Earthy and ripe. Some great Pinots.
Bernhard Huber (Malterdingen)
Bernhard Huber is held by many in Germany to be its finest Pinot Noir producer. He took over the family’s 5 hectares of vines in 1986. At that time the entire crop was sold to the local Winzergenossenschaft (Co-op). That gradually stopped in favour of producing and bottling everything himself. He has also gradually built up his vineyard holdings and today has 28 hectares.
He became obsessed with Spatburgunder and its history locally. There is a slope behind the winery in Malterdingen with a spread of vineyards, including his top vineyard, the Wildenstein, which is where the Cistercian monks first planted Pinot Noir in the area. He believed that it should be possible to make world class Pinot Noir here and set about doing just that. Until 2003 his top wine was a Reserve blend from all his best vineyards. We were delighted that Bernhard made some 2001 available to us. It is absolutely delicious. Also the Old Vines 2002. In 2003 he started bottling vineyards individually; Sommerhaide, Bienenberg, Schlossberg and from 2004 he also separated out the “Herzstuck” (the heart piece) and bottles this as Wildenstein Reserve.
June 2014 – We were saddened by the news that Bernhard Huber died on the 11th June. Bernhard achieved an enormous amount in his 55 years. He was held by many to be Germany’s finest red wine producer and was instrumental in putting German Pinot Noir firmly on the world stage. Our thoughts are with his family and colleagues in Baden.
Jurgen von der Mark (Bad Bellingen)
A German MW? A flying winemaker based in Baden? Welcome to the unusual world of Jurgen von der Mark. Stylish, modern, unfiltered Pinot Noir from 40 year-old vines just near Freiburg on the edge of the Black Forest. All his wines are certified organic from 2011. He calls his top two Pinots “song wines” – one is named “Imagine my Frustration”, referencing an Ella Fitzgerald song she performed in Stockholm in 1966, the other “Hey Jude” the Beatles song also performed by Ella in 1968. Why? Next time we see him we will ask.
Schloss Neuweier (Baden-Baden)
It was a tip from Reiner Flick. We were at a VDP tasting at the German Embassy. “Anything new we should taste here?” “Check out Schloss Neuweier. I’m hearing good things – the new guy’s going places.” He wasn’t wrong.
We made a diversion on our next trip to Germany, down to the outskirts of the spa town of Baden-Baden on the edge of the Black Forest. The sun was beginning to set as we arrived. The vineyard behind the Schloss was glowing gold – there’s a reason why one of Neuweier’s top vineyards is called Goldenes Loch (Golden Hole).
Robert Schatzle, complete with curly, almost Afro-style hair and a regional southern Baden accent, had only recently persuaded his family to move from the southern end of Baden, close to the Swiss border, up to the other. Schloss Neuweier has centuries of history. Its Mauerwein (Wall wine – from a terraced vineyard on the hill behind the castle) was another of Queen Victoria’s favourites. It had won an award at the International Exhibition of Philadelphia in 1876 and was on the airship Graf Zeppelin’s maiden flight. After consulting soil guru Claude Bourguignon, Robert went for it and the family moved. 2012 was his first full vintage.
Robert hasn’t appeared out of nowhere. He has put in time at serious wineries over the years – at Fritz Keller and Heger’s in Baden, across the Rhine in Alsace with Zind-Humbrecht and Marc Kreydenweiss, and in Bordeaux at La Tour de By.
Robert clearly knows what he’s doing. The first vintage was a success – the dry Rieslings are open, expressive with plenty of fresh acidity. “The acidity is interesting. The Riesling here is grown on granite soil. That’s very unusual. Other than one or two vineyards of Zind-Humbrecht’s, you rarely come across Riesling on granite.”
He has a couple of other secrets. Deep in the old cellar (and you have to squeeze behind the tanks to see it) is a seriously old rock. Robert had been told that it was a billion years old until a geological expert came down and put him right – it was only 700 million years old!
