19 April 2018 We're republishing this 2011 tasting article free to complement today's account of a much more recent British assault on fine German Pinots. The tasting notes below look rather different from our usual format because the article was written before the redesign of our website. However, even though there is no link on the name of the wines, they can all be found in our 162,000-strong database of wine reviews.
31 October 2011 See also Revelling in Pinot.
Friday morning was great fun. Ten of us tasted blind 39 Pinot Noirs, almost half from Germany (a Schumacher Herxheimer 2009 failed to arrive), against the competition from elsewhere. This eagerly awaited taste-off (I had been receiving emails about it in advance from as far afield as Australia) was organised by the generic organisation Wines of Germany at the suggestion of Tim Atkin MW and Hamish Anderson, who buys wine for the Tate.
When they toured German wineries together earlier this year they were so impressed by the quality of Germany's new-wave Spätburgunder that they suggested this exercise, which was undertaken on a bright autumn morning in the private room of London's Texture restaurant, a popular hangout for sommeliers thirsty for Pinot Noir in another form, champagne.
It was Atkin and Anderson who chose the non-German Pinots. Tim explained to me that they decided to have three Pinots each from Burgundy, New Zealand, Oregon, California and Australia because they see them as 'the major players' and one from each of the 'good but less important players' Switzerland, Austria, Chile, Argentina and South Africa. 'I chose what I think is the best producer in each.' The most obvious criticism of this selection would be that the burgundies were too few and, arguably, too modest.
I believe that in many cases the producers were allowed to decide precisely which wine was tasted, and the organisers were thrilled to find that most producers were willing to donate the samples. Most of the wines were from 2009 and 2008 but the Burgundians were reluctant to show these two vintages – one too ripe and one too austere now perhaps? – and all three elected to show 2007s.
The German wines were chosen at a massive blind tasting in Germany undertaken by several high-profile German tasters, including wine writer Stephan Reinhardt, who also came to London for the final. Germany's wine producers were invited to submit wines for this pre-tasting so that in the end there were 400 to sift through. All the more remarkable then that Hanspeter Ziereisen of Baden, about whom we first wrote here in 2006, managed to have three wines, and Jean Stodden of the Ahr two, in the final 20 selected for the journey to London. (I suggested they should include Enderle & Moll, about whom Michael Schmidt was so enthusiastic in 2010 – a new star and others, but I think I may have been too late.)
You can see the group favourites and my rather more classical personal favourites as well as my tasting notes below, but my strongest overall impression was just how well the German wines held their own, and to ponder on the massive contrast between these very creditable, fully ripe, respectably coloured, generally well balanced red wines with the pale greyish pink liquids smelling of rot and stuffed full of added sugar that I remember as representing German red wines two or three decades ago. Subsequently, as everywhere else, vintners went through an unwise love affair with oak and alcohol and examples of Spätburgunder with too much of one or both abounded for a while, but clearly now German Spätburgunder is in its heyday. Most of the wines finished bone dry (sometimes a bit too much so) but only a small minority wore their oak too obviously.
I have heard it posited that German vintners are held back by the fact that the French coopers from whom they chiefly buy rarely send them their finest barrels. Indeed German wine writer Stephan Reinhardt was adamant that they need to forge closer links with their barrel suppliers. 'They all think they have the best French oak but I don't think so', he told me. Some Spätburgunder producers even use local German oak in preference to an under-seasoned French counterpart. It's true that I found a certain rather simple coffee aroma in some German wines (and one Australian!) and a vaguely coarse coconut aroma in a couple of Baden wines, aromas that I suspect were more closely related to oak than to fruit.
The colours varied enormously but the great majority of the wines finished appetisingly dry. At the end of the tasting, before I knew which wine was which, I was struck by the fact that it was not easy to discern which wines were German. In fact of the seven wines I thought seemed most obviously German, one was Californian, one Australian and one Swiss. And I found quite a number of German wines tasted burgundian. There were just a few disappointments over which Tim Atkin, sitting opposite me, looked a bit puzzled. At one point he shook his head and said, 'I don't remember choosing an Amarone.'
After the first round it turned out to be difficult to whittle the finalists down to fewer than 13, which we then re-tasted. As you can see, American Pinots managed to seduce the panel but I'm afraid I didn't like the overall winner, Terra Antica 2009 from Oregon, very much at all. Nor was I a huge fan of the Paringa from Mornington, Australia, which scraped in in thirteenth position. I also tended to score the burgundies higher than most other tasters, but I was very impressed by many of the Germans.
