Dönnhoff – German top producer in Nahe

Dönnhoff is a German winery in Oberhausen in the Nahe wine region. The man behind the winery is Helmut Dönnhoff, and his son Cornelius Dönnhoff has begun to take more responsibility in recent years. Their 25 ha (62 acres) of vineyards are spread out over several villages in Nahe, and this region is characterised by a quite large geological variation within it. Riesling makes up 80% of the vineyards and Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris (Weißburgunder and Grauburgunder for those who know German) for the rest.

Dönnhoff produces some 20 wines. These are either vineyard wines – “Lagenweine” – or estate wines – “Gutsweine”- that only carry the name of the producer and the vineyard. Dönnhoff produces both dry, off-dry and sweet wines. As a member of the top German growers’ organisation VDP they naturally have some Großes Gewächs (the label will nowadays only say “GG”) in their range, i.e., high-end dry wines from the best vineyards. To many (modern day?) Riesling lovers (who don’t have to drink on a shoestring budget?), these may be these wines that are the most interesting. What is interesting with Dönnhoff, however, is that their reputation is also built on their off-dry and sweet wines. It may even be built more on those wine. In particular their off-dry Spätlese wines – produced from several different vineyards – were the wines that gave them a lot of attention earlier. These wines usually show quite good concentration (almost an Auslese feeling in many cases) without losing in balance, so they are “heavyweights” in just the right way. Another thing typical for Dönnhoff is that the wines tend to be quite good also in those vintages when other producers are of variable quality.

A sweet wine from Dönnhoff was the first German wine ever to get scored 100 points by Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate (TWA). It was the 2001 vintage of their Oberhäuser Brücke Riesling Eiswein, and it was scored by Pierre Rovani, then covering Germany, in October 2002. The 2002 vintage of the same wine also got 100 from Rovani, and his successor David Schildknecht scored the vintages 2004 and 2010 in the same way. No other German producer have been scored 100 this many times by TWA, so Dönnhoff is in a league of his own in this respect. It may be worth mentioning that TWA usually doesn’t score the very small amounts of specially-made auction that are produced for the annual German wine auctions. By the way, Nahe was created as its own wine region only in 1971, after having earlier produced unspecific “Rheinwein”, so they don’t really have the same long history of well-known producers as Rheingau, Mosel or the northern part of Pfalz. I’m sure all German wine producers thought it was good when a 100 point score was finally awarded to a German wine, but I can imagine that a few Mosel and Rheingau producers steeped in tradition may have been a little shocked that a Nahe producer was the first to manage this feat.

The tasting, arranged by E.T. in the wine tasting club AuZone, consisted of a different styles of wines. As usual the wines were served blind. We tasted five dry wines and three off-dry Spätlese, but two of the dry wines turned out to be reference wines from other producers. Thus three dry wines from Dönnhoff, one non-GG vineyard Riesling, one GG and one Weißburgunder. The tasting confirmed that Dönnhoff does a very good job with all styles of wine, and that I really like good vintages of his Spätlese wines. The tasting did make me wish for a Dönnoff Großes Gewächs-only tasting, and another Dönnhoff Spätlese-only tasting, to be able to cover more vintages and to compared vineyards in the same vintage.

Dönnhoff AuZone 20130808

Dry wines

A small caveat: since we tasted both dry wines and off-dry wines in one and the same flight, it is possible that the impression of the dry wines suffered slightly as I went back and forth between them. So it is possible that I may have been a bit conservative with my scoring of the dry wines.

Dönnhoff Kahlenberg Riesling trocken 2012

Appearance: pale yellow, some green tinge, some “spritz”
Nose: peach, blackcurrant buds, ripe fruit, some green notes, Riesling perfume, a hint of smoke, mineral.
Palate: dry but not bone dry, fruity, citus-dominated, some green apple, high acidity, pure aromas with a rather long aftertaste.
Summary: typical young Riesling, 87 p.

0 best and 6 worst votes, including wine. Voted the weakest wine of the tasting.

Dönnhoff Weißburgunder -S- trocken 2012
Pinot Blanc, 6-9 months in large barrels

Appearance: pale yellow, some green tinge
Nose: blackcurrant buds, white currants, a hint of green notes, elderflower, banana. Initially a discrete note compared to the previous wine, but unfolded a bit with time in the glass.
Palate: dry (really dry), citrus, some elderflower, mineral, rather high acidity, some alcoholic feeling, finishes with a mineral-noted bitterness and a long aftertaste.
Summary: less fruity than the Riesling wines, more mineral-dominated, 88 p.

