Stops on a Wine Geek Road Trip:
Wine Road Trip Mile 1,707: Austria
This was my fifth and final day. When I pulled up at Nikolaihof, in Austria’s Wachau region, I’d driven more than 1,700 miles and spent nearly 35 hours behind the wheel.
Nikolaihof is ancient. The oldest winery in Austria, it was a Celtic holy place, then a Roman fortress until 511 AD. Then the Romans left and, as Nikolaus Saahs, whose family now owns it, told me, “after that, the history is unknown until 777 AD, when a monastery was founded here.”
Hearing the story of Nikolaihof brought something home to me. Every single region I’d hit on my five-day journey shared one specific thing, which was that Romans had been the first to cultivate wine grapes there. (After 1,700 miles of driving, it also struck me as amazing that the Romans held together their empire with no mode of travel other than foot or horse.) All different countries, all different cultures, but a single unifying thread: wine. It was heartening, somehow.
Over a seemingly endless succession of Austrian dishes at the winery’s restaurant that night—Saahs’s mother, Christine, is a well-known Austrian chef—I tasted the Nikolaihof wines. If I had to pick a favorite, it would most likely be the family’s Vinothek Grýner Veltliner, which is only bottled after it has aged for a decade or more in huge wooden casks. I love the fresh white-peppery spice of Grýner, Austria’s signature grape, and it can last (and improve) for far longer than people realize. The 1993 Vinothek, the current vintage, had intense, lasting flavors, yet was amazingly alive, ending on an ethereal honeysuckle note.
Earlier that day, Saahs had taken me down to the oldest part of Nikolaihof’s cellars, built more than 1,800 years ago. The room had been a wine cellar back then, and it was a wine cellar now. While we were standing there, Saahs said, “I’m just a small part of the history of this house, and I know it. Two thousand years of history, and I’m living here 70 years? That’s nothing.” True, 70 years was nothing. But here we were, in this small stone room, talking about making wine. And 1,800 years ago, two other people had no doubt been standing right here, too, in exactly the same place, talking about making wine. In between, what had there been? Wars, famines, revolutions, discoveries, nations rising and falling, people living their lives, and through all of it, no matter what, in every single place I’d visited, someone making wine.
Wine Road Trip: Iconic Bottles
2010 Maximin Grýnhaus Abtsberg Riesling Kabinett ($37) Dr. Carl von Schubert makes several terrific wines from Abtsberg, his top vineyard. This slatey bottling is one of the easiest to find.
2010 Nikolaihof Grýner Veltliner Hefeabzug ($30) A peppery white, it’s a great introduction to Nikolaihof’s Grýners. Also look for the powerful, spicy 1993 Vinothek bottling ($170).
2008 Château de Beaucastel Châteuneuf-du-Pape ($98) Great producers make superb wine even in tough years. This violet-scented, complex red is a perfect example.
2007 Vietti Barolo Castiglione ($48) The ’07 vintage in Barolo is spectacular, something this cuvée shows with its depth and elegance. It’s made with grapes from several grand cru Barolo vineyards.
2009 Alvaro Palacios Finca Dofí ($70) Palacios’s legendary L’Ermita runs $800 a bottle. Dofí costs a fraction of that, yet it’s still world class— powerful yet subtle, with intense fruit and a mineral edge.
Wine Road Trip: How to Visit
With the exception of Alvaro Palacios in Spain, each winery on Ray’s tour is open to visitors by appointment (with a fair amount of advance notice).
Château De Beaucastel, France
Visits to and tastings at Beaucastel, in Courthézon, can be arranged through its website (beau castel.com). To book a table at L’Oustalet, the Perrin family’s restaurant in the town of Gigondas, go to restaurant oustalet.com.
To arrange guided visits to Vietti’s winery and cellars, in the small town of Castiglione Falletto, go to vietti.com.
Maximin Grýnhaus, Germany
Located near the town of Trier, along the Ruwer river, Grýnhaus offers tours and tastings Monday through Saturday (vonschubert.com).
Nikolaihof Wachau, Austria
At Nikolaihof, in Mautern, visitors can taste wine and try traditional Austrian cuisine at the winery’s tavern (nikolaihof.at).