Germany: Ten Years
After - 2004 Pinot Noir
the extreme heat in 2003, 2004 was a cooler, more classic vintage that many
consumers quickly wrote off as of little interest. Indeed, not all producers
were up to the challenge, nor have all the wines aged as gracefully as I might
have hoped, but ten years down the road the vintage speaks a clear message,
with finesse rather than sumptuous depth playing first fiddle. While a majority
of the Pinot Noirs already have their best days behind them, the finest show
everything that we expect from this grape: purity, freshness and elegance.
Further, while the average quality is much lower than in 2003, those who
succeeded made lower-alcohol wines in a style that I personally prefer.
has the dominance of Bernhard Huber in Baden and Friedrich Becker in the Pfalz
been more apparent. Interestingly, the Pinot Noirs from Becker, which so
clearly led the pack a decade ago, were definitively surpassed by those of
Huber in our tasting this summer, perhaps due to the magnums from which the
wines were served. A touch withdrawn at the time of their release, Huber's Pinots have
nonetheless blossomed into the stars of the vintage. Sadly, Huber succumbed to cancer last year at just 57. Certainly no one has done more to make German Spätburgunder so respectable than Bernhard Huber.
Even today, there are few other Pinot Noirs in the world that can give
the best of Burgundy a run for their money. If fact, we placed two ringers in
this year’s field, a 2004 Pommard Les Epenots (89) from Pierre Morey and a 2004
Chambertin Clos de Bèze (86) from Drouhin-Laroze. But, as in the World Cup
match between France and Germany the night before our tasting that Germany won
1-0, neither of the French wines stood up to the competition, which consisted
mostly of Grosses Gewächs (grand cru) bottlings or their predecessors. Granted,
neither of those are iconic pinot producers in Burgundy, but we were more
interested in seeing how the vintages compared.
German red wine was long considered an oxymoron, perceptions are beginning to
change, especially as global warming makes regions like Baden and the southern
Pfalz, where most of the Pinot Noir is found, more consistent in quality. In
fact, about a third of all vineyards in the country are now planted with red
varieties. Moreover, with 12,500 hectares of Spätburgunder, as it is known locally, Germany is one of the largest producers of Pinot Noir in the world. With
importers, retailers and consumers continuing to seek new sources of Pinot Noir, attention is increasingly turning to Germany.
is the third largest producing region in Germany, and the most popular on the
domestic market, encompassing almost 16,000 hectares of vineyard, over a third
of which are planted with Pinot Noir. It is also the country’s most southerly
region and the only area classified as climate zone B by the European Union—on
a par with Alsace, Burgundy, Champagne and the Loire Valley. The must weights
here are thus higher than elsewhere and the wines tend to be fuller-bodied. The
southern part of the Pfalz, just north of Alsace, is also at about the same
latitude as Burgundy, but on the French side of the Rhine.
Bernhard Huber in his cellar
2004 Adeneuer Walporzheimer
Gärkammer Spätburgunder Grosses Gewächs (Ahr): Alluring aromas of
wild strawberry, raspberry and Asian spices are complemented by subtle smoke
and vanilla. Full-bodied but also zesty and precise in its fruit, with tangy
red berry flavors showing very good focus and a touch of allspice. This suave,
elegant Pinot Noir is a lovely expression of the vintage on the Ahr. Although
not yet truly fading, this may have been even better a few years ago. 90.
2004 Friedrich Becker Pinot Noir (Pfalz): Smoky aromas of plum,
spice cake, licorice and mint. Finely balanced in spite of its enormous
concentration, with layers of wild berry fruit and spices and exquisite tannins
providing structure. Conveys sublime depth, with bacon and clove elements
spiking the finish. This was my favorite 2004 Pinot Noir ten years ago and
still shows exquisite length. The other Pinots Noirs here bear site names, but
Fritz Becker always calls his best Spätburgunder of the vintage merely Pinot
Noir. To be fair, I would have liked to compare it to the Wildenstein in a
magnum bottle. 92.
2004 Friedrich Becker Schweigener
Sonnenberg Sankt Paul Spätburgunder Grosses Gewächs (Pfalz): Rich aromas of blackberry,
dried cherry, smoked bacon fat and fresh rose. Warm and lush on the palate,
displaying sweet berry fruit and rich, velvety tannins. Delivers gentle
spiciness, excellent balance, fine depth and impressive length, exactly as I had
expected. Sankt Paul is a single vineyard within the larger Sonnenberg site.
Schweigener Sonnenberg Rädling Spätburgunder Grosses Gewächs (Pfalz): Subtle aromas of
blackberry, cherry brandy and fresh rose. Supple on the palate, with sweet
berry flavors given structural support by the now mature tannins. Balanced and
gently spicy if a touch thin on the finish. This was a lovely Pinot Noir in its
youth, but was certainly better a few years ago. 88.
