TN: The seduction and disappointment in German Spätburgunders

Quite early on I learned that German Spätburgunders were a gamble. I knew that some producers make truly world-class Pinot Noir in Germany, the best of which fully capable of holding candle to the great Burgundies. However, those kinds of wines seemed to be few and far between, since most Spätburgunders were just too big and ripe, excessively oaked and often way more extracted that is good for Pinot Noir. Furthermore, the problem seemed to exacerbate as one moved up the quality ladder; often it was the case that (IMO) the entry-level Spätburgudner was the best red wine of the winery and the wines got progressively worse as one moved up towards the “GG Legendary Vineyard Pinot Noir Cuvée S”.

However, that was then. Lately I’ve noticed that things have started to turn for the better - the German producers are not as keen on producing huge, massively oaked red wines from Pinot Noir as they were, but instead aim for finesse, balance and purity. Sure, there are many producers with whom the use of oak or excessive extraction is still a problem, but this doesn’t seem to be as bad as it was a decade ago.

One of the things I love in German Spätburgunder is the typicity of the local German clones; these wines are often more spicy and peppery - occasionally even quite pungent - with aromas of smoke and coniferous forest, lending the wines a very singular and immediately recognizable character. One can find this kind of distinct Pinosity in many great Pinot Noirs around the world as well, but the German clones seem to be most expressive in this quality. I might not be able to pinpoint all the German Pinot Noirs correctly to Germany when tasting wines blind, but when I come across a wine very pronounced in this quality, I’ve been virtually 100% correct in that the wine is a German Spätburgunder. I’ve also noticed that some can people confuse this spicy quality with pronounced toasty oak character; for example I’ve had Spätburgunders that have been very spicy and peppery and people would complain how excessively oaked the wine is - only to learn that the wine is actually fermented and aged in stainless steel and never sees even a smallest chip of wood. I’ve yet to learn why the German clones are so expressive in this smoke-spicy non-fruit character, but one really can’t miss it if tasting German Spätburgunders. Often this quality is most obvious when a producer is making wines from both the local clones (then often labeled as “Spätburgunder”) and Burgundian Clones (then often labeled as “Pinot Noir”).

One friend of mine is a small Spätburgunder enthusiast himself and with the aid of a few other Spätburgunder geeks, he threw a tasting of 20 German Spätburgunders in last November. The point was not to have a strict tasting, where we would’ve tasted old wines versus new wines or all the best producers or all the different regions - but just to have a good overview of the style. We had most key regions covered and although most of the wines were from the 2010’s, we had a few older bottles as well. Fortunately most of the bottles were +5 years old, since a good Spätburgunder might not be at its best when it is too youthful and often needs a few years to start showing well.

What surprised me was the variable quality of the wines. Relatively many of the wines were oxidized - surprisingly many of them quite young - and even though almost all of the wines were from the 2010’s, many of the wines were still quite oaky and clumsy in style. The best wines we had were certainly good - even great - but, alas, in this tasting we didn’t have any truly memorable wines. While the overall level was pretty good, I probably would’ve been somewhat disappointed with the wines if I didn’t know how good the best Spätburgunders can be. Nevertheless, while the wines have been going in the right direction, this tasting did show that the German Spätburgunder scene is still something of a minefield and one can’t just simply buy a wine blind and trust that it’s going to be a great, balanced and well-made Pinot Noir.

Here’s to hoping that they keep on the right track and the wines would be more reliably great in another decade!

  • 1994 Knipser Pinot Rose brut nature - Germany, Pfalz (7.11.2020)
    A late-release Spätburgunder Rosé. I have no idea how many years the wine has been aging on the lees and how many years post-disgorgement. However, if the lot number 15522/10-2017 tells us anything, this wine might be disgorged in October 2017, meaning that the wine has been kept on the lees for 12½ years. Probably. 12% alcohol.

Pale reddish peach-orange color. Striking stinky cheese nose of Morbier (aka. smelly feet) along with a subtly sweet undercurrent of wizened peach. Not really inviting, to say the least. On the palate the wine is much more nuanced and attractive with dry, complex and quite evolved flavors of wizened golden apples, some Sultana raisins, a little bit of ripe peachy fruit, light funky notes of stinky cheese, a hint of honeyed richness and a touch of stony minerality. There’s a subtle hint of developed sweetness to the flavors, even though the wine is Brut nature and bone-dry in taste. great racy acidity. The finish is long and complex with dry, evolved flavors of bruised apple, some sultana tones, a little bit of ripe peach, light sweet notes of wizened raspberries, a mineral hint of chalky bitterness and a touch of caramel.

A beautiful, lovely rosé bubbly with a staggering nose (not in a positive sense) and wonderfully complex, layered taste. The nose didn’t seem to blow much or at all with air, so I guess it’s just like this. However, as the wine is just wonderfully complex, textural and tasty, you just need to look past the stinky nose and go for the great taste. I’m taking a point or two because of the nose, but this is a fine fizzy all the same. (93 pts.)