The other secret is a magic box. “You know sometimes the wine in one tank is troubled, jumbled-up and doesn’t taste right? Well, Tobias (my colleague) or I take a beaker from that tank and put it in this 8-sided box for 45 minutes. Then we pour it back into the difficult tank. Don’t ask me how it works but it tastes much better!”
Maybe there is some magic at play. Maybe it’s the rock, the granite, the magic box or the energy from the Heiligenstein (Holy Stone) at the other end of the village, from which a natural spring gushes. Whatever it is, it’s working!
High class Pinot Noir just off the Kaiserstuhl, close to the border with Alsace. Hans-Bert Espe and Silke Wolf met at Geisenheim, Germany’s top wine university and, after a stint in Oregon, started making their wine in a former Canadian Air Force bunker. Hence the name, Shelter Winery. Even though their output is miniscule, they quickly outgrew the space and were renting a corner of a friend’s new cellar while their own is being built. Their entry-level Spatburgunder is a big hit at The Winery.
Bercher-Schmidt are perched in the dramatic setting of the Kaiserstuhl, the “Emperor’s Throne”, a huge volcanic rock in the Rhine Valley between Alsace and the Black Forest. The bulldozers moved in during the 1970’s, increasing the terracing and more favourable exposure towards the sun – talk about Germanic efficiency! When we called, they said, “oh, we’re at a wedding then. But no problem, we’ll leave the reception for the meeting!” Beate Bercher is also an Artist and rarely rises before midday, unlike her husband Peter Schmidt. Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc), Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris) and Muskateller are the specialities here.
Franken, 2 or 3 hours drive east of Frankfurt, is all about the Bocksbeutel and Minerals. “Bocksbeutel” is the name of the funny squat bottles most Franken wines come in, said to be derived from a goat’s “sack” and dangerously reminiscent of a Mateus Rose bottle – but there the similarity ends; the contents could not be more different!
The difference (as everyone in Franken keeps saying) is all to do with minerals. 250 million years ago, the bright sandstone rock Franken now sits on was on the equator and 100 million years later, as the continental plates shifted northwards and outwards, became the predecessor of the Mediterranean, accumulating fossil-heavy chalk. These layers fan outwards, exposing their seven different geologies to widely scattered pockets of the Franken vineyards. With such well-travelled geology, it’s easy to see why these dry Rieslings explode with spicy minerals.
Bastian Hamdorf (Klingenberg) ORGANIC
“More Riesling please, Sabine!” It was July 2016 at (the sadly now defunct) Straubs Schone Aussicht in Klingenberg-am-Main, a hotel/restaurant with an outstanding wine list.
“Something local?” Yes, please. Furst-Lowenstein Kallmuth Riesling 2013 appeared. Yum. Made by the young and very talented Bastian Hamdorf. He’s no longer at Furst-Lowenstein and he has his own micro-winery with micro parcels totalling 1.5 hectares, just over the other side of the river in Klingenberg.
We arrived outside his house the following morning, the vineyard at the end of the street towering over the houses. Bastian’s winery is in the basement below his home. His garage is the “grape reception centre” and home for childrens toys.
Bastian Hamdorf. Micro-winery. Micro-production. Hardcore – every bottle is filled by hand.
What’s in the back garden, Bastian? Another of Bastian’s parcels of vines. A tiny Clos – an enclosed vineyard in his back garden. And who’s that working in the vines?
“That’s my wife’s mother Ingrid. Boss for canopy management.”
Bastian makes Riesling, Sylvaner, Spatburgunder and Portugieser.
Portugieser is a grape we rarely get excited about but Bastian’s, from 94 year-old vines, is quite simply the finest, densest, most fragrant Portugieser we have ever tasted!
