German Pinot Noir is a mixed business – there are some fantastic wines out that at least rival the decent stuff from Burgundy. Whilst top-par might still be a few years away, the best German Pinot is just as good as some of the stuff that fetches hundreds of euros in France, however it costs only about half the price.
Not all Pinot is good though, in fact the vast majority is worth forgetting – whilst the wines could never be labelled as bad: their international appeal is low: they're often clumsy and sometimes feel unripe. They fulfill a purpose though: people buy them in supermarkets and they offer decent value for money.
The wines that stand out often come from producers that are pretty much only bothered with the Pinot varietals: seldom do Riesling wineries create excellent Pinot although it does happen, just not so often. In Germany’s Baden and Ahr valleys are where Pinot Noir is at its most focused. Whereas a handful of Pfalz wineries do create excellent Pinot Noir, I genuinely believe the best wines come from the Ahr and Baden.
One such winery that has recently sprung to attention is the Huber winery in Malterdingen. Alongside a handful of entry-level, varietal wines, the producer is famed for its single-vineyard Pinot Noir (and Chardonnay) wines. This Pinot Noir (or Spätburgunder as it is locally known) from the Hecklingen vineyard of Sommerhalde is one such wine. The vineyard is at the foot of the Black Forest which offers some of the finest limestone and iron-laden soil in all of Baden.
Cherry red – translucent.
Lots and lots of fresh red berries on the nose: Cassis is very prominent but so too are a whole compote of forest fruits: wild strawberries, blackcurrant and raspberry but also cranberry. There is a toasty, earthy aroma on the nose that reminds slightly of smoke.
This youthful wine starts with tart and refined black and red berries. The sharper notes of Cassis and blackcurrant are the most noticeable and they slowly lead on to a body dominated by raspberry, cranberry, strawberry and even watermelon. The finish is rather long, contains a touch of chalk, a hint of smoke and a typically-German earthy bite.
The fruit was still in its infancy: a few years in the cellar might round off that sharpness (although I found it gave the wine some character). Unfortunately though, the finish wasn’t half as rewarding as the rest of the drink: something was missing – oak perhaps? Everything else about the wine was worthy of the Grand Cru quality the wine proudly boasts– the finish let the wine down in my opinion however the winery caters for a whole host of styles and it is refreshing to see a winery making high-quality Pinot Noir without just copying the guys in Burgundy. The driven fruit however is some of the best I’ve ever experienced in a German Pinot.
I recently reviewed a Chasslie from a communal winegrowers association but I thought I’d take a look at the stuff being made by the wineries of the region too. Chasslie and indeed the varietal it is based on: Chasselas (Gutedel) is a speciality of the Markgräflerland. With almost no acidity, this grape fits excellently with delicate food: particularly poultry and white fish.
Julius Zotz is based in Baden’s Heitesheim and this wine grows entirely in the Heitersheimer Maltesergarten winery. The wine spends five months on the yeast sanding off all of those sharp splinters – no acid, almost no fruit and a smooth, creamy feel are the results.
Pale straw yellow
Predictably the wine is rather yeasty on the nose and reminds of fresh white bread. Behind this note though is a touch of stone fruit: peach and maybe even some lemon peel.
There isn’t much of an attack here – the wine slowly introduces itself and first on the scene are fresh pears with a hint of peach. The body is characterised by honey melon but these notes eventually give way to a long, smooth, creamy finish.
OK, this isn’t a fine wine – it’s a regionally specialty that is little known outside of the Markgräflerland. It is however special and whilst there isn’t much going on in the wine itself, the feel is rather unique and it does make the wine great with food. For those who experience indigestion: this is a fantastic choice - to lovers of wine with bright flavours and a touch of acidity, this is probably best avoided.
As Germany’s warmest wine producing region with the highest yearly temperatures and most sunshine hours, Baden seems to be the perfect place to grow Pinot Noir and any other red varietals for that matter. Baden accounts for about half of the total Spätburgunder production in Germany and its reds are widely available all over the country. Usually simpler in style, Baden wines are often very expressive of the ground they are grown in and certainly reflect the warmer climate towards the Southern end of the Rhine.
In Northern Baden, many producers favour the Burgundy grapes, white and red, and are thought to be the driving force behind Germany’s “Pinot Revolution” – the increasing popularity of all wines based on Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier (Schwarzriesling), Auxerrois, Pinot Gris (Grauburgunder), Pinot Blanc (Weißburgunder) and, of course, Pinot Noir (Spätburgunder).
Blankenhorn is a popular producer in the Markgräflerland - one of the most southerly parts of Baden. Famed for its low-acid Chasselas (Gutedel) white wines, it is also seen by many as one of Baden’s better producers of Pinot Noir and a new(ish) movement has seen the winery experiment with putting wine produced from the better, older vines into Barriques, true to the way most top end Burgundy is made a few hundred kilometres to the South West.
