October 15 2011 issue
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TASTING PANEL German Spätburgunders David Furer, CWE
Pinot Noirs from the past decade impress a Dallas panel.
Pinot Noir from Germany—called Spätburgunder, or “late (ripening) Burgundian”—is today the most widely planted and highest-quality red grape from this northern European dynamo, trailing only Riesling and the rapidly declining Müller-Thurgau in total acreage. Back in the 19th century, German plantings of red grapes actually exceeded those of whites. Admittedly, most were anemically flavored, low-alcohol drinks for everyday glugging in place of the more unsanitary water, but they at least offered diversity of color and flavor. The identification of excellent sites for Riesling, a cooling climate with the need for earlier-ripening varieties, and the advent of higher-yielding crosses swung the pendulum toward white grapes during the 20th century. But a combination of increased consumer interest in imported red wines starting in the 1970s, climate change beginning in the 1990s, and ongoing viticultural advances has prompted a recent surge in red-grape plantings.
On a rainy “root” day in August, I convened five panelists at The Commissary restaurant and wine bar in Dallas: its wine director, Scott Barber; Michael Flynn, director of wine and beverage at Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek; Hunter Hammett, CSW, wine director at Pyramid Restaurant & Bar at the Fairmont Hotel; Marcy Jimenez, general manager of Houston Wine Merchant; and Greg Randle, proprietor of the Good Taste Report. In selecting Spätburgunders for this tasting, I relied on my background living in and visiting Germany, including considerable time spent working at wineries, to solicit not only the best producers, but a range of vintages that would demonstrate these wines’ aging capability. I also consulted one of Germany’s most informed wine critics, Gerhard “Mondo” Eichelmann, as well as the German Wine Institute’s New York office. The 22 wines were grouped by increasing age into six blind flights; the panelists took note of their ageability, overall quality, and perceived value while ranking them on Sommelier Journal’s 20-point scale. As usual, I asked them to place more emphasis on the discussion following the tasting than on their scoring.
All expressed appreciation for the wines’ diversity, “a rollercoaster of varietally correct Pinot Noir,” according to Hammett, who added: “They’re not only ‘Old World,’ but trying new things.” Barber observed a relatively high level of oak, wishing “the terroir would define it more.” For Flynn, the wood “was a little too far,” but “the older vintages showed deeper colors”—something he thought counterintuitive for this famously thin-skinned grape.
Jimenez, the panel’s only retailer, was “not shocked by the difference” among these wines. “High-quality Rieslings and red Burgundies are both very personal and express remarkable individual differences,” she observed, “so why not German Pinot Noirs?” As for pricing, restaurant consultant Randle said, “The good ones have, to date, been overpriced,” though he added that “there’s five or six here I’d be proud to list.” The following are representative comments on each wine in order of their rankings in the accompanying “snapshot” graph.
2007 Dr. Heger Achkarrer Schlossberg Grosses Gewächs, Baden
By far the panelists’ favorite, this Baden Spätburgunder seemed to check all the boxes for outstanding Pinot Noir.
Barber: My wine of the tasting—world class—and the first one that screamed Burgundy. Black truffle, minerality.
Flynn: Great charm and balance of fruit versus earth and wood. Great complexity, with a beautiful violet note and vanilla-bean sweetness on the finish.
Randle: Slight volatile acidity, which I was OK with, reminiscent of a good Burgundy; dehydrated scrambled eggs. My winner of the tasting.
Jimenez: I had a hard time with the fruit, which smelled like rotting strawberries. I liked it as if it were healthy compost. The length of the palate was amazing—subtle spice and a coffee note at the end.
Hammett: Farmyard, stewed vegetables; full-bodied, balanced; spectacular, ripe strawberry; and an impressive, opulent finish. What’s not to love about this?
2004 Gerhard Aldinger Untertürkheimer Gips, Württemberg
Keuper soils aren’t generally considered classic for this variety, but the Aldinger earned kudos for its complexity, consistency, balance, and length.
