I wish you could have been sitting beside me at a recent tasting. Not just because you would’ve enjoyed the outstanding wines of the Von Winning vineyards but to understand how we are missing out by not buying more German wine.
We were honored to have Andreas Hutwohl of Von Winning guide us through an unforgettable tasting of some of the most impressive German rieslings and equally amazing pinot noirs.
Of course, we identify Germany with unforgettable rieslings but it was the pinot noirs that had my attention. You may be surprised to learn Germany is the third-largest producer of pinot noir in the world, behind France and the United States.
Germans call the grape spätburgunder, which means late ripening (spät) pinot (Burgunder). (The literal translation is late burgundy.) Pinot noir once accounted for just a speckling of plantings in Germany’s 13 wine regions but now makes up more than 50 percent of plantings in regions such as Ahr, Baden and Franken.
I first tasted spätburgunder almost 20 years ago. At that time there were very few examples showcasing the potential of this grape in Germany. It was also when many German vintners were struggling to get their grapes to the desired levels of ripeness before harvest. Today, thanks to innovations in viticulture and new winemaking techniques, ripening isn’t a problem and German winemakers are taking these wines to the next level.
When tasting spätburgunder, lovers of pinot noir will find a distinctive, unique expression of this grape. The wines tend to have a fresher, leaner and more aromatic profile than pinot noirs from other regions in the world. As winemaking techniques improve and younger winemakers take the helm we will see more and more high quality pinot noir coming out of Germany.
German riesling is widely available in the United States but German pinot noir is quite limited. Typically, a few dozen to a few hundred cases are imported. You don’t want to miss out on this opportunity to taste for yourself Von Winning’s lineup.
- 2017 Von Winning Estate Riesling Trocken, Germany (about $21 retail)
- 2017 Von Winning ‘Winnings’ Riesling, Germany (about $19 retail)
- 2017 Von Winning Sauvignon Blanc II, Germany (about $22 retail)
- 2018 Von Winning Pinot Noir Rosé, Germany (about $22 retail)
- 2016 Von Winning Kalkofen Riesling Grosses Gewachs, Germany (about $70 retail)
- 2015 Von Winning Pinot Noir II, Germany (about $43 retail)
- 2014 Von Winning Pinot Noir I, Germany (about $82 retail)
If you’re a regular reader of Uncorked, you know of my love for the magnificent rose. And perhaps it is because I frequently profess my feelings that many have questioned my love of rose, wanting to know why I love dry rose so much. I generally will answer much like many of my past columns on the subject: It tastes great, is a versatile wine and matches well with almost all foods. But this past week when asked, I had a slow pause before answering and simply replied: because I live in the South and it’s hot.
A refreshing glass of chilled rose wine with its array of vibrant flavors is the perfect answer to what wine to drink on a hot day. In the past there were generally only a few styles on most retail store shelves (mostly very sweet styles), but today a whole range of rose is available in local shops with some stores having entire sections devoted to rose wines.
As with any style of wine there are different types based on the grape variety used in production. Rose wines range in color from light pink to a deep salmon. But based on the grape used for production, the styles can have many different tastes, some similar and others distinctly different.
Malbec red wine is growing in popularity as more consumers become familiar with it. The same can be said of malbec rose. When creating a rose wine the winemaker will let the juice soak on the skins of the red grapes for a very short time. The malbec grape is known for its juicy powerful skin and the rose styles reflect this with a fuller body and with tannic structure more so than other roses. A malbec rose is a crowd-pleaser, easy to drink and pairs with most proteins traditionally only thought to match with red wines.
- 2014 Domaine Bousquet, Argentina (about $9 retail)
- 2014 Calcu Rose, Chile (about $15 retail)
Pinot Noir is a finicky grape to grow; it is very sensitive to a region’s climate, soil and overall location. But this finickiness is also why we love the unique qualities of pinot noir with its elegant and powerful flavors when produced as a red wine. When a winemaker chooses to turn the grape into a rose, it showcases the same unique qualities and divine tastes. The flavors of this rose are usually cherry, raspberry, spice and bright berries.
- 2014 Elk Cove Pinot Noir Rose, Oregon (about $17 retail)
- 2014 Calera Pinot Noir Rose, California (about $25 retail)
Grenache, also known as Garnacha in Spain, is ideal for producing rose wines because of its low tannin and acidity. It almost always shows flavors of strawberry, raspberry, watermelon and sometimes lemonade.
- 2014 Penya Rose, France (about $12 retail)
- 2014 Chateau d’Aqueria Tavel, France (about $24 retail)
Many white wine lovers want to cross over into the world of reds, but it’s usually the heavy drying that tannins produce on the palate that stifles their leap. The tannins develop as red grapes soak with their skins during fermentation, a process most white wines do not undergo. This process creates a substantial difference in the taste of white and red wines.
