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Unlocking Nahe

Will Motley

Continuing Part 3 of our Austria-Germany highlight reel.

Today we're moving into the region of Nahe to look at two producers, Dönnhoff and Hexamer. Both are part of the Terry Theise portfolio, Theise being the firebrand importer and leading American champion of wines from this part of the world.

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Dönnhof Estate Riesling
Nahe, Germany
Riesling
$25

Dönnhof Estate Riesling Trocken
Nahe, Germany
Riesling
$25

Hexamer Porphyr Feinherb
Nahe, Germany
Riesling
$25

Hexamer Rheingrafenberg Quarzit
Nahe, Germany
Riesling
$24

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He's a big fan of Dönnhof, and I mean a big fan. Here he is waxing poetic, and teetering on the edge of sentimentality:

Each sip of a wine like this is a drawn breath of beauty, an invitation to remember, a voice from the deep leaves, it is safe to be lost, the forest will hold you, the world will hold you.

A substantial part of the charm of Dönnhof the wine lies in the charm of Helmut Dönnhof the winemaker. He is a man of his landscape, staunchly middle-Nahe, unconcerned with what special nearby properties might be available just upriver. And because Nahe has for so long slipped past international and even German attention, Helmut was able to work for decades under the auspices of obscurity. He's never had to bend to market expectations, because those expectations simply don't exist. The result: a purity of intent and a perfect marriage of culture and land. It's one of the characteristics I like best in the wine world, one of the reasons I keep searching, a vintner who strives express the land as directly as possible through the wine.

Nahe contains something like 60 distinct soil types, often changing one to the next in the span of a few feet. The Dönhoff vineyard from which their Estate Riesling Trocken hails is a diverse mix of soils dominated by a volcanic rock known as porphyr. The porphyr tends to create a masculine, angular wine with bold and distinguishable flavors. The 2013 vintage is particularly so, exaggerating the wine's most distinctive characteristics. It's bold, it's beautiful, and it will hold your attention.

The not-so-dry version, the Estate Riesling, is one of Thiese's favorite wines ever. In fact he claims it's the greatest value in the wine world, period. They have "so much sheer material" they "feel not soft but caressing." A touch riper and less angular than the Trocken, but not less lean, certainly no less powerful. It's the kind of wine that sends tiny vibrations throughout your body, singing in harmony as the chords progress sip by sip.

Another Nahe producer of great integrity, Hexamer, holds properties in two different areas, middle and lower. For the wine lovers out there (if you're still reading, this means you!), this is a rare opportunity to isolate terroir in such vivid terms. Same grape, same hands-off approach, different soils/microclimates. It's an unheard-of chance at this price level.

Of the two wines we brought in, the Porphyr has a tell-tale saltiness that firms its jolly green herbalness around the edges, and the Quarzit (grown in, you guessed it, quartzite-dominated soils) is dominated by mineral and citrus flavors, softened by a barely-there hint of sweetness. Both are "works in progress," meaning these are newish projects that winemaker Harald Hexamer is leaving open-ended, listening to their voices, watching how they develop. Wonderfully, is a word that comes to mind.

You likely haven't had wines from Nahe, or if you had, didn't know it. But not only do they represent some of the best values in white wine globally, they contain rare glimpses into the intricacies of terroir and soil differentiation. Like drinking from Husk's wine list and knowing, feeling your way through.