Luminous and rather translucent dark cherry red color. The nose feels ripe and dark-toned with sweetish aromas of ripe dark forest fruits, some exotic spices, light toasty oak tones, a little bit of smoke and a hint of mocha. The oak influence seems quite heavy here. The wine is lively, medium-bodied and quite fresh on the palate with dry flavors of toasty oak, brambly black raspberry, some peppery spice, a little bit of oaky caramel, light sweet notes of dark berries and a hint of stony minerality. The structure relies mostly on the high acidity, not on the soft and friendly tannins. The finish is long, spicy and quite woody with flavors of caramel, some cedar, a little bit of crunchy cranberry, light peppery tones and a hint of extracted woody bitterness.

The wine feels enjoyable dry and fresh, but the overall feels is way too oaky for my taste, as the wine feels more Bourbon-like than vinous as the dominant caramel, mocha and cedar notes of oak overwhelm most if not all nuances of Pinosity. It feels as though there is a wonderfully fresh and precise Pinot Noir underneath all that wood, but the wine is way too light and delicate to carry this much wood. I really find it hard to enjoy a wine this oaky, even though the overall feel is bright, crunchy and enjoyably acid-driven. I hope prolonged cellaring could integrate those woody tones better with the fruit; perhaps this wine will perform better in 8-10 years? Unless you’re a hardcore oak fan, this isn’t particularly enjoyable this young. (81 pts.)

Dark, translucent and slightly hazy pomegranate red color with a subtly evolved figgy hue. Concentrated and quite classic, spicy Spätburgunder nose with rather intense aromas of peppery spice, smoke, some ripe cranberry, light stony mineral tones, a little bit of coniferous forest and a brambly hint of black raspberry. Quite robust, fresh and cool overall impression. However, the wine is noticeably juicier and more ripe on the palate with a rather concentrated overall feel, medium-to-moderately full body and intense flavors of sweet raspberries and wild strawberries, some blackcurrant marmalade, light piquant notes of peppery spice, a little bit of brambly blackberry, a hint of savory old wood spice and a touch of dried herbs. Quite good structure with the moderately high acidity and gently grippy medium tannins. The finish is juicy, long and spicy with ripe and somewhat sweet-toned aftertaste of juicy strawberries, ripe cranberries, some brambly raspberry tones, a little bit of peppery spice, light herbal notes and a hint of coniferous forest. The alcohol lends a subtle touch of warmth to the aftertaste and the tannins make the wine end on a gently grippy note.

A poised, attractive and thoroughly classical Spätburgunder. However, on the palate the wine feels quite surprisingly softer and sweeter than the nose leads to expect - to a slight disappointment. This is nevertheless a very nice, balanced and well-made Pinot Noir, but I would’ve liked the wine to show more roughness and precision in the place of softness and approachable, sweet-toned fruit. At least the wine shows good sense of balance and intensity. Due to the obvious ripeness the wine has a somewhat Martinborough Pinot Noir feel to it. I really hope the wine will gain more finesse and focus with age, expecting the baby fat to drop away at some point - probably after another 4-6 years? This is good and enjoyable stuff, but it feels like I would enjoy the same wine from cooler vintage more. (88 pts.)

Beautifully luminous, fully translucent, pale ruby red color that looks more like a deep rosé than a red wine. Ripe, sweetish nose with lush aromas of juicy strawberries, some cherries, light oaky notes of caramel, a little bit of candied raspberry, a hint of peppery spice and a floral touch of violets. The wine is lively and quite light-bodied on the palate, but the overall taste is quite heavily oak-driven. Intense flavors of toasty oak spice and caramel flavors of Bourbon, some ripe cranberry, light strawberry notes, a little bit of rich vanilla, a hint of brambly raspberry and a touch of earthy spice. The structure relies mostly on the quite high acidity, as the tannins feel almost nonexistent. Even though the wine is technically fully dry, the oak influence lends a very sweet-toned, almost candied feel to the flavors. The finish is long, sweet-toned and quite oaky with bold flavors of ripe strawberries, caramel-driven Bourbon oak, some sweet cocktail cherries, a little bit of raspberry marmalade, light baking spice hints of cloves and vanilla and a hint of peppery spice.

It feels as though there is a wonderfully light, fresh and playful Pinot Noir somewhere underneath, feeling surprisingly bright and delicate for a 2015 Spätburgunder. However, there’s a ton of obfuscating oak that just muddles the fruit and makes the wine taste sweet and candied despite it being technically bone-dry. Although the wine might improve for a few years in a cellar, it doesn’t feel like it is built to be aged - and it would take way too long to integrate this much oak with the fruit. Despite being a bright and playful wine, I really can’t get much out from this. It’s just too Bourbon to be an enjoyable Pinot Noir. And the price is quite ridiculous - at 49,95€ this feels like a rip-off. Can’t recommend. (77 pts.)

Dull, muddled nose with very understated fruit character and slightly stuffy overall feel. Doesn’t exhibit any overt TCA notes, but doesn’t feel right either. Most likely this was a subtly corked bottle, just enough to kill the fruit but not render the wine unpleasant. NR (flawed)

  • 2012 Weingut Thörle Saulheimer Hölle Spätburgunder Vom Kalkmergel - Germany, Rheinhessen (7.11.2020)
    I don’t know if this is a special bottling of Hölle or if just the label is different, but this says “Spätburgunder Vom Kalkmergel” in addition to Hölle, while all the other bottlings of Hölle I’ve seen say just “Hölle Spätburgunder” in the label. Unfiltered. 13,5% alcohol.

