In late August, I joined colleagues from around the world in Wiesbaden, Germany, for the 2023 preview of the VDP. Grosses Gewächs (GG) top dry wines. The tasting showcased a range of varieties, from Lemberger, Sylvaner, Weissburgunder to Spätburgunder and an extensive roster of Riesling. I reviewed nearly 300 of the 471 wines on the docket in three days. Though I missed a few entries, much of what I tasted proved thrilling, especially Spätburgunder.
I orchestrated my first deep dive into German Pinot Noir (Spätburgunder means ‘late Burgundy’ in reference to its ripening time and origin), for an article in The SOMM Journal in 2015. Back then, samples were hard to find and few retailers and sommeliers, even in New York City, had much to say about the category, let alone proffer compliments.
As a wine writer—and former editor of Fordham’s Environmental Law Journal—I’ve followed climate change closely for two decades. I suspected that Spätburgunder would be a category to watch. Indeed, the wines have blossomed into noble challengers to their neighbors in nearby Burgundy, France, though at what cost to the country’s filigreed whites—is an article for another moment.
Today, Spätburgunder flourishes in each of Germany’s 13 quality wine regions, covering a combined area of approximately 28,880 acres throughout the country. This positions Germany’s as the third-largest global producer of Pinot Noir , following France with around 79,070 acres and the United States with 61,750 acres under cultivation.
Most Spätburgunder at the tasting hailed from the 2021 vintage, a cooler, wetter year with higher disease pressure from downy mildew. Baden, typically Germany’s warmest growing region, suffered late spring frosts and icy winds which damaged up to 80 percent of young wet buds in some vineyards, according to the Wines of Germany 2021 vintage report. The small, northern region of Ahr experienced a devastating flood in July, though the most attentive of growers recovered, turning out wines of delicacy and finesse.
During the preview, many 2021s reflected the chillier conditions with a throughline of freshness and tension at the expense of concentration and power. For example, 2020 was a hotter, drought-afflicted vintage that nevertheless imbued reds with more muscle and alcohol. Spätburgunder harvested in 2019 enjoyed an exceptionally balanced vintage for ripeness and brightness. Despite varying degrees of vintage variation, however, German Spätburgunder has never been better, and it should be the Pinot Noir you’re seeking to drink.
Due to time constraints and varied interests, I did not make it through all of the Spätburgunder available to taste. The 18 listed below reflect a few of my favorites.
Wines to Find: 18 Spätburgunder Grosses Gewächs VDP Grosse Lagen
Rudolf Fürst, Klingenberg Schlossberg, Franken, 2021, Score: 93
An aromatic, enticing nose of sour red cherry and baking spice follows through to the silky, bright palate. Burgundian in its elegance and complexity, exuberant fruit and a touch of minerality shows good concentration while remaining elegant and delicate. Outstanding.
Zehnthof Theo Luckert, Sulzfeld Maustal, Franken, 2020, Score: 93
Currants and confected cherry aromas introduce the spicy, juicy palate. Shimmering with taut, balanced acidity, fine tannins give focus to the long finish. Rich and ethereal, this is one to cellar.
Bernhard Huber, Malterdingen Bienenberg, Baden, 2021, Score: 93
Seamless integration of vibrant red fruits and crisp acidity. Elegant with a touch of velvet to the mouthfeel despite fine youthful tannins. Exceptional drinking in 4-5 years. One of Germany’s best.
Franz Keller, Achkarren Schlossberg, Baden, 2021, Score: 93
This wine has all the elements of a fine, age-worthy Pinot Noir: an elegant, bright, silky, and restrained palate. Attractive sour cherry and plums on the long, layered finish. Will be a stunner.
Bernhard Huber, Köndringen Alte Burg, Baden, 2021, Score: 93
On the nose, violets, damp earth, red forest fruits, and spice introduce the rich, robust palate. Carries textural depth and breadth seldom found in its peers. Silky tannins, and balanced acidity complete the package.
Franz Keller, Oberbergen Bassgeige Steinriese, Baden, 2021, Score: 93
Born of a star vineyard site of volcanic rock, this is Franz Keller’s top Pinot Noir. Though a lighter, leaner vintage, the wine still delivers on complexity and detail with fine-grained tannins. Offers a whiff of smoke and flintiness with blue and red fruits on the nose and palate. Light and airy in the mouth with a soft swaddle of oak, the finish is protracted and faceted from energetic acidity.