Josef Walter (Burgstadt)
There was a sense of inevitability about us starting with Christoph Walter of Burgstadt. We had spotted a photo on Anne Krebiehl’s twitter feed almost simultaneously with an overnight in Michels Stern restaurant in Marktbreit in Franken. The enthusiastic and very helpful Stefan Michel guided us to one of Walter’s bottles. Verdict? Elegant, refined and a different style from other regions.
So it was inevitable that we would visit Franken twice in swift succession. Christoph has vines in the Burgstadter Centgrafenberg vineyard. His top wines are the “J” Centgrafenberg Spatburgunder Spatlese trockens. He also makes one from Fruhburgunder (Pinot Madeleine; the fickle, early-ripening relation of Pinot Noir). His wines age beautifully and we were delighted to scoop up some 2003s and 2004s.
It turns out that he’s a cousin of Paul Furst, the giant name of the area.
Graf von Schonborn/Schloss Hallburg (Hallburg)
The Graf von Schonborn has two wineries, one in Hattenheim in the Rheingau (Schloss Schonborn), the other in Hallburg in Franconia (Graf von Schonborn). We adore their vibrant dry Rieslings and Silvaners (the classic local white) fizzing with volcanic minerality.
The Schonborn family can trace its ancestry back to the 12th century. Their family members have acted as Bishops, Cardinals and Princes. Many were elected as ecclesiastical rulers in the Electorates of Mainz and Trier, and the Princely-Bishoprics of Speyer, Worms, Wurzburg and Bamberg. The family were responsible for some of the great Baroque buildings, an era which is referred to as “Schonbornzeit” – synonmyous with prosperity. They even had a fiefdom in Franken. The Schonborns were key players in the Holy Roman Empire until Napoleon dissolved it in 1806. Somehow they managed to cling onto their property in Franken. Their unprepossessing Schloss is referred to as their “secret castle”.
Their wines are classic Franken, expressing their roots and their volcanic geology. Estate manager Georg Hunnerkopf and winemaker Klaus Wagenbrenner make a wide range of dry Riesling, Silvaner, some experimental varietals and a top-of-the-range Spatburgunder. Some are bottled in the distinctive Bocksbeutel that we adore.
Fatter, rounder. Sometimes earthier. Much closer to France in style. Some standout growers.
Borell-Diehl (Hainfeld) VEGAN
Thomas and Annette Borrell-Diehl and their winemaking son Georg can trace their family history back to 1619. Their house is on a tight bend in the picturesque village of Hainfeld between Neustadt and Landau, on the Weinstrasse (Wine Street) that runs alongside the forest – the northern end of the Vosges.
Access into their house and winery was so tight that they recently built a new, larger cellar on the edge of the village. They have 32 hectares and, like many in the area, make a wide range of wines including Riesling, Weisser Burgunder (Pinot Blanc), Grauer Burgunder (Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigio) and Pinot Noir/Spatburgunder. They have multiple dry Riesling bottlings from different soils; Bundsandstein (colourful sandstone), Muschelkalk (chalk, thick with fossil deposits) and Schiefer (slate). Their entry-level dry Riesling, in litre bottles, is zesty and limey – a thirst quencher. The Weisser and Grauer Burgunders are creamy and broad.
The Pinot Noirs are fabulous.The Pinot Noir 2017 is made in 10-12 year-old big oak barrels, so there is no discernible presence of oak notes. Perfumed, expressive and intense. Their Kupperwolf (copper wolf) is from a single vineyard and raised in a new French oak barrique. All their Pinot Noirs spend 4-5 days soaking on their skins. There is some whole bunch fermentation, depending on the vintage.
Pfirmann (Wollmesheim/Landau) ORGANIC
We came across a Pfirmann Spatburgunder at Moro Moro, a restaurant attached to Daniel Nett’s Landhaus in Neustadt-Gimmeldingen.
Before taking over from his father Otto in 2000, Jurgen Pfirmann studied at Neustadt and Bad Kreuznach. He went to school with Karsten Peter, the young winemaking star at Gut Hermannsberg in the Nahe. Jurgen isn’t doing a bad job either!
