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THE OVERLORDS OF OBERHAUSEN: 21s from Dönnhoff


I’d always try to climb the Lemberg hill before I arrived at the winery. It’s a good stiff walk, about thirty minutes, steep but not punishing, and when you reached the top the entire world was below you. It showed the Nahe as a quiet cozy nugget in its secretive little valley, surrounded by a great expanse of landscape. Something about Dönnhoff’s wines is encapsulated in that view, something large and small and introverted and inexplicable. All that, plus I’d arrive with flushed cheeks and lungs full of fresh air.


Today I took a walk in the Arnold Arboretum, near where I live. I’m tasting the wines at home, but I wanted to breathe in the world. It is a day that, if you wrote it into a novel, nobody would believe you. Almost June 1st, and we have one of those days with the wind off the Atlantic, which is nine miles from where I now sit, and which offers up a breezy cool day you’d be thrilled to get in March. Everything seemed happy, we’d had rain, you couldn’t inhale without smelling something wonderful, and I saw turtles sunning themselves, and one solitary (and unusually shy) wild turkey, and any number of intrepid birds who were far too busy to concern themselves with my proximity.


I tasted these with Helmut back in May 2022, and was quietly blown away. I have most of them again here; missing are the basic estate Riesling Trocken, the totemic Leistenberg Kabinett, the beloved Kirschheck Spätlese, plus the various not-really-ancillary wines outside the Riesling family. I will….<sigh>…make the best of it.


The 2021 vintage is not precisely congruent with my own sense of Dönnhoff. It is manifestly a success and there are many superb wines, but its personality quirks are only the most sporadic visitors to the overriding “type” of wines one usually finds here.


I’ll explain – or try to. Dönnhoff wines hinge upon a paradox. Their essential nature is one of repose, with a kind of crystalline serenity providing a calm backdrop for the most densely profound expression of sheer information, so that one doesn’t fathom how a wine with so much to say can also seem so calm.


To bring this about requires a virtuosity with texture, and the wines are miracles of evanescence without ever being vague or indefinite. They walk the earth in a different gravity than you or I do. And then comes 2021, a vintage of quite some adamance, a vintage that pulses urgently meeting a domain whose wines typically exhale calmly. What will happen? Let’s see….




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