Looking for a light wine with a silkiness of texture?

German Pinot Noir is well proven, the only problem is sourcing enough of the stuff

Following my article on New Zealand Pinot Noir last week, we now take a look at another country making increasingly good wines from the same grape variety. I have been singing the praises of German Pinot, or Spätburgunder as it is known there, for a few years. It had been slightly under the radar, largely because it is made in relatively small quantities, but the wines compete favourably with those produced anywhere else around the globe.

The newest arrival is the Kesseler below, one of the greatest examples of this variety in Germany.

Pinot Noir has become very fashionable in recent years, both with producers and wine drinkers. Most of us would be aware that Burgundy is the true home of Pinot Noir, and the region responsible for the greatest wines.

Beyond that we tend to think of Chile, New Zealand and possibly Australia. In the US, Oregon and to some extent California have built reputations as producers of the most serious wines in country; the movie Sideways in 2004 lead to a huge increase in demand, something the Californian wine producers were not long in addressing. Sadly we don't see very many of them on this side of the water.


Germany is the third-largest producer of this variety in the world, after France and the US. They are not recent converts, as records going back to the early Middle Ages attest. This is hardly surprising given that the main vineyards of Germany lie close to the border with France and the vineyards of Burgundy as well as Alsace and Champagne, two other places Pinot Noir is grown.

We can probably thank the Cistercians, who cultivated this variety in Burgundy and along the river Rhine.

In the 1960s and 1970s, German viticulture was aimed primarily at the volume end of the market – as those who drank Liebfraumilch will be aware, and Pinot Noir does not respond well to being over-cropped.

It was only in the 1980s that producers began to take the grape seriously, planting better clones, keeping yields down and selecting appropriate sites. Helped by a slightly warmer climate and vastly improved knowledge, a dozen or more producers emerged in the late 20th and early 21st century.

The tiny Ahr valley has traditionally been seen as the home of the best German pinots despite its northerly position. However, virtually every region is now getting in on the act.

As elsewhere, Pinot Noir in Germany varies greatly depending on soil, climate and producer, but if I had to give it one common characteristic it would be a silkiness of texture.

Most are light, with seductive sweet yet savoury fruits. In the past, some wines were over-oaked and a few still are, but the majority now rely on those lovely delicate pure fruits to impress. And impress they certainly do. These days, my concern is not so much the quality of the wines, as the lack of quantity.

Spätburgunder has become hugely popular at home in Germany and in the US. In many cases, importers have to beg for a small allocation, and they don’t always receive enough to meet demand.

In addition to the producers below, my all-time favourite is Fürst, whose wines have featured on these pages several times. Look out too for Becker, Molitor, Mayer-Nakel, Ziereisen, Huber, Wagner-Stempel, Heitlinger, Burg Ravensburg and Muller.

I drink Pinot Noir throughout the year. It is excellent served lightly chilled in the summer, and very good with salmon and tuna, but I see it as a very autumnal wine, with its hint of undergrowth and even decay. It goes really well with game birds as well as farmed duck and goose. In fact, if you are already planning Christmas, it goes very well with turkey too.