that they actually manage to produce weighty whites as opposed the more typical crisp, zippy style GV. They see old oak barrel aging, and this ‘entry level’ selection, for example, goes untouched, gaining all it can from time spent on its lees (about four months, in fact), hence ‘Hefeabzug’ (the German term that refers to bottling straight from the lees). The result is a focused, textural, age-worthy Gruner. Nikolaihof is also the first winery in the world certified Biodynamic by Demeter, the largest biodynamic certification organization.
What probably sets them apart most, though, is the respect they have for the vines, the land, and the entire natural process. A fundamentally ‘biodynamic’ concept, the Saahs believe that, “You shouldn’t shove a wine along; just give it a controlled peace so it can develop itself.” The Saahs practice low yield agriculture, relying on natural yeasts for fermentation, old barrels, and extended lee contact in order to cultivate wines with structure and character that is evident in the first sip. American importer Terry Theise believes this is one of the ‘greatest wine estates on earth.’ He describes them as ‘settling’ and ‘singular’, attributing their sublimity to its basic characters…“hale, trustworthy, unaffected, substantive but never tiring, explicitly connected and numinous with a gentle force.”
I would describe them myself. But sometimes, as in this case, the effusive, exquisite perception of another wine writer can be deliciously more descriptive due to pure devotion to the subject matter. Clearly, Theise is in love. And love is a language not to be equaled if articulated to near perfection.
On a final note, bringing us full circle, Theise feels, “[The Nikolaihof wines] are candid and honest. They are all the reasons we should love wine but few of the reasons we actually do. We are very busy measuring our pleasure, locked away in our self-conscious cells.”
So. Even if you don’t like white wine, branch out of your self-conscious cell with this one. Never have I seen so many converts.
There is nothing smarter and more socially acceptable than a democratic palate.