Brooding, moderately translucent and slightly evolved dark cherry-red color. Slightly restrained but also pleasantly nuanced nose with brooding aromas of dark forest fruits, gamey meat, some savory wood spice, light fragrant notes of pine needles, a little bit of brambly black raspberry and an evolved hint of wizened dark fruit. The overall impression is pure and attractive, showing no obvious oak influence (as opposed to younger vintages of Hölle, which can feel slightly oaky). The wine is stern, slightly extracted and quite serious on the palate with a moderately full body and ripe yet quite dry and powerful flavors of dark plummy fruit, fresh blackberries, some ripe black cherries, a little bit of savory wood spice, light notes of autumnal leaves, a sweet developed hint of wizened dark fruit and a touch of juicy redcurrant. The overall feel is quite structured and sinewy with the rather high acidity and quite ample tannins that slowly pile up on the gums. The finish is long, ripe and juicy with subtly sweet-toned flavors of black cherries, some ripe cranberries, a little bit of savory wood spice, light earthy tones, sweet hints of dried dark fruits and wizened strawberries and a touch of autumnal leaves. The wine ends on a gently grippy note.

A very balanced, harmonious and thoroughly classically built Spätburgunder. The age is starting to show a bit, but the wine is still far from mature and there is quite a bit of room left for further improvement. A rather big and muscular effort, yet still the fruit and elegance are in the lead. Fine stuff to be enjoyed now or over the next 10 or so years. Great value at 20€. (93 pts.)

Dark, concentrated and very slightly hazy pomegranate red color with a subtly evolved mahogany hue. The nose feels robust, rather weird and somewhat oxidative, reminding me more of some dry fortified wine rather than Pinot Noir. Extracted and quite evolved aromas of pungent rancio, wizened black cherry, some meaty notes, a little bit of oxidative nuttiness, light boozy notes of alcohol, a hint of raisins and a touch of savory wood spice. The wine ripe, sweet-toned and quite hot on the palate with a surprisingly full body for a Pinot Noir. Tons of sweetish, almost jammy fruit flavors ranging from blackberry marmalade and strawberry jam to overripe plums and raisins, followed by notes of savory wood spice, some wizened black cherries, light dried fig notes and a nutty hint of pungent rancio. It feels like this is a savory, extracted Pinot Noir into which somebody has blended some Marsala or Oloroso Sherry for “complexity”. Despite the big, extracted mouthfeel, the wine is quite soft, thanks to the somewhat modest acidity and gentle, ripe tannins. The finish is long, powerful and noticeably hot with intense flavors of raisins, prunes and dried figs, some blackberry jam, light cherry marmalade tones, a little bit of pungent rancio and a hint of dull, savory gamey meat. The tannins make the wine end on a somewhat grippy note.

A rather unpleasant and unbalanced effort. I can imagine this wine might’ve been atypically big, massively extracted and very fruity wine in its youth. Now the wine feels like it is already past its prime, making the overall feel dull, clumsy and pruney; the oxidative nuances make the wine feel somewhat flat and lend an unpleasant edge to both the nose and taste. This wine has a rather heavy Amarone feel to it and reminds me quite a bit of those over-the-top 2015 Beaujolais wines, some of which were nothing but hot, unbalanced mess. This is both over-the-top and past-its-peak. Ridiculously overpriced at 39,50€. Avoid. (67 pts.)

Beautifully luminous, very translucent and quite intense pale ruby red color. Open, characterful and sweetish - even slightly weird - nose with aromas of very candied raspberry-driven fruit, some notes of damp forest, a little bit of medicinal herbs, light cherry marmalade tones, a hint of ripe damson and a touch of something slightly artificial and perhaps aseptic. The dry taste follows the nose with the flavors of almost artificial raspberry candy tones, some wizened black cherries, light notes of medicinal herbs, a little bit of overripe damson, a hint of marmaladey sweetness and a touch of forest floor. Medium to moderately full body. The mouthfeel is silky and quite soft with the medium acidity and almost nonexistent tannins. The acidity feels a bit more pronounced at the tip of the tongue, lending some freshness to the wine, but not really contributing anything to the structure. The finish is dry, a bit more firm and subtly grippy with rather weird and soft flavors of candied raspberries, some artificial fruit notes, some sour cherry bitterness, light medicinal herb tones and a hint of oxidative nuttiness.

A weird Spätburgunder with a somewhat candied and slightly artificial feel to its flavors. In addition to the slightly odd flavors, the overall feel is quite soft and somewhat flat, which only adds to the unpleasantness of the wine. It doesn’t feel like the bottle is faulty - this wine is just somewhat odd. However, I’m not sure if the wine is supposed to be like this, or if it has just evolved into a very weird direction. Nevertheless, even without all the weird candied flavors, the wine doesn’t feel structurally particularly convincing. All in all, a rather mediocre and uninspiring effort. (74 pts.)

