Oeno-File, the Wine & Gastronomy Column

by Frank Ward

TASTING GERMAN PINOTS NOIRS

August 2020. I first tasted German Pinot Noirs a good thirty-five years ago and wasn’t very impressed, though most were from respected estates. The problem was twofold: the climate at that epoch was much cooler than it is today (and unripe Pinot Noir is no fun); and few German producers at that time seemed to have grasped the true nature, and full potential, of this notoriously capricious variety.

 

Things have changed a great deal since then, as was confirmed when a few months ago I sampled a range of German Spätburgunder (Pinots Noirs) at a tasting in London, hosted by the Institute of Masters of Wine. It featured a big range of VDP Grosses Gewächs wines – a designation “for the finest wines from the very best German vineyards”.

 

The tasting was, in fact, dominated by Rieslings – the variety at which Germany excels – as well as three other white varieties, Sylvaner, Pinot Blanc, and Pinot Gris.

 

Even so the Pinot Noirs numbered 24 – quite a range.

 

I’d never before had the chance to sample such a range of that variety from Germany, all from leading producers so, casting regretful glances as the Rieslings, I decided to concentrate mainly on that noble red variety.

 

Please note that Pinot Noir is called Spätburgunder (SB for short) in Germany. All of the following wines are from that variety.

 

Those two-dozen Pinots Noirs were served in sequence, one region after another, from the lightest to the most full-bodied. That made sense. It has to be said that the first dozen or so were very light indeed, in some cases to the point of fragility, though all had a kind of tension. Spitting them out felt a bit like swatting butterflies. But as one progressed from cooler to warmer regions the wines took on more colour, more body, and greater vinosity. The best of those in the lighter mode, those served first, were notably pure and could be compared to delicate watercolours; those with more pigment and body to works in oil.

 

FLIGHT 20 – AHR

 

2017 NEUEHAR SONNENBERG SB

A pallid reddish-pink, this smelled like cherry plus stone, sloe, and smoke. More expressive on palate than on nose, it had a charming, delicate Pinot flavour of great purity – though its build was more like that of a white than a red. Extremely light.

 

2017 DERNAU PFARRWINGERT SB

Just a bit darker, this has a fuller, more intense scent suggestive of damson, sloe, and orange peel. Again, light as a feather, almost insubstantial, yet with a certain tensile strength. Would be pleasant with sea-bass.

 

2017 AHRWEILER ROSENTHAL SB

The weak reddish pink tinge signals a soft aroma of plum and orange peel. Likewise very light but with fractionally more stuffing than the previous two. A touch of pomegranate on the middle palate.

 

2017 RECH HERRENBERG SB

So light and delicate you could almost miss it; but, at table, it has enough presence to provide a delicate partner to river fish.

 

2017 MAYSCHOSS MONCHBERG SB

Pink moves closer to red now and there’s more substance. This smells and tastes like a meld of blood orange and red grapefruit. It’s also a shade fuller than the preceding four, with a bit more character, and is clearly able to improve over the coming 2-3 years.

 

FLIGHT 21 – RHEINGAU & RHEINHESSEN

 

2017 HATTENHEIM HASSEL SB

Richer in pigment, this solitary Rheingau is both fuller and more vinous. Plum, cinnamon, and saffron come to mind – the latter pair from the oak. The good if noticeable acidity (as in a blood orange) will gradually soften as the wine rounds out. A light but harmonious wine, not unlike a delicate village Volnay.

 

2017 INGELHEIM PARES SB (RHEINHESSEN)

More pink than red, this gives off a charming, sweetish nose of raspberry and wild strawberry. The agreeable flavour is harmonious but shows little depth. The aftertaste – which makes me think of rhubarb – falls just short of greenness.

 

2017 INGELHEIM HORN SB (RHEINHESSEN)

Similar on the nose, with a faint whiff of red rhubarb and blood orange, this possesses a tinglingly fresh, if light flavour which nonetheless shows a certain persistence, with a hint of rose-hip on a finish that’s a shade fuller than that of the preceding wine.

 

2016 WESTHOFEN MORSTEIN SB (RHEINHESSEN)

This is not only a shade darker but also shows more substance on the nose, which is more focused, with aromatic hints of cherry and blackcurrant. It, too, is aerial on the palate, with modest viscosity, and delivers hints of red cherry and damson on a faintly woody aftertaste.

 

FLIGHT 22 – PFALZ

 

2017 KALLSTADT SAUMAGEN SB

This region’s more southerly location brings a touch more pigment – unmistakeably a red wine! The harmonious nose hints at raspberry and peony (very PN scents) and leads into a light but expressive flavour with the highest viscosity so far. Shows a modest degree of sweep on the longish finish. Best so far, and able to improve for several years.

 

2017 SCHWEIGEN SONNENBERG “RADLING” SB

With a similar hue to the above, this sample has a focused aroma with distinct vinosity, giving off wafts of black cherry, raspberry, and mint. It’s discreetly fleshy too. In this company it’s quite full; a wine of some substance. It veers towards blackberry on a finish enlivened by fruity acidity.