Rudolf Fürst, Bürgstadt Hundsrück, Franken, 2021, Score: 92
From poor, rocky soil springs forth this miracle of Pinot Noir with its enchanting aromas of sour cherry and rose petals. The restrained Burgundian palate offers youthful red fruits, a touch of spice, and a wet earth note that will develop into a seductive beauty in a few years time.
Staatlicher Hofkeller Würzburg, Großheubach Bischofsberg, Franken, 2021, Score: 92
Notes of crushed red raspberry, early spring strawberries, and red currants on the nose and palate. A touch of spice lends intrigue to the focused, chewy finish.
Bernhard Huber, Bombach Sommerhalde, Baden, 2021, Score: 92
Crushed violet pastilles and ripe cherry aromas and flavors. Deft use of oak supports rather than overwhelms the fruit. In the throes of youth, tannins are still a bit grippy but will resolve into a seamless wine with time.
Bernhard Huber, Hecklingen Schlossberg, Baden, 2021, Score: 92
Concentrated ripe red fruits on the nose and palate, with a racy acidity lending delineation and deliciousness to the extended finish. One to age in the cellar for at least ten years.
Franz Keller, Oberrotweil Kirchberg, Baden, 2021, Score: 92
A wine of great finesse from a south-west site in Kirchberg, the nose offers inviting aromas of sour cherries, raspberries, and fresh roses. A hint of chocolate-dipped orange peel pops up on the palate, accentuated by brisk acidity and framed in fine-grained tannins. Oak is present but judicious. Has a long cellar life ahead.
Rudolf Fürst, Bürgstadt Centgrafenberg, Franken, 2021, Score: 91
A touch cooler than Fürst’s Schlossberg Spätburgunder, the vibrant nose offers delicate red fruits and an iron-like minerality. Elegant on the palate, complexity derives from its nuance rather than power. Balanced acidity, silky tannins and a long, lovely finish land this wine in the top bracket of Germany’s best Pinot Noirs.
Georg Müller Stiftung, Hattenheim Hassel, Rheingau, 2020, Score: 91
Shows wonderful concentration that’s missing from many peers. Ripe red cherries and macerated strawberries are framed in a touch of wood and baking spice with bright acidity. A pleasure to taste, will evolve beautifully in a few years.
Künstler, Hochheim Reichestal, Rheingau, 2019, Score: 91
Burgundian-style Pinot with a hint of smoke and minerality, ample ripe fruits from raspberry, cherry, to black plum, all framed in French oak and clove spice. Young, chewy tannins buffered by a firm backbone of acidity deliver a long, focused finish. There is plenty of substance for aging in the cellar.
Steintal, Klingenberg Schlossberg, Franken, 2021, Score: 91
Lithe and supple with layers of fresh berry fruits atop gentle, youthful tannins. Energetic acidity sharpens the tapered finish. Does the wine live up to its notoriously high price, often tagged at 80 Euros? Those who can afford to do so should cellar this.
Battenfeld-Spanier, Hohen-Sülzen Kirchenstück, Rheinhessen, 2021, Score: 91
The nose offers lovely fragrant aromas of violets, rose petals, and red cherries. Distinct in its class for its purity and transparency on the palate, this wine has a whiff of earth and minerality. Faceted, nuanced details make this a pleasure to taste and watch over time.
Deutzerhof, Heimersheim Landskrone, Ahr, 2021, Score: 91
Fragrant, light and juicy, with crunchy red fruits. Though an odd comparison—Germany to California—it nevertheless evokes the early days of coastal California styles before concentrated jammy expressions, and climate change, took hold. Not overachieving, just cool-climate pretty for pretty’s sake.
Franz Keller, Jechtingen Enselberg, Baden, 2021, Score: 91
From a west-facing volcanic site, offers sour cherry, a whiff of licorice, and a mineral earthiness on the nose, with ripe tannins and crunchy red and black fruits on the palate. Good structure balanced by bright acidity, too young and closed to show its full scope at a preview tasting, but well-made and worth holding for several years.