  • 2016 Enderle & Moll Pinot Noir Liaison - Germany, Baden (7.11.2020)
    Made with fruit sourced from 45-50 yo vineyards. Foot-stomped grapes, fermented spontaneously with indigenous yeasts, no added SO2, aged for a year in old, neutral barriques. 12,5% alcohol.

Translucent, somewhat evolved and very pale pomegranate color. Fresh, fruity and slightly wild nose with aromas of fresh cranberries, some wild strawberries, light high-toned notes of volatile lift, a little bit of earthy spice, a hint of pomegranate and a whiff of pickled vegetable. The wine is wild, crunchy and slightly volatile on the palate with a light-to-medium body and bright flavors of ripe raspberries and cranberries, some bretty funk, light balsamic notes of VA, a hint of sappy herbal spice and a touch of tomato (which in conjunction with the subtly acetic VA note lends a slightly ketchup-y feel to the taste!). Fresh, high acidity with mild, gentle tannins. The finish is dry, crunchy and subtly funky with bright flavors of crunchy cranberries, some wild strawberries, light brambly notes of raspberries, light earthy tones, sauvage nuances of bretty leather and balsamic VA and a tart touch of lingonberry.

A somewhat wild and slightly funky yet also wonderfully bright, fresh and focused Pinot Noir. You can certainly taste that this wine is a naturalista, but fortunately there’s lots of other stuff to this wine as well. A nice, smashable little Pinot Noir. Nothing too complex but nothing too challenging either. A solid, balanced everyday light red from the funkier end of the spectrum. (89 pts.)

Beautifully luminous, translucent and somewhat pale ruby red color. Quite robust and spicy nose with aromas of peppery spice and roasted exotic spices, pine needles and other coniferous forest notes, brambly black raspberry, some strawberry, light smoky tones, a little bit of savory wood spice, a hint of cranberry marmalade and a touch of gamey meat. The wine is firm, spicy and medium-bodied on the palate with dry flavors of sour cherries, brambly black raspberries, some sweeter notes of strawberries, light notes of coniferous forest, a little bit of savory wood spice, a hint of meaty umami and a touch of stony minerality. The overall feel if balanced and quite structured, thanks to the high acidity and firm yet rather soft tannins. The dry finish is long and juicy with bright flavors of tart cranberries and sour cherries, some peppery spice, a little bit of smoky character, light meaty notes of umami and a tangy hint of lingonberry.

A very lovely, clean and fresh Spätburgunder, real textbook example of the style. Shows good sense of ripeness without much sweetness, not unlike a well-made New Zealand Pinot - only with a bit more minerality and nice tangy edge to the fruit. Feels slightly evolved from the last time I had this wine (a year ago) but there’s still lots of room for further improvement. Although the wine might see some new oak, the woodier notes stay nicely out of the way and the emphasis remains nicely on the bright fruit flavors and the peppery Spätburgunder qualities. Very nice. (90 pts.)

  • 2012 Ziereisen Blauer Spätburgunder Rhini - Germany, Baden (7.11.2020)
    Fermented spontaneously with indigenous yeasts, macerated with the skins for approx. 6 weeks, aged for 20 months in 225-liter oak barriques (30% new, 70% used). 12,5% alcohol.

Surprisingly dark cherry red color for a Pinot Noir, permitting only quite little light through. Somewhat restrained, brooding nose with dark-toned aromas of ripe yet not particularly sweet aromas of black cherries and blackcurrants, some toasty yet not sweet oak spice, a little bit of dark plummy fruit, light meaty tones and a subtle hint of mocha. The wine is ripe, moderately concentrated and rather full-bodied on the palate with quite dry and savory flavors of dark forest fruits, woody oak spice, a little bit of roast beef, light earthy tones, a hint of stony minerality and a brambly touch of raspberry. The overall feel is quite structured and moderately muscular without making the wine feel too tightly-wound. High acidity with ripe medium tannins. The dark-toned finish is ripe, juicy and somewhat spicy with long, layered flavors of black cherries, some ripe raspberries, light plummy tones, a little bit of savory wood spice, a hint of blackcurrant and a mushroomy touch of sous-bois.

A brooding and serious Pinot Noir that doesn’t shy its ripeness or oak influence, but for a good reason - both of them are wonderfully integrated with the fruit and the structure, making the wine appear very harmonious and balanced. This isn’t really a wine you would confuse with a Musigny, but it seems to have more in common with classic Burgundy Pinot Noirs than with typical Spätburgunders of Germany. At the age of 8 years, the wine isn’t primary anymore, but it doesn’t feel particularly aged either. It’s quite easy to say that while the wine is drinking mighty well now, there is good potential for further improvement. Nice, sophisticated stuff. (92 pts.)

