From €14.50, £16.60 (per bottle if you buy a case of 6), $29.99
As I mentioned in Justerini and Brooks's Germans earlier this week, this is not the first time that Benedikt Baltes has come to my attention. His Spätburgunders turned my head at the Weinbörse in 2015 with their energy, purity and structure. But it's been four years since I tasted his wines and I'd forgotten quite how much ready pleasure (and good value, when you look at the recent prices of certain other German wines!) his entry-level Pinot delivers.
Benedikt Baltes was born in 1984 in the wine village of Mayschoss in the Ahr Valley. His family have been grape growers for the local co-op for several generations, but Baltes had ambitions to make wine, so he took up an apprenticeship with J J Adeneuer in Ahrweiler, followed by stages in Austria, Hungary and Portugal. In between he did a degree in economics and got a certification as a viticulture and oenology technician in Bad Kreuznach an der Nahe. At the age of 26, he headed off in search of his own vineyard.
He found it, 240 km (150 m) from home, in Franken. The old municipal-owned winery, Stadt Klingenberg, established in 1912 and no longer in its heyday, was up for sale. Baltes bought it in 2010, along with its 10 ha (25 acre) of vineyards.
With incredible singleness of vision for a 26 year old, he made confident decisions about both preserving the old and traditional, and bringing about changes. Klingenberg is in the region of Churfranken, the 350-ha red-wine island of Franken, so it's Spätburgunder that Baltes is sticking with, nurturing the old vines on their stone terraces back to life. He introduced organic and biodynamic farming practices (the vineyards were certified for both in 2016), introduced sheep to mow the weeds, and the long-term aim is to establish permaculture as a more balanced approach to the more conventional monoculture of grape-growing. Everything is done by hand on the steep terraces, with Baltes estimating that it costs them about 2,500 man hours per hectare per year. His environmental and business ethics are uncompromisingly high.
The Klingenberg soils are mostly red sandstone (see above), which retains the heat necessary to ripen Pinot in this white-wine region. He uses no chemicals in the vineyard or winery, vinifies with ambient yeasts, ages his wine in neutral oak casks made from local forests, and doesn't filter.
The Buntsandstein Spätburgunder 2015 is so full of cherry-bright pizazz that you want to go out and find yourself a rumba. But despite being just 12.5% (oh for more wines right there), it's not a lightweight flibbertigibbet. There is that signature Baltes purity of fruit, and it has the slim, wiry structure of a professional jockey. Something meticulous about the finish makes you realise that this may be his entry-level wine but it's far from basic.
It would benefit from being served slightly cooler than the average red (pop it in an ice bucket or in the fridge for 10–15 minutes before serving) and is so refreshing that you could drink it by itself. Although my guess is that it would sit happily at the table with almost any food.
Justerinis are selling this 2015 for £70 per case of six in bond, which works out at £16.60 a bottle including taxes. You can also find it in Germany, Finland and courtesy of K&L in the US. The 2016 vintage is available in the Netherlands and in Denmark.
NB: In 2017 the winery name was changed from Stadt Klingenberg to Benedikt Baltes – the labels on the bottles change from vintage 2015 onwards.