2008 Germany: Donnhoff - Willi Schaefer - A.J. Adam

Posted by CrushWine

To see the 2008 Germany Vintage Report in its entirety, click here.

Click here to read about A. J. Adam
Click here to read about Donnhoff.

Middle Mosel - Willi Schaefer

If Fritz Haag and Schloss Lieser made really lovely wines, Willi Schaefer seems to have edged them out in 2008. (Sorry Schloss Lieser, you know I love you.) Stefan Steinmetz made *awesome* wines, the best of his young career, but they too are just not at this level yet. In 2008 there are only a handful of estates that somehow turned the nerve of 2008 into something riveting, positive, even downright glorious - Willi Schaefer is one.

Make no mistake: This is an awesome, stupid-good collection.

Willi Schaefer and his son Christoph are just benign, smiling beings who walk lightly, speak softly and are completely and totally unpretentious. They just happen to be two of the most gifted winemakers out there and for the tidiness that my brain prefers, I'd love to figure out what their "sweet spot' is. Just recollecting the last four years is sort of freaky. The 2005s, a monumentally-sized vintage, were great at Schaefer. 2006 was a difficult, opulent, botrytis-riddled vintage and they made one of the most luxuriously beautiful collections out there. I drank so much 2006 Kabinett I'm almost embarrassed (I guard my last two bottles closely). 2007, such a different vintage, again epic. And now, a cutting, razor-blade of a vintage and they've juggled it easily, with grace and incredible intensity. These guys just can't NOT make great wine.

The 2008s are simply amazing. Someone, somewhere, is thinking to themselves: "Are they better than the 2007s?" I don't know. Let's just say I think the 2008s are just as good as the 2007s and that is saying a whole hell of a lot.

For those of you who get confused, bewildered and upset at your inability to remember the different Fuder numbers for all of the Schaefer's various potions year in and year out (and I'd include myself in this camp), go ahead and exhale because if there's one good thing about 2008, it's the simplicity. At Weingut Willi Schaefer while there will be Kabinetts from their three sites (Wehlener Sonnenuhr, Graacher Himmelreich and Domprobst), after that *everything* is from Domprobst. There are three Spatlesen (one will be an Auction wine) and only two Auslesen (again, one will most likely to go Auction). Now even I can remember that. Here we go...

2008 Riesling Estate
I drank a boatload of the 2007 Estate after missing it in 2006, so it's nice they were able to make some again in 2008. The 2008 is sourced mostly from Himmelreich and highlights the beautiful purity and "freshness" of 2008. Salty and floral on the nose - almost a grassiness - with a vibrant mouth-watering palate of green apple and wet slate. Such a beautiful, delicate palate, a lightness that has great pep and verve and if this bottle is on the simpler side, it's just perfectly proportioned and drinks well above it's QbA category, as is normally the case with the Schaefer Estate. This is one of the great secrets of the wine world, and in 2008 it is a bottle that's just too fun to drink; stock up.

2008 Graacher Himmelreich Kabinett
To my palate, not a tremendous step up from the Estate, which maybe makes some sense as the Estate was sourced mostly from the Himmelreich site, so there you go. I'd add that this isn't a bad thing in the least, because the Estate is damn fine and so is this Kabinett.

2008 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Kabinett
Very lean and airy like the Himmelreich, yet with a shade more presence and heft and with a bit more exotic fruit with a succulent apple and orange quality that is so immediate it's almost scary. Slinky, elegant and lean and so incredibly fine on the palate that even without the details, the wine is just texturally a lot of fun. A needle-nosed acidity delicately crackles on the backend providing a great energy and crispness. I have a soft spot for the Schaefer's Wehlener Sonnenuhr; the 2007 Kabinett has evolved into a just beautiful bottle, with intensity buoyed up by such a fine acidity. My guess is the 2008 will only get better so if you can find some, buy it.

2008 Graacher Domprobst Kabinett
As good as the other Kabinetts are - and they are good - to my palate, this is where the SERIOUS magic of the collection begins in 2008. This is an astonishing Kabinett and if there's a contender for the 100-point Kabinett, this is one. Monumental? No. But just an exquisitely beautiful nose of flowers and an incredible depth of fruit that is both complex and explosive on the palate. Apple, ripe oranges with a fine dusting of peach. This is featherweight, yet holds the concentration of a wine twice its size, almost staining though it walks across the palate with incredible delicacy. Amazing juice. I'll say that again: Amazing juice.

