I recently headed to a trade tasting in Munich solely to taste a wide range of German Pinot Noir. Why? I have tasted examples from certain growers that suggest that Germany is benefiting from climate change and a base of younger growers who have really learnt their art. It has been quite some time since I had the chance to taste so many German Pinot Noir, or Spätburgunder as they are known, side by side. I am pleased to offer two Pinot Noirs, both great values from Weingut Dautel – the Schupen and Forstberg, each at £145 per 6 bottle case in bond.
While not every estate impressed, and quality remained variable, a handful of estates, largely from the Ahr, Baden and Württemberg showed incredibly well on account of the poise, purity and ripeness. Head and shoulders above the pack were the wines of Christian Dautel of Weingut Dautel. This estate lies 20 kilometres north of Stuttgart and encompasses around 20 hectares of vineyards. While the majority is devoted to Riesling, 18% is dedicated to Spätburgunder. The wines that caught our eye were two Pinot Noir classified as Grosses Gewächs, namely the single-vineyard Forstberg and Schupen. Grosses Gewächs is a German term which can loosely be interpreted as the equivalent of the French ‘Grand Cru’, in that it relates to the highest classification of individual vineyards within the German system.
To give some background, Christian told us his father, Ernst Dautel, had been a co-founder of the local cooperative, where he worked until completing his wine studies in 1985. Recognising the potential quality inherent in his own vineyards, Ernst left the cooperative to solely focus on making his own wines at the Dautel estate under his own label. His son Christian grew up working alongside his father but opted to gain experience by working at wineries across the globe, including a year assisting Dominique Lafon at Domaine des Comtes Lafon in Meursault. He returned home with a broader base of understanding and oversaw his first vintage at Weingut Dautel in 2010, becoming head winemaker in 2013. Christian focuses on allowing the wines to finely express the nuances of his various vineyard sites. He therefore uses very little new oak and eschews the use of barriques in favour of larger 300 litre hogsheads as well as much larger oak barrels. The estate’s vines are planted at high densities, in order to create competition for the vines and limit yield – production of Forstberg GG is approximately 250 cases of 6 bottles, and Schupen GG is even lower, at around 220.
A little extra background
Plantings of Pinot Noir in Germany are significant, approaching 12,000 hectares, making Germany the third largest producer of Pinot Noir in the world after France and the USA. Germany offers numerous sites across its diverse regions, and invariably offers cooler zones with more delayed ripeness that appear to be benefitting from warmer summers. As you may know, Pinot Noir is renowned as being a demanding grape variety. A long, cool, even growing season is often cited as ideal, yet today in Burgundy, the hang-time on the vine is being noticeably curtailed as a consequence of warmer temperatures and ‘even’ isn’t a word featuring in many harvest reports for the region; ‘rollercoaster’ is more common. A study by the University of Bern shows that grapes in Burgundy have been picked 13 days earlier on average since 1988. Traditionally, the Burgundian harvest started towards the end of September. Today it tends to be towards the beginning of September, or the end of August as was the case with the 2018 vintage. Hotter summers lead to higher sugar levels in the fruit and thus higher potential alcohol levels in the wines. Many wines in the 2018 vintage exceeded 14% alcohol. In such circumstances, the challenge for the winemaker is to achieve balance with a more demanding set of analyses; wines with higher alcohol levels and lower acidity can prove tricky to balance. Quite where all this ends is difficult to say, but Aubert de Villaine, of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, suggests Burgundian harvests will be around the 15th August by 2050. When I first started studying wine, harvest dates were notionally predicated on the long-standing principle that they would be 100 days after flowering. The more erratic nature of the growing season and the generally hotter summers mean that this can no longer be relied upon and that increasingly this period is shorter. Little respite for vines. Little respite for winemakers.
2017 Spätburgunder, Schupen, Grosses Gewâchs, Weingut Dautel
£145 per 6 bottle case in bond
The Schupen vineyard is at an altitude of 300 metres, with calcareous soil and an average vine age of around 50 years, yielding aromatic wines with a darker fruit profile. Bright in the glass, the Schupen reveals scented, ripe, juicy red berry aromas with notes of darker plum too. This vibrant character is carried forward on the palate, with generous notes of summer berry fruit. There is an effortless style about this Pinot Noir, nothing heady or obtrusive. While it possesses good substance there is a terrific lightness of touch as well as fine persistence. Background notes of spice and slatey mineral notes come through to the finish, with the merest hint of oak. The sleek, pure nature of this Pinot Noir is sure to win favour. Very impressive. Drink: 2020-2027. (SL)
2017 Spätburgunder, Forstberg, Grosses Gewâchs, Weingut Dautel
£145 per 6 bottle case in bond
The Forstberg vineyard is on steep, south-facing slopes at an altitude of 400 metres. The vines here are on average 20-30 years of age, planted in soils of coloured marl, and yield wines with a notable mineral drive on the finish. There is a markedly different character to the Forstberg, the fruit tends towards the darker end of the spectrum with notes scented black cherry allied to juicy red fruits. There is a more powerful mineral backbone here, which creates a sense of austerity beautifully offsetting the juicy, freshly crushed accent of the fruit. Perhaps more in its shell currently, it will be fascinating to see how the Forstberg ages, it certainly possesses a bolder structure and more voluminous fruit, relatively speaking, though it retains that airy, almost ethereal character that seems common to the Dautel Pinot Noir. This is a really captivating Pinot Noir with a distinct creaminess to its texture. A remarkably pure example that provides a fascinating contrast to the Schupem. Another fine example. Drink : 2022-2029. (SL)
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All the best,