Robert Parker 93
"Donnhoffs 2006 Norheimer Kirschheck Riesling Spatlese smells beautifully of iris, cherry, lime, and honey. Juicy melon and cherry fruit are underlain by subtle salinity on a satin-textured palate, and this finishes with terrific refreshment, refinement, and lift wafting, lilting as though its finish were yet another long inhalation. Its true, Im crazy for what Donnhoff does with this site, but the reason the wines quality is so often underestimated by other critical observers of the wine scene is because it is inherently delicate and doesnt demand that you pay attention. Those who fail to attend will leave more for the rest of us. Time will tell how these mature, but my guess is this will be lovely for two decades.
I was amazed when the 2006s tasted as good as I had said they might become, says Helmut Donnhoff. It turned out what we vintners always said about Riesling thats its ideally suited to our clime is true. I guess I didnt really didnt believe that in quite complete seriousness. I ran around the cellar like a crazy man, tasting back and forth in excitement as the quality of this latest collection became evident. Sample it starting almost anywhere, and youll be a believer, too. If there is one vintage I could compare with this, it would be 1971 as I remember it, with this perfect tension between acid and sugar, this clarity, a bit of botrytis but not stinky, completely clear and mineral, structured, architectural. In the 21 years I have been visiting him, I have never known Helmut Donnhoff to permit himself such superlatives. We set the record, harvesting everything in two weeks, he adds. Trying to handle so many sites needing so much selection in so short a time was close to the limit, and we managed it only because I have really good people picking. This year, Donnhoff added to his line-up vineyards in two of the three traditionally top sites of Bad Kreuznach, parcels whose purchase in 2003 he had kept under wraps until now. On the one hand he felt that acquiring parcels another step downstream and in his home city and which like those in Norheim had once been proudly maintained by wine nobility but more recently neglected, followed a theme and closed a circle. I see myself in the line of cellar-masters who were my mentors. If I didnt do it, he says, there was nobody else left. On the other hand, he had in mind that vineyards not quite so close to my heart, but still top quality (because a lousy vineyard and a good vineyard take the same amount of work) could be employed to increase volumes of his generic Riesling. As soon as he tasted the first young wines, he knew they were not destined for blending away! In virtually any other vintage, his top 2006 Auslesen would have been Beerenauslesen, Donnhoff points out, and I have to admit I wondered whether the wines that followed even if considered virtual Trockenbeerenauslesen could represent an ascent. One sees the botrytis during the harvest and one senses the possibilities. But one also knows what can happen if bad weather comes. And all of the vineyards were ripening at the same time. Sweet, dry, botrytized, all were possible at the same time. In principle, I would have had to harvest everything on the same day, which is impossible, crazy. Of course, you could have pushed things to the limit and harvested T.B.A. I know I can make one at the highest level but my story, my love is here, says Donnhoff, stretching his hands over the bottles of Spatlese and Auslese lined up on the table. That represents my dream, and anything that jeopardizes it must be set aside. Ill always forgo the extra 10% of opulence. Hence, although at one point a start was made on berries for T.B.A., in the end, only two truly botrytis-dominated wines, both Beerenauslesen, were picked."
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The Dönnhoff family first came to the Nahe region over 200 years ago, and after establishing a modest farm slowly evolved into a full-fledged wine estate. Helmut Dönnhoff has been making the wine since 1971, and now his son Cornelius works alongside in the winery and in their 25 hectares of Erste Lage, or grand cru vineyards. Their holdings represent some of the best in the Nahe and all of Germany. Oberhäuser Leistenberg, the oldest vineyard held by the family, has slate soils and produces fruity wines with elegant acidity. The Schlossböckelheimer Felsenberg is a very old site with porphyry soil. Niederhäuser Hermannshöhle, perhaps the most famous of all the Nahe vineyards, is a slate vineyard with many conglomerates of volcanic rocks, mostly porphyry and melaphyr. The Oberhäuser Brücke, the smallest vineyard in the Nahe, is a tiny parcel saddled on the Nahe River that Dönnhoff owns in entirety. The Brücke has grey slate covered by loess-clay and the vines ripen even later here than in the Hermannshöhle due to large diurnal temperature swings along the river. The Norheimer Dellchen is a steep terraced vineyard in a rocky hollow with porphyry and slate soil. Norheimer Kirscheck sits on a steep south slope of slate soil and produces delicately fruity wines with spice and race. The Kreuznacher Krötenpfuhl vineyard has perfect drainage due its topsoil of pebbles over loam soil; characteristic are wines with a mineralic elegance. Due to the water table that flows beneath the vineyard's soil the Krötenpfhul has always been farmed organically, even before it was held by Dönnhoff.
Although the Nahe is a dry region, Dönnhoff does not water their vineyards as to encourage deep rooted vines. The soil is covered with organic material like straw and compost to preserve water and to avoid evaporation and erosion in heavy rains. The vines are all grown on wire frames, low to the ground to benefit from the warmth of the stoney topsoil, and at a density of approx. 6000 vines per hectare. The Riesling vines are old clones sourced from the sites in Niederhausen and Schloßböckelheim.
Grapes are always picked by hand at Dönnhoff over 2-3 passes through each vineyard. To preserve laser-like focus and clarity in the wines, the grapes are pressed as soon as possible – within 3 hours of picking. Wines are fermented in traditional German casks (1200 L stuck and 2400 L doppelstuck) as well as stainless steel with spontaneous fermentations. Donnhoff's cellar is unique in its capacity to hold all of its production entirely in stainless steel or in cask, allowing for the ideal elevage for any wine at any point during a vintage.
Vineyard area: 25 hectares
Annual production: 17,000 cases
Niederhäusen – Hermannshöhle (slate, sandstone, limestone)
Oberhäusen – Brücke (slate, porphyry, sandstone, loam) Leistenberg (slate)
Schlossböckelheim – Felsenberg (porphyry) and Kupfergrube (weathered volcanic soil with a high copper content)
Norheim – Kirschheck (slate, sandstone) and Dellchen (slate, porphyry)
Bad Kreuznach – Krötenpfuhl (löss, quartzite), Kahlenberg (gravelly loam)
Roxheim – Höllenpfad (red sandstone)