Beyond Burgundy: Europe's Other Fine Wine Region for Pinot Noir

By Gavin Smith

Feb 5th, 2020

F+R have sourced a parcel of some of the finest Pinot Noirs coming out of Germany, a diverse region that is today arguably producing the most exciting Pinot Noirs in Europe, outside of Burgundy. Top examples are world class and offer both similarities and important differences to the Cote d’Or.

We arranged a tasting of some of the top picks including Jean Stodden, Klaus Peter Keller, Bernhard Huber and Dr. Heger. The variety on offer just from these handful of wines showed the incredible potential of the region for top Pinot production. With Pinot’s inherent ability to express terroir we found a huge range in structure and flavor profiles from different single vineyard sites. 

Prior to our mixed case offer of these top producers out next week, the tasting helped us map out the different terroirs in Germany as well as the typical profiles of these top producers.

 

With such rich diversity in soils, climate and clones throughout the Pinot growing regions of Germany, there is plenty to discover, from the cooler climate, slate soils of Ahr to the richer, more opulent Pinots of Baden. Pinot Noir’s amazing ability to express terroir is the perfect vehicle for the variety and nuance to be had from the top sites in Germany, which are dotted all around the fine wine regions of Germany including Mosel, Ahr, Franken, Rheingau, Rheinhessen, Baden and beyond.

 

 

In the last 20 years there has been a quality revolution in Germany, specifically with Pinot Noir production, buoyed by the ever-increasing demand for Burgundy and the intrinsic connections the Germans have with their contemporaries in Burgundy. Many producers have strong links with the Cote d’Or either having worked extensively in the region or from forging long-term friendships with some of the top growers. Between the two regions there has been a real sharing of knowledge from viticultural to winemaking techniques, exploring the variations and nuance created by the distinct soils and the mix of both German and Burgundian clones being used today in Germany. 

The recent trends in Pinot Noir production with a move towards earlier picking, less extraction and a reduction in oak have helped further promote the diversity of styles found throughout the German Pinot regions and allowed the top producers to really shine in recent years.

Critics throughout the world have been praising the results coming out from the top producers of Germany. This Pinot Noir Revolution gripping Germany is well worth getting excited about and we are thrilled to be able to offer a range of some of the finest examples.

 

Top Producers

Jean Stodden – Ahr

One of the longest running wineries in Germany, the Jean Stodden estate has been producing wine in Ahr since 1578. The wines are unique thanks to their very specific terroir and incredibly cool climate and this shows in spades throughout their range of wines, producing beguiling ethereal examples that are quite unlike Burgundy but distinctly European.

This really is cool climate Pinot, with vineyards located 50km north of Mosel. The wines only reach ripeness thanks to the steep south facing slopes grown on slate soils that retain the heat in the vineyard. The Estate has just 6.5 hectares of vineyards. This soil type, steepness and slate soil offers a completely different style of Pinot Noir compared to the Cote d’Or.

On tasting, the wines have an incredible line of acidity running through them, distinctly more marked than Burgundy. There is amazing contrast here too. Tasting the Sonnenburg Grand Cru alongside the Monchberg, these wines have completely different personalities, the Sonnenburg is incredibly linear and focused on the palate with great precision and pitch. The fruit is delicate and uber-fresh - sappy cranberry, wild strawberry and earthy rhubarb flavours. This is one for all the acid heads.

The Monchberg really is outstanding, and certainly worthy of Grand Cru status anywhere in the world. Incredibly compact with tons going on. The spectrum of fruit goes from fresh red fruit right through to meatier, savoury tones. The mid palate is striking – weighty and viscous yet still has such delicacy and finesse. The length and breadth of the wine is extraordinary and the contrast of the wine shows real terroir in action. This wine is not cheap but its is stunning.

Both wines have quite a different tone to Burgundy but are full of European etherealism. If you can find it, the Monchberg is one not to miss. World-Class!

 

Key Wines:

-          Jean Stodden Spatburgunder Herernberg Grosses Gewachs (GG)

-          Jean Stodden include Hardtberg Spatburgunder GG

-          Mayschoss Monchberg Spatburgunder GG

-          Neuenahrer Sonnenburg Spatburgunder GG

 

What the Critics Say

o   2016 – “From their home village Rech, Stodden's 2016 Recher Herrenberg Spätburgunder GG shows a ruby-garnet color and an aroma of pure, fine slate but warm, ripe fruit. Lush and intense on the palate, this is a full-bodied, quite powerful and intense Pinot with a lingering juiciness and spicy slate flavor. The 2016 is still very young, but its potential is enormous. Tasted during the preview of the GG wines in Wiesbaden in August 2018. (93 Points, Stephan Reinhardt, Wine Advocate)