 

2017 KONIGSBACH IDIG SB

This initially light but balanced wine soon takes on extra body in the glass, sending out aromatic hints of strawberry and blood orange. It continues to open up, showing some sweep and vinosity, with a promise of burgeoning depth over the next few years. I’d guess the vines to be older than average in this company.

 

2016 GODRAMSTEIN MUNZBERG “SCHLANGENPFIFF” SB

Distinctly reddish, this example has an expressive nose, very Pinot Noir, of cooked plums and blood orange, with that special sweetness of fully ripe grapes. The incisive flavour exhibits structure, with several layers of taste. A poised wine of character, with ample flesh and the promise of several years’ steady improvement.

 

2015 LEINSWEILLER SONNENBERG SB

The darkest so far, with a “proper” Pinot richness to it. And the nose is the densest to date, a balanced meld of peony, cherry, and iris. (Tasted blind you might just take it for a decent village Vosne). The flavour is satisfyingly fruity, with good structure, leading into a harmonious, subtly earthy finish. It should be noted that this sample, at over four years, has had 1-2 more years in bottle than the other Pinot Noirs in the tasting and therefore shows more of what it’s made of. It would have been instructive to taste one or two fully-mature German Pinot Noirs – say 10-15 years’ old, to see how they mature.

 

FLIGHT 23 – BADEN

 

2017 HECKLINGEN SCHLOSSBERG SB

The solid medium-deep PN colour promises ample body, which is exactly what this wine possesses. The nose of cherry, strawberry, and crème de framboise is scented, almost voluptuous, and leads into the fullest, fattest flavour so far, with respectworthy, unforced Pinot character of pronounced vinosity. Raspberry shows on a finish with a rhubarb-like tang. Very good.

 

2017 ACHKARREN SCHLOSSBERG SB

A touch deeper still, this sample possesses a full, vinous nose of red cherry, fig, and pomegranate, with a fugitive suggestion of mint. The delicious flavour, though light, has a distinct succulence and there’s a reprise of the above fruits on the crisp, lingering finish. Very good – and very Pinot.

 

2017 BLANKENHORNSBERG DOKTORGARTEN

This, the most complete Pinot – and complete wine – so far, has a focussed scent suggesting cherry and nectarine with the promise of some molecular weight. It’s good enough to bear comparison with a decent Burgundy “village”. The flavour matches up to this, being round and gently voluptuous, with a seductively lush aftertaste. I actually find myself thinking of Chambolle Musigny!

 

2017 OBERROTWEILL EICHBERG SB

This is faintly paler and smells like a meld of cherry, nectarine, and rhubarb. It soon opens out to include mint, blood orange, and rose hip, as well as something ferrous. Still in bud, it will soon settle down into a seamless fusion of these elements. On the palate, there’s a searching quality which promises burgeoning complexity in the years to come. Should develop extremely well. Very good indeed.

 

2017 OBERROTWEIL KIRCHBERG SB

The nose is both incisive and restrained – classic in fact – and promises some complexity. A touch of clean oak is noticeable but doesn’t dominate; it will be assimilated in time. Such typical Pinot scents as blood orange and orange peel soon show, with a touch of figlike density. These traits follow through on to the palate, with good fruity acidity showing on a lingering, if still evolving finish. Very good. Baden is next door to Alsace in France and is clearly capable, like its neighbour, of fashioning very respectworthy Pinot Noirs.

 

FLIGHT 24 – FRANKEN & WURTTEMBERG

 

2017 KLINGENBERG SCHLOSSBERG SB (FRANKEN)

The purplish “robe” is as dark as PN ever gets even in Burgundy – a very good sign. This positive impression is reinforced by a round, expressive aroma of plum jam, pomegranate, and Victoria plum. Full and viscous in the mouth, it delivers suggestions of orange peel on an aftertaste that’s both persistent and vinous without being heady. Northerly Pinots can be a bit frail: this is solid and expertly fashioned.

 

2017 BURGSTADT CENTGRAFENBERG SB (FRANKEN)

This possesses a glowing PN colour and rich aroma of blood orange, cinnamon (from the oak), cherry, and pomegranate. The flavour, reminiscent of plum jam, orange peel, and fig, measures up to this. The aftertaste is longish, quite weighty, and with grip. It’s good enough to prompt comparisons with a good Village from Burgundy’s Côte de Nuits and – with its ferruginous hint – more specifically of Gevrey. An impressive PN.

 

2017 OBERSTENFELD FORSTBERG SB (WURTTEMBERG)

A typical PN look: limpid but lustrous. The nose is round, expressive, and with depth, conjuring up black cherry, damson, and blackcurrant. I find myself thinking yet again of the Côte de Nuits. The flavour has good concentration, with the above traits underpinned by a suggestion of dark chocolate. This is a serious wine able to improve for quite a few years. Very good indeed.

 

2017 FELLBACH LAMMLER SB

Another well-coloured sample with a fine, expressive aroma with pronounced PN character: black cherry, sloe, redcurrant. These traits recur on the palate, with the addition of mint and blood orange. The crisp but harmonious acidity on the aftertaste lends vitality and definition to the finish. Another wine with real presence that demands to be held back for at least four years. An excellent wine.

 

© Frank Ward 2020

 

 
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