Jimenez: Strawberry, blueberry, rhubarb, pastry-dough, and brown-spice aromas and palate. Amazing balance. Yum! Long-finishing—meaty and fruity.
Flynn: Perfumed, ripe, and expressive, with Bing cherry and pastille aromas. Soft, enveloping tannins help a gently gripping finish.
Hammett: Blueberry, rhubarb, and creamy aromas. A deep and juicy style, which is consistent nose to palate, yet is not really characteristic of Pinot Noir.
Barber: Dark ruby. Blackberry-pie, bacon, and smoky aromas reminiscent of Côte-Rôtie, and a booming bass note. Deep, majestic, with a long finish.
2005 Knipser Mergelweg, Pfalz
The Knipser brothers were early advocates of oak aging. Most of the time, as with this and their other wine in the lineup, it seems to have worked.
Barber: Dark crimson. Dried Bing cherry, rose petals, and mushrooms, indicating this may have peaked.
Randle: Closed at first, with fruit coming later, along with lots of cola notes. A straight shooter.
Hammett: New-tooled leather, graphite, and sulfur aromas, but lacking finesse.
Jimenez: Youthful appearance and a spicy nose. Soft, minerally fruit hinting at dried berries, and an acidic flash that quickly dies.
2008 Jean Stodden Herrenberg Grosses Gewächs, Ahr
Wines from this stalwart of the Pinot Noir-dominated Ahr Valley have always perplexed me; our panelists’ scores may have reflected similar confusion in their divergence.
Flynn: Foursquare, with screamingly high acidity, red fruits, and cinnamon.
Hammett: Bright citrus fruits, ripe strawberry, medium body, spicy finesse, high acid, but unbalanced alcohol.
Jimenez: Musty aromas of dried strawberry and cinnamon. Cherry with a bit of vanilla and unripe strawberry, later spicy. Alcohol is a bit high, but it’s still fun.
Randle: Balanced and uncomplicated at first, but with alcohol that dominates later.
2001 Bernhard Huber Reserve, Baden
Nearly a decade old, Huber’s top-level, extended-lees-aged offering, a blend of five Kaiserstuhl vineyard sites, impressed the judges with its style.
Randle: Clear, mushroomy aromas. Could use more midpalate, but still I liked it.
Barber: Dark crimson. Black-cherry, Asian-spice, and sassafras notes with polished tannins; firm acidity; and a long, vinous finish.
Jimenez: An aged, pale appearance. Herbal, mineral, floral aromas, with a juicy, tomato-like palate. A mineral kick comes later, but without fruit persistence. Good structure, but over the hill.
Flynn: Elegant, balanced, sappy, and long. A middleweight wine with a sense of style.
2007 Franz Keller Franz Anton, Baden
This leading southwest German producer also runs one of the country’s finest restaurants at its Schwarzer Adler hotel.
Hammett: Cinnamon-nutmeg-spiced, with a rich, weighty red-fruit structure.
Barber: Red and blue fruit; ripe Dr Pepper aromas. Nice minerality, with a linear finish. Friendly and fun.
Randle: Light-salmon rim. Burnt cinnamon with wood and tannins standing out. Cola and unripe blueberries, cherry, cranberry; well made, but kind of “blah.” A crossover wine with no finish.
Flynn: Pale, with a woody nose. Extracted, but lacked focus. Tannins kept it from having a juicy finish.
2008 Dautel “S,” Württemberg
Father-and-son team Ernst and Christian Dautel are red-wine pioneers in this region; the “S” is their top Pinot Noir.
Jimenez: The nose had a black-fruit character, but was secondary to the dried-meat, mint, and tea-leaf notes. The tannins were gripping and the acid balanced. Beef jerky on the finish. I liked it.
Barber: Macerated-cherry, strawberry, cola, Asian-spice aromas, with grippy tannins. I liked it, but I think it needs more time in the bottle—a big, structured wine.
Randle: Tasted scabby, like dried blood. Good mouthfeel, with medium-plus acidity and alcohol like that of Carneros in its fullness.