The good news is there are many red wines with moderate or even soft tannins offering a subtle, juicy taste similar to white varieties. Here are a few that just might convert dedicated white wine drinkers to the enticing world of reds.
Lambrusco is the white wine drinker’s dream in a red wine. Not only is it refreshing, with barely noticeable tannins, it is extremely low in alcohol (usually only 8 percent ). It’s made in the Emilia Romagna region in Northern Italy. Many think of it as the sticky sweet wine in mass production in the 1970s. But don’t confuse all Lambrusco as being equal. Quality Lambrusco is such a joy to drink because it has a slight bubbly spritz with flavors of blueberry to strawberry.
- NV Lambrusco dell’Emilia Lambrusco, Italy (about $10 retail)
- NV Santo Stefano Lambrusco, Italy (about $14 retail)
Pinot noir may be the standard for light-bodied, low-tannin red wine. You can compare it to almost the opposite end of the spectrum of a big, bold cabernet sauvignon. It is used in some of the most celebrated wines of all time, but can be found in values throughout the world. These wines will have low tannins and taste of strawberry and cranberry, with fresh fruity aromas.
- 2013 Irony Monterey Pinot Noir, California (about $11 retail)
- 2012 Schug Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, California (about $24 retail)
Gamay is best known as the grape behind the famed Beaujolais of France. The most famous is Beaujolais Nouveau, which is bottled and on retail shelves within months of production. The reason for its freshness is because it is designed to be consumed within a year of bottling. Beaujolais is truly a white wine drinker’s bridge to trying red wines, with a light taste of strawberries, raspberries and ripe cherries.
- 2013 Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais, France (about $10 retail)
- 2013 Louis Jadot Beaujolais, France (about $18 retail)
New Zealand is generally known for its racy, bracingly acidic sauvignon blancs, but pinot noir is quickly joining in the limelight.
New Zealand’s South Island is one of the world’s most exciting hot spots for the pinot noir devotee. This grape has a reputation for being finicky outside of Burgundy and doesn’t adapt well to many new areas, but the Otago region’s pinot noir production is growing at a phenomenal rate, with new wineries opening every year.
The cool climate of the South Island is comparable with the best growing regions for this grape. Central Otego grows New Zealand’s (and the world’s) most southerly grape vines, some of them cultivated south of the 45th parallel. It is New Zealand’s only wine region with a continental climate. Most vines are planted on hillsides to gain maximum sun exposure.
The region has a traditional winemaking style much like you will find in benchmark European wine regions.
Much of the influence is from the many New Zealand winemakers working second annual vintages in Europe and gaining a wider perspective on the world of wine (known as flying winemakers).
Another positive influence is the reverse migration of mostly young French winemakers joining in during the New Zealand harvest and winemaking. These influences continue to show in the restrained delicate pinot noir styles from the South Island.
- 2012 Dashwood Pinot Noir, New Zealand (about $17 retail)
- 2012 The Seeker Pinot Noir, New Zealand (about $14 retail)
- 2012 Brancott Pinot Noir, New Zealand (about $16 retail)
- 2012 Roaring Meg Pinot Noir, New Zealand (about $23 retail)
- 2012 Mount Difficulty Pinot Noir, New Zealand (about $40 retail)
- 2012 Greywacke Winery Pinot Noir, New Zealand (about $39 retail)
I can’t say I’ve ever considered myself one to be frustrated with a grape. Until now. Over the past few weeks I have experienced the same combination of obsession and confusion the rest of the world seems to have with pinot noir.
I set out on a journey to explore this alluring and mysterious grape by scrutinizing my past tasting notes and, of course, tasting a lot of wines in the process. Pinot noir is an incredibly finicky grape that demands ideal growing conditions and is rarely open to any coaxing in the winery. Simply said, it is one tough grape to get right.
As for the splurges over $50 I’ve tasted, frustration was virtually non-existent save for the fact that most of the wines are made in minuscule quantities. Honestly, there was not a bad one in the bunch. And it makes perfect sense if we keep in mind that these are the wines that earned pinot noir its cult status from producers in France, California and Oregon. Not only were there no complaints, but with each taste it became clearer as to why we obsess over this grape. Its simply sublime at its best.
It was the value category that gave me more than a few rough days of tasting. Bottle after bottle in the under $15 range proved to be hit or miss. The blame may not be the grape but the crazed popularity of a few years ago that resulted in plantings anywhere and everywhere, leaving us to wade through a river of not so great wines made from this finicky grape.
The bottom line is that if you wish to experience the greatness of pinot noir, be advised that this grapes best values are rarely bargain priced.
- 2009 Mark West Central Coast Pinot Noir, California (about $13 retail)
- 2008 Siduri Santa Lucia Pinot Noir, California (about $43 retail)