2008 Graacher Domprobst Spatlese #10
A lovely, lovely, lovely nose of peaches with shavings of pear and green apple, beautiful balanced between the tart and the sweet. This is that little, hat-tipping gesture of perfection that just puts this collection over the top. Again, the thimble-sized proportions of the wine totally belie the coating density and intensity of the fruit and minerals on the palate. Great polished acidity with zip and grip. Like one of those tiny clown cars; so petite yet when the doors open 40 clowns get out with luggage to boot. Amazing.

2008 Graacher Domprobst Spatlese #5
This was harvested at a slightly higher Oechsle level and it does show more heft and texture on the palate, though either my bottle was showing a bit closed or this wine is just a bit more of a brooder. There is citrus, perhaps even monumental citrus, buried deep within this wine though for the moment these notes are more a rumble in the distance and more immediate are the salty, herbal, garden-fresh notes. If this is the richer of the two Spatlese, have no doubt the acidity whips it into flawless shape and this is another great Spatlese that will require more time and as things go, probably prove to be a shade better. But who knows.

2008 Graacher Domprobst Spatlese #6
This will go to the Auction and it wasn't poured for me and I remain bitter and angry about this. That said, I made the off-hand remark at the tasting that I love half-bottles and as the Schaefer's weren't going to be bottling till the Friday after my visit, they agreed to bottle 10 cases of the Domprobst Kabinett in half-bottles just for us, so that's cool. I try to allay my feelings of abandonment, shame and despair at missing the Auction Spatlese by considering this incredibly kind and generous act by Willi and Christoph. So there you go. I hear it's awesome and I want some.

2008 Graacher Domprobst Auslese #8
Another magical bottling from this magical collection. A dizzying nose of green apple, stone fruit and even citrus giving the bottle just a freakish complexity though everything is harmonious, sound. A sheened little core of acidity runs through the wine, giving it great definition and lift. On the leaner side, as the vintage dictated, but just amazing.

2008 Graacher Domprobst Auslese #11
Another wine going to Auction. I didn't taste it so I don't want to talk about it. Insert whining sound here.

Middle Mosel - A.J. Adam

Cross the famous bridge in Piesport coming from the direction of Haart, hang a right, drive up the Mosel about 5 minutes, hang a left and there you are in the village of Dhron. A.J. Adam's house looks kind of suburban in a strange way - though in that simpler, more straightforward architecture that the Germans prefer. I don't know why, but it didn't seem like a winemaker's pad to me. Well, I'll go ahead and work on redefining this concept because the 2008 vintage here is genius, another one of the few collections that spun 2008 into something absolutely, undeniably magical. I believe this collection is, along with the 2008 Schaefers, among the best I tasted in the Mosel and in Germany as a whole.

This was my first visit to A.J. Adam and I have to admit I was way curious to meet this guy. AJ is young and he's sort of come out of nowhere and all of a sudden, to my palate, he's making some of the greatest Mosel Rieslings out there. The 2005s were very, very good; the 2006s too opulent for me but undeniably good. The 2007s are nothing short of AWESOME. Unless you're an American Mosel Riesling buff, you've probably never even heard of the village of Dhron or of its grand site - the Hofberg.

Well, it's time to pull out the map and revisit because this kid is going to be a star. I just can't fathom how he won't become a star, unless he pulls some sort of Prince Ludovisi, goes nuts and rips out all his vines and hides in the cellar, harboring all the wine he's made for some unfathomable reason. If the wines get out there, they make a *serious* impression.

As exceptional as this estate is, the story here is all too common. AJ's grandfather was a winemaker, though he quit in his 80s and AJ's father wasn't interested in making wine. So the lineage ended...or rather, it skipped a generation. In 2000 AJ began again as it were, with one single hectare. He now has just over two hectares and is looking to double his acreage in the next few years. If this goes as expected, he'll have about four hectares and this is the number he wants to stop at.