Hammett: A suggestively dense, fatter, richer style, letting me know I’d be in for a ride. Sweet strawberry, red plum, wet leaf, with an unfortunately dull finish.
Flynn: It came off somewhat flat, with a muted, earthy nose and restrained palate, ripe acidity, and incipient fruit.
2008 Gerhard Aldinger Untertürkheimer Gips Grosses Gewächs, Württemberg
Gert Aldinger and sons own some of the finest sites in the Stuttgart suburbs of the Remstal Bereich , including the Gips vineyard. The 2008 version was rated slightly behind the 2004 by our panel.
Randle: Bigger style, with an indeterminate sense of place. A Merlot lover’s Pinot Noir.
Jimenez: Secondary aromas overtook the fruit—raw beef competed with the raspberry. Stemmy, grainy, but with orange peel and mulling spice. A really full palate with well-threaded tannins—chewy and meaty.
Barber: Pretty color, violets and Asian spice, cocoa. Velvety texture, broad and expansive, complex, pink peppercorn. Solid wine.
Hammett: Truffle, tar, sweet tobacco, vibrant fruit, and medium length. Well made.
2005 Künstler Hochheimer Reichestal Erstes Gewächs, Rheingau
As the name implies, Gunter Künstler often brings an artist’s touch to his Pinots and full-bodied, dry Rieslings. This one was controversial—some thought it overly mature, while others felt it still had time to evolve.
Jimenez: Aging appearance, but a full nose of blackberries, cinnamon, and quince, with a deep, complex palate that is even spicier than the nose.
Barber: Crimson-garnet. Vinous violet and sesame-oil aromas, with a palate yielding sweet fruit, vanilla, and fine tannins, and a graceful balance of alcohol and acid.
Randle: Awkward and heavy-handed, with a rough finish. Rather full-bodied.
Flynn: Chewy and extracted—still a baby, which makes it hard to predict its future. I suspect the structure will win out over the fruit.
Hammett: Over-steeped tea, blood, baked-earth aromas. Hint of rhubarb, balanced, with a silky finish, but an overwhelmingly odd combination.
2008 Salwey Kaiserstuhl, Baden
Grapes from multiple vineyard sites in an area rife with volcanic soils go into this entry-level wine from one of Baden’s best producers.
Barber: As it was pale, it met my expectations of a Maraschino cherry aroma and a straw-like greenness of cool-climate Pinot Noir. Simple and fruit-forward.
Flynn: Showed a touch of dilution, with expressive currant and cherry notes that added dimension to it.
Jimenez: The nose was really expressive—bright raspberry, tea, rose, coffee, citrus—and the palate bright with cranberry relish, cinnamon, and white pepper. Modern, with a long, pretty finish. A crowd-pleaser.
Hammett: Tart fruits of cranberry and raspberry. The alcohol was integrated, with a slightly astringent finish. Some sulfur and a bit dull overall.
2004 Knipser Im Grossen Garten, Pfalz
Difficult to distinguish as Pinot Noir, it managed to impress some of the judges with its complexity.
Randle: Aging Old World aromas. Well made and reminiscent of Nebbiolo a decade on with its fungal, lemon-rind, and earthy notes.
Flynn: Deeply colored; earthy, bretty nose. Chewy and extracted, showing earth and mineral notes with a bit of plum.
Jimenez: Stale nose of moldy carrot and dried raspberry. The high acidity overshadows the mild raspberry and vanilla flavors. Well structured, with a very long finish. Over the hill, though it opens with time.
Hammett: Mushroom and barnyard aromas. Lacking acidity. Drink, don’t keep.
2009 Becker Estate, Pfalz
This basic-level offering (the only wine in the lineup from the current ’09 vintage) was first to be evaluated, setting a positive tone for the rest of the tasting.
Barber: Ripe fruit, silky mouthfeel, earthy, with a bright and clean finish. A lemony undertone kept it fresh.
Flynn: Earthy black-tea and licorice aromas. Good concentration and length, but short on fruit. Overall, I liked it.
