Wine Time

Wine of the Week: Biodynamic Lees-Aged Grüner Veltliner

Although Nicolas Joly is widely hailed as the father of biodynamic grape-growing and winemaking in Europe today; the Nikolaihof estate in the Wachau region of Austria is generally considered to be the first biodynamic winery in the world. (The pan-agricultural biodynamic movement was founded by Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner in the 1920s.)

According to the estate's website, "In the Nikolaihof vineyards, no herbicides, pesticides, artificial fertilisers nor synthetic sprays are used." Instead, the grape grower uses "stinging nettle manure, valerian drops, valerian tea, and other specially produced preparations, which are applied in highly diluted form like homeopathic medicines..." And when it comes to the biodynamic practice of following the lunar cycle for all aspects of farming, the authors of the site explain: "For planting and harvesting times the Saahs family [the owners] refers to the moon calendar -- a sort of tightrope balancing act between sensible measures and the esoteric, as Christine Saahs admits."

The other night we paired the 2009 Nikolaihof Wachau Grüner Veltliner Hefeabzug with Tracie P's whole wheat spaghetti tossed with leaks, eggs, and bacon. The brilliant acidity and minerality in this wine, its nearly unreal freshness, and bright white fruit flavors were ideal with the spiciness of the leeks and the fatty bacon.

The "hefeabzug" designation on the label denotes that the wine has been "aged on its lees," in other words, the winemaker does not filter out the dead yeast cells (the lees) once fermentation has been completed. (Champagne is probably the most famous lees-aged wine although there are many notable expressions of this practice, like Ripasso in Valpolicella, where the wine is aged the lees of other wines.) In this case, lees aging gives the wine a richer mouthfeel than most bottlings of Grüner Veltliner and it also imparts an intense minerality and saltiness to the wine.

There's a lot of great wine on the market these days and $25-30 can deliver fantastic value for quality in a number of categories.

But the Grüner Veltliner by Nikolaihof -- despite its low price -- is a life-changing wine in my view. It's one of those wines that can reshape your palate and your perspective on what great wine is. Its balance of fruit and savory, acidity and alcohol transcend its nature as fermented grape juice.

Give this wine time: Open it an hour before serving (so that it will begin to reveal its aromas and flavors); don't serve it too cold (because low temperature will mask its depth); and save a glass (or even two) to taste the next day and the next. You will be rewarded by a balance and purity that many winemakers strive to attain -- often fruitlessly -- over the arc of their careers.

The Wachau Grüner Veltliner is the winery's entry-level wine, and although the top wines cost more, they are not prohibitively expensive.

Take a chance with this under-$30 wine, be generous with it, take good care of it, and you won't be disappointed.

(You can find it at Spec's for around $27.)

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Jeremy Parzen writes about wine for the Houston Press. A wine trade marketing consultant by day, he is also an adjunct professor at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Piedmont, Italy. He spends his free time writing and recording music with his daughters and wife in Houston.
Contact: Jeremy Parzen