The man, the myth, the legend. tasting with Helmut Doennhoff

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Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Riesling, White Wine

When I scheduled a tasting at Doennhoff last week, I was giddy with anticipation. When I arrived at the facility, I was informed that the staff were bottling the remainder of the 2008 vintage. After a few minutes waiting, I was told that Helmut Doennhoff would taste through a few wines with me nevertheless.

When he entered the tasting room and shook my hand, it was one of those moments that will sear itself into my memory forever. We sat down and tasted wine after wine despite Helmut having to step out occasionally to supervise the bottling process. All told, I spent more than one hour and thirty minutes with Herrn Doennhoff, working through one of the longest pure tasting sessions I’ve ever had the pleasure to experience. Helmut Doennhoff, despite his soaring success is one of those rare people who has remained grounded, charming, and not at all self-absorbed. Turns out we know some of the same folks in Bad Kreuznach (whe he did his apprenticeship at the Weinbau Schule and where I have had close ties for 25 years). Tasting with him was an honor I won’t soon forget.

Of course, I should mention that I probably asked a hundred questions, all of which Helmut not only answered, but he truly enlightened me to the fine points of vineyard location, wine making technique, Weingut history, etc. He’s a living wine dictionary who seemed absolutely thrilled to have a young wine enthusiast in front of him with whom he could share his passion.

To top it all off, I found a huge picture on one of the tasting room tables of Helmut Doennhoff with none other than our very own Miran Kegl. Small world.

The trocken wines

  • 2008 Dönnhoff Riesling trocken – Germany, Nahe
    First wine tasted of the line-up. Sourced from Oberhaeuser Bruecke vineyard. Volcanic/porphyr soil. Highly mineral, citrus, a hint of peach. Laser focused and clean. Good.
  • 2008 Dönnhoff Weissburgunder trocken – Germany, Nahe
    White flowers, creamy, green apple peel, cut grass. Touch higher alcohol than the Riesling trocken preceding it.
  • 2008 Dönnhoff Grauburgunder – Germany, Nahe
    Even higher octane than the Weissburgunder. Thicker, softer, creamier, yet with good minerality and apple.
  • 2008 Dönnhoff Tonschiefer Riesling trocken – Germany, Nahe
    The grapes for this wine are sourced from the Oberhaeuser Leistenberg vineyard. Extremely high minerality, light apple, pear, and unripe peach. Juicy, sappy, and some white grapefruit. Helmut Doennhoff said it has a tactile sensation of pure spring water. I agree with that description 100%.
  • 2008 Dönnhoff Kreuznacher Kahlenberg Riesling trocken – Germany, Nahe
    Sourced from the relatively newly acquired, south-facing vineyards in North Eastern Bad Kreuznach (on the way out to Bretzenheim). Pure, nearly with imperceptible sweetness. Riper, rounder, and fuller style than the wine Helmut makes from the vineyards in Ober- and Niederhausen. To me, this is a drink now kind of wine.
  • 2008 Dönnhoff Schloßböckelheimer Felsenberg Riesling trocken – Germany, Nahe
    Yes. This was really nice. Very layered, citrus aroma and flavors, with amazing volume, minerality, acidity, and overall balance. A must-buy in my book.
  • 2008 Dönnhoff Norheimer Dellchen Riesling Großes Gewächs trocken – Germany, Nahe
    I got lucky. Helmut Doennhoff pulled a bottle of this off the bottling line, and in typically modest fashion said that I should evaluate the wine with that in mind. No concern necessary. This showed brilliantly. Yet another step up from the preceding Felsenberg, and simply more of everything. The most obvious observation was that there was more fruit, better balance, and the texture was just a touch creamier and the acid less pronounced. I wrote down lemon curd, and I think that captures the flavor fairly well.
  • 2008 Dönnhoff Niederhäuser Hermannshöhle Riesling Großes Gewächs – Germany, Nahe
    As good as the Dellchen was, the Hermannshoehle was even better. It added some spice/herbs to the flavor component along with some lychee and a touch of pineapple. At the same time, it kept its zingy character with lemon and liquid rock. To me, a profound wine.