The Germans are hailing the overall results of the tasting as a great success for Germany. Since by the law of averages, German wines should have featured as almost half of the top wines, I'd say fielding seven of the top 13 is not an unqualified world-beating triumph – especially when you bear in mind that there were only three burgundies in the line-up, one of them a simple village wine. But the tasting certainly showed that German Pinot Noir, to borrow one of the late Robert Mondavi's favourite phrases, 'belongs in the company of the world's finest'. Once we have these tasting notes uploaded into the database, it will be easy to compare prices, which should be quite revealing.
Wines are listed below in the order they were served, in five flights of eight (or seven) initially, then one big flight of 13 from each second bottle – so there may have been some variation between those bottles. You will see that for the 13 wines that were re-tasted, I give my initial score on the top line and my score on re-tasting at the end of the tasting note for the retaste. It was notable how much some of these wines changed as they sat in the glass..
The first list of favourites is the ranking of the 13 wines that made it through to the second round when all 13 tasters' marks were taken into account. The second is my personal ranking, although it was a little difficult to know where to insert those wines such as the Huber, Hudelot-Noëllat and Eyrie that I really liked on first tasting but which didn't make it through to the second round, so I had the chance to taste only one bottle. German wines are in bold.
1 Antica Terra Pinot Noir 2009 Eola-Amity Hills, Oregon
2 Au Bon Climat, Isabelle Pinot Noir 2008 Santa Maria Valley, California
3 Thörle, Saulheimer Hölle Spätburgunder 2008 Rheinhessen, Germany
4 Rudolf Fürst, Bürgstadter Centgräfenberg Spätburgunder Grosses Gewächs 2009 Franken, Germany
5 Hanspeter Ziereisen, Jaspis Alte Reben Spätburgunder 2007 Deutscher Tafelwein Baden, Germany
6 Gutzler, Westhofener Morstein Spätburgunder Grosses Gewächs 2008 Rheinhessen, Germany
7 Hanspeter Ziereisen, Schulen Spätburgunder 2008 Baden, Germany
8 Felton Road, Block 5 Pinot Noir 2009 Otago, New Zealand
9 Jean Stodden, Alte Reben Spätburgunder 2009 Ahr, Germany
10 Heitlinger, Odenheimer Königsbecher Spätburgunder Grosse Lage 2009 Baden, Germany
11 Dom Dujac, Premier Cru 2007 Morey-St-Denis, Burgundy
12 Markowitsch, Reserve Pinot Noir 2009 Carnuntum, Austria
13 Paringa Pinot Noir 2009 Mornington Peninsula, Australia
1 Rudolf Fürst, Bürgstadter Centgräfenberg Spätburgunder Grosses Gewächs 2009 Franken, Germany
2 Gutzler, Westhofener Morstein Spätburgunder Grosses Gewächs 2008 Rheinhessen, Germany
3 Au Bon Climat, Isabelle Pinot Noir 2008 Santa Maria Valley, California
4 Hudelot Noëllat, Charmes Premier Cru 2007 Chambolle-Musigny, Burgundy
5 Dom Dujac, Premier Cru 2007 Morey-St-Denis, Burgundy
6 Jean Stodden, Alte Reben Spätburgunder 2009 Ahr, Germany
7 Eyrie Pinot Noir 2008 Dundee Hills, Oregon
8 Hanspeter Ziereisen, Jaspis Alte Reben Spätburgunder 2007 Deutscher Tafelwein Baden, Germany
9 Bernhard Huber, Hecklinger Schlossberg Spätburgunder Grosses Gewächs 2008 Baden, Germany
10 Hanspeter Ziereisen, Schulen Spätburgunder 2008 Baden, Germany
11 Felton Road, Block 5 Pinot Noir 2009 Otago, New Zealand
12 Markowitsch, Reserve Pinot Noir 2009 Carnuntum, Austria
13 Heitlinger, Odenheimer Königsbecher Spätburgunder Grosse Lage 2009 Baden, Germany
Chacra, Treinta y Dos Pinot Noir 2009 Río Negro, Argentina 16 Drink 2013-19
Deep purple. A bit coarse on the nose. Very youthful. Young, vibrant and a little obvious but very clean and pure. Sandy tannins, and very dry and savoury. Not subtle but creditable. Briary and uncompromising. Very long.