 

o   2016 – “Alexander Stodden's 2016 Neuenahrer Sonnenberg Spätburgunder GG is brighter in color than J.J. Adenauer's Sonnenberg and shows a very ripe, slightly caramelly yet pure and slatey bouquet with remarkable precision. Sweet, round and elegant on the palate, this is an intense and refined Pinot Noir with good concentration, remarkable length and a tight finish. This 2016 is excellent, but it needs time.” (91+ Points, Stephan Reinhardt, Wine Advocate)

 

Markus Molitor - Mosel

Starting from practically nothing in the early 1980s, Markus Molitor has rapidly grown into one of the world's most respected winemakers, with a list of accolades including Rising Star of the Year 1999 from Gault & Millau, Winemaker of the Year 2014 from Falstaff and raft of huge critic scores. He is also the proud owner of over sixty hectares of prime real estate that Mosel Fine Wines - an independent review of Mosel Riesling - describe as a *"who's who of Grand Cru between Erden to Bernkastel and the Southern Saar."

Molitor, like all producers in the Mosel, is most well known for his Rieslings, with Pinot Noir just making up 4% of his plantings. However, his top Pinot Noirs are becoming as collectible and as respected as his whites and are rated amongst the finest in the world. He produces seven different Pinot Noir cuvees in total.

“Try the most "simple" Pinot Noir Molitor is bottling and you are already in the upper class of German Pinot Noir. His three starred Pinots are mind-blowing and can compete with prestigious Grands Crus from Burgundy.” – Stephan Reinhardt, RobertParker.com

 

Key wines:

·         Trarbacher Schlossberg***

·         Brauneberger Klostergarten***

·         Graacher Himmelreich***

 

 

 

K.P. Keller – Rheinhessen

Alongside Egon Muller, Klaus-Peter Keller’s wines are the world's most collected and prized wines coming from Germany, famously quoted by Jancis Robinson his Riesling has been described as the Montrachet of Germany. Whilst his Rieslings initially brought so much international fame to the winery, his Pinot Noirs today also have a strong following. His 16 hectares of vines are predominantly made up of Riesling plantings but he has a Grand Cru site for his Dalsheim Spatburgunder grown on the Burgel Grosses Gewachs site. This Grand Cru has a specific shell limestone soil more suitable for Pinot Noir than Riesling production. Yields are minuscule with each vine reduced to just two bunches of grapes and each individual cluster further halved. Klaus believes this helps to increase the overall acidity allowing him to pick the grapes at full ripeness whilst retaining freshness. His global recognition in a region more famous for high yielding dirt cheap Liebfraumilch, has caused a quality revolution in Rheinhessen, with more producers following in his footsteps.

The Keller Pinots are genuinely impressive, the wines capture the beguiling Pinot fragrance and the finesse to the tannins are very close in style to top Burgundy. We tasted the Frauenberg Grand Cru, the last of Keller’s Pinot Noir vineyards to be harvested, being the coolest site and grown at altitude. The wine has tremendous stony minerality, very precise fruit clarity and is not without structure – think Clos de la Roche rather than Chambertin.

Key Wines

-          Dalsheimer Burgel Spatburgunder GG

-          Frauenberg Spatburgunder GG

-          Westhofen Morstein Felix Spatburgunder GG

 

What the Critics Say

-          Frauenberg Spatburgunder GG

o   2013 – “From French mass selections planted in 1996 and picked with 35 hectoliters per hectare, the 2013 Frauenberg Spätburgunder trocken GG has a clear and subtle yet aromatic bouquet of red and dark berries (raspberries, wild black berries, cassis), along with some flinty/smoky flavors. Intense, concentrated and firm on the palate, this is a full-bodied, powerful and firmly structured Pinot. It has a velvet texture, ripe and grippy tannins ,and a persistently sweet and concentrated flavor of ripe cherries and red fruit jelly in the finish. The wine has more power and body than the Bürge,l but also needs more time to develop. It's from a cooler and windier plot, and always the last Pinot harvested at Keller. The 2013 was aged in used barrels, whereas only the 2012 was still in new barrels until the malolactic fermentation was finished. (92 Points, Stephan Reinhardt, Wine Advocate)

o   2014 – “The 2014 Frauenberg Spätburgunder GG offers a ripe, yet precise, fresh, well-focused and rather coolish Pinot aroma; it shows some very discreet toast and mocha flavors highlighting the wild blackberry and dark cherry aromas. Full-bodied, ripe and concentrated on the palate, this is an intense and juicy, almost charming Pinot Noir from low yielding vines on limestone bedrock (21 hectoliters per hectare). The finish is intense and powerful, but well structured due to the stems on which the wine fermented for 21 days. The finish is almost sweet, due to the ripeness (a word rarely used 30 years ago in the higher altitudes of the Frauenberg), but is also very fresh and precise; whereas the ripe tannins give the required grip and structure. This is a promising wine with delicate fruit flavors, mineral freshness and probably more power than the Bürgel; but at least at this moment, it maybe has less transparency and finesse. (91-92 Points – Stephan Reinhardt, Wine Advocate).

