By now I think I’ve made it pretty clear, based on the content of a number of my previous articles, that I like exploring unknown varietals. The stranger and more obscure the better. Whenever I’m researching wineries to visit and something really different and unique comes up on their wine list, I immediately feel the need to jump right in and investigate. So you can imagine how excited I was when I discovered that Huber Cellars had not only one, but three wines being produced from a grape so unusual, so rare, and so unlike any other that it could only go by the name of Dornfelder.
I know, I know, this one sounds like a stretch, but even in the rare case that anyone reading this has actually had a Dornfelder before (and if you have, please leave a comment, I’d love to hear what you thought about it), no one does this varietal like Huber Cellars. But I suppose before we get too deep into these wines, we should probably answer the question, “what exactly is Dornfelder?”
Created in Germany, Dornfelder is a hybrid varietal of obscure parentage. The grape was essentially designed to be a sort of super varietal that would be perfectly tailored to thrive in Germany’s frequently stressful growing climate. Many parts of Germany are often times too cool or too seasonally short to successfully grow red grapes, but Dornfelder ripens early and fully and because of its heartiness, is much easier to grow than many other reds that have been planted in the area.
But ease is rarely the best thing for the quality of a wine. In Germany, because this grape does so well, many vineyards are harvested with more attention being given to maximizing yields than creating excellent wines. The products of these vineyards are sold as inexpensive table wines, frequently made in a slightly sweet style, that make decent wines for casual quaffing, but do not do the grape’s reputation justice. That said, there are a number of winemakers, who have recognized the grape’s greater potential and are willing to make some changes to try to harness it. By cutting vineyard yields and approaching the winemaking process more seriously, using better technology and exploring oak aging, a completely different, full bodied and multidimensional wine emerges. Nearly all of these winemakers are located in Germany, but one of them is determined to take Dornfelder to new heights in California’s Central Coast, and that producer is Huber Cellars.
The winery’s first vintage was in 2000, but the owners had been growing and selling their grapes to a number of well known and respected wineries long before marketing their own brand. Inspired by their own German heritage, the owners planted and quickly became famous for their estate grown and produced Dornfelder. Huber Cellars is one of the very few producers of this grape in the United States, with only some scarce plantings being harvested and bottled in New York. They are proud of their specialty varietal and they plant more of it with each new vintage.
Huber’s line presently includes three Dornfelders, two dry table wines and one made in the dessert style. Luckily, my visit just happened to take place only shortly after the newest vintage was released, and I was able to try them all.
Wine #1: Huber Cellars 2006 Sta. Rita Hills Estate Dornfelder
When Dornfelder is made in the light bistro style, after crushing, the grape juice spends very little time in contact with the skins and frequently little to no time at all in oak barrels. This process creates a wine that is very straight forward, easy drinking, and generally uneventful. However, leaving the juice in contact with the skins for too long can cause the wine to become overly tannic and fall out of balance with the rest of the wine’s structure and flavor profile. Getting this wine right can be an art form, but Huber Cellars seems to have gotten the equation just right. For this wine, the juice was left in contact with the skins for a few days and was then moved into French oak barrels, about 20% of them new, where it was aged for 11 months. Following bottling and prior to release, the wine was aged for an additional 20 months.
All three of these wines are some of the darkest I have ever seen. Like Petit Verdot or Petite Sirah in color and intensity, these wines are entirely opaque, purple-black in color and staining on the side of the glass.
The aroma is just as dark, deep, and inky as the eyes lead you to expect. It’s full of blackberry jam, dark chocolate, and a faint woodsy quality, with a kiss of cinnamon and creamed honey coming up with a spin in the glass.
Spicy and full of blackberry and blackcurrant preserves, the palate opens up strong but sophisticated. Hints of dried cherry, inkwell, and a powerful fruit skin component show around the edges, with a well defined streak of Concord grape jelly coming through on the finish. This is a nice, deep, and full bodied wine, with good expression and a very unique varietal characteristic.
Worth Trying. 87 points.
Wine #2: Huber Cellars 2007 Sta. Rita Hills Charlotte’s Reserve Dornfelder
Named after the late Huber family dog, Charlotte’s Reserve is sourced from the two finest barrels of estate Dornfelder produced each vintage. With only 50 cases produced, and nearly two years of oak aging, this is Dornfelder done in a way like no other.
The aroma is dark and spicy with notes of honey, maple, and dark chocolate covered walnuts. Warm brown sugar, blackberry and blackcurrant preserves, and cinnamon stick make up the core, with the faintest hint of toasted coconut coming through with a spin in the glass.
Deep, dark, and seductive, this wine is bursting with blackberries and tones of mixed dark fruits. It’s somewhat creamy, with a delicate floral quality and fleeting hints of the essences found on the nose. This is a beautiful wine, soft and supple but with firm, smooth tannins and an excellent intensity.
Worth Trying. 89 points.
Wine #3: Huber Cellars 2009 Sta. Rita Hills Hafen Dornfelder
Taking its name from the German word for port, Hafen is a fortified dessert wine made from Huber’s signature Dornfelder. To increase sugar content and complexity, the grapes for this wine are harvested one month later than those picked for our first two wines.
Intense spicy tones dominate the aroma, with chocolate and peanut brittle showing through strongly. There is also a generous amount of blackcurrant preserves, a dark floral tone, and a hint of volcanic stone throughout the nose.
This wine is delicately sweet, and not nearly as heavy as its thick appearance in the glass leads you to expect. Strong woodsy tones seem to make up the majority of the palate, with hints of birch, sun-ripened blackberries, and a faintly dusty, rocky quality. This is a very subtle wine with the ability to pick you up and place you in a forest clearing somewhere in the woods of Germany. Nicely structured and showing an excellent sense of place, this is absolutely a wine…
Worth Trying. 89 points.
Please Leave a Comment:
The Grapevine: What are some of the red wines from Germany that you’ve tried, and what were your thoughts?