Deciphering Deutsch Spätburgunder
This post may just be a learning process both for me and for you, I reckon, for German wines have always been a most impenetrable and undecipherable entity. For one, my struggle is linguistic: attempting to read the label of a German wine makes me feel pretty illiterate. Labels list an abundance of information—grape, producer, vineyard, time of harvest, level of sweetness and classification—in a language I cannot understand. But for all that hard work spent on Google translate, the rewards are enormous—we all know Germany produces some of the most exquisite, age-worthy Rieslings in the world, and though sweetness is unfashionable these days, their excellence hangs on the delicate balance between sugar and acidity.
But this is not a post about Rieslings. This is a post about the wonderful Spätburgunder, the German name for Pinot Noir. You can sometimes find the word “Blauer” before Spätburgunder, to indicate the color of the grape, blue. (Put in contrast to Weissburgunder, white pinot, or Pinot Blanc.) If one were to dissect the word “blauer Spätburgunder” it would mean something like: blue, late, Burgundian grape, certainly crystallizing how literal and explicit the German language is.
It is a well-known secret that Spätburgunders are having a renaissance. It is suspected that climate change has given an unexpected stroke of luck to the growth of red grape varietals in Germany, a predominantly cooler region that favored white grapes. But Pinot Noir has been planted all along and has been historically widely consumed in Germany. In fact, until not so long ago very little was imported stateside because how well regarded it is in its home turf. Luckily today there are more importers seeking out small, sustainable, natural winemakers that add a distinct voice not only to the scope and beauty of Pinot Noir, but to the power and finesse of German wines.
Here at Slope Cellars we are proud to continue our support of two beloved producers, both in the Baden region, in the south-west corner of Germany, near the town of Basel.
The people behind Weingut Ziereisen are Black Forest farmers at heart. Four generations converge in making everything happen, from the vineyard and farmland, to the farm shop and the cellar and everywhere in between. It just doesn’t get any more family operated than this. Their properties are living symbiotic ecosystems, where Mother Nature dictates where and how man will intervene. Similarly, their grapes do the talking when it comes to winemaking, and it is the task of winemaker Hanspeter Ziereisen to just listen and be patient. The 2010 ZIEREISEN SPÄTBURGUNDER “SCHULEN" from a single vineyard is lean and high-toned. It reminisces of Pinot Noirs from across the border in Alsace, but really focused in its savory, herbaceous character: fennel, sorrel and—cannabis? Like the body of a decathlete, it is lean but muscular, in a controlled repose.
At Weingut Koch, winemaker Holger Koch takes a similar approach: the grapes will tell him what to do. There are no pesticides, chaptalization or yeasting, and quality is preferred over quantity. Their 2014 HERRENSTÜCK PINOT NOIR is from old-vines in the village of Herrenstück and it is a study in focus: laser sharp acidity, with salted raspberry and ethereally woodsy quality. It is juicy, made for day-drinking, but I would wager a little age would do it wonders, too.
Ziereisen and Koch have our deepest respect and admiration for making wine that exalts a most beloved grape, but also for making us understand how to understand German, despite the language barrier. –Alejandra