Bright translucent red with a pink/violet hue.
Lots of fresh Cassis on the nose with a whole compote full of fresh forest fruits: blackcurrants, wild strawberries, redcurrants and even some lovely cranberry. This is a lovely toasty, woody vanilla in the nose too.
The Cassis on the attack is very composed but also rather sharp and sweet – it quickly gives way to a forest fruit-driven body with an underlying vanilla edge. The finish is smoky, reminds of high-quality tobacco and the oak is very exquisitely done.
An astonishingly ripe and well-made Pinot Noir whereby, despite being the defining characteristic of the wine, the Barrique touch is worked-in rather than worked-around. Seldom do German Pinots work so well with so much wood. This is a great wine for game, lamb dishes and even more powerful roast beef dishes thanks to the fuller flavour from the wood.
Chasslie is a wine based on the Swiss varietal Chasselas (known in Baden as Gutedel). The varietal itself is very low in acidity which makes it both a fantastic food wine and brilliant for those who prefer their wines mild and light rather than big and powerful. Gutedel has a tradition in Baden – particularly in the Markgräflerland where it is widely planted.
Auggener Schäf is one of a few producers that creates a ‘Chasslie’ – a wordplay based on both the varietal: Chasselas and ‘lie’ – the yeast the wine is aged on for at least five months before filtering. The yeast gives the wine a very clean, creamy and rounded finish – it creates a very dry wine with almost no residual sugar but also, very uniquely, almost no acid at all.
Golden, shiny straw yellow.
The wine emits a faint sense of citrus zest and a touch of apricot: otherwise the nose is one of yeasty white bread with a hint of earth.
The attack is mild and very small note of lemon protrudes although is almost instantly extinguished by the bready body which is smooth, creamy and very relaxed. The finish is strangely reminiscent of sparkling wine with the yeasty notes taking main-stage – the finish is short and crisp.
It’s important to realise that Chasselas is a personal thing: many people like it: many don’t. On it’s own, I find the varietal rather dull – a glass of the stuff is forgettable at best and yet the wine comes into its own with food. Enjoyed with the mildest white fish, cheese-fondue and quiches or omelette, it is hard to imagine a more fitting companion. The lack of acidity is deadly for people who like a bit of zing but a godsend for those with indigestion problems.
You might well have seen an introductory feature I posted a few days ago regarding German Syrah. One of the wineries I mentioned was Ziereisen. Whereas a handful of German wineries have indeed experimented with this varietal, Ziereisen’s Gestad is the one of the most highly acclaimed wines in the category. The Baden winery, situated in Efringen-Kirchen in the corner Germany bordering both France and Switzerland was one of the first wineries to plant the varietal and has, arguably, experience the most success.
Officially, this wine isn’t able to be called a quality wine: German wine laws don’t acknowledge the use of Syrah in national viticulture. The modern vintages are allowed to take the Badischer Landwein declaration (Vin de Pays de Bade) – this 2007 was awarded the then lowest classification for a German wine: Deutscher Tafelwein (German table wine).
Pioneering in winemaking has always met with problems when it comes to classification: even modern Germany’s best reds were mocked back in the 1980s when their makers started experimenting with Barrique and the entire Supertuscan movement in Italy was very much the same thing. This wine though is a perfect reminder as to how useless quality classification can be: particularly if it is just the varietal which isn’t favourable. This is a fantastic wine: no doubt about that.
A cloudy, earthy red with a brown-plum hue.
Lots of fresh red and black fruit: particularly blackcurrant, cassis and black cherries. The whole thing feels rather spicy on the nose with rather prominent notes of white pepper and a distinct oak note.
A sweet and elegant attack which leads onto a thicker body full of ripe blackcurrant and tart cherries is finished with spicy pepper, leather and bitter chocolate notes. The extremely silky body expertly leads onto fantastically complex tannins which, whilst character-defining don’t dominate. There is that German spice on the finish: lots of earth and a slight vegetative note but nothing unpleasant.
It’s hard to believe that this wine originated from Germany: its ripe fruit reminds of Hermitage and other luscious Rhone wines. Remaining clean until the finish, it manages to incorporate something almost no new-world Shiraz is able to: character. German and yet full, dark and yet clean: this wine hints at the potential Syrah is going to be able to offer in the future.
Klummp is one of my favourite winemakers from Baden – one of the new-age German producers with modern wines and fabulous labels - miles away from the coat of arms, tall bottles and Portuguese cork of the Rheingau and Mosel.
This wine was made especially (or at least bottled especially) for my employer – the name of which you can see in the title above and is a Qualitätswein from Germany’s only Winegrowing Zone B: Baden. Baden is the warmest and third largest production region in Germany but is little known outside of the federal republic. The varietal used is Pinot Gris, one of the most popular in Baden – just like all of the Pinot varietals, it grows seldom better elsewhere.