 

 

Bernhard Huber – Baden

Bernhard Huber was seen as the German godfather of Pinot Noir and was one of the most instrumental vignerons to improve the region's reputation for the varietal. Working extensively with massal selection of clones, 10 – 15 different Pinot clones exist within one vineyard. Huber’s style has always been centred around creating a “nervosity” in his wines. The vineyards share a similar climate and limestone soils of the Cote d’Or.

 

The wines are distinctly smoky, meaty with both sweet cherry liqueur notes but also greenness too. The Sommerhalde Grand Cru however is a real step-up form the Alte Reben cuvee (made from declassified Grand Cru grapes). Even more impressive was the Bienenberg Grosse Gewachs. You certainly get more weight in these wines from Baden. The wines have rich broad textures on the palate and the tannins more velvety and sturdy than the wines of Keller and Stodden with have more finesse.

 

Key Wines:

-          Bernhard Huber Alte Reben Spatburgunder

-          Bernhard Huber Sommerhalde Spatburgunder GG

-          Bernhard Huber Malterdinger Bienenberg Spatburgunder “R”

 

What the Critics Say

o   2015 – “Cherry red and fresh in color, the 2015 Sommerhalde Spätburgunder GG has a pure, very elegant and rather floral bouquet of fresh red fruits. Still a bit reductive on the palate, this is an elegant, silky textured, fresh and fruity Pinot Noir with firm but fine tannins and a long, complex and pretty tight finish with reduced power. It is an impressive wine but the most closed of Huber's 2015 GG Pinot quartet at this early moment. Tasted in Wiesbaden, August 2017. (93 Points - Stephan Reinhardt, Wine Advocate)

 

-          Bernhard Huber Malterdinger Bienenberg Spatburgundr “R”

o   2015 – “Julian Huber's 2015 Bienenberg Spätburgunder GG shows a lovely, vital ruby red color and opens a bit reductive still, with a clear, fresh and well-defined bouquet of red fruits, crushed stones and spicy and floral aromas. It is a full-bodied, firm, fresh and finessed Pinot Noir with a serious tannin structure and persistent vitality. This is a terribly clear and precise Pinot, and the finish is really cleansing and stimulating. Tasted at the "VDP Grosses Gewächs" presentation in Wiesbaden, August 2017.” (92 Points - Stephan Reinhardt, Wine Advocate)

 

Weingut Dr. Heger – Baden

One of the more established domaines in Baden the winery has been in operation since 1935. Today run by Joachim Heger who was understudy to Helmut Donnhoff, the winery has never been in better shape, producing their unique expression of German Pinot Noir thanks to the distinct volcanic soil found in their two main Grand Cru sites of Winklerberg and Achkarrer Schlossberg.

The 2015s we tasted were stunning. Whilst perhaps less complex in terms of fragrance at least at this point, the palate has very fine textured tannins, tremendous finesse - there is so much elegance to these wines and so much freshness, the wines leave your mouth enlivened and salivating. Is this the effect of the volcanic soils? Whilst clearly European in style this is again very different to Pinot Noir from Burgundy but certainly as interesting and ethereal.

 

Key Wines:

·         Hausleboden Winklerberg Spatburgunder GG

·         Mimus Winklerberg Spatburgunder

·         Achkarrer Schlossberg Spatburgunder GG

·         Vorderer Winklerberg Spatburgunder GG

 

Rudolf Furst – Franken

These days this prolific estate is run by Paul Furst who has continued to make further improvements in their already world-renowned vineyards, further increasing the planting density and replacing German clone vines with Burgundian clones. The Estate comprises 20 hectares in total, of which 13 are planted on the Centrafenberg Vineyard in Burgstadter, one of the most celebrated vineyards in Germany. The site is made up of red sandstone, iron rich soils ideal for Pinot Noir production. He also produces a Pinot Noir on the very steep slopes of Schlossberg. Furst is famous for their tiny yields operating at ruthlessly low production levels in order to maximise quality.

Key Wines:

·         Centrafenberg Spatburgunder GG

·         Hundsruck Spatburgunder GG

·         Klingenberg Schlossberg Spatburgunder GG

 

What The Critics Say

-          Weingut Rudolf Furst Hundsruck Spatburgunder GG

o   The 2016 Hundsrück Spätburgunder GG is even more fine and spicy on the nose than the Centgrafenberg. The palate is lush and firm but also concentrated and very elegant, with remarkable finesse and aging potential. This is great German Spätburgunder, and I am looking forward to tasting it again with more time and more wine in my glass. Temporary score. Tasted in Wiesbaden in August 2018 (94-95 Points – Stephan Reinhardt

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