Moderately translucent and surprisingly youthful black cherry color with a slightly evolved hint of brick-red hue. Rather evolved, somewhat stinky and slightly malty nose that reminds me of a barley wine, follower by aromas of rose hip soup, some wizened black cherry tones, a little bit of crème de cassis, light leathery tones, an evolved hint of meat stew and a touch of sweet raisiny fruit. There seems to be a bit of reduction, lending the nose a hint of bottle stink, but the somewhat unpleasant malty tones never seem to blow off. The wine feels rather evolved, ripe and quite sweet-toned on the palate with a full body and quite oak-forward flavors of cherry marmalade, toasty wood and caramel oak, some sweet raisiny fruit, light malty notes of barley wine, a little bit of peppery spice, a hint of fig jam and a tart, astringent touch of lingonberry. Silky mouthfeel. The structure relies mostly on the rather high acidity, not on the mellow, textural tannins. The lengthy finish is rich, moderately warm and rather sweet-toned with quite evolved flavors of bouillon and beef jerky, dark raisiny fruit, some wizened black cherries, a little bit of toasty oak spice, light caramel tones, a hint of gamey meat and a touch of prunes.

The wine is still relatively alive, but I’m not entirely convinced if the wine has actually benefited from aging. It feels like this wine never was quite pleasant in its youth - based on its sweetish fruit, prominent alcohol and lavish use of oak - and it doesn’t feel much more enjoyable now. This feels like the producer couldn’t get any other serious red grapes to grow but Pinot Noir, but they wanted to make massively big, heavily oaked blockbuster wines all the same. While the acidity feels adequate enough to carry the big size, the wine is still rather ponderous and clumsy in style, lacking all the finesse and playfulness a good Pinot Noir should show. And the raisiny and weirdly malty flavors really don’t help. Can’t say I enjoyed this wine much. (72 pts.)

Evolved and slightly hazy brick-red color. Dull, unpleasant nose with oxidative aromas of beef jerky, some raisiny fruit, light pungent notes of rancio, a little bit of Trappist beer, a hint of smoke-cured meat and a touch of funk. Not particularly inviting nose, to say the least. The wine is dry, dull and tired on the palate with dull flavors of tart lingonberries, sour cherry bitterness, some blood, a little bit of raisiny fruit and salty hints of soy sauce. High in acidity with no tannins to speak of. The finish is long, gently grippy and moderately oxidative with acid-driven flavors of cranberries, some beef jerky, light sour cherry tones, a hint of blood and a sharp touch of soy sauce.

A premoxed bottle. At least I think a village-level Spätburgunder shouldn’t be this evolved at only 4 years of age. Disappointing. NR (flawed)

Deep, luminous crimson color. Dark-toned, slightly sweet and subtly oaky nose with vibrant aromas of black cherries, some sappy herbal spice, light smoky tones, a little bit of savory wood spice, crunchy hints of cranberries and sour cherries and a touch of boysenberry. Contrasting the sweet-toned nose, the wine is dry, firm and crunchy on the palate with a medium body and focused flavors of tart lingonberries and cranberries, some sour cherry bitterness, light woody notes of savory oak spice, a little bit of blood, a sappy hint of dried herbs and a sweeter touch of dark-toned, toasty oak spice. The overall feel is quite stern and tightly-knit, thanks to the racy acidity and quite assertive, moderately grippy medium tannins. The finish is dry and quite intense with remarkably long flavors of tart lingonberries, brambly raspberries, some sour cherry bitterness, light toasty notes of sweet oak spice, a hint of blood and a sappy green touch of raspberry leaf tea. The firm tannins make the wine end on a somewhat grippy note.

A youthful, firm and wonderfully acid-driven Pinot Noir. The wine comes across as very serious, high-toned and structure-driven, but also slightly glossy and polished. The fruit department as a sort of anonymous, new world feel to it, not showing much German character to it, but the overall feel and structure feel wonderfully crunchy, speaking volumes on the potential of cool climate in warmer vintages. The wonderfully fresh and precise fruit and good, sinewy structure promise lots of potential for future development, so maybe with further cellaring this wine will come into full bloom - although, despite all its shortcoming, this is one very impressive and enjoyable Pinot Noir. Fine stuff. (93 pts.)

Rather deep and dark ruby red color with an evolved figgy hue. Big, sweet and concentrated nose with aromas of wizened black cherries and sweet black plums, cherry pits, some boozy notes of alcohol, light phenolic notes of peppery spice, a little bit of savory wood spice, a hint of balsamic VA and a touch dried herbs. Overall the nose feels rich and fruit-forward with lots of sunny dark fruit and slightly wild undertones, but with a somewhat odd, sweetish note. With air the nose opens up, becoming more perfumed, clean and attractive, letting the fruit notes overwhelm the more sauvage nuances of phenolics and VA. The wine is ripe, full-bodied and slightly tired on the palate with somewhat awkward flavors of wizened black cherries, boysenberry jam, some ripe figs, light plummy tones, a little bit of extracted savory spice, a hint of leathery funk and a touch of balsamic VA. The overall feel is rather soft and slightly blowzy with the medium acidity and very ripe, mellow tannins. The high alcohol lends some obvious warmth to the mouthfeel and it feels as though there is a slight hint of sugary sweetness in addition to the already very ripe fruit, making the wine’s texture very rich but also structurally quite fat. The finish is ripe, juicy and warm with quite long and somewhat sweet-toned flavors of boysenberry jam, some wizened figs, light balsamico tones of VA, a little bit of overripe black cherry, a hint of savory spice and a touch of earthy funk.