Satin, pale gold with a hint of green.
Lots of fresh white peach on the nose but also a fair amount of exotic fruit: pineapple, kiwi, mango and banana but also some rather thick mineral notes – Baden’s telltale soil was a fixed component of the nose, as was pepper and a refreshing note of eucalyptus.
The first thing you notice is how clean the wine is, the fruity attack and body lead straight into a mineral composure which quickly vanish – a very short-lived taste but one that feels refreshing and clean rather than dull and boring. Nearly all of the fruit in the nose came through but with a nice helping of fresh green pear and lemon juice. The minerals were strong and there was a small amount of iron and granite to pick out – really thick structure with some unusually strong tannin.
A very well made Grauer Burgunder in a very modern fashion – powerful fruit and an even more powerful mineral structure promising storage possibilities (although I’d recommend drinking the wine young). Some might find the structure of the spicy notes a bit too hefty but, on the whole, this is a very modern, clean and elegant Pinot from what is quickly becoming one of Baden’s best producers.
Briesgau, Baden, Germany
Auxerrois is one of my favourite grape varieties and whilst not the best known of the Pinot family, it probably creates some of the most balanced and delicate wines grown in Northern Europe. Famed for its utilisation in Alsace and the Northern Bourgogne, Auxerrois is also grown in Germany's Baden.
Weingut Bernhard Huber is one of Baden's most-important names and one of the relatively few (considering Baden's size) VDP wineries in the region. With his single vineyard wines being well-known for their fantastic quality based on the Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris varietals, Huber is one of the few traditionalist VDP wineries who produces wines made using typical French grapes Chardonnay and Auxerrois.
This wine is of Kabinett classification (higher level of residual sugar than stardard 'quality wine') and its fruit is sourced from various vineyards around the town of Malterdingen.
With a bright but discreet satin gold, this wine had the appearance of cream-coloured rose petal.
The thick honey-like structure of the sugars really helps bring the fruit of the nose into the foreground, yellow fruit was the first to hit: peach, nectarine and yellow pear were the most prominent notes but there was also a faint sense of something tropical to pick out too: honey melon was definitely there and so was a faraway lending of citrus served up by fresh lemon peel. Floral notes also came through with the fragrant smell of elder-flower probably being the most noticeable.
The yellow fruit was also the most noteworthy of both the attack and body of the taste of the wine - peach and nectarine lingered on the tongue whilst lemon and melon rounded off the finish - one which wasn't particularly powerful but crisp and complete nonetheless- litte in the way of mineral but appeasing nonetheless.
This was a very composed and delicate wine - not powerful but not weak, one which makes excellent drinking to light dishes, freshwater whitefish or vegetable recipes. Composure, elegance and smooth sugar structure were the defining characteristics, completed with a well-composed, yellow fruit body.
As the world's third largest producer of Pinot Noir, Germany's reds can usually be split into two categories: those which are an acquired local taste and a cheeky gimmick and those which offer serious international potential. Through my experience with this varietal, I've noticed that wines from the Ahr Valley and Baden's Markgräflerland and Kaiserstuhl are probably those which deserve the most credit abroad. Those from the Pfalz, Rheinhessen and northern Baden are pleasant but often not refined enough to make for real competition against Burgundy - they are often too tart, too clumsy and posses a rather unique mineral composure which sometimes allows wine to feel unripe - of course, in these production regions too there are exceptions and some local terroir-defined wines are also very good.
As the recipient of the most sun hours in all of Germany as well as the highest annual average temperatures, it’s not hard to see why the Kaiserstuhl (literally the emperor's seat) is so well known for its production of red wine. With Baden being the only German wine-growing region thought comparable to those of Northern France and Austria (by the EU), it’s also a major market player inside of Germany – most wines are affordable and the region hasn't been over-institutionalised by the notorious VDP despite it being the country’s third largest production region.
Holger Koch is a wine-producer with his winery in the Kaiserstuhl and produces wines based only on the Pinot grapes which is very typical of Baden and the varietals that many critics claim grow best there - an opinion that I share. This wine is the entry level Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir) from 2009 and was produced using only a steel tank fermentation and storage. It was made using grapes from a variety of vineyards in the region.
With a light and subtle cherry red and a translucent conker-brown hue, this really looked like Pinot Noir – I've seen far too many dark Pinots recently from Germany with tones of purple and pink making me immediately suspect a large amount of Dornfelder in the final cuvee (a crude and unrefined varietal I really don’t like). This was also lighter in colour and looked much more like the wines of Burgundy than a lot of the other Pinots available in Germany.