He and his wife Sabine have delicious Spatburgunder/Pinot Noirs and a range of whites (more on these shortly).
The entry Spatburgunder is from 12 year-old vines, a combination of Mariafeld M1 and Freiburg Clones. Early picked for freshness, it spends 10 days on its skins and is raised in 3-8 year-old barrels.
The Kalkmergel Spatburgunder is from 10 year-old vines (the 777 clone from Morey-St-Denis) grown on chalk marl and raised in 2-3 year-old barrels. It has a gently autumnal nose and much more texture in the mouth.
We were also struck by the aromatic whites. An excellent, classic, exotic Gewurztraminer and a startling, dry Gelber Muskateller (yellow Muscat) – all lychees and spice.
Busy, busy, busy. Bernd Philippi, the estate’s energetic owner, and Axel Heinzmann, the cellarmaster, make one of the great dry Rieslings of the world from the Saumagen (sow’s stomach) vineyard outside Kallstadt towards the northern end of the region. They have all the dizzy, tropical notes of Pfalz Riesling along with the steel and presence of the finest dry Rieslings from Alsace, but with their own utterly distinctive character. Not one to sit still, Bernd has established new estates in Portugal and South Africa with well-known Rheingau grower Georg Breuer. Busy. Busy, busy. Got to go.
Region to watch. How can they make wine this far north? Klaus Zimmerling is the standout grower here.
Klaus Zimmerling (Dresden) ORGANIC
Sachsen (Saxony) is Germany’s easternmost wine-growing region and one of its smallest, with vineyards clustered to the northwest and east of Dresden. The region has tended to produce mouth-puckeringly sharp whites. Klaus Zimmerling has re-written the script with a combination of tiny yields (20hl/ha), organic viticulture and perilously late harvesting. Klaus lives and works in the eastern outskirts of Dresden with his wife, Malgorzata Chodakowska, a successful sculptress. Her sculpture features on the label and changes each year.
Without doubt, Klaus is the finest winemaker in Saxony.
They met hiking in the Polish Alps 30 years ago. Klaus, originally from Leipzig, gave up his engineering job and they moved in together in 1992. They started with 1.5 hectares across the small road below their house and over time have bought another 3 hectares up the hill at their rear. The vineyard is Pillnitzer Koniglicher Weinberg. He makes Riesling, Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris/Grigio), Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc/Bianco), Kerner (a crossing from 1929 by August Herold of Trollinger, the red grape, with Riesling), Spatburgunder (Pinot Noir, which he vinifies as a white wine and a zero dosage Sekt), Gewurztraminer, Traminer and Muskateller. His wines are striking; dense and concentrated.
A large region with a diversity of grapes and styles. Intriguing, distinctive reds. Some spicy whites.
The“Junges Schwaben”(Young Schwabians) are five young Wurttemberg growers, Jochen Beurer, Sven Ellwanger, Hans Hengerer, Rainer Wachtstetter and Jurgen Zipf, who recently took over from their parents and wanted to make better wine than the region was known for. With coaching from Stuttgart sommelier-turned-wine-merchant Bernd Kreis and early encouragement from highly-regarded boutique grower Albrecht Schwegler and journalists like Stuart Pigott the group is poised for wider recognition – we were the first to export their wines.
Jochen Beurer (Stetten)
Riesling from unlikely sounding wine country, the outskirts of Stuttgart. Made by former European BMX Champion Jochen Beurer. Jochen is one of the “Junges Schwaben” group and makes deep, lees-textured Riesling, mainly from the Pulvermacher (Powdermaker) vineyard above his home village of Stetten.
Albrecht Schwegler (Korb)
Local legend Albrecht set up this boutique winery with his wife Andrea outside Stuttgart, where he also runs his specialised machine parts business. With only 1.2ha of vines, a range of Lemberger, Zweigelt, Merlot and Regent, they don’t make much wine, but absolutely everything is done by hand.