A rather big, ponderous and rather heavy Pinot Noir that reminds me more of the excessively sunny and almost Rhône-like 2015 Bojos than anything remotely Burgundian or typical of german Spätburgunder. The wine is just too ripe, sweet-toned and clumsy with a bit too soft structure and a somewhat dried-fruit character to the fruit department. The wine is just too soft, sweet and fat. Not particularly interesting or memorable. Pass. (78 pts.)

  • 2011 von Winning Pinot Noir Violette - Germany, Pfalz (7.11.2020)
    The top Pinot Noir cuvée of von Winning, blended from a special selection of the best barrels otherwise destined for the von Winning I Pinot Noir. 13,5% alcohol.

Dark, luminous and only somewhat translucent black cherry color. Somewhat restrained but otherwise quite textbook bouquet of Pinot Noir; aromas of brambly black raspberries, ripe cherries, some peppery spice, a little bit of toasty oak, light sweet notes of cloves, a hint of roasted meat and a floral touch of violets. Overall the nose feels slightly more like NZ Pinot Noir than Burgundy. On the palate the wine feels rich, full-bodied and round but also surprisingly dry and sinewy on the palate with bold and quite extracted flavors of ripe black cherries and juicy dark plums, some brambly notes of blackberries and black raspberries, a little bit of savory wood spice, light umami notes of roasted meat, a hint of earth and a touch of allspice. Overall the wine comes across as quite pure and fruit-driven as the oak tones start to feel quite nicely integrated. While the medium-to-moderately high acidity lends some sense of structure to the wine, the overall firmness comes from the surprisingly ample and assertive tannins that lend quite a bit of grip to the mouthfeel. The finish is big, juicy and rather grippy with dry flavors of ripe black cherries, some boysenberries, a little bit of sour cherry bitterness, light toasty oak tones, a hint of earth and a touch of gamey meat along with a subtle sense of warmth from the alcohol.

A surprisingly concentrated, robust and extracted Pinot Noir with tremendous sense of power and intensity. It feels as though there is quite a bit of oak here as well, but the oakier tones have been nicely integrated with the concentrated fruit over the years and the wine doesn’t feel that overdone nor excessively oaky. The acid department feels a bit understated compared to the bold fruit, making me think that this is a wine that probably performs best in cooler vintages. Despite being almost 10 years old, the wine is still relatively youthful and - based on the somewhat understated nose - is in somewhat of a slump now. Most likely the wine will continue to improve for many more years. Despite its big size and somewhat heavy overall feel, the wine never comes across as too ponderous or clumsy. Quite a nice example of big and concentrated Pinot Noir. (92 pts.)

Dark, luminous and moderately translucent cherry red with a hint of developed pomegranate hue. Rich, ripe and somewhat sweet-toned nose with ripe aromas of raspberries and red cherries, some toasty oak spice, light meaty tones, a little bit of peppery spice, hints of wild strawberries and a cooling touch of herbal lift. All in all the nose feels quite seductive, but not entirely Burgundian - with the ripe tones it makes me think more of a well-made Burgundy imitation from the new world. The wine is juicy, harmonious and wonderfully silky on the palate with a medium body and layered flavors of ripe forest fruits, some mocha oak, light peppery tones, a little bit of cocoa, a crunchy hint of fresh cranberries and a touch of meaty umami. There seems to be quite a bit of oak here, but it is wonderfully integrated with the ripe fruit so it doesn’t stick out at all. Very balanced, moderately high acidity and ripe, textural tannins that slowly pile up on the gums. The finish is ripe and juicy with long, persistent flavors of ripe cranberries and red cherries, some juicy dark forest fruits, light plummy tones, a little bit of toasty oak spice, an umami hint of roasted meat and a touch of savory wood spice.

A tasty, harmonious and elegant Pinot Noir that reminds me more of a new world Pinot Noir bowing deep into the direction of Burgundy than a true Spätburgunder or red Burgundy. Despite its 8 years of age, the wine is still quite youthful and lively, showing good potential for future improvement. Although the wine has obviously seen quite a bit of oak, it never really distracts me from the pleasure, as the emphasis is on the vibrant, nuanced fruit. However, I’m sure the wine will perform even better as the oak continues to integrate and disappear. Not an astounding wine, but a very enjoyable and delightful all the same. Recommended. (91 pts.)

Luminous, quite pale and slightly pinkish ruby core with an almost colorless rim. Fragrant, peppery and somewhat robust nose with aromas of ripe cranberries, coniferous forest, peppered meat, some brambly black raspberry and ripe blackcurrant, light woody tones, a little bit of mocha oak, floral hints of violets and a touch of sweet smoke. The wine is ripe, lively and slightly bitter on the palate with a medium body and bright flavors of tart lingonberries and sour cherries, ripe cranberry, some crushed peppercorns, a little bit of fresh red plum light woody tones of savory oak spice and toasty mocha, a subtly lactic hint of strawberry yogurt and a touch of pine needles. The wine is high in acidity, but the somewhat pronounced bitterness contributes more to the structure than the ripe and textural tannins. The finish is ripe and juicy with a little bit of tannic grip and vibrant flavors of sweet red fruits, peppery spice, some crunchy cranberry, light strawberry tones, a little bit of toasty cocoa oak, a hint of pine needles and a lactic touch of MLF character.

