One of Riesling’s great qualities is the ease with which it is consumed. But what makes Riesling one of the greatest grapes in the world is its astounding ability, particularly in Germany, to combine delicacy with immense complexity. Donnhoff is one of my favourite German wine makers and is definitely amongst the top tier that we tend to see here in North America. Unlike the previous two wineries in this profile, however, Donnhoff hails from the Nahe region in Germany.
The Nahe river, which feeds into the Rhine, is situated south of the famous Mosel. Its vineyards did not gain the fame of its neighbours until quite recently (by European standards) in the late 20th century. Nonetheless, there are not many producers here and some top vineyard land has been left fallow for want of vintners.
Donnhoff is the grand-daddy of the Nahe, producing its most famous wines and doing so on par with Germany’s top estates from the Mosel, Rheingau and Rheinhessen. The best vineyards in the Nahe are home to some of the most complex geology in these parts. The soils here include sandstone, porphyry, melaphyr and slate. This geological diversity seems to shine through obviously in the wines, with their intense minerality that varies distinctly from site to site.
Donnhoff makes wines mostly from the middle part of the Nahe, between Monzigen and Bad Munster am Stein. This sub-region is home to the majority of the Nahe’s most famous vineyards, such as Brucke, Felsenberg, Kupfergrube, Hermannshole and Dellchen, the vineyard where the grapes used in this wine were grown.
What is Grosses Gewachs?
While I’m on a Germany kick with this Riesling spotlight, why not delve a bit into the crazy world of German wine labelling.
It is only recently in 2002 that the German VDP has decided to create a system of German Grosses Gewachs (‘Grand Cru’) vineyards (indicated on the bottle by a little “1” with a bunch of grapes next to it). This thrust to create Grand Cru sites has, predictably, led to much controversy. These sites are supposed to have demonstrated their historical superiority. All such wines must be at Spatlese ripeness or higher, and yet they are required to be as dry or drier than the ‘trocken’ level unless they are labelled as Auslese, in which case they may be sweet. This is, of course, ridiculous and does not help the consumer, who will likely have a hard time distinguishing the differences based solely on the label.
However, I do find the “1” label on the bottle to be helpful and distinctive, and in my experience when you reach for a Grosses Gewachs from a good producer you are going to get something special – though it may not be comparatively good value to lesser known producers still making wine from excellent sites.
Describing flavours is not only boring, but also completely useless when talking about a wine like this. The Grosses Gewachs wines from Donnhoff are as lost remnants of myth – the tears of some old Germanic god that solidified in the slate and iron soils of Germany’s Rhine valley. This wine, like the other Donnhoff GG’s, spars with the greatest wines in the world – the layering of aroma and flavour is amongst the deepest and most sustained of any wine I’ve been fortunate to taste. That these flavours seek you out rather than wait for your limited pondering is both overwhelming and epiphanic. How a wine can be so comfortable in its own skin, demanding both attention and humility, is one of the vine’s great miracles. Thank god we discovered fermentation.
A fraction of the price of great Burgundy, but every bit as long lived, complex and magical.
~$100 at Kits Wine Cellar