Why drink German Pinot? Pinot Noir, or “Spateburgunder” as it is known in Germany, is an incredibly versatile wine, ranging in styles from rich and juicy to light and spicy, and pairs extremely well with a large variety of foods. Pinot Noir is also a unique grape, in that much of its character comes from the climate and soil in which it is grown. It is the climate and soil of Germany, with its large variety of slate, sandstone, limestone, and tufa soils, which create a wide variety of Pinots with a style that can rival some of the best of Burgundy, or outclass California in richness and finesse.
Although there are Pinot Noir plantings all over Germany, there are four appellations most known for the Pinot they produce: Rheingau, Pfalz, Ahr, and Franken.
Known primarily for growing soft, peachy Riesling, Pinot Noir comes as a distant second in Rheingau, with a mere 10% of grape acreage being dedicated to the red grape. In the Western end of Rheingau around the city of Assmanshausen, lies the epicenter for Rheingau’s Pinot. August Kesseler, a wine grower in the Rheingau often referred to as the “Prince of Pinot,” produces the 2008 Kesseler Spatburgunder ($17.99). With flavors of dark berries and soy sauce and a lively acidity, this wine will pare well with Asian cuisine with tangy sauces, charred or seared chicken, and pork.
The second largest wine region in Germany, Pfalz, sits in the West of Germany with the Haardt Mountains separating Pfalz from Alsace, France. The climate is generally drier and warmer than the rest of Germany, allowing Pinot Noir to ripen more fully. The soil types in Pfalz are sparatic, with types ranging from sandstone and loam to limestone and granite, producing Pinots of many different styles. Friedrich Becker, one of the best up and coming Pinot Noir producers in Germany, produces a wide range of defining Spateburgunder. The 2009 Becker Estate Pinot Noir (available in store only), is rich with lively acidity, spice, and strawberry, while the 2007 Kammerberg Spatburgunder ($114.99) is incredibly rich and robust and can age in the cellar for over a decade. Both pinots are grown on limestone soils, giving the wines lively acidity and Burgundian characteristics.
The Ahr, one of the smallest appellations in Germany, is the most northerly red wine producing region in the world. Despite being so far north, the climate in the Ahr is actually warmer then the Mosel, in that the Ahr is surrounded by steep slopes of volcanic slate from Eifel Mountains which protect the grapes from cold winds and also retain warmth from the sun, allowing the grapes to ripen fully with sharp acidity. Although most Pinot from the Ahr is lighter in body and color the 2011 Meyer-Nakel “Blue Slate” ($49.99) is on the heavier side. With smoky minerality supporting luscious cherry and plum notes, this wine competes nicely with richer styles of Pinot from California. Meyer-Nakel is well-known in the area for the use of oak barriques, which lend their toasty spice aromatic notes and help make this complex Pinot age worthy.
Lastly, located in the center of Germany north of Pfalz, Franken is historically known for its beer and for its awkwardly shaped bocksbeutel bottles in which they bottle their outstanding sylvaner. That being said, some very excellent bottlings of Pinot are appearing in Franken, most notably the 2007 Rudolf Furst ‘R’ Spatburgunder, Centgrafenberg ($99.99). Planted on sandstone and limestone soils, Furst Spatburgunder is incredibly Burgundian in style, with many layers of spice, earth, and cherry fruit. It has spiney acidity when young, but will continue to develop and mature in bottle for eight to ten years.
Although Germany will always be associated with its excellent Rieslings, there are many excellent examples of classic wines to be found, if you are thorough or have a good guide. If you are shopping for something a little different (or, dare I say it, better!) than your everyday California Pinot and Red Burgundy, give Spatburgunder a shot.
Jimmy L., Beltramo’s Wine Consultant