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Producing first-class Pinot Noir is one of the supreme disciplines in viticulture. Hardly any variety is robbed of its original advantages more quickly, nowhere does the path to the top have so many trapdoors. The great Pinots of this world are a unique combination of substance and elegance, density and light-footedness, concentration, complexity, depth, finesse and tension. And something almost always falls by the wayside in the end when trying to achieve this ideal.
©Doris Schneider JKI

In addition, many red wine lovers do not like Pinot Noir that really tastes like Pinot Noir. For them, it is usually too light and too "quiet" in appearance, and is often enough perceived as thin just when it is at its finest. It is therefore all the more astonishing how many producers, especially in German-speaking countries, are taking up the cause. Having a good Pinot Noir in the programme is obviously also a matter of prestige.

Over the past few months, we have been intensively studying the red Burgundy wines from Germany, Austria and South Tyrol. We left out Alsace mainly because we are planning a major tasting here this year. The Swiss producers were invited, but probably mainly due to the difficult shipping conditions from the non-EU country, the amount of samples was so minimal that we can only mention the few wines tasted here out of competition. They do not allow for a meaningful look at this extremely exciting Pinot country of origin.

The comparison between Germany on the one hand and Austria and South Tyrol on the other is perhaps not entirely fair. In many German wineries, Pinot Noir is one of the two or three main varieties, sometimes even by far the most important variety in the programme. From the basic to local wines to several single vineyards, many different labels are often filled in all quality levels. In this way, only the very best lots can be reserved for the top wines, while unpretentious yet fine everyday wines can be produced at the base, as long as their minor but nevertheless existing potential is not ruined by too much - or too little - ambition. The result speaks for itself: in no other country in the world is so much good, authentic Pinot Noir being produced in price regions well below 20 euros as in Germany. At the same time, at least in the European Union, the top wines come closer to the quality ideal of the best Burgundies than anywhere else (Switzerland, as I said, would still be a promising candidate). Just don't be tempted to idealise the situation, because on the other hand, Germany also produces plenty of Pinot Noirs that don't exactly do the best service to the reputation of the variety. They are sometimes thin and featureless, sometimes sweet and sometimes unclear, then again overloaded, pretentious, loud, broad, alcoholic and/or over-aged. Many wines of good quality lack even a little real substance and depth for higher consecrations (and good development potential); with other wines, on the other hand, one has the impression that their makers wanted to avoid at all costs that their Pinot Noir tastes like Pinot Noir. Some are absurdly expensive for what they can do. So you have to choose carefully. But since the sheer quantity of successful wines is growing steadily and quickly, even the most fussy wine lover will always find what he is looking for.

In Austria and South Tyrol, the situation is completely different. Pinot Noir is undoubtedly a prestige project for many producers in both countries, but in most cases rather one for the niche - in Austria perhaps even more often than in South Tyrol. Hardly any producer has more than two red Burgundies in his programme, on which all ambitions lie; a real basic product often does not exist at all.

©DWI

In addition, there are completely different climatic conditions in Austria and northern Italy. South Tyrol is often perceived as a cool mountain region, yet many vineyards are not as high as one might think. Secondly, the Mediterranean climate still has a considerable influence in Bolzano and Merano. Although winegrowers in South Tyrol benefit from cool nights, especially in autumn, the ripening process in spring and summer progresses quickly, so that they have to watch out like hell that the sugar levels don't go through the roof before autumn. We have the impression that many producers are getting better and better at this. Apparently, the increasingly obvious climate change has caused a rethinking on a broad front: many wines today are fresher, finer and more precise than they were just a few years ago. We now regularly find ourselves tasting South Tyrolean Pinot Noirs with great pleasure.

In Austria, many wine regions are under the influence of the warm Pannonian climate; while this is particularly pronounced in Carnuntum, Thermenregion and Burgenland (with Lake Neusiedl once again influencing the climate in a special way), it also extends beyond Vienna into the western growing regions of Lower Austria. As a result, the wines here are often warm and powerful, although one sometimes gets the impression that some winemakers here are still deliberately aiming for particularly high grape ripeness. A rather oxidative ageing makes many wines seem even broader. Trying to give these Pinots more backbone with hearty use of wood is not always the best idea. But here, too, more and more winemakers are giving their wines more freshness and precision - with growing success. Some producers have succeeded in producing top-class Pinot Noir in their very own, unmistakable style: clearly the children of their climate and at the same time with finesse and depth. In Austria, too, there are inexpensive and excellently prepared basic wines that are sometimes worth much more than they cost. It will be interesting to observe the development in Styria. The region is only just beginning to discover Pinot Noir for itself, but the conditions seem to be ideal in some places.

In Switzerland, on the other hand, some specialists are producing extraordinary Pinots with their very own character, which deserve every attention. Unfortunately, the few samples that reached us cannot remotely reflect the situation, as good as some of the wines presented are. But we are staying on the subject.

All in all, we have tasted well over 500 Pinot Noirs from German-speaking wine-growing regions in the last few months, of which we present the best here, sorted by country. We have set up an extra category for the particularly good wines up to 15 euros. Links to all wines and their producers as well as the detailed tasting notes can be found at the end of each list.

In FocusPinot Noir from German-speaking wine-growing regions Germany