1 best and 4 worst votes.

Here many of us agreed that it was probably another grape variety than Riesling, and my guess was Pinot Blanc rather than Pinot Gris out of the two that we knew could be found in the Dönnhoff range. This is the better of Dönnhoff’s two Weißburgunder wines. There is also one without an “S”.

Schäfer-Fröhlich Halenberg Riesling Großes Gewächs (GG) 2009

Appearance: pale yellow, some “spritz”
Nose: noticeable smoke notes, yellow fruit, a hint of green notes, slightly developed with petrol notes.
Palate: dry but fruity, citrus, quite concentrated, high acidity, grapefruit bitterness, aftertaste with citrus.
Summary: gained from time in the glass, 90 p.

2 best votes.

Turned out to be a reference wine from another top producer in Nahe.

Seehof Westhofen Morstein Alte Reben Riesling 2011
Rheinhessen

Appearance: light yellow
Nose: citrus, white currants, ripe yellow fruit, some zest, some dried fruit, white raisins, some Riesling perfume, hints of development.
Palate: dry, citrus, mineral, high acidity, some bitterness that lingers in the aftertaste.
Summary: Riesling typicity but some different notes in the nose, and the bitterness disturbs me a little when compared to the other wines, 89 p.

0 best and 1 worst vote.

A reference wine, this time from the neighbouring region of Rheinhessen. Deviated somewhat from the other Riesling wines, some thought it might be another grape variety. I’ve been informed that some bitterness is to be expected in wines from Westhofen, and that they often have some “bite”.

Dönnhoff Hermannshöhle Riesling Großes Gewächs (GG) 2009

Appearance: light yellow
Nose: ripe yellow fruit, citrus and zest, some dried fruit, emerging maturity with hints of petrol, some smoke, mineral, elegance.
Palate: dry but rather fruity, citrus, high acidity, quite concentrated, some grapefruit bitterness that lingers. The palate is rather young.
Summary: best among the dry, 91 p.

4 best votes and thus voted the best wine of the tasting.

Off-dry wines

Dönnhoff Norheimer Dellchen Riesling Spätlese 2005

Appearance: light yellow
Nose: citrus and zest, other yellow fruit, honey, hints of elderflower, emerging development with some hints of petrol. (Actually somewhat similar to Hermannshöhle GG 09 in the nose, but is slightly “lighter”.)
Palate: off-dry, citrus, elderflower, quite good concentration of fruit, high acidity, mineral, a hint of grapefruit bitterness, very balanced finish.
Summary: 89 p

0 best and 1 worst vote.

Knowing the weight of a typical Dönnhoff wine, I guessed that this was a Kabinett or a lighter Spätlese. Interesting that a 2005 came across as lighter than a 2004 from the same vineyard, since in general the 2005 show higher grape maturity.

Dönnhoff Norheimer Dellchen Riesling Spätlese 2004

Appearance: light yellow, some green tinge, some “spritz”.
Nose: citrus, a hint of green notes, mineral, smoke, some development with petrol notes.
Palate: off-dry+/semi-sweet, citrus, yellow apple, honey, high acidity, quite concentrated, honey notes and a fresh finish.
Summary: Heavier than the previous wine, good balance. A fantastic off-dry wine, 91 p.

2 best votes including mine.

I guessed this to be a heavy Spätlese or an Auslese. The series of 2004 Dönnhoff Spätlese wines received very good reviews from many critics when they appeared. In general, it is a high-acid vintage in Germany, but here there is also quite good substance. No signs of they wine getting “tired”, by the way.

Dönnhoff Niederhäuser Hermannshöhle Riesling Spätlese 2002

Appearance: light to medium yellow.
Nose: citrus, yellow apple, some dried fruit, some honey, slightly developed with petrol notes, classical Riesling nose.
Palate: off-dry+/semi-sweet, honey, citrus, yellow apple, high acidity, quite concentrated, aftertaste with honey notes and good balance.
Summary: a quite good off-dry wine with slightly more development than the other wines, 90 p.

3 best votes, and thus voted the second best wine of the tasting.

I guessed this to be a heavy Spätlese or an Auslese.

Again, in my opinion the Dönnhoff wines are quite good, both the dry, the off-dry and the sweet ones. But I would like to point out specifically that those who never drink this good Spätlese because they don’t drink any off-dry wines, simply can’t know what’s good for them!

The Swedish version of this post can be found here.

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