Say “Dönnhoff” and my knees go weak…as do the knees of every German wine connoisseur in the world. Slowly building his reputation over decades (since taking over the family’s winemaking in 1971), Helmut Dönnhoff is now considered by most Deutsch-o-philes to be Germany’s greatest winemaker. And there’s more good news: Helmut’s son Cornelius joined his dad full-time about five years ago, in anticipation of the young man’s eventual take-over…seamlessly carrying on the family tradition of quality obsession. I had the good fortune of tasting numerous Dönnhoff 2012s recently in New York with Cornelius. Great wines from the bottles, great insights from the man. Winemakers and critics are bellowing all over Germany about the flavor-loaded 2012 harvest in Germany—but Cornelius has a problem or two with it. “We ended up with alcohol levels that are a little too high,” he said. But to my palate, the classically electric acidity that Dönnhoff achieves in the Nahe (an area which, as Cornelius opined, “is not as warm as the Rheingau”), balances out these wines beautifully. Among the rather affordable dry wines in 2012 (for Donnhoff makes wines at many price levels, and many dry-to-sweet levels), this was my favorite price/quality ratio. The wine comes from the Kahlenberg vineyard, near the big town of Bad Kreuznach on the east side of the Nahe; due to its southern exposure, loamy soil, and cold nights, the vineyard is considered by many to be Kreuznach’s finest vineyard. This bottling hits your nose in an almost austere Alsatian way, not overflowing with Germanic-type peaches as young German Rieslings often do. The palate does veer a bit towards fruity apricot, but the major themes in the music are mineral and stone. For me, however, it’s the play of textures that does the most good. You could consider this wine one of Germany’s young modern dry Rieslings, always striving towards bluntness and power. But the power play gets delightfully short-circuited here. Good acid sears in. Most important, the impression of a little residual sugar (although the wine’s officially a “trocken”) greatly improves the wine for almost all tastes. In the end, the balance is lovely, drinkable, refreshing—even ethereal. And it’s a Dönnhoff work of art, which probably means it will do nothing but improve for 12-15 years.
Spend every moment you can with this wine between now and then at your dinner table! This level of German Riesling starts out as great picnic wine…but it gets deeper, more mineral-y, and drier as it ages, ending up an ideal accompaniment for all manner of cooked white meats. Crispy-juicy pork roast? Wunderbar!