A very harmonious, sophisticated and thoroughly classic Ahr Pinot Noir. With its bright acidity, vibrant red toned fruit and quite pronounced spicy notes of black pepper and coniferous forest, this is a real textbook Spätburgunder by all accounts. I was surprised to learn that even at the age of 7 years it feels like the wine could use some further aging - both the oaky tones and yogurt-like lactic nuances of MLF are still somewhat noticeable and could use some additional age to integrate them better. All in all, this is a good, well-made and very serious Spätburgunder that is drinking quite well at the moment, but will most likely be a lot better once it’s twice as old. Recommended. (90 pts.)

Slightly hazy and surprisingly evolved dark red color with a brownish mahogany hue. The nose feels sweetish, dull and somewhat oxidative with aromas of meat stew, raisins, some cardboard, light soy sauce tones, a little bit of dried figs, a volatile hint of ether and a touch of black tea. It feels like the wine is past its peak. It is dry, quite bitter and rather flat on the palate with a medium body and quite oxidative flavors of tart cranberries, some cardboard, a little bit of raisin, light notes of dried dates, a hint of earth and a nutty touch of rancio. High in acidity with moderately grippy medium tannins. The finish is dry, bitter and short with flavor of crunchy cranberries, some oxidative notes of cardboard, light raisiny tones, a sharp hint of soy sauce and a touch of nutty rancio.

A young Pinot Noir suffering from a bad case of premox. Good, firm and rather tightly-knit structure, but a flat taste that is almost completely in pieces. I guess this could’ve been a wonderful, structure-driven wine had it been in pristine condition, but this was just disappointing. NR (flawed)

  • 2015 VDP Ahr Spätburgunder AHR 6 - Germany, Ahr (7.11.2020)
    A collaboration wine made with fruit pooled together by JJ Adeneuer, Cossmann-Hehle, HJ Kreuzberg, Meyer-Näkel, Nelles and Jean Stodden. Every producer brings in 300 kg of Pinot Noir harvested at Auslese ripeness. The crushed grapes start fermenting, but the fermentation is halted at the level of approximately 100 g/l by an addition of 77% wine distillate. The wine is fortified to approximately 20% ABV, after which it is left to macerate with the skins for an extended period of time in order to maximize the extraction. After pressing, the wine is aged in old barriques for 3 years and finally bottled by VDP Ahr. 19% alcohol, 96 g/l residual sugar and 5,4 g/l acidity.

Attractive, slightly translucent black cherry color. Rich, sweet and somewhat Porty nose with aromas of peppery spice, jammy black raspberries, some boozy alcohol, a little bit of sweet grapey fruit, light meaty tones, a floral hint of violets and a touch of cherry marmalade. The wine really does smell like a fusion of Vintage Port and Spätburgunder, lol. The nose itself isn’t too complex, but it nevertheless feels pure, vibrant and very true to the variety. The wine is sweet, surprisingly spicy, quite bitter and rather hot on the palate with a moderately full body and rich flavor of black cherry marmalade, jammy black raspberry, some peppery spice, a little bit of extracted bitterness, light sweet notes of grapey fruit, a floral hint of violets and a touch of charred game. The structure relies more on the high acidity than on the ripe, textural medium tannins. The finish is noticeably hot, long and powerful with rich flavors of sweet grapey fruit, some blackberry jam, a little bit of overripe black cherry, light peppery tones, a hint of sour cherry bitterness and a touch of fusel alcohol.

A very nice fortified wine made in a style almost identical to a Vintage Port. The wine is quite singular in style, but also very much like how you’d expect a fortified Spätburgunder from Ahr to taste like. This isn’t as bold, unctuous and tightly-knit as a true Vintage Port, but instead spicier, more lively and lighter in weight - just as an Ahr Pinot Noir would be in comparison to a Douro Tinto. The overall feel here is still very youthful, primary and grapey, making the wine really scream for further aging. I really don’t see why this wine couldn’t age as wonderfully as any true Vintage Port and I can imagine this wine will gain much more depth and complexity as it loses its primary qualities and develops some tertiary characteristics. Great, delicious stuff. Expect the score to go up with age. Priced according to its quality at 38€. (90 pts.)

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Wow those are some terrifying notes (and some good ones of course)


Thank you for this very well-written survey and helpful commentary. I purchased a single bottle of 2011 Markus Molitor Trarbacher Schlossberg PN trocken ** four years ago and haven’t decided yet when I might want to open it. It’s a pretty strapping wine at 14.5% per the label. I think I will wait awhile.


