Thursday, January 22, 2009

Donnhoff 2007 Tasting at Giaconda (Jan. 21, 2009)

Nahe's leading winemaker is the one of the shining stars in Giaconda's portfolio, as he is in Terry Theise's. He would likewise be one of the prominent, mouth-watering names in the catalog of any importer/distributer canny enough to get an allocation. I could think of many, many superlatives for his wines but as last night's tasting showed me, they are foremost a tasty treat. You drink them and smile and think, man I really got lucky tonight. And besides being delicious, they are structured and deep and reflect their places of birth.

I will not write about Donnhoff's vineyards or about his techniques and whatnot. Although Anat Sella and Rafaella Ronen discussed these quite knowledgably at the tasting, you can read up on that elsewhere. But before plunging into the tasting notes, I would like to get across a feel for the form of the tasting as it reflects Donnhoff's interests and strength.

The tasting was comprised of four parts. First we tasted a few entry level QBA's: Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Riesling. While these were relatively generic, they were very well made and, again, tasty. None of them made any pretensions but if the quality of a winery's entry-level wines is any indication of dedication to craft, then these three wines made an excellent calling card for Donnhoff.

From there on, it was all single-vineyards in various styles: dry Grosses Gewachs, sweet Spatleses and even sweeter Ausleses (Donnhoff's Ausleses are always dessert wines). These flights highlighted two facets of Donnhoff's skills that any fan of German Rieslings needs to carefully write down and never forget. Firstly, he is equally adept, deft and skillful in either and both dry and sweet styles. Any personal preferences on my part would be a matter of personal taste and the economics and logistics of wine collecting. I would buy any and all of the wines in the tasting if I could, although they're not exactly cheap (yet he's still less expensive than, say, some of his Alsatian peers in the Giaconda catalog). Secondly, Donnhoff is in fact dedicated to terroir. Wines from different vineyards are distinctly different from each other while rooted in the house style. And different wines from the same vineyard show similar genetic traits. Which is just how I like things.

The Entry Level Round

Pinot Gris, QBA, Trocken

I don't usually like Pinot Gris but this is a charming little wine that didn't show the agressiveness of its Alsatian peers. I thought the nose resembles Champagne, with citrus fruit, a touch of minerals and tropical notes. The palate shows marked mineral notes and excellent acidity (a trademark of all the wines in the tasting). Balanced and tasty, this is not a wine that will rock your world but a handsome package at 108 NIS.

Pinot Blanc, QBA, Trocken

The nose is much less forward and more fruity than the Pinot Gris, which it somewhat resembles. The palate is more taut at first with the acidity a bit marked even for my tastes, but it develops nicely in the glass, becoming more saline and minerally yet more tropical at the same time. Very tasty when it reaches full bloom. My favorite of the entry-level round. 103.5 NIS.

Riesling, QBA, Trocken

This one takes longer to open and even when it peaks, it is somehow more one-dimensional than the previous wines. Definitely tastes drier despite the higher residual sugar. It shows bucketfuls of apples and for a while it stalls in that phase but later develops mineral nuances. 86.5 NIS.

From here on, all the wines were Rieslings.

The Grosses Gewaches Flight

Niederhauser Hermannshohle

An amazing nose, the sweetest of the Grosses Gewachs flight, obviously young and fruit yet even now has many shades and nuances, with sweet spices, grapefruits and a stony minerality. It is hard getting at the palate at first but time does very nice things to it, as it develops great length and a saline finish with intermittent, bitter notes. 260 NIS and sold out.

Norheimer Dellchen

The nose is tight at first but shows resemblences to the Hermannshohle, albeit with less nuances, and shows grapefruits and tropical fruits as it opens. This is the fullest bodied and, at present, the most impressive of the flight. 260 NIS.

Schlossbockelheimer Felsenberg

God - or Donnhoff - tossed a round of flint into the nose and it has a field day there, as it elegantly caresses the fruit. The palate is just as elegant - so elegant, in fact, that it creates an impression of airniess that almost makes the wine seem simple. But it's not, and, at the end of the day, I found it the tastiest of the flight. 260 NIS.

Spatlese Flight 1

Norheimer Kirscheck

A lot of honeyed apples on the nose at first, but it developes a charming overlay of flint and chalk as well as sweet grapefuit. This is where my notes writing skills started breaking down because all I could think of was how delicious this flight was. So screw it, that's my note: delicious. 178 NIS.

Oberhauser Brucke

Where the Kirscheck was a flint/chalky wine, this is much steelier and nuanced with an overlay of frozen slate. It is also more complex. Again, my notes would just read "delicious" and there wouldn't even be enough lines for one to read between, so I'll just have to come out and say that this is the better wine. And more expensive at that. 225 NIS.

Spatlese Flight 2

Schlossbockelheimer Felsenturmchen

An amazing, different nose, very minerally but you'd have to actually smell it to get at the unique personality it presents. The palate is even better, with a sensual Frnech kiss of fruit and acidity that goes on forever. Right now, better than the Hermannshohle and as such, quite a bargain at 198 NIS. More or less sold out.

Niederhauser Hermannshohle

Almost without a doubt, this Spatlese flight was heads above the previous. For the time being anyway. Hermannshohle does have a reputation to live up to, and it does that very nicely. It starts out on the simple side, closed and humble, but it fleshes out with gusto, displaying fresh red apples and minerals and showing the same heady mixture of fruit and acidity, but in a more refined and structured style. 268 NIS and sold out.

Auslese Flight

Niederhauser Hermannshohle Goldcap

Eat your heart out, Sauternes! What can I say, these dessert wines were a fest and as it turned out, I can't say much because I just sat back and enjoyed them. The Hermannshohle's nose is very intense, almost dense, near liquorish, with loads of red apples. The palate is just as packed and is amazingly enjoyable. 223 NIS for the half-bottle.

Oberhauser Brucke Goldcap

Having just extolled the Hermannshohle's drinkability, I have to confess that I did sum up the flight in my notes by saying how closed these wines are, and I can explain away this incongruity by telling you that you can just sense the hidden potential that has not yet reared its head. This is a somewhat more subtle wine, with apricots, flint and orשnges. Just as yummy as the Hermannshohle. 196 NIS for the half-bottle.

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