GERMAN PINOT NOIR

by Rose Murray Brown MW          Published in The Scotsman 4 April 2015

For those who love Pinot Noir, there is one country which is now capturing people’s attention.  Germany might be better known for its white wines – and 30 years ago less than 15% of German wines were red – but today there has been a huge expansion in red wine plantings.

Over one third of German wines are now red – and the prime grape that the German winemakers are focusing on is Pinot Noir.  Tricky as this varietal may be to grow and nurture into great wine, Pinot Noir (aka ‘Spatburgunder’ as it is known in Germany) is the grape they all want to grow from southern Baden up to northern Ahr region.  There are now over 12,000 hectares across the country – making Germany the third largest producer of Pinot Noir in the world after France and USA.

The problem I have with German Pinot Noir is the price.  With their recent improvement in quality, they are so sought after in their homeland, with the best snapped up by the local restaurants and keen collectors.  We are luckily seeing a few more trickling into UK wine merchants at more approachable prices – and I am pleased to see two of our supermarkets, Marks & Spencer and Waitrose have taken Spatburgunder to heart.

Pinot Noir is no newcomer to Germany.  The Cistercian monks are believed to have brought this varietal to southern Baden region in C14, where it is still grown in the warm Kaiserstuhl region, just across the Rhine from the French Alsace region, in the foothills of the Black Forest mountains.  Look for Spatburgunder from Bernard Huber and Dr Heger wineries – their Pinot Noir can be a match for fine Burgundy made in a similar style to Chambolle Musigny or Volnay.

A good example of an excellent new Spatburgunder pioneer in Baden is Karl Heinz Johner.  Johner worked as a winemaker at Lamberhurst Vineyards in the UK for ten years, before heading back to Germany in 1985 to establish his own Weingut in Bischoffingen.  He currently has 17 hectares here in Baden where he makes really complex Pinots at surprisingly good prices.  Johner also have a vineyard in Wairarapa, near Martinborough on North Island of New Zealand which he established in 1998.  Definitely a name to watch.

The region which in my mind has really progressed recently is Rheinpalz.  Again it is warm here, with shelter from the Vosges mountains which helps Pinot Noir to ripen – and vineyards are not as steep as in other regions so easier to work.  This is where Marks & Spencer source their excellent German Pinot for under a tenner – but you can get lovely Pinots from southerly Pfalz area of Sudliche Weinstrasse from producers

Rheinhessen region between Mainz and Worms was once dismissed as a lesser quality region, but it has like Rheinpalz been undergoing a renaissance.  Two estates here to watch are Guntzler in Gundheim in hilly southern Rheinhessen and Thorle winery in Saulheim.  Thorle are in the heart of Rheinhessen inland from Oppenheim on the Rhine, run ‘organically’ by brother Johannes and Christophe.

German Pinot Noir by Rose Murray Brown MWThe most northerly region of all might be a surprising place to find German red wines – in fact 90% of wines made in northerly Ahr region are red.  Pinot Noir is at its most minerally and delicate in this fascinating region, with the steepest vineyards and staggeringly high prices to match.  These very steep slatey terraces are hugely labour intensive to work and there is such a short supply of the top wines here – inevitably this means that Spatburgunder from the Stodden family, Ludwig Kreuzberg and Werner Nakel do come at a price.

GERMAN PINOT NOIR TASTE TEST:

Rheinpalz:  PALATAIA PINOT NOIR 2012 Gerd Stepp
(£8 reduced from £10 for case of 6 bts currently at Marks & Spencer)

Gerd Stepp used to be one of the main wine buyers for Marks & Spencers in the UK, before he decided to head back to his homeland to make his own wine on his family estate in the Pfalz.  So he now sells to M&S instead, making wine alongside his fellow winemaker Matthias Gaul.  This is a delicious light silky German Pinot Noir with plenty of character and complexity for the price – a great introduction to the German Spatburgunder style.    STAR VALUE BUY

Rheinpalz: KALKMERGEL SPATBURGUNDER 2012 Weingut Knipser
(£24.50 www.greatwesternwine.co.uk)

In a different league to the M&S wine, this has considerably more depth and focus – but it would compare well to Kiwi Otago Pinots coming in at the same price.  Knipser are a new winery to me, but showing good potential.                                          

Baden: JECHTINGER SPATBURGUNDER 2012 Weingut Bercher
(£18 Oddbins)

This is from Baden’s second largest winery, based in the famous Kaiserstuhl – just over the river Rhine from Alsace.  Approachable, ripe raspberry fruit flavours and soft tannins, but lacks depth and intensity for this price.
                                               
Baden: ENSELBERG SPATBURGUNDER 2011 Weingut Karl H Johner
(£19.99 Waitrose)

A clear winner in our tasting with its sweet succulent ripe fruits, beautifully balanced palate and velvet soft smooth tannins.  Made by the well-travelled Karl, who makes wine in Germany and New Zealand in a very Burgundian traditional manner.  STAR BUY

Baden:  MALTERDINGER 2011 Weingut Bernard Huber
(£22 L’Art du Vin, Dunfermline www.aduv.co.uk)

On the site where centuries ago the Cistercian monks first planted vines in southern Baden beneath the Black Forest, Huber’s impressive estate makes superb wines.  Perfumed, silky, richly fruity Pinot Noirs.  Try their old vine (Alte Reben) too at £30.  Sadly Bernard Huber died recently, but his son is continuing to run the estate in the same vine.

Rheinhessen: SAULHEIMER HOLLE SPATBURGUNDER 2011 Weingut Thorle
(£25 www.carteblanchewines.com)

From an organically run vineyard by the Thorle brothers, this shows good promise, although it is not the finest German Pinot I have tasted.  2011 was a good vintage with ripe fruits and good balancing acidity.          

Franken:  BUNTSANDSTEIN SPATBURGUNDER 2012 Weingut Klingenberg (£30 www.germanwineagencies.co.uk 0207 617 7038)
A different style again with lovely aroma and great finesse – this time from the easterly Franken region better known for its Silvaner white wines.  Winemaker Benedikt Baltes comes from the Ahr region where he grew up with Pinot Noir, then at just 28 years old he bought over an old winery in Franken determined to make Pinot Noir there.  Buntsandstein is German for coloured sandstone.

Ahr:  HERRENBERG GG SPATBURGUNDER 2011 Weingut Jean Stodden
(£100 Berry Bros & Rudd www.bbr.com; The Wine Barn www.thewinebarn.co.uk)

Gulp!  Yes Ahr Pinot Noirs are very sought after.  GG stands for Grosses Gewachs – meaning a top wine.  You might need to remortgage your house to try one, but they are fabulously delicate light Pinot Noirs from the high terraces in northerly Ahr.  Sadly  Burgundy enthusiast Gerard Stodden died recently, but hopefully his family will continue to fly the Ahr flag.

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