Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Tim Atkin Pinot Noir Taste-Off of October 2011: Germany Versus the Rest of the World - German Red Wines Show Strong Performance

Picture: Christian G.E. Schiller with Christoph (left) and Johannes Thoerle (right) at Winzerhof Thoerle in Saulheim, Rheinhessen, Germany. The 2008 Winzerhof Thörle Spätburgunder Hölle was ranked #3 overall and was the best German wine.

Sponsored by the German Wine Institute (Deutsches Wein Institut), Tim Atkin organized a Pinot Noir tasting in London in October 2011, at which the German wines included in the tasting performed extremely well: 7 of the top 13 wines of the 40 Pinot Noirs from around the world were German Spaetburgunder wines.

This tasting has a good chance of becoming a miles post in the ongoing process of international recognition of Germany as a producer of premium red wines.

The German Red Wine Revolution

There is a red wine revolution going on in Germany and the world increasingly starts to take note of it. Of course, given its location, the red wines of Germany tend to be not like the fruity red wines we know from warmer countries, but lean and more elegant, with a lot of finesse. 30 years ago, the share of red wine in total German wine output was not more than 10 percent; in the international wine scene, people would not talk about German red wine. But this is changing. Germany now produces red wines that can compete with the best of the world; the share of red wines in terms of production has increased to about 35 percent now in Germany and increasingly the international market takes note of what is happening in Germany.

Picture: Gerhard Stodden, Weingut Jean Stodden at the Annual Wine Presentation of the VDP Wine Makers from the Nahe, Ahr and Rheinhessen Regions in 2010 in Mainz, Germany. The 2009 Weingut Jean Stodden Alte Reben Spätburgunder was ranked #9.

Today, Germany is the third biggest producer of Pinot Noir (called Spaetburgunder in Germany), after France and the US, with more planted than Australia and New Zealand combined. However, despite being the world’s third largest producer of Pinot Noir, the country exports just over 1% of its production.

Spaetburgunder in Germany and Pinot Noir in the World

In Germany, the Pinot Noir is to red wine what the Riesling is to white wine: the cream of the crop. In the US, Pinot Noir shows great promise in Oregon and California. The reputation that gets Pinot Noir so much attention, however, is owed to the wines of the Bourgogne in France, where it has probably been cultivated since at least the 4th century (first documented, however, in the 14th century). Regardless of where it’s grown, Pinot Noir is not typically a value wine. That is so because Pinot Noir is such a delicate grape that it is difficult and expensive to grow and make into the spectacular wine it can be. It is sensitive to climate and soil, Pinot Noir needs warmth (but not intense heat) to thrive and does well in chalky soils. As the German name implies, it ripens late (spät).

Tim Atkin’s London Tast-Off of October 2011

The wine tasting, chaired by Tim Atkin, took place in London on October 28, 2011. The tasting panel was comprised of journalists (Jancis Robinson MW, Stephen Brook, Matthew Jukes, Gabriel Savage, Anthony Rose, Stephan Reinhardt and Tim Atkin MW), sommeliers (Ronan Sayburn MS, Gearoid Devaney MS, Hamish Anderson, Xavier Rousset) and wine consultants (Peter McCombie MW and Christine Parkinson).

How this all Came About

After the tasting, Tim Atkin explained in his blog how all this came about: He was in Germany earlier this year with Steffen Schindler of the German Wine Institute, visiting Pinot Noir producers. The question came up who was the third largest Pinot Noir producer in the world. Tim Atkin writes: “The answer, believe it or not, is Germany, behind France and the USA. That wasn’t the only thing that surprised me about German Pinot Noir. The other, more important thing was the impressive quality of the top wines. The words world class are over-used. But these Pinots were just that. Why don’t we see more of them in the UK, I asked the winemakers?“

He describes what followed: “Hamish Anderson, the head sommelier of The Tate and my travelling companion, came up with a suggestion. Why didn’t the German Wine Institute put on a blind tasting of German Pinots in London and pit the best of Germany against some of the world’s top Pinots? To their credit, the Germans agreed. Hamish and I went back to the Rheingau in September to blind taste nearly 400 samples with five German colleagues. After a day of hard tasting, we came up with 20 wines to represent the best of German Pinot.”

Tim Atkin: “Our next job was to come up with a list of international competitors. To reflect the balance of power in the Pinot world, we chose three each from New Zealand, California, Oregon and Australia and one from Chile, Argentina, Austria, Switzerland and South Africa. In most cases I tried to chose wineries with a track record. The exception was Oregon, where I picked one wine (Antica Terra) that really impressed me at IPNC.”

Picture: Paul Fuerst, Weingut Rudolf Fuerst, at Schloss Johannisberg, Germany. The 2009 Weingut Rudolf Fürst Centgrafenberg Spätburgunder Grosses Gewächs was ranked #4 overall and was the runner-up of the German wines.

“This left the three Burgundies. Here, producers and importers were less keen to help. What was in it for them, they wanted to know? There was also the matter of vintage. The 2008s are on the lean side (less likely to show well in a blind tasting), while the vastly superior 2009s are too young. That’s why we picked 2007, a lighter, more approachable vintage. In the end, we were given wines by OW Loeb and Flint Wines and bought a third at cost from Howard Ripley. Our three domains, all excellent, were Dujac, Hudellot-Noëllat and Fourrier.”