Hanspeter Ziereisen, Jaspis Alte Reben Spätburgunder 2007 Deutscher Tafelwein Baden, Germany 17 Drink 2015-25
At first: Lots of evolution. Light beetroot notes. Subtle and dry and acid on the finish. Not much charm. A bit tart and bone dry. Very much set for the long term in burgundian style. Delicate texture. Opened up delightfully in the glass.
Retaste: Crimson. Sweet and grassy and really quite green – German? Taut and refreshing. But not enough fruit on the mid palate. 15.5
Paringa Pinot Noir 2009 Mornington Peninsula, Australia 16 Drink 2013-18
At first: Very dark crimson. Strong liquorice notes – opulent New World style. Strange buckwheat notes. Very intense, sweet and quite alcoholic. Lots of work on the tannins has clearly been done but the Pinot flavours are not that pure.
Retaste: Bright crimson. Slight wet wool on the nose. Very full-on fruit – not subtle! 15.5
Eyrie Pinot Noir 2008 Dundee Hills, Oregon 17.5 Drink 2013-22
Absolutely pure bright ruby. Subtle in violets-and-mushroom idiom. Scented. Finishes dry. Very sincere wine. Screams honesty! Maybe just a bit too dry if I am to pick a nit?
Felton Road, Block 5 Pinot Noir 2009 Otago, New Zealand 17 Drink 2013-22
At first: Dark crimson. Very fine, heady and opulent on the nose. Lovely compact allure. Sweet start and beautifully sculpted. Reminds me a bit of a top Ata Rangi. Very complete, quite ready. Starts sweet, finishes dry. Long. Covers all bases.
Retaste: Very dark. Beetroot juice. Rather simple. Though I'm sure in a local context it's impressive… Very sweet and dense. 16
Stefan Meyer, Rohdter Rosengarten Spätburgunder 2008 Pfalz, Germany 16 Drink 2015-20
Bright crimson, quite pale. Low-key nose. Quite complex and developed on the nose. A hint of liquorice and the wood is quite drying. A little severe but bone dry in burgundian idiom. Just a bit brutal.
Seresin, Raupo Creek Single Vineyard Pinot Noir 2008 Marlborough, New Zealand 15.5 Drink 2014-19
Deep crimson with a pale rim. Very sweet and floral on the nose – very New World style. Briary and rather unsophisticated. Austere finish. And the acid sticks out a bit.
Rings, Freinsheimer Gottesacker Spätburgunder 2009 Pfalz, Germany 16 Drink 2012-17
Bright red with a pale rim and some evolution at it. Toasty, flattering, developed nose. Sweet and toasty and ultimately a bit unsophisticated. There's a lack of juice on the mid palate – overoaked? Some sweetness.
Meyer-Näkel, Dernauer Pfarrwingert Spätburgunder 2009 Ahr, Germany 15 Drink 2014-19
Purplish. Youthful, modern style – sort of Méo Camuzet! Fresh ripe fruit. A bit obviously oaky on the front palate. Sweet and spicy. Tannins and alcohol a bit too obvious.
By Farr, Tout Pres Geelong Pinot Noir 2008 Geelong, Australia 16 Drink 2013-19
Healthy, alluring ruby. Coffee/oaky notes on the nose – for the first time this is a wine that smells German to me! Although pretty funky too. Loose. Interesting. Lots of pleasure but not perfection. Quite hot. But lots of interest to lose yourself in. Then it turned a bit green in the glass.
Jean Stodden, Alte Reben Spätburgunder 2009 Ahr, Germany 18 Drink 2012-20
At first: Mid crimson. Pale rim. Complex, evolved bouquet already – one of the few. Sweet start. Non classic but a very good drink that – just – absorbs its alcohol. Masses of well balanced pleasure. Yummy.
Retaste: Real lift and savour with both full fruit and freshness. Very rewarding indeed, but maybe just a tad too alcoholic? Tiny bit formulaic. 17
Antica Terra Pinot Noir 2009 Eola-Amity Hills, Oregon 16 Drink 2012-17
At first: Bright, dense crimson. Rather tired, rhubarb fruit. Sweet bonbon notes on the palate. A bit simplistic. Juicy fruit though. Easy pleasure. Liquorice. Vibrant.
Retaste: Simple and embryonic and a bit coarse but well intentioned. 16
Heitlinger, Odenheimer Königsbecher Spätburgunder Grosse Lage 2009 Baden, Germany 17 Drink 2012-20
At first: Pale ruby. Subtle nose. Very alluring in a low key way. Great refreshment factor. Nothing showy about this. Maybe just a hint of greenness and coffee-flavoured oak…? Very well mannered. Super digestible.