Randle: Light-ruby color with a clear-to-pink rim. Ripe raspberry, rosemary, black cherry, clove, rose petals.
Jimenez: Citrusy, blood-orange, herbal aromas, with firm acidity and high alcohol, which later overwhelmed the fruit.
Hammett: Pretty nose—spicy violets and rose petals. Delicate, but with a disjointed and hot finish. Persistent length, with a structure that didn’t match.
2004 Schnaitmann Simonroth, Württemberg
With his inaugural vintage, the ubiquitously glorious 1997, Rainer Schnaitmann began an unending string of successes. His apprenticeship in New Zealand showed in this early effort, which was considered to have the most New World character of the tasting.
Hammett: Dense, rich, complex structure so different from all the others. Reminiscent of Oregon Pinot Noirs.
Flynn: Deep garnet. Profound nose of black cherry, plums, vanilla, and humus, making it almost New World in style. Extravagant ripeness and high alcohol remind me of Oregon as well.
Randle: Underripe-plum and grape-jelly aromas with a simple, black-cherry-and-cola-noted palate, putting me in mind of jerked chicken.
Jimenez: A nose like Gevrey-Chambertin, with coffee and black fruit. Very juicy, possibly still too young. Ripe, even grapey, with a peppery finish. Very modern winemaking.
Barber: Dark purple. Blackberry and vanilla notes—balanced, though monolithic.
2006 Markus Molitor Graacher Himmelreich***, Mosel
Molitor attracted controversy, even derision, when he planted red vines on one of the Mosel’s most treasured Riesling sites. He’s had his ups and downs, and this wine reflected both in comments from the panelists.
Hammett: Beetroot and root-beer aromas; great acidity, though still a bit odd. A freaky yet delicious wine likely to be favored by sommeliers rather than restaurant guests.
Randle: Black tea, cola, and aging on the nose. I like it, but possibly not well enough to list it.
Jimenez: Cranberry, raspberry, and green tea on the nose. Showing signs of age in its dankness, like stale vase water. A flash of cranberry-like acid on the palate, which quickly fades with coarse alcohol and tannins.
Barber: Light crimson-orange, with a vinous sarsaparilla, soy, orange-oil, pine, and forest-floor nose. Medium body, alcohol, and acidity; fine tannins; tertiary-driven.
2007 Franz Keller “A,” Baden
Third-generation winemaker Fritz Keller’s wines tend toward a restrained style, even from these warmer sites in the Kaiserstuhl Bereich .
Randle: Brown-sugar, brioche, cream-of-wheat aromas. Finish falls off too quickly.
Hammett: Unbalanced between tart acidity and fruit structure. The finish is dull and disjointed.
Flynn: My knock on it is that the tannins are green and unripe, with more wood than the wine can support.
Barber: Cherry cola with some oak. Grippy tannins, lemon-drop acidity, complex minerality, extracted; a bit primary now, but I think it’ll come around. Ageworthy.
2007 Jean Stodden Recher Herrenberg Grosses Gewächs, Ahr
Premature aging in a wine so young was attributed to an overexposure to oxygen during its time in barrel.
Jimenez: Dank aromas of aging along with acorn squash and carrots. The palate is a bit dull, with muted fruit.
Flynn: A somewhat funky nose, with a palate seemingly stewed and hot. Chunky tannins clamp down on the finish.
Hammett: Baked, dull red-apple-skin notes. Lacking in both refinement of fruit structure and a harmonious finish.
Barber: Deep ruby, with a nose of cherry cola, vanilla, and wild strawberry. Fine-grained tannins, medium body and alcohol, with notes of complex spices and flint on the finish.
Randle: A sense of maturity and an “expensiveness” on the palate, with deep black cherry and raspberry. I find it rather Burgundian.
2008 Bernhard Huber Schlossberg “R” Grosses Gewächs, Baden
Opinions varied, but volatile acidity marred this wine for most of the panel.
Barber: Tough to score because of the flaws—lift from the VA and a spritzy quality, though I think the winemaker had this in mind.
