Monday, 20 February 2012

A Tasting With Weingut Hermann Dönnhoff

Cornelius at Taberna Wine Bar
German wineries, in general, don't devote a large proportion of their budget to advertising and promotion. Many of them are small, family-run operations that sell the bulk of their wines domestically and thus have no need to court international markets. Which may be why a trade tasting with Dönnhoff, arguable one of the greatest wineries in Germany, slipped under the radar of most people in Singapore. The event was made possible through the energetic efforts of Boon from Wein & Vin, a Riesling fanatic who has been instrumental in bringing in some of the top names of Germany. 

Dönnhoff has a list of awards and medals any Asian parent would be proud of; 2012 Winery of the Year (Eichelmann), 2010 IWSC Jancis Robinson Trophy for Riesling, 2005 Wine Personality of the Year (Robert Parker)... The Dönnhoff Hermannshole Riesling Spatlese 2001 is listed as one of Decanter's 100 Wines to Try Before You Die. The winery is based in Nahe, located between the Rhine and Mosel valleys. Like a middle child, this region often gets neglected while attention is showered on its brothers. Stylistically, Nahe Rieslings sit somewhere between the Rheingau and Mosel, but are often marked with a spicy minerality and starfruit notes. The region accounts for around 4% of Germany's total vineyard area and is made up of various soils (volcanic, clay and slate).

The Dönnhoff family have been making wine since 1750, but 1971 turned out to be a watershed year when Helmut Dönnhoff took over the business and consolidated operations. The vineyards have expanded from an initial 4 ha to 25 ha today, including top vineyards such as Niederhäuser Hermannshöhle, Oberhäuser Brücke and Norheimer Dellchen. Production is around 200,000 bottles a year, 80% of which is from the Riesling varietal. Current winemaker Cornelius Dönnhoff is a believer in traditional winemaking. He analyses acidity and sugar levels only to decide the optimum time for picking, but during the winemaking process he relies on his palate. His goal is "to find the elegance in each wine", making them taste "as pure as spring water". The fruitier (read sweet) style of wines are exported to the USA and United Kingdom, while 80% of the dry wines are consumed domestically. Australia is an important market for Dönnhoff dry Rieslings.

Tasting notes (this particular tasting showcased the dry-style wines):

Dönnhoff Riesling Trocken 2010 - The 2010 vintage was marked by cool summer nights which resulted in grapes with high levels of acidity and ripeness. In some cases, the wines were too high in acidity and had to be de-acidified. Cornelius dealt with this by maturing the wine in large oak barrels, which do not impart any flavour but smoothen out the edges of the wine. A stunning wine even more so considering that this was their basic range! Slight smoke on the nose, with lime, passionfruit and starfruit. Zingy fruit on the palate, with steely acidity. 

Dönnhoff Riesling Trocken 2009 - The 2009 vintage had an abundance of sunshine hours and perfect weather during flowering. High acidity, with citrus and lime characters. Has rather more weight than the 2010 and is very drinkable now. 

Dönnhoff Tonschiefer Riesling Trocken 2010 - Rather confusingly, Tonschiefer refers not to the vineyard but to the blackish-grey slate soils from which the grapes come from. More opulent than the basic Riesling, with an enticing finish of yellow apricot. Floral nose. Wein & Vin's entire stock of this wine has already been snapped up by a single buyer.

Dönnhoff Tonschiefer Riesling Trocken 2009 - Slightly grassy medium intensity nose. Sharp and lean on the palate. Notes of apricot skin and tingling spiciness, with firm acids. 

Dönnhoff Niederhauser Hermannshöhle Riesling GG 2009 - From the highest rated vineyard in Nahe. Complex, elegant and restrained fruit. Very bright, with a mineral steeliness.

Dönnhoff Gewurtztraminer Trocken 2010 - Very delicate floral aromas. Medium body and alcohol, displays varietal characteristics of rose and lychee. Rather dry finish. A limited wine as the Gewurtztraminer vines have been uprooted and replaced by Riesling.

Dönnhoff Weissburgunder S 2009 - The S refers to the Stückfässer German oak barrels used for maturing the wine. A comforting and familiar nose of toast, vanilla and citrus fruit. Quite Chardonnay-like on the palate, with yoghurt and cream notes from aging on the lees. Medium+ acidity, textural components and fruit very well integrated.

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