The Winners (including Tim Atkin’s Scores from Rounds one and two)

The group tasted the wines in five flights of eight. Based on average scores, 13 wines went through to the final round. The top 13 were then re-tasted and ranked in order of preference:

2009 Antica Terra Pinot Noir (Oregon) 95 (97)
2008 Au Bon Climat, Isabelle (California) 89 (94)
2008 Winzerhof Thörle Spätburgunder Hölle (Ger) 94 (95)
2009 Weingut Rudolf Fürst Centgrafenberg Spätburgunder Grosses Gewächs (Ger) 95 (92)
2007 Weingut Ziereisen Spätburgunder Jaspis Alte Reben (Ger) 95 (92)
2008 Weingut Gutzler Westhofener Morstein Spätburgunder Grosses Gewächs (Ger) 93 (96+)
2008 Weingut Ziereisen Spätburgunder Schulen (Ger) 93 (96)
2009 Felton Road Block 5 (New Zealand) 95 (94+)
2009 Weingut Jean Stodden Alte Reben Spätburgunder (Ger) 88 (93)
2009 Weingut Heitlinger Königsbecher Spätburgunder (Ger) 91 (92)
2007 Domaine Dujac Morey 1er Cru (Burgundy) 93 (93)
2009 Paringa Estate Pinot Noir (Australia) 90 (91)
2009 Markowitsch Reserve Pinot Noir (Austria) 94 (93)

Tim Atkin on the final result: “Germany outscored New Zealand, Australia, Burgundy, Oregon, Austria and California combined. As I’ve said, there were some other wines that deserved to be in the final enclosure, at least in my view, but it wouldn’t have changed the overall result. Many of my favorite (non-shortlisted) wines were German, too. What does this say about German Pinot Noir? Well, it proves what Hamish and I thought when we tasted some top examples earlier this year. They really are world class. If only the Germans didn’t keep most of them to themselves.”

The Other Wines Tasted (Tim Atkin’s Scores in Brackets)


2009 Chacra Treinta y Dos (89)

2008 By Farr Tout Pres Geelong Pinot Noir (96)
2009 10 Minutes by Tractor McCutcheon Pinot Noir (88)

2008 Viña Leyda Lot 21 Pinot Noir (91)

France (Burgundy)
2007 Domaine Fourrier Gevrey- Chambertin (93)
2007 Hudellot-Noëllat Musigny 1er Cru Charmes (91)

2009 Weingut Jean Stodden Neuenahrer Sonnenberg Spätburgunder (97)
2008 Weingut Ziereisen Spätburgunder, Jaspis Alte Reben (96)
2009 Weingut Meyer-Näkel Walporzheimer Kräuterberg Spätburgunder (95)
2009 Weingut Meyer-Näkel Dernauer Pfarrwingert Spätburgunder (94)
2009 Weingut Bürgerspital Veitshöchheimer Sonnenschein Spätburgunder (92)
2008 Weingut Bernhard Huber Hecklinger Schlossberg Spätburgunder (92)
2009 Weingut Rings Freinsheim Spätburgunder (91)
2008 Weingut H. Schlumberger Altenberg "Wingerte" Spätburgunder (90)
2009 Weingut Kopp Spätburgunder (90)
2008 Weingut Stefan Meyer Rosengarten Spätburgunder (89)
2009 Kaiserstühler Winzerverein Oberrotweil eG Oberrotweiler Spätburgunder (89)
2009 Weingut Wageck Pfaffmann Spätburgunder Cuvée (88)

New Zealand
2008 Seresin Estate Single Vineyard Pinot Noir (91)
2009 Escarpment Te Rehua Pinot Noir (86)

South Africa
2009 Bouchard Finlayson Tête de Cuvée (86)


2008 Gantenbein Pinot Noir (92)

United States (California)
2009 Hirsch San Andreas Pinot Noir (91)
2008 Saintsbury Brown Ranch (89)

United States (Oregon)
2008 Domaine Drouhin Cuvée Laurene (95)
2008 Eyrie Vineyards Pinot Noir (89)

The #1 German Pinot Noir: 2008 Winzerhof Thörle Spätburgunder Hölle - Winzerhof Thoerle

The group of German wines that performed so strongly was led by a 2008 Spaetburgunder from Winzerhof Thoerle in Saulheim Rheinhessen. Rheinhessen is not a region especially known for its Pinot Noir. But when I visited Winzerhof Thoerle last year, I was already at that time very impressed by their wines, white and red. I wrote a posting under the heading “The Wines of Up and Coming Winzerhof Thoerle, Rheinhessen”.

Of course, when I heard about their sensational success at the Tim Atkin tasting I was very excited; I felt to be confirmed in my earlier judgement. Being in Frankfurt am Main, just 40 minutes from Saulheim, I paid Winzerhof Thoerle a visit to celebrate with the Thoerle family and to talk about the success.

Pictures: Christian G.E. Schiller Tasting the 2009 Winzerhof Thörle Spätburgunder Hölle with Christoph Thoerle

A posting about this interesting afternoon with Johannes and Christoph Thoerle and their parents Rudolf and Ute is coming up on schiller-wine in due course.

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California Pinot Noir Pioneer Walter Schug: From the Rheingau in Germany to Carneros in California

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German winemakers in the World: Robert Stemmler (USA)