Classic Pinot fruit and composure at all times, no undefined, unusually bright fruit usually found in Baden Pinot but comprised cherry, cassis and perfectly balanced by stone and earth tones with a decent sprinkling of pepper.
With the fruit attack being dominated by comprised, sweet, sour and juicy cherry, the fruit eventually faded into smoky and earthy mineral notes that were very finely composed. The finish was short and crisp and didn't linger for too long – a very well-made wine.
I’ve always been keen on separating German reds between Spätburgunder and Pinot Noir with the former being undeniably and actively German and the other being a more classical approach to this difficult varietal. Holger Koch has created a Pinot Noir with this wine and it feels like one with international appeal rather than for locals or tourists – it tastes like qualitatively high wine and, whilst the character isn’t particularly noteworthy, this is a prime wine for taking-on entry-level French and American Pinot Noir in the worldwide marketplace. Perfect with venison but also on its own, it makes for pleasurable drinking.
Dörflinger Müllheimer Reggenhag Weißer Burgunder Kabinett Trocken 2010 (Markgräflerland, Baden, Germany)
Visiting the Markgräflerland is always a treat and the lovely town of Müllheim is a must-stop for any wine tourist thanks to its many wineries and restaurants.
Weingut Hermann Dörflinger is a very small winery located in Müllheim that produces traditionally Badische wines made from typically grown varietals (Pinots and the German Classics). The winery also produces one or two of the more exotic varietals that Baden is gaining attention for and I strongly recommend giving them a go should you find yourself in the region.
Straw yellow with a faint off-green colour. Very discreet.
Alongside vegetative notes and those of a traditional handful of fresh Badische soil, this wine had a refreshing citrus aroma made up of lime and pink grapefruit. Mellow-honey was also to detect with a defining pepper nose.
Strong character, low(ish) acidity although all of the sweet notes of lime is delivered in the citrus. Faint sense of something like apricots with an almost eucalyptus slide down the throat. Fragrant and sweet red berries (cranberries, raspberries) are also on the tip of the tongue but take a while to come through and don't really influence the general taste of the wine. High residual sugar level, creamy caramel and honey but a fine dry wine. Almost nutty character on the finish with a modest amount of tannin.
Good Kabinett Pinot Blanc/Bianco, possibility for storage (but not too long) Harmonius companionship between acid and sugar to create a well-balanced dry white. Perfect for the summer and would fit very well to roast chicken, marinated turkey steaks (on the BBQ) and even the slightly more powerful whitefish of the ocean (haddock, halibut and bass).
8.4/10 points (around 7€ a bottle, contact the winery to order - here)
Markgräflerland, Baden, DE - Pinot Noir - 7.99€ REWE Supermarket
Especially created to celebrate the Ruhrgebiet’s title as European capital of culture 2010, several German vintners got together to create a series of wines. Reichsrat von Buhl’s (Pfalz) job was to create the wine: a mouth-wateringly fresh Pinot Blanc, the sparkling wine was made by Schloß Affaltrach (Württemberg) and the red was to be made by one of Germany’s warmest vineyards: Blankenhorn (Baden).
I suspect that the wine was simple relabelled and that it wasn’t especially grown and made for the Ruhr Project, I have visited Blankenhorn in Baden’s Markgräflerland on several an occasion and am pretty sure it is their Dry Pinot Noir that is being used here.
Nonetheless, a splash of German red is always welcome and as the world’s third largest producer of Pinot Noir, it is fast becoming their second signature varietal behind the superb Rieslings originating from just upriver.
The wine has a bright cherry reds colour with a clear-grey hue at the rim of the glass. It is slightly lighter in colour than the Pinot Noirs of Burgundy and the new world.
With thick earth on the nose, a puff of smoke and then bright red berries: this wine wasn’t going to come from anywhere but Germany. There was a slightly acidic note that suggested gooseberry and grapefruit and this combined with mineral, red fruit and black pepper certainly made an interesting impression.
Thick cassis, raspberry and even strawberry came through in the taste with a feel of toasty minerals, lemon and strong black pepper. Smoke was also apparent and there were pleasant tannins towards to finish that closed the whole experience appropriately.
A great example of German red. It’d be unrealistic to give this wine a great mark because, even though Blankenhorn and Baden produce some of Germany’s best red: they still have a way to go. This earthy sense in the wine isn’t unpleasant but it does bring with it a sense of the grapes not having been quite finished before they were picked, crushed, fermented and bottled. However, this is a good Pinot Noir and I’m looking forward to enjoying its big brother in a few days: a Pinot Noir, aged in Barrique using only the vineyards best vines. 7.9/10 points.
-Sud de France
-Pinot Blanc (Weißburgunder)
-Pinot Gris (Grauburgunder)
-Pinot Meunier (Schwarzriesling)
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-Medium / off-dry
-Brut Zero/ Brut Nature
-Medium / off-dry