The SOMM Journal

August / September 2015

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{ }  99 to be a "quirky niche" as an explanation for his indifference. "I always knew these wines were special" said Winkler, acknowledging that her German heritage provided her an intrinsic interest in them, "but I believe that not many American sommeliers have been introduced to these wines, which is a problem." Several factors contributed to Spätburgunder's lagging international acclaim. Prices are high (few sub-$20 deals exist), production is low, and domestic drinkers swallow most of what the coun- try bottles. Explained Strong, "There are some great German Pinots available, but at higher price points. And we've lacked access to the finest examples." Contemporary winemakers have endured growing pains, both in market interest and stylistic evolutions. Once upon a time, when nobility still slumbered in those Cinderella palaces, Mosel Riesling commanded prices equal to Burgundy. German wines fell out of favor in the tur- bulent 20th century after two devastating wars, and the Liebfraumilch debacle (the insipid, sugary, mass-market white that tainted consumers' perception of Teutonic wines). Tack on inconsistency in styles vacillating between the overly austere to the overly-oaked, and the country had a recipe for global obscurity. But the last decade has delivered an impressive reversal in Germany's vinous fortunes. Pinot producers finally hit a stylis- tic sweet spot, finding balance between fruit and oak, undeniably aided by riper grapes. Pinot plantings have increased 200 percent since the '80s, and while the wines are far from cheap, they are within reach for Pinot- philes whose wallets can no longer afford the out-of-touch costs of Burgundy. Lovers of vivid cherry and blackberry flavors, nervy acidity and the Old World's hallmark earthi- ness will easily fall for Deutschland's top red—when they can find it. Regional Primer A small, northern region, Ahr produces mostly red wines, with Pinot accounting for 60 percent. Many of these are impressive, expensive examples grown on slate in steep, terraced vineyards. For $33, the Meyer-Nakel Estate 2013 Spätburgunder stood out to Strong for its "intriguing angry cherry" char- acter, while Winkler appreciated she could "taste the cool climate in this wine." Cistercian monks from Vougeot brought Pinot to Rheingau in 1107. The moderat- ing influence of the Rhine contributes to the near-Mediterranean climate, although recent harvests have seen shifting tem- peratures and weather patterns—trou- bling for delicate Riesling, but beneficial to Rheingau's fuller-bodied, velvety Pinots. The silky, floral Carl Ehrhard 2012 Spätburgunder Trocken, Rudesheimer Kirchenpfad, which Strong likened imme- diately to Burgundy, blew away our tasting group with its $24 price tag. Franken, a large area long associated with Sylvaner, produces Bavaria's most masculine Pinots. Weingut Rudolf Fürst is the producer to find; his Spätburgunder vines thrive in red sandstone soils. Rheinhessen, the largest wine region in Germany, has finally shed its negative association with Liebfraumilch, a turnabout led over a decade ago by young, innovative producers focused on top-quality wine. Pinots range from soft and approach- able to deep and complex. A celebrated producer of the latter is Weingut Keller. Elegant and arresting, the 2009 Bürgel, tasted from a $200 magnum, attested to Germany's ability to compete head-to- head with Burgundy's best. Considered an agricultural paradise, Pfalz is Germany's second largest wine region. Two wines stood out in our tasting: one for value, the other for its perfume and freshness. Winkler pronounced the approachable Villa Wolf 2012 a "perfect porch pounder" at $15. For $42, the Becker 2011 "B" Estate Spätburgunder, from a property known for its limestone and marl soils, delivered brisk acidity, aro- matic dark fruits, and a touch of minerality. Vineyards, orchards, and forest compose the hilly countryside of Württemberg, a premier red wine region. The $42 Schnaitmann 2012 "Young Vines" impressed with its intense savory char- acter ; Strong liked its "attractive, if unripe, strawberry fruit" profile. Baden, in Germany's southwest corner, accounts for more than half of the coun- try's Pinot Noir; top examples come from the Kaiserstuhl district's perfect climatic eco-system and volcanic soils. Bernhard Huber, the Spätburgunder wizard of Malterdingen according to Jancis Robinson, recently passed away, but his wines, derived from shale limestone mirroring the Côte d'Or, will live long in cellars. Exemplifying as much at $103, the 2010 "R" GG Bienenberg delivered a dense, umami-led wine that Strong and Winkler concurred tasted of future greatness. A great value, the 2012 Tschuppen Ziereisen at $24, also landed among out top choices. Top Wines Meyer-Nakel Estate 2013 Spätburgunder ($33) RUDI WIEST Carl Ehrhard 2012 Spätburgunder Trocken, Rudesheimer Kirchenpfad ($24) SAVIO SOARES SELECTIONS Weingut Keller 2009 Burgel ($200/ magnum) MOORE BROS. Becker 2011 "B" Estate Spätburgunder ($42) RUDI WIEST Villa Wolf 2012 Spätburgunder ($15) LOOSEN BROS. USA Schnaitmann 2012 "Young Vines" Spätburgunder ($42) RUDI WIEST 2010 Huber "R" Spätburgunder GG Bienenberg ($103) VALCKENBERG Ziereise 2012 Tschuppen Spätburgunder ($24) SAVIO SOARES SELECTIONS Aureole Wine Director Carrie Lyn Strong hosted the tasting. Doreen Winkler, founder and President of Diamond Sommelier Services.

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