For sure, Riesling is Germany’s most well-known wine, but Spätburgunder (aka Pinot Noir) is quietly catching up.
Wine expert Joel Payne, nicknamed Mr German Wine by Karl Bachmair from Bachmair Wines, recently guided a full house of sommeliers and media to taste nine fine Spätburgunder wines from five German wine regions.
Spätburgunder is nothing new in Germany. It was brought from Burgundy, France, and planted by monks as far back as the 4th century, although it was only first documented in the 14th century. However, because of poor ripening, the wine was hit-and-miss, and the majority was rosé rather than red wine. But things have changed in the past few decades. Climate change, clonal selection, improved viticultural practices and more experience in winemaking techniques have propelled Spätburgunder to today’s heights.
Germany offers different styles of Spätburgunder. Its climate is similar to Burgundy, and there is no shortage of Burgundian-style Spätburgunder. The 2015 Malterdinger from Weingut Bernhard Huber in Baden we tasted is a fine example.
Bernhard Huber began estate bottling in 1987 after he took control of the family’s vineyards and slowly increased plantings to around 26 hectares. His son, Julian, inherited the estate after his father passed away and continues Bernhard’s legacy. According to Payne, his wine is often mistaken by professionals, including respected French wine critic Michel Bettane, as Burgundy Pinot in blind tastings. Julian believes that small is beautiful and less is more. His goal is to only make Grand Cru Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
On the other end is the more international New World–style Pinot Noir. Contemporary winemakers age the wine in new-oak barriques (225 litres), resulting in fuller-bodied wine with more depth and structure. Weingut Philipp Kuhn 2015 Kirschgarten Grosses Gewächs is a fine example.
Germany consumes the most sparkling wine in the world. Spätburgunder also makes its way into sekt, Germany’s sparkling wine. The Raumland 2010 Pinot Prestige Brut Blanc de Noir from Rheinhessen spends a whopping 88 months on lees, is multidimensional and has layers of fruit, hints of brioche and smokiness supported by crisp acidity. It was voted the best German sekt in the 2018 Gault-Millau guide.
Baden and Pfalz, the two southernmost wine regions in Germany, have the most plantings of Pinot Noir, but the variety is also grown in Württemberg and Rheinhessen, as well as the warm pockets of Ahr and Nahe. Most people are not aware that Germany’s total planting area of Pinot Noir, at 11,784 hectares, ranks at third in the world after France and the USA – and is more than New Zealand and Australia combined.
So the next time you need a red wine to complement your German Riesling, look no further. Spätburgunder is not a hidden gem anymore. You can find it in Hong Kong at Bachmair Wines.
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