Well, those 2011 Molitor wines are certainly big - if not huge - but they are also some of the greatest German red wines there are, to my understanding. I’ve had only the 2011 Brauneberger Klostergarten ***, but that is definitely worth all the praise. I’m not really fond of these big Pinot Noirs, since I prefer Pinot Noir on the light and playful side, but all things considered, that was a spectacular wine. Here’s what I thought of the wine back then:

Beautiful, luminous dark cherry color. Very rich, expressive and classically Burgundian nose with ridiulously complex aromas of pure Pinosity, vaguely animal funk, red cherries, some dry and savory wood, a little bit of sweet cranberry sauce, a hint of wild sponti character, a touch of sappy brightness and a whiff of sweet volatile lift. Moderately full-bodied and generous for a Pinot Noir with some obvious sense of concentration - those three stars in the label obviously mean something! The wine feels serious and chewy on the palate with firm mouthfeel and rich and somewhat meaty flavors of dark cherry, beef jerky, some animal barnyard character, earthy and somewhat spicy Pinosity, a little bit of sour cherry bitterness and a hint of mushroomy sous-bois. The acidity is quite high - it would probably feel even higher were the wine lighter in body - and there is some sense of tannic grip as well. The finish is very long and tremendously complex with layered, thrilling flavors of game, baking spices, ripe dark cherries, some peppery spice, a little bit of earthy Pinosity, a leafy hint of autumnal earth and a touch of dried dark berries and raisined fruit. The high acidity carries the aftertaste on and on for minutes.

Ye lords. This is not something you normally come across when drinking German reds. Too often German Pinot Noirs are either too light and nondescript or then too ripe and overoaked, but this belongs to the top echelon of the German Pinot Noirs that aren’t either. The ripeness here is remarkable for a Mosel red wine and the sense of concentration is just ridiculous; yet the wine doesn’t feel like a ripe new world Pinot Noir, all due to its high acidity, focus and brightness. I’ve seen some reviewers and wine professionals compare these three-star Molitor reds to the greatest Grand Cru Burgundies and now, having tasted this wine, I can understand the comparison. The depth and complexity here is beyond words. I’m not fond of “big” Pinot Noirs, but this wine carries its weight and volume with such stunning grace I simply can’t be but impressed. Probably the greatest German red wine there is?

At 79€ this wine is definitely not cheap, but at the discounted price of 65€ the wine feels worth its price. No need to open any time soon; I can imagine the wine really starts to sing at 10 years of age. Very highly recommended. (96 pts.)

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The Thörle wines are really nice expressions and good value - I don’t think I’ve ever seen them in the USA, unfortunately.

Thanks, Otto, very helpful review of the 2011 Molitor Brauneberger Klostergarten PN. I hope my 2011 shows as spectacularly.


Fass Selections sell them.

Indeed. I visited Württemberg and Rheinhessen in 2016 and Thörle was quality-wise the best visit we had. Outrageously great quality throughout their whole range. Their Saulheimer Spätburgunder Kalkstain is a bargain.

That’s good news! Thank you, Robert.

Great tasting. Thank you for the notes. Too bad you did not have a Wasenhaus or Mobitz my two favorite German Spatburgunders.

Enjoyed the Ziereisen Jaspis Alte Reben last night.

Agree with you, Otto,

Markus Molitor Brauneberger Klostergarten ** Pinot Noir 2011 : 17,5/20 – 18/11/2015
Superbe pinot noir que je vois immédiatement sur Chambolle ou Vosne (rose, terre, fumée). La bouche, concentrée mais fine, possède une très belle tenue et un Beaux Bruns 2000 de Mortet me semble possible. Belle surprise sur ce rouge mosellan ambitieux (j’ai en revanche trouvé les 2012 dégustés au domaine récemment - Klostergarten, Mandelgraben, Graacher Himmelreich - trop boisés). Une fois dévoilé, on peut trouver que le vin est à la fois exotique et plutôt moelleux, en style allemand de l’Ahr par exemple.

And a very good Markus Molitor Pinot Noir Brauneberger Klosterberg ** 2010 (AP 14/13) in july 2019.

I had the 2013 Friedrich Becker Sankt Paul Spätburgunder Großes Gewächs a while ago and it was fantastic. Alas, the Sankt Paul is getting hard to get in the US …

What are thoughts on Furst? Pricing is at Burgundy levels these days.

Haven’t had them enough to have much insight.

But seeing how Burgundy has the widest pricing spread in the world for any wine, “Burgundy level pricing” doesn’t really tell anything. Seeing how the entry-level Fürst wines sell at 10-15€, village-levels at 25-30€, Erste Lagen (1er Cru) at 40€ and GG (Grand Cru) at 55-60€, that sounds quite reasonable for any Burgundy producer.

My experience with a modest Messmer was quite satisfactory last month or so

Furst Hundsruck was offered to me closer to $200.

Well that definitely sounds more Burgundian! [wow.gif]

I have missed out that one completely - and for a good reason, since I mentally filter out wines priced like that automatically.

I find it hard to pay even $100 for some of the spectacular wines in the world, so I’d wager no matter how exceptional the wine is, it’s not going to be worth the price. When it comes to wines that cost three-figures or more, you’re bound to pay for scarcity or prestige, not (just) for quality. So most likely the wine isn’t going to be much better than the $60 GG Fürst wines, only more rare. And if you’re not hunting rare labels, I guess it doesn’t matter which GG you’re drinking.

But then again, I might be completely wrong. That might be the best Pinot Noir in the world for all I know. I’ll report back when I get to taste the wine.

Surprised to see so many traditional riesling producers among the group.