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Journalists have to express themselves, by profession, even if they may have only a limited picture of what they are writing or talking about. Robert Parker's legendary review of the German Spätburgunder is a fitting example of this rampant professional disease. Apparently, the points guru, or his collaborator, didn't have a clue when writing his last book, "Parkers Weinguide" (2003). Yet he would have had time enough to deal with the subject. German pinot noirs with an astonishing level have been existing since 1990 at the latest, and they were not even really rare, as an unusual comparison tasting in Liel, Markgräflerland, revealed.

You can get fifteen-year-old wines from Bordeaux, Rioja, and Tokai without any problems. To find fifteen year old pinot noirs, however, is a small feat. Sigbert Hiss, wine consultant from Liel, who is currently living near London, set out to accomplish this feat. The result was 24 late and one early Burgundies from the 1990 vintage, all from Germany, most of them from Baden. The bottles were all in excellent condition. They came directly from the archives of the wine estates or from well-maintained cellars, like the one of the Hotel Bareiss in Baiersbronn

As early as the first flight, with the working title "vintners' cooperatives and unknown wine estates", surprised the round of testers - which, by the way, was small but all the more top-class: Marcus Hofschuster, chief taster of Wein Plus, Jürgen von der Mark, independent enologist and Master of Wine, Zsolt Pekker, editor of the Nose of the Margrave, Michael Schmidt from London, also a journalist and employee of Wine Report, as well as Jürgen Dietsche, wine connoisseur and lover from Bad Krozingen. The very first wine, a Waldulmer Pfarrberg Spätlese from the Benz wine estate, was very ripe and had reached retirement age, but it was better than the working title suggested. The Gottenheimer Kirchberg from the Stefan Hess wine estate was a little better, with a little more residual sugar, which made its retirement a little sweeter.

Far better than its reputation - The German Pinot Noir

Similar and better appeared much more often in the later course than the assembled experts could have dreamed. "I would not have thought that after fifteen years, there would still be so many, not only drinkable, but downright classy wines", Sigbert Hiss said. Of course, there were also some that had strongly degraded in the meantime. The Spätlese from the Burkheimer Feuerberg ( Bercher wine estate), the table wine from the small Salwey oak barrel or a QbA from the magnum bottle from the Heger wine house had been at their best for a long time

Some of the wines seemed to be in a similarly worn-out condition, but on the palate, they astonished with an intact structure, density, and even strong fruit aromas. For instance, the Auslese from the Burkheimer Feuerberg by Bercher, or the table wine R from the Rebholz wine estate , which was characterized by a very good balance.

Two series with a total of 10 wines were dedicated to the Kaiserstuhl. In this round, a Spätlese from the Schneider winery (Endingen) made the best impression. By the way, the wines were tasted blind, only after the discussion of the individual flights the names of the presenters were revealed. No community points were awarded. However, the consensus was unanimous in the Schneider case

The QbA "R" by Huber, which was the only Breisgau wine in the second Kaiserstühl flight, was the subject of a fierce controversy. The wine presented itself in deep blue-black, with a very strong bouquet, which some described with dark fruits, anise, cassis and elderberry, others with intrusive black currant blossom and heartier. On the palate it presented itself with similar aromatics as in the nose - in each case in opposite interpretations. There was widespread agreement on two points: This wine, which did not show the years at all, was the freshest in the flight; however, it showed a rather untypical aroma for a Pinot Noir. However, Sigbert Hiss pointed out that Pinot Noirs from certain vineyards - for example from the Assmannshäuser Höllenberg in the Rheingau - very often show a cassis note, so this is not so untypical for the grape variety. In the 90s sample, this taste was still clearly found in two other wines, the selections from Marget and Kühling-Gillot

Michael Schmidt nevertheless imposed an "import ban" on Huber for London. "The English know too little about German Pinot Noir; such an atypical wine would cause too much confusion," he explained his dictum with a twinkle in his eye. Sigbert Hiss has made it his task to make German wine in general and Spätburgunder in particular better known in the UK, too. There, this tasting is to be repeated soon with the participation of the "Wine Reporter" Schmidt & renowned journalists

Another surprise of the afternoon was the inner-Baden comparison between Markgräflerland and Kaiserstuhl. Since all wines were available for re-tasting during the whole tasting, it was done with great effort - the tasters took half an hour just for the comparison of the three or four most interesting wines of the two regions. All in all, the round was busy with the wines and their intensive discussion for almost five hours, and they were also able to include the development of the wines in the open bottles and in the glass in their judgment

Of the six Markgräfler wines, a Kirchberg Auslese by Soder (Istein), a Auslese from the Hügelheimer Höllberg by Marget and a Müllheimer Pfaffenstück Auslese by Dörflinger impressed the most. The wines presented themselves matured but fully up to the mark, with typical Pinot aroma and nice structure. For some of the jurors, they were on par with the best Kaiserstühler, for others - like the Franconian Hofschuster - the Markgräfler were even clearly ahead. Jürgen von der Mark provided a possible explanation: "This shows that the Kaiserstuhl is not so ideal for Pinot. In an extremely hot year like 1990, it quickly becomes too dry and too hot on the stony soils. The cooler, more humid Markgräflerland then offers the vine better conditions."

Among the Markgräflers, there was also a wine on which the discussion flared up. Some found the Hügelheimer Höllberg Auslese by Emil Marget grandiose, others - because it was very untypical - beyond good and evil. What some found obtrusive syrup aromas, others found brilliant fruit notes paired with elegance. Again, there was a consensus about the lack of typicity; the wine reminded more of Cabernet than of Pinot. Jürgen von der Mark found a concise description: "In this wine, the decadence of the 1990 vintage is expressed - and that is wonderful! Why shouldn't the winemaker implement what the vintage offers him?"

However, the fact that the last flight outperformed even the best Badeners - which were always seen in front - was mainly due to Fürst's two wines. His Spätburgunder and Frühburgunder, the latter from Centgrafenberg, were certainly the best wines of the whole round. The Spätburgunder combined leathery-animalic scents with vegetable aromas, presented itself fresh on the palate and with a perfect structure. The Frühburgunder came along a bit more edgy, very animalic, initially with cheesy & mushroomy aromas and a slightly salty finish. Michael Schmidt was enthusiastic: "This shows that the difficult Frühburgunder, if it is worked by an expert, can be on par with the Pinot noir. Especially on very mineral soils, it can show its special strengths." Almost at eye level, a wine presented itself, which probably caused the biggest surprise for most of the participants: the Auslese of Kühling-Gillot made it clear that Rheinhessen can also have its say when it comes to the best and longest-lived Pinot Noirs in Germany.

Although the tasters without exception can be described as connoisseurs and friends of the German Spätburgunder, they were all surprised at the level to which many German vintners had already reached in 1990. Even some of the overaged, already largely oxidized wines showed that they had seen much better days. A Pinot noir, everyone thought, was not made for eternity, and fifteen years is a proud age for this variety, even in Burgundy. "Above all, however, you have to consider that the vintners were still at the beginning of their quality development", Marcus Hofschuster emphasized. "Since then, they have gained enormously again and have become much better." Maybe in the course of the 21st century, the word will spread to America, too.

Unfortunately, the tastings are no longer available