Like listening to Mozart: A visit to Weingut Dönnhoff

In early June I visited the wine regions of Germany with a group of fellow Independent Merchants – including representatives from Corks Out in Manchester and Connolly’s of Birmingham – as well as Melania Bellesini, Head Sommelier at Heston Blumental’s Fat Duck Restaurant. We were the guests of Awin Barratt Siegel Wine Agencies, the UK’s leading importer of premium German wines.

We saw the vineyards and wineries and, of course, tasted the many glorious wines of Württemberg, Franken, Pfalz, Mosel, Ahr, Rheingau, Nahe and Rheinhessen. A punishing schedule in just four days!

The standout winery visit for me was to the Weingut Dönnhoff vineyard in Nahe. This is one of Germany’s most beautiful river valleys and certainly, geologically speaking, the most varied and interesting. The small, tranquil River Nahe joins the Rhein at Bingen.

I met and tasted Riesling wines with Helmut Dönnhoff, who makes the wines here with his son, Cornelius. We tasted through each of the property’s ten Grosses Gewächs – also known as ‘great growths’ – the premium quality vineyards.

He explained that his winery’s policy was one of minimal intervention. 95% of the work to produce his wines he said, is done in the vineyard. Not the winery. He was passionate in describing how his wines reflect the terroir of each site. Each location, aspect and soil type has an influence on the wine produced.

Helmut described these small plots of land – and the resulting wines – as being like his children. He knows and loves each of them though they are all different.

Equally, he loves them at all stages of their lives: at early stage when they are young, then later as they mature gaining in character, continuing into old age and fantastic maturity and complexity.

Tasting with him I could see exactly what he meant. As he tasted he savoured each wine and enjoyed it to the maximum, revelling in the developing aromas and flavours as they travel from the nose to the front, middle, and finally the back of the palate.

Especially rewarding was the long and lingering finish of these wines that stayed with you for up to five minutes after swallowing (no spitting out on this visit!)

Helmut described his appreciation of the experience as being like listening to Mozart. For him, each wine had its own symphonic life. He would close his eyes as though listening to the finest music, clearly transported by a sublime sensual experience.

Until now I hadn’t realised the potential of aged Rieslings and this was a revelation. Wow! Such intensity of flavour! Such complexity of character and such longevity!

These are truly great wines and I encourage everyone to go to the extravagance of buying a bottle so that you can see for yourself why German Rieslings of this quality command such prices and such universal admiration.