The off-dry wines

  • 2008 Dönnhoff Riesling – Germany, Nahe
    To me, the most disappointing wine in the otherwise outstanding 2008 line-up. A simple, pleasant, round wine with surprisingly low acidity and wow factor. Drink now.
  • 2008 Dönnhoff Kreuznacher Krötenpfuhl Riesling Kabinett – Germany, Nahe
    Good wine. Tropical fruit profile, and good acidity. Has less minerality than one may expect, but Helmut Doennhoff said right away that the Kreuznach sites tend to show fuller, riper, and more accessible than the other sites because they are planted on quarzit and gravel soils.
  • 2008 Dönnhoff Oberhäuser Leistenberg Riesling Kabinett – Germany, Nahe
    Perhaps the best wine in the entire tasting. Mindblowing, pure minerality, lychee, peach, mango, and other tropical fruit, all wrapped into an amazing acid structure that just makes you want to drink this sip after sip. Helmut Doennhoff said that the Oberhaeuser Leistenberg is often the vineyard that produces their best Kabinett. 2008 seems to be no different. Must-buy, world class, profound Kabinett.
  • 2008 Dönnhoff Norheimer Kirschheck Riesling Spätlese – Germany, Nahe
    The first of the Spaetlesen. I liked this quite a bit. Pretty suave and soft again with good acidity. It stays beautifully light on its feet all the way across the palate and captures its heritage well. As good as it was, the other two Spaetlesen were several classes ahead of the Kirschheck.
  • 2008 Dönnhoff Schloßböckelheimer Kupfergrube Riesling Spätlese – Germany, Nahe
    A wine that made my heart beat faster. How it can get much better than this at the Spaetlese level is beyond me. Chiseled, focused, pure, and finessed. It’s tropical and orchard fruit in perfect harmony. Add incredible supporting acidity and you have yourself a superstar wine in the making. Flat out incredible wine.
  • 2008 Dönnhoff Oberhäuser Brücke Riesling Spätlese – Germany, Nahe
    It should be the best Spaetlese Doennhoff produces because the vineyard is a Spaetlese and Auslese vineyard, but on this day, it didn’t move me as much as the Kupfergrube did. It shows solid citrus, orchard peach, and slate tones, but it doesn’t quite get me to whhere the Kupfergrube took me. Still an amazing wine, though.
  • 2008 Dönnhoff Niederhäuser Hermannshöhle Riesling Spätlese – Germany, Nahe
    Another winner. Ranks right alongside the Oberhaeuser Bruecke, but not quite at the same level as the Kupfergrube Spaetlese for me. It showed rounder and fruitier than the other two Spaetlesen, but showed its tropical fruit very well along with some honey and even doughy notes.

The dessert wine

  • 2001 Dönnhoff Oberhäuser Brücke Riesling Eiswein “Dezember” – Germany, Nahe
    Despite my previously self-confessed ignorance for Eiswein, Helmut Doennhoff thought that tasting this could be educational for me. And of course, he was right. This Eiswein literally exploded on the plate with pure honey, mango and white flowers. Although as sweet as a Sauternes (with which I have far more experience), the Eiswein avoided the cloying character that can sometimes plague a Sauternes. It stayed light on its feet, yet firmly a dessert wine with loads of sweet fruit. Bravo.

Thanks to Helmut Doennhoff for taking the time to taste with me and I’m looking forward to enjoying his wines for decades to come.

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I am not a professional wine taster, nor do I have any professional training in the wine trade. I am a wine enthusiast who has spent countless hours tasting wines of many different styles. My palate is not aligned with a single wine critic, and I call all wines "as I taste them". My site is a source of tasting notes and wine recommendations as well as warnings without conflict of interest. You'll just have to figure out how your palate aligns with mine. My palate generally tends to veer towards Old-World wines that put a premium on terroir and lovely balance and finesse, rather than raw power...please keep that in mind as you read my notes.

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