2018 Donnhoff Norheimer Kirschheck Riesling Spatlese

Year: 2018
Appellation: Nahe
Country: Germany
Wine Advocate: 92
John Gilman: 92+
White Wine
Alcohol by Volume: 8.5%
Price :
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"The 2018 Norheimer Kirschheck Riesling Spätlese is clear, fresh and flinty on the deep nose, where ripe stone fruit (vineyard peach), raspberry and crushed stone aromas are displayed. Round and salty-piquant on the palate, this is a racy, terribly fresh and stimulating Spätlese whose acidity is really kicking and racy enough to balance this ripe and almost voluptuous wine with ease and joy. A classic. Tasted in July 2019.

Before we go into Dönnhoff's 2017s and 2018s, let me report about a record the estate made at the auction in Bad Kreuznach, Germany, in late September. The one and only magnum of the 2015 Hermannshöhle Riesling Trockenbeerenauslese Freitag—a wine that I scored 100 points three years ago—came under the hammer and fetched 22,491 euros (incl. fees and taxes). The one and only Dade Thieriot from Dee Vine Wines in California was the last man standing. He bought the wine not for a collector and not even for himself but for his four-year-old daughter who likes Riesling—"sweet Rieslings in particular," as Dade told me a few days later. So, huge congratulations to Marie-Katharina for what Helmut Dönnhoff calls "a monument of German Riesling culture" and "possibly the finest wine we have ever produced at our estate." Four bottles of the standard size were auctioned for a total of 13,744.5 euros and 16 of the 375-milliliter bottles fetched a sum of 20,391.84 euros.

So now, are there any other wines on the horizon to beat that one day? You never know, but I'd guess rather not. However, again there are marvelous wines to buy from Dönnhoff from both vintages, 2018 and 2017.

2017 was deeply marked by frost in April that hit the plants terribly after the early budbreak. "We are located in a narrow valley and always threatened by spring frost," says Helmut Dönnhoff, who tasted both vintages with me on an extremely hot summer day in July this year (2019). "We already thought the 2017 vintage would completely fail." Torches rescued the famous Brücke vineyard where Dönnhoff produces (in certain years) perhaps Germany's finest Eiswein, but other vineyards suffered a lot. "The summer was very nice and helpful for the plants, but in the end, we had losses between 25% and 50% compared to a normal year, especially in our lesser plots that we pick for our estate wine. The crus were less hit, though." Dönnhoff, who celebrated his 70th birthday a day after the now famous auction, has enough experience with difficult vintages and heavy losses. "You have to work hard the whole year, but you don't gain that much in the end. The more so since you have to pay the same amount of pickers, who had to go through each parcel several times in 2017 due to an uneven ripeness. We couldn't pick everything together and had to pick very carefully," Dönnhoff remembers. "However, there is a big advantage, since the remaining grapes get everything that the vine and its roots are delivering. ... There was not much botrytis, which was fine anyway: Wine lovers ask us for dry wines more than for sweet wines today. ... However, the average yield was 30% to 35% less, so we couldn't supply all our clients. Some markets even didn't get anything."

As often in nature, a small vintage is followed by a generous one, and this was the case in 2018. "Extreme rainfalls in May and June made it very clear already early in the year that 2018 would be a vintage where we would need all our vats or even more," says Dönnhoff. "Even during the very warm and dry summer especially, the old vines didn't show any hints of drought stress. Wherever we had a look, all our grapes were just marvelous, no matter in which vineyard. And the yield was even higher than we expected. The harvest weather was also beautiful, and all the grapes were in perfect condition, as if they were painted. Cornelius did great canopy management," Dönnhoff senior praises his son. All in all, "2018 is a very, very good vintage. We got the same concentration and intensity like 2017, but in 2018, this is based on super clear and healthy grapes, whereas the density and structure of the 2017s was due to the heavy reduction during spring frost." However, both vintages are not characterized by botrytis and are marked by their amazing clarity, and I couldn't say which of the two fazes me more. Perhaps in 2018, the Spätlesen are a bit finer and clearer than in 2017, and without any doubt, the 2018 Hermannshöhle Spätlese is the best buy this year from Cornelius and Helmut Dönnhoff, whereas the 2018 Brücke Beerenauslese is the greatest wine, and the 2018 Hermannshöhle GG is the finest dry Riesling—not only here but also in the entire Nahe valley." (WA)

"The 2018 Kirschheck Spätlese from Weingut Dönnhoff is another excellent example of the vintage. The wine is pure, very floral in personality and quite expressive out of the blocks, offering up scents of white cherries, pears, bee pollen, slate and a topnote of spring flowers. On the palate the wine is pure, fullish, vibrant and beautifully detailed, with racy acids, good mineral undertow and a long, refined and complex finish. 2019-2050+." (JG)

Winery Notes:
Norheim Kirschheck Riesling Spätlese – Riesling brimming with brilliance and beauty-luscious, opulent fruit balanced by a lively acidity. Immensely deep flavors of wild cherry enhance this Spätlese’s distinctive, delicious character.

The oldest recorded vineyards of the Nahe are located in this part of the village of Norheim. Kirsche means “cherry”, so the age-old name of the site likely refers to the wild cherries that grow even today amidst the vines. The site faces due south and its soils are composed largely of grey slate mixed with sandstone.