I quite enjoy reading whatever "varietal character" Appellation America comes up with for various grapes. Sometimes I agree with their take and sometimes I don't; (their impression is America-centric, so often the grape varietals I differ about show different characteristics when left in the Old Country, where I'm more often sipping). But they are always pretty darn entertaining. Enter Dornfelder, described by Appellation America as the latest action hero out of Germany. In your most recent role as 'the Germinator' all the older German stars seemed pale by comparison. Who knows how big you'll become, bulking up with each appearance. To think the critics suggested 'Nouveau Beaujolais-sequel' in their initial reviews. How mistaken they were! In less comical speak? Dornfelder is a German hybrid of two other grapes, which were also scientific experiments at the Weinsberg breeding institute. You'd think this particular grape might be so far (genetically) from anything "real" so as to lose itself, but I've found this grape could, in fact, live up to Appellation America's "The Germinator" description. This is what I call a "nerd wine" - but I argue this one is both for the wine lover and anyone new to fermented grape juice.
How so? This grape can create wines that are definitely vibrant-colored, floral nose-packing, juicy ripe-fruited wonders. For a country where the climate is a bit tricky for optimal fruit ripening, this grape does just fine - in fact ripening early enough in the season a late frost is no worry. It is also quite resilient. Like the Zweigelt grape in Austria, Dornfelder stares down vine diseases with relative ease. And yields are prolific enough viticulturists and winemakers alike aren't sweating it out, pressing every last drop of juice from the skins to make enough wine to make Dornfelder worth their efforts. Happiness in a glass, I should think!
One of my favorite reps came by with the Diehl Dornfelder 2007 at the start of the new year. These are 1 Liter bottles (extra juice!) that in the MA market would go for about $16.99. My notes were simple: "YUM. Bright red fruits - raspberry flavors abound - and a nice touch of spiced minerality." Last week I tasted the Windisch Dornfelder 2007, which offered a touch more depth even and darker fruit flavors - and for less dinero ($10.99). The nose was much more floral, too. Quite surprising for the money.
Despite my fairly limited Dornfelder tasting experience, I have a hard time not agreeing with the "experts" about this wine's general characteristics. They suggest the best of these offerings have connotations of good Beaujolais village, particularly in terms of weight (on the lighter side, more like a Pinot Noir) and fruit vibrancy or ripeness. The minerality and spices I've found in the two I've tasted most recently suggest something entirely its own, too - not old world earthy/barnyard, but something warming and familiar, like Grandma's spiced oatmeal cookies.
I know Dornfelder is extremely rare here in the states so I did a quick bit of research among my friends/colleagues in the trade. Word on the street is there are only four offerings available (in Massachusetts). But this doesn't mean you shouldn't keep an eye out for them on restaurant wine lists (a good match for many dishes). Better yet, ask your local buyer what finds they have (or can get) in stock. Then treat your dinner guests to a glass!
Which Dornfelders have you tasted? Any favorites - or is this something new you might try?