Wachau! Alzinger '12s, Nikolaihof '95-'12

9/26/13 -

(Lumpi XVII - The 17th dog of this name and breed to live at Nikolaihof)


The Wachau is loaded with great producers and at the high end they're all over the stylistic map. The Pragers, Hirtzbergers, Pichlers and Knolls of the region are at the top of anyone's list of the stars of the region, but we've also long loved the ethereal, biodynamic beauties of Nikolaihof in Mautern and the lean, perfectly sculpted gems at Alzinger in Loiben. The apex of old-fashioned, large barrel, pseudo-oxidative winemaking is reached at Nikolaihof, whereas at Alzinger you'll find some of the finest Rieslings and Grüner Veltliners to ever come out of a stainless steel tank.  Traveling in Austria this past June, we were scheduled to visit both estates as our last stops in the country. Due to extreme circumstances — the brutal floods that soaked the Wachau along with many other parts of Austria and Southern Germany — our visits were combined into one and we were fortunate enough to sit by the warm hearth at Nikolaihof and taste both collections back to back. Tasting these lineups one after another is quite the exhilarating and educational experience, so please forgive us as we go on a bit about the contrast between the two and some of that which sets them apart from the larger elite group of famed Wachau producers.

Alzinger's take on what the Wachau has to offer is clear and direct — here one finds focused, pointed, tightly coiled wines that showcase the best qualities of reductive fermentation. Each site shows its own character in a wide array of multi-faceted nuance. These wines demand that you pay attention, and reward amply when you do. Nikolaihof's wines breathe right away and the fireworks are apparent right away, especially the new off-dry bottling. Alzinger's wines need time to unfold and decanting is highly recommended. The wines are built to age as well, as a recent tasting going back to wines from the '80s demonstrated.

Having only begun bottling their own wines in 1983, Alzinger still can seem like the new kid on the Wachau block, especially compared to Nikolaihof, one of the oldest wine estates in the world. The winemaking isn't groundbreaking, nor is it ultra-traditional. They pay no mind to trends, neither from within Austria or from the greater wine world, and they work almost exclusively with Riesling and Grüner Veltliner. Without much fanfare, without being publicly audacious or producing super-extracted luxury cuvèes, Alzinger quietly manages to create some of the best, most pristine and searingly mineral wines of all the Wachau. And while prices are not cheap, compared to what the other major estates in the area ask these days, no one is making better wine for less. PLEASE NOTE - Alzinger allocations are always painfully small — what's listed below is all we are going to get so act fast.

Nikolaihof, which we've written about before at length, can seem almost like a circus in comparison (in only the best sort of way). Here there's not just Riesling and Grüner Veltliner, there's also Neuberger, there's Gelber Muskateller, there's even the beloved Vinhotek line! Every year there's an unexpected new release, whether it's a wine made using their centuries-old gigantic wooden press, a Federspiel that was held in cask for over a decade, a surprise grape we had no idea they were working with, or a new spin on a familiar vineyard. This year is no exception, as the standard stable we know so well is augmented by a strikingly delicious Halbtrocken Vom Stein "Jungfernlese"  as well as the first vintage we've seen from Klausberg, a site on the same slope as Steiner Hund, just a bit higher up. Also available in small, last-chance quantities, are the 1995 Vinhotek Riesling and the 1998 Steinriesler — stunning, downright youthful wines that have only recently been released. (The standard line, Vom Stein, Steiner Hund, Im Weingebrige, etc. has not yet arrived but will soon — please inquire about pricing if you're interested). -jfr

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