Randle: Garnet-ruby color. A bit of a chemical thing going on. Some would dig it, but not me.
Hammett: I felt the VA was atypical for its style. Beetroot, mushroom, and tar aromas indicate that it would make a great food wine.
Flynn: I taste for intrinsic points, not faults. It had a generous, black-cherry palate with light wood notes. The acidity was clean, and the VA added a funky twist. Overall, a successful wine.
2008 Schnaitmann Fellbacher Lämmler Grosses Gewächs, Württemberg
The panelists generally felt this Schnaitmann was over the top in terms of winemaking style.
Barber: Just from looking at it I knew I wasn’t going to like it. A “winemaker wine,” big and extracted. Acidity was muted, while alcohol was high with subjugated fruit. Muddy.
Jimenez: Bizarre nose—tropical, like guava paste with a black-potting-soil core and lavender. A mineral component on the palate was strong. The alcohol was high, but with rough and dusty tannins.
Flynn: Excellent color, with good tannic grip. Mostly about earth and clovey wood and a slightly astringent finish I ascribed to wood tannins.
Randle: A little cloudy in the tears. The nose reminded me of Central Otago. The tannins and viscosity stood out, indicating a riper vintage.
2005 Dr. Heger Achkarrer Schlossberg***, Baden
This wine didn’t match the enthusiasm garnered by Heger’s ’07; its off-aromas ruffled some judges’ feathers.
Jimenez: Strawberry and citrus were present, but too dull, even moldy. The palate had a bit of life, but with unripe strawberry and heavy fruit tannins.
Flynn: A feral, musky style reminding me of Nuits-Saint-Georges. Structured and balanced, with incipient fruit, black tea, mushroom, and cola.
Barber: Deep ruby color. Stewed cherry, Dr Pepper, cardamom, and rosemary aromas on an extracted palate with grippy tannins.
Hammett: Waxy plum and brown-spice aromas. Weighty and lengthy, though it lacks a bit of finesse.
2006 Markus Molitor Brauneberger Klostergarten***, Mosel
Like his better-known Himmelreich, Molitor’s other single-vineyard Pinot drew a wide range of comments.
Barber: Orange-ruby appearance. Celery, cherry, orange peel, ash, volatile aromas. Tired.
Randle: Stinky and fruity nose. Ginseng and brown-sugar flavors reminding me of Willamette Valley.
Flynn: Fading appearance. I like the brown-spice and vanilla nose, but it’s elusive. Palate lacks concentration, though it’s balanced.
Jimenez: Appearing to age, but with a bright, complex nose of berries, lemon peel, and balsamic vinegar. Roses and orange blossoms on a chewy palate, later showing layers of dried berries and cocoa. Full, long finish with beautiful tannins.
1999 Künstler Hochheimer Auslese, Rheingau
The Auslese designation refers only to the lateness of harvest. This wine was bone-dry and, as the oldest sample in the tasting, provided some evidence of the age progression of German Pinot Noir.
Jimenez: Meow! Juicy, aged dried-fruit and cinnamon aromas, with smoky notes showing up later on the palate. An incredibly long finish carrying the spices and dried fruits. Deep and complex.
Hammett: Stale, stout-beer aroma; beetroot and wet-wood flavors. Not showing well; past its prime.
Flynn: A mute note hinting of molasses. Drying out, showing more herbs than fruit. I agree that it’s past its prime.
Randle: Tired, burnt-cola notes. Unappealing.
2007 Dautel “S,” Württemberg
Reductive odors earned low ratings for this wine.
Jimenez: Sulfury nose—muted fruit with a touch of VA. Unpleasant.
Barber: Ruby-pink appearance. Green tea and peppercorn, unripe strawberry, barnyard aromas. Medium-bodied, minerally, reduced.
Flynn: Pale color, with slight volatility on the nose. Reductive, with clean fruit tannins, but lacking structural elegance. Long, taut finish.
Hammett: Aldehydic, oxidized, with rotten-apple notes. Unacceptable.