Mayschosser Mönchberg Spätburgunder Grosses Gewächs (Ahr): Smoky aromas of sweet
black cherry, chocolate and nutmeg, plus a hint of vanilla. The rich, velvety
blackberry fruit is distinctly luscious, but is held in check by the wine's
robust tannic structure. Still rather austere, this wine may in fact hold up
for another few years. 90.
2004 Fürst Burgstädter
Centgrafenberg Hunsrück Spätburgunder “R” (Franken): Deep garnet.
Alluring scents of strawberry, raspberry, cinnamon and frankincense, with
strong floral overtones. Exotically sweet red fruit flavors are given a firm
edge by pomegranate and blood orange notes, with herbal spices and rose adding
complexity. Very Burgundian in character, the long finish echoes with spice
2004 Bernhard Huber Bombacher
Sommerhalde Spätburgunder Grosses Gewächs “R” (Baden): Deep, bright
ruby. Subtle bouquet of black raspberry, wild cherry, Indian spices and rose.
Intense dark berry flavors are joined by floral pastille and vanilla nuances as
the wine builds on the palate. Finely grained tannins add shape to the long,
smoky finish, which also harbors notes of mocha and cola nut. Cool in style and
extremely elegant, this Pinot Noir has yet to finish its course. 93.
2004 Bernhard Huber Malterdinger
Bienenberg Spätburgunder Grosses Gewächs (Baden): Refined aromas
of black cherry, bacon fat and licorice. Full-bodied, rich and still youthfully
juicy, with firm underlying structure. Finely balanced for such a concentrated
wine, finishing subtle, spicy and long. Still a touch closed. 91.
2004 Bernhard Huber Spätburgunder
(Baden): Seductive aromas of sloe, wild plum, smoke
and herbs. The palate offers a silky texture and elegant lift, with black
cherry and raspberry flavors displaying astonishing clarity and vivacity. Closes
smooth, very long and surprisingly young, with superb focus, enormous depth and
sweet tannins that add grip. The Wildenstein is a site within the Bienenberg
grand cru that is now classified separately. Tasted from a magnum. 94.
2004 Franz Keller
Spätburgunder Selection A (Baden): Fading aromas of redcurrant and licorice, with a peppery nuance.
Rich and spicy, albeit with rather undifferentiated plum and mulch flavors.
Finishes with ripe tannins and lingering sweetness, but is noticeably past its
Laumersheimer Im Grossen Garten Spätburgunder Grosses Gewächs (Pfalz): Aromas of black
cherry, nutmeg and woodsmoke. The herbal blackberry fruit is still luscious,
but the tannins have become slightly hard and austere. There is sweetness on
the back of the palate, but this Pinot Noir has lost much of its youthful
Laumersheimer Kirschgarten Mergelweg Spätburgunder Grosses Gewächs (Pfalz): Decadent aromas of
black cherry, nutmeg and iodine. The herbal blackberry fruit sports a rough
texture due to the drying tannins. Quite austere and a far cry from the Pinot
Noir I remember. 85
2004 Knipser Laumersheimer
Kirschgarten Spätburgunder Grosses Gewächs (Pfalz): Smoky aromas of
blackcurrant, hazelnut, mocha, bacon fat and rose hip. The palate boasts
bright, lush berry fruit, sweet spicy tannins and nice balance. Classically
structured, with lovely depth and excellent length, this was originally one of
my favorite Pinot Noirs of the vintage. It is still very good, but I had
expected it to fare even better. 91.
Assmannshäuser Spätburgunder Auslese Juwel ** (Rheingau): Subdued aromas of
ripe plum, hazelnut and woodsmoke. Velvety in texture, but the sweet blackberry
fruit is dominated by herbaceous tannins. The finish remains austere. 87.
Dernauer Pfarrwingert Spätburgunder Grosses Gewächs (Ahr): Full mature aromas of
dark berries are complemented by cinnamon
and allspice. Fleshy and smooth, with a bitter chocolate flavor framed
by mature tannins, this Pinot Noir gains sweetness on the finish but was
certainly better a few years ago. 87.
Walporzheimer Kräuterberg Spätburgunder Grosses Gewächs (Ahr): Mature aromas of
black cherry, woodsmoke and hazelnut. A ripe raspberry flavor is accentuated by
lively spiciness and supported by supple tannins. A slightly disjointed
sweet/herbal quality mars the finish. This appears to be fading, and was
certainly better a few years ago. 89.