If these statistics haven't quite sunk in, please note again that he is currently farming only 2 hectares. That means, if he doubles in size, he'll be as big as the famously small Willi Schaefer estate.

Great things come in small hectares?

The village of Dhron rests a bit inland from the Mosel, and therefore the Dhroner Hofberg does not sit on the Mosel either, or benefit directly from the effects of the river. The world's changing though, and if the grand old vineyards along the Mosel needed the river for its ability to even temperatures, to reflect light, etc, this dependence is lessening and faltering as we enter the age of global warming. The wines that the Hofberg is producing, at least under AJ's watch, are inspiring and the site in general is impressive, meandering as it does into a side valley with gracious curves, steep slate-filled parcels and a babbling brook in the valley. Adam has a sort of uncanny confidence and like Tim Frohlich, whatever he says just has a sort of unquestionable stamp of authority. It doesn't hurt that he seems to be rarely wrong. It takes some cojones to plant your flag in a vineyard no one's really heard of, and to insist on its greatness. But greatness is what he's getting and I tend to agree with Terry Theise that his wines have all the presence and might needed to bring this sleepy little village WAY back into the Mosel spotlight.

The style at Adam is similar to Haart and to Piesport in general; they are full Middle Mosel Rieslings with density balanced by forceful acidities. That said, Adam's wines are less Baroque, less round and polished. There is something more serious about Adam's wines; they are more stern, more cut with incredibly purity of fruit, just a shocking minerality and a clarity that is flawless and awe-inspiring. The best of the wines, in both 2007 and even more so in 2008, have a maniacal electricity to them, a live-wire of lime and citrus that just rips through their core. While they can be forceful, for lack of anything smarter to say, they are just exquisitely beautiful.

2008 Dhroner Riesling (Feinherb?)
Sourced from 25-year-old vines planted at a density of 8,000 vines per hectare; yields are around 55 hectoliters per hectare. That's pretty serious for a "basic" Riesling and the wine shows it. Apple skins, herbs and soil notes - a slight funk from wild yeasts, though beautifully integrated by notes of slate and rock. With perfect balance this is totally lip-smacking juice with guts and heft. If there's anything bad to say about this wine it's that it's maybe too serious to be just a crisp little summer sipper. Maybe put on some Beethoven while you sit on the patio and drink this; or read some James Joyce or something suitably unintelligible. Just to balance out the cosmic seriousness, you know?

2008 Dhroner Hofberg "Grand Cru"
This is a QbA wine, though again with serious seriousness. (You got that?) Sourced from vines 50-60 years old, the wine was raised only in old wood. It was harvested at 91 Oe with 15 RS and shows great fruit through the midpalate, serious peach, peach skins, green apple and stone fruit, though the wine finishes with a crackle. Kick ass.

2008 Dhroner Hofberg "GG"
The "GG" here alludes to the "Grosses Gewachs," the great dry wines that can only be labeled as such by the VDP members. Adam is not a VDP member so he can't call the wines "Grosses Gewachs," even though the site does qualify as a "Grosses Gewachs" site. Who cares, this is all politics and regulations that don't mean much with respect to the quality in the bottle. Just know this is the top dry Riesling from Adam. In 2008 it was harvested at 96 Oe with absurd yields of 35 hectoliters per hectare. He uses a basket press for all this juice, ferments with wild yeasts and everything is done in old wooden barrels. The VDP demands that all members wait until September to release their GGs, believing they need time to mature. Adam will hold his wine - though no one his making him - till July when it will be released.

2007 Dhroner Hofberg "GG"
I wanted to taste last year's version and AJ was cool enough to break out a bottle for me. It's a stunning bottle of wine with just massive density and depth. Next to the 2008s, the 2007 feels damn exotic and pungent, with a ripe nose of lime skin, lime oil, mandarin, tangerine, orange and citrus skin blanketing the palate, studded with rocks, slate, spice and salt. The wine is just incredibly perfumed and though the midpalate almost shows a sweetness, ripe extracts playing tricks on the brain, the acidity on the back end is disciplined and severe, providing a balance this is great, if not tumultuous. Great, but not for the faint of heart.