Retaste: Purple and simple and raw. Slightly fizzy. 15.5
H Schlumberger, Laufener Altenberg Wingerte Spätburgunder Grosses Gewächs 2008 Baden, Germany 16.5 Drink 2013-20
Rather coarse coconut oak notes on the nose. But it finishes dry. Very delicate, nervy balance. A transparent wine into which an enormous amount of effort has obviously gone. Sinewy. Dry finish. Impressive intensity. Vibrates on the finish.
Hirsch, San Andreas Pinot Noir 2009 Sonoma Coast, California 15 Drink 2011-18
Crimson. Rather simple fermented fruit gums nose. Plus oak. Not integrated, though not too sweet. Leathery effect on the palate. Bit sour on the finish.
Bürgerspital, Veitshöchheimer Sonnenschein R Spätburgunder 2009 Franken, Germany 15.5 Drink 2010-14
Pale ruby with lots of evolution. Light rosy bouquet and rather obviously sweet on the palate. German? Not quite enough fruit in the middle.
Viña Leyda, Lot 21 Pinot Noir 2008 Leyda Valley, Chile 14.5 Drink 2012-19
Dark crimson with purplish streak. Wild beetroot reduction nose. Sweet and exaggerated. No subtlety or charm. Hot finish. Green note.
Kaiserstühler Winzerverein Oberrotweil, Oberrotweiler Riserva Spätburgunder 2009 Baden, Germany 15.5 Drink 2013-19
Purple and blueish. Wild herbs on the nose. Pretty tart and simple at this stage but it is lively. No undertow of subtlety – yet. Very demanding on the finish. Bone dry.
Dom Dujac, Premier Cru 2007 Morey-St-Denis, Burgundy 17.5 Drink 2014-22
At first: Transparent ruby. Subtly shaded. Gamey nose. Lots of fruit and sweetness. Rather charming and gentle. Not rich but very nicely balanced. Long and complete. The oak is just a bit jagged.
Retaste: Gorgeous rich evolution with some liquorice. Lots of hedonistic pleasure – just a bit dry on the finish at the moment. 17.5
Kopp, R1 Spätburgunder 2009 Baden, Germany 16.5 Drink 2012-19
Purplish crimson with some development and then that coconut note as in the H Schlumberger (also Baden) again. Rather coarse coffee grounds and sweetness – caricature German? – but lots of pleasure.
Wageck Pfaffmann/Rings, Cuvée Spätburgunder 2009 Deutscher Tafelwein Pfalz, Germany 15.5 Drink 2013-18
The best Pinot from these two wineries combined. Bright crimson. Rather raw and undeveloped. Monolithic, without the subtlety of Pinot but a pure ambitious drink. Just a little sweetness. A bit hot on the end.
Gutzler, Westhofener Morstein Spätburgunder Grosses Gewächs 2008 Rheinhessen, Germany 18 Drink 2011-16
At first: Mild light ruby. Lots of delicate development here. Transparent and not that much further to go but a delightful well balanced drink. Mellifluous. Long.
Retaste: Racy but a bit too open and unsafe perhaps. Gracious though just a bit of dust on the end . German? Very good! Bit of sweet alcohol on the end. 17.5
Domaine Drouhin, Cuvée Laurène Pinot Noir 2008 Dundee Hills, Oregon 16 Drink 2012-18
Mid crimson. Opulent sweetness. Lots of richness and sweetness. Drying tannins plus acidity on the finish. Sinewy finish. Very youthful but very ambitious.
Au Bon Climat, Isabelle Pinot Noir 2008 Santa Maria Valley, California 18 Drink 2011-18
At first: Glowing ruby. With lots of development. Candified but rather agreeably so! Thick and dusty and full of pleasure. Really lively and vibrant. Could be German? There's a beginning, middle and end to this luscious, persistent wine. Properly Pinot.
Retaste: Open, sweet and easy. Complete non classic. Perhaps the cinnamon note is a little too obvious? 17.5
Jean Stodden, Neuenahrer Sonnenberg Spätburgunder Grosses Gewächs 2009 Ahr, Germany 15 Drink 2013-17
Mid crimson. Slight grey streak. Sweet violets and mushrooms. A bit coarse and brutal. Poor old Pinot is submerged in winemaking formulae here! Gawky.
