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Meet German wine producer Helmut Donnhoff, the man behind the region’s finest Rieslings

Donnhoff's wines can be easily paired with almost all types of food.

A visit to Helmut Donnhoff in the Nahe wine region of Germany is always a memorable and lovely occasion. A charming and disarmingly modest wine-grower, he lets his wines speak for him.

Time passes quickly when you are tasting with Helmut and his charming wife Gaby. Visiting him in the late morning stretched through the afternoon, and before one knew it, it was the evening and time for dinner.

That did not stop Helmut from insisting that we stay for dinner through which more bottles flowed, including a superb Eiswein. He took a circuitous route to the restaurant, giving us a tour of his vineyards. It was a most instructive and enjoyable ride.

Helmut’s vineyards and home are in the Oberhausen village of Nahe, and his vineyards are sited on the hill-slopes of the valley in which the village is situated.

The Donnhoff estate was established in the 1920’s by Helmut’s grandfather, Hermann. Helmut took over in 1966 from his father Hermann Jr in 1966, but at that time, most of the estate was farmland and wines covered only a few hectares. These were gradually increased by Helmut and today cover 25 hectares. Of his vineyard parcels, the Schlossbockelheimer Felsenberg vineyard is ranked as the best, producing very expressive, very minerally Riesling wines.

His Oberhauser Brucke vineyard is the smallest, while the Oberhauser Leistenberg is on a steep south-east-facing slope producing very fine Kabinett wines. Oberhauser Brucke at 1.1 hectares, produces very minerally wines – the result of grey slate bedrock with volcanic elements.

The Niederhauser Hermannshohle is the best site in the Nahe and Helmut’s wines from this vineyard are among his finest.

The wines tasted (and those drunk at dinner) included:

  • Oberhauser Brucke Riesling Spaetlese 1990
  • Hermannshohle Riesling 2013
  • Oberhauser Brucke Riesling Spaetlese 1999
  • Oberhauser Brucke Riesling Spaetlese 1994
  • Niederhauser Hermannshohle Riesling Trocken GG 2013
  • Oberhauser Brucke Riesling Eiswein 2010

Overall impression

The outstanding sensory impression was the wines’ soft, rich texture; light to medium sweetness; impeccable balance; and a very memorable, lingering and elegant acidity.

A soft lush body with just the right amount of sweetness in accordance with the ranking (Kabinett, Spaetlese, etc) followed by a long and lingering exquisite acidity were so enchanting one could not help reaching for the glass in the urge to have yet another mouthful. The low alcohol (9 per cent) was a highly persuasive factor in inducing that urge. From dry (Trocken) Grosse Gewachs through Kabinett, Spaetlese, Auslese, and Eiswein, it was a tour-de-force.

I have visited Helmut several times since the mid-1980s and have therefore had the privilege and supreme pleasure of seeing and witnessing the transformation of the quality of his wines from very good to outstanding.

This most recent visit established him sharing the top of my list of German producers with Egon Muller-Scharzhof.

One final note on wine pairing with food: the exquisite acidity of Donnhoff’s wines allows them to complement almost all types of food easily, as we found at dinner with Helmut and his wife. It was altogether one of my most enjoyable and memorable tastings. Thank you, Helmut and Gaby.

(RELATED: Respected wine collector NK Yong: Tips on how to expand your wine collection)

This story originally appeared in a wine column by NK Yong for The Business Times.