2008 Dhroner Hofberg Kabinett
And on we move to the Pradikat wines, which for me, are the sweet spot here. The GG is an immense bottle and something to reckon with, but the fruity wines are just about perfect. They trade a bit of the force and abruptness of the dries for...well, er...perfectness. The 2008 is a mineral-and-terroir freak's dream - it smells like spring water and rocks with an extra helping of rocks. A light dusting of lemon pith and green apple with peach give the palate some fruit to think about and the wine just falls perfectly across the palate in a microscopic lightning storm of fruit, mineral and acidity. Incredible detail and nuance of fruit. Great.

2008 Dhroner Hofberg Spatlese
A big step up from the Kabinett in its fruit profile, in the wine's evident ripeness; 20% botrytis gives this wine an opulent depth - ripe pear and melon though also deep base notes of guava and kiwi all accentuated by honey and a gorgeous florality and rich spice, like saffron. As opulent as this feels in the context of the lineup and the vintage, it is still incredibly nimble with a shit-ton of wet slate through the palate and an acidity damn near 9 grams a liter, keeping this wine's voltage righteous. Way, way good.

2008 Dhroner Hofberg Auslese
Very simply, one of the best Auslesen I had while in Germany and in all honesty, I cannot conceive why this is not being imported by Terry Theise. Though it should be said I was so moved I requested as much as I could for the store, without (hopefully) being a selfish oaf. For you statisticians, this wine was harvested at 110 Oe with 130 RS countered by 9.5 grams of acidity per liter. That, ladies in gentlemen, is what you call Mosel tension. Aristocrats in the audience feel free to say "nervosite" with that little lift on the "e." In a vintage where most people couldn't coax a little bit of botrytis to flesh out their GKAs, Adam somehow lathers 80% botrytis - a shimmering, golden and pure botrytis I should add. The juice here is all basket pressed and it is just electric, crackling across the palate with intense lime oils, citrus fruit, mandarin orange and studded with rock candy and spice. Just magnificent transparency and for all the wine's glossy fruit, tones of soil and slate are beautifully present. Just psychotic density, so compact with a frightening power. My note ends very simply: "Best Aus of the trip so far."

Nahe – Dönnhoff

Helmut Dönnhoff is probably the most respected producer in the Nahe and a figure that nearly every German wine lover admires and in some way worships – as they should. As stated, I am not a card-carrying devotee of Dönnhoff’s wines, though there is just no denying that when he is on, these are some of the most polished, stylish, beautifully proportioned and simply breathtaking Riesling on the face of god’s great earth.

I think the 2007s were just amazing, nearly across the board, and when I look at my Cellar Tracker I’m sort of shocked and embarrassed by how much I bought. But I’m not worried, they’re great. Though 2006 was trickier there are some glorious bottlings of just uncommon luxury. For 2008 the range is again excellent, though I have to say I don’t think they are at the peak levels of 2007. They are very good, they are pure and have great energy, but they are just not as complete as they have been in previous years. In my opinion it is a very good, but not a great, vintage for Dönnhoff.

2008 Estate Trocken
This is all sourced from the Felsenberg and it does have great class to it – a seriousness above it’s entry-level position. It has very good purity, simple fruit though well integrated and proportioned. Good fine minerality and a nice lean framework. A good dry Riesling no doubt.

2008 Tonschiefer
This is essentially the Leistenberg Kabinett Trocken – “Tonschiefer” means gray slate in German and speaks to the soils of the site. Another very nice bottling and it does show a bit of that “perfect elegance” that I find in Dönnhoff’s wines. Really floral, a fresh detailed nose of fruit and mineral. The fruit is brisk, lemon pith and apple skin, but it is finessed and impressive elegance.

2008 Felsenberg Trocken
This is basically the GG – Dönnhoff has declassified it in 2008 and calls it just plain old Trocken. He says this is simply because he needs a single-vineyard dry Riesling. If this is a strategic move in these tightly budgeted times, all the better for us. I haven’t seen pricing for this wine, but if it’s significantly below the price of the GGs this could prove to be one of the crazy values of the vintage because to me this drinks superbly. I don’t know, I don’t usually like the wines from the Felsenberg that much, though maybe 2008 is its vintage? Somehow the opulence and fat that the wines can’t control is restrained in 2008? Whatever it is, this wine has just a stunning movement and grace on the palate. I liked this bottling a lot – a beautiful perfumed fruit with an exceedingly elegant nose if that makes any sense. Good power and concentration on the palate, but again, its shows great restraint, proportion and elegance. This was just a beautiful wine and maybe winemakers do this all the time, but after I sniffed and sipped this wine I put it down and gave Dönnhoff a smile, acknowledging the quality of the bottle. He smiled back and said too he *really* liked this bottle in 2008. Maybe he was just playing me, but I think this is a wine to watch in 2008 for Dönnhoff.