Escarpment, Te Rehua Pinot Noir 2009 Martinborough, New Zealand 14 Drink 2013-16
Exceptionally dark crimson. Volatile. Coarse and overdone. Brutal oak.
Rudolf Fürst, Bürgstadter Centgräfenberg Spätburgunder Grosses Gewächs 2009 Franken, Germany 18.5 Drink 2013-20
First taste: This was the only bottle over which there was concern in some quarters over slight TCA so, because we had only two bottles of each wine and would need the second for any taste-off, the second bottle was sampled by only two of us to check that this was indeed a fine wine. I loved it. Pale crimson. Light and subtle and fragrant. Fresh and racy. Very vibrant, delicate. Really racy!!! Long, beautiful texture.
Retaste: Lovely lift and harmony. On the edge of cleanliness but so pure and gorgeous! Bone dry finish but layers. The most delicate wine here. 18.5
Bouchard Finlayson, Galpin Peak Tête de Cuvée Pinot Noir 2009 Walker Bay, South Africa 14 Drink 2012-16
Very dark crimson. Sweet and porty. This is blackcurrant syrup/summer pudding juice not Pinot Noir! Painful to taste. Exaggerated.
Meyer-Näkel, Walporzheimer Kräuterberg Spätburgunder Grosses Gewächs 2009 Ahr, Germany 14 Drink 2012-15
Darkish crimson. Sweet and violets and possibly German on the nose. Very sweet. Horribly caricature sweet, strong red wine.
Hanspeter Ziereisen, Schulen Spätburgunder 2008 Baden, Germany 17 Drink 2015-22
At first: Pale crimson. Very tart and demanding. But there is delicacy here. Very burgundian. Should develop well even if it is not charming at the moment.
Retaste: Purple. Sweet, harmonious though a little dull, well mannered. Dusty 16.5
10 Minutes by Tractor, McCutcheon Pinot Noir 2009 Mornington Peninsula, Australia 14.5 Drink 2012-16
Looks quite evolved. Sweet eucalyptus nose! Australian? A bit stewed. Very distinctive. Not very Pinot.
Bernhard Huber, Hecklinger Schlossberg Spätburgunder Grosses Gewächs 2008 Baden, Germany 17 Drink 2012-19
Bright ruby. Lively and fresh. Tension; what Pinot is all about, though just a tad stodgy on the finish.
Gantenbein, Pinot Noir 2008 Graubünden, Switzerland 16.5 Drink 2013-18
Mid crimson. Bit sweet and soupy on the nose. Very sweet start. German? Bit alcoholic on the end. Nothing to object to but not the finest. Good fruit though. Just a bit alcoholic.
Hudelot-Noëllat, Charmes Premier Cru 2007 Chambolle-Musigny, Burgundy 18+ Drink 2016-26
Very transparent ruby. Sweet and a tiny bit fungal. Lots of layers and interest here. Grand cru density. Still very young but this is alive and wild. Bone dry finish. Very long, very subtle.
Thörle, Saulheimer Hölle Spätburgunder 2008 Rheinhessen, Germany 15 Drink 2013-18
At first: Mid ruby. Sweet, coffee aromas, easy, flattering. Very sweet. Not pure and a bit confected with the oak and acid a bit jagged.
Retaste: Slightly heady, and dry on the end. Drying finish. 16
Saintsbury, Brown Ranch Pinot Noir 2008 Carneros, California 14.5 Drink 2013-16
Dark crimson. Sweet, occluded. Rather too much like a bonbon. Harsh alcohol and tannins. Does not belong in the elite. Not refreshing.
Markowitsch, Reserve Pinot Noir 2009 Carnuntum, Austria 17 Drink 2013-20
At first: Mid crimson. Rich yet savoury. Non classic but lots of pleasure and great balance, Richer and denser than most. But nothing exaggerated – apart perhaps from the oak. Long and rich, though very dry on the end.
Retaste: Deep crimson. Dry. Drying finish, strong on concentration but not on charm. 16
Hanspeter Zeireisen, Jaspis Alte Reben Spätburgunder 2008 Baden, Germany 16 Drink 2012-17
Hint of beetroot. Light and green. Lively. But a bit austere. Could well be burgundy!
Dom Fourrier 2007 Gevrey- Chambertin, Burgundy 16.5 Drink 2014-19
Rich, healthy crimson. Hints of herbs and jam. Just a tad clumsy but lots of fine intent here, A bit dry. Needs more juice.