2004 Markus Molitor
Brauneberger Klostergarten Spätburgunder *** (Mosel): Shy aromas of smoked
plum, cassis, spicecake and licorice. Nicely balanced and richly concentrated,
showing layers of mature berry fruit and herbal spices, but a touch of
unabsorbed carbon dioxide diminishes the pleasure. Still ripely tannic, this
Pinot Noir is now beginning to fade. 88.
2004 Markus Molitor
Graacher Himmelreich Spätburgunder *** (Mosel): Deep, brilliant ruby. Sumptuous aromas of smoked plum, spicecake
and licorice. Subtly balanced in spite of its rich concentration and superb
depth, offering layers of wild berry fruit and spices. The long, ripe finish is
spiked by a clove element. Who would ever have thought that a Pinot Noir like
this could be produced on the Mosel? 90.
Weingut Oekonomierat Rebholz
2004 Rebholz Siebeldinger Im
Sonnenschein Spätburgunder Grosses Gewächs “R” (Pfalz): Wild
aromas of black cherry, violet, vanilla bean and gunflint. The palate boasts
juicy but precise berry flavors and considerable elegance. Nicely refined if
compact in structure, this distinguished Pinot Noir finishes with slightly
smoky tannins and excellent peppery persistence. 91.
Spätburgunder vom Muschelkalk “R” (Pfalz): Aromas of blackcurrant and roasted hazelnut, with a hint of
yogurt. The juicy berry fruit is beginning to mature, taking on a sweet note.
This Pinot Noir finishes with good spicy length and tannins that are still
somewhat edgy. 88.
Oberrotweiler Kirchberg Spätburgunder “RS” (Baden): Smoky aromas of blackcurrant, bacon fat
and clove. Delivers a sweet impression and a velvety texture to its raspberry
fruit, but this Pinot Noir is nonetheless wearing thin. I was disappointed
because it had been one of my favorites ten years ago. 87.
Oberrrotweiler Kirchberg Spätburgunder “RS” (Baden): Deep, saturated ruby. Mature aromas of
blackcurrant, hazelnut and vanilla. Alluringly rich on the attack, with
succulent blackberry fruit framed on the back by slightly herbaceous tannins.
This appears to be beginning to dry out on the back of the palate. Still shows
good depth and classical structure, ending on a persistently spicy note, but
this was probably better a few years ago. 90.
Spätburgunder Simonroth “R” (Württemberg): Bright ruby. Rich aromas of ripe plum, sweet black cherry and
nutmeg, plus a hint of vanilla. The sumptuous blackberry fruit is lusciously
velvety, accentuating the wine's sweet tannins. The supple finish makes for
pleasant drinking. Don’t wait any longer for this Pinot Noir. 90.
2004 Staatsweingut Assmannshäuser
Höllenberg Spätburgunder Auslese Mauerwein (Rheingau): Smoky aromas of dried
blackcurrant, smoked bacon and clove. Sweet, almost jammy fruit, with massive
alcohol (15%) and herbal acidity that are out of sync with each other. This is
not only old-fashioned but just plain old. 82.
2004 Jean Stodden
Ahrweiler Rosenthal Spätburgunder Grosses Gewächs (Ahr): Smoky aromas of
raspberry, bacon fat, nutmeg and walnuts. Rich and on the verge of being jammy,
showing both a velvety texture and slightly herbaceous tannins. Today this is
my favorite producer from the Ahr, where 2004 was actually a successful
vintage, but I had marked this wine higher in its youth. 89.
2004 Jean Stodden
Spätburgunder Alte Reben (Ahr): Fading aromas of raspberry, black cherry and bitter chocolate.
Juicy and still penetrating, offering flavors of wild herbs, tar and cocoa.
Deep and with a decadent sweetness, the fruit is drying out and revealing the
wine’s austere tannins. The Old-Vines bottling is generally Stodden’s best Pinot
Noir, but this, like the Rosenthal, has seen better days. 87.
2004 Von Gleichenstein
Oberrotweiler Eichberg Spätburgunder Barrique (Baden): Bright garnet.
Complex wild berry aromas are complemented by notes of star anise, sweet
tobacco and mace. Still rather monolithic, with tangy acidity adding crispness
to the sappy raspberry and smoky cherry flavors. This Pinot Noir finishes
lively and clean, with impressive lingering spicy persistence. 91.
2004 Dr. Wehrheim
Birkweiler Kastanienbusch Spätburgunder Grosses Gewächs (Pfalz): Dark garnet. The
mature aromas and flavors of raspberry, woodsmoke and clove are reminiscent of
Rioja. Austere but still elegant, with a nervy grip provided by its somewhat
herbaceous tannins. Good spicy depth makes this a pleasure to drink, but it was
probably better a few years ago. 88.
Photo Credits: Weingut Huber, Weingut Oekonomierat Rebholz