2008 Dellchen GG
A joyful, bouncy wine – a veritable cornucopia of peach, pear, orange, tangelo and even dusting of lime. The 08 Dellchen is very expressive, richly perfumed and very fruity on the palate. While I think it suffers a bit from integration and elegance, it’s definitely a fun bottle to drink with good depth and power.

2008 Hermannshohle GG
This wine was showing tense and closed; extreme minerals. It is currently brooding and seriously structured, though the natural strengths of the Nahe shine here in 2008 because this wine has significant concentration and depth. It feels rich and creamy on the palate and you just can’t miss the grace of the Hermannshohle, even this young. This wine has a big future ahead of it and while I doubt it will ever be as good as the 2007, it’s still an awesome bottle of dry Riesling.

2008 Estate
Creamy yet with good intensity and nerve; pear and melon with a fine mineral mid-palate. Very pretty and a solid sipper.

2008 Krötenpfuhl Kabinett
One of only two Kabinetts Dönnhoff has made in 2008. A fun, peppy nose of grapefruit, tart green apple and some darker notes of raspberry – feels even sort of spicy. The Krötenpfuhl always shows a goofy soil expression and it’s here again. While it’s in fine balance, the acidity doesn’t quite feel as sharp as it could be.

2008 Leistenberg Kabinett
A significant step up from the Krötenpfuhl; comes off as extremely slinky and elegant next to the Krotenpfuhl. This is a more serious bottling and was showing more closed, as you’d expect. Still, very nice concentration with that hallmark spectrum of creamy stone fruit that Dönnhoff does so well. Very, very elegant with great acidity and I think this wine has a big potential. When this begins to open up, for you classicists this might very well prove to be one of the sharpest and mot compelling Nahe Kabinetts in 2008.

2008 Kupfergrube Spatlese
Dönnhoff and Schäfer-Fröhlich share a parcel of the Kupfergrube that has as its backdrop, a massive wall of rocks. These rocks of course reflect the light but they also hold the warmth and so the wines often have considerable size and heft. As with the Schäfer-Fröhlich Kupfergrube, this is a massive and deep wine. It is big and fleshy with dark ripe fruits, massive complexity and if it loses something for all its depth, it’s still a damn impressive Spatlese.

2008 Kirschheck Spatlese
The Kirschheck is always quick to develop and is very approachable at a young age. While it isn’t a vin de garde, I’m not of the opinion that to be a great wine it must develop with age. That’s fun and these are the wines that we all want to cellar – but what’s wrong with coming out of the gate looking pretty and serving up the treats of the vintage? Nothing, that’s what. So make a note – this bottling is usually under-priced and drinks well young. Especially after the Kupfergrube the Kirschheck shows bright and vibrant, with peppy peach and even – yes – some red fruits. While the wine is not terribly elegant, there’s something about the energy, verve and life of the wine that is very appealing. I dig it.

2008 Brucke Spatlese
Showing closed but still, you can’t mistake the power and muscle of this wine and the concentration here is MASSIVE. In riper vintages this wine is a rich, decadent, Baroque masterpiece – while there’s no denying the breadth of this wine, sometimes it’s a lot of flesh and flowing gowns for me. It will NOT be this opulent in 2008, but for you purists, this might prove to be one of the more compelling and chiseled Bruckes to come around in a long time. Like the Leistenberg Kabinett, there’s a tension here that I find way compelling and if they develop as I think they will, these two bottlings will be a dream for the classicists. In 2008, Brucke might even thrill the rockheads out there? I for one am *very* excited by the prospects of this wine.

2008 Hermannshohle Spatlese
Way clamped down – again – though already showing so, so elegant. Again, this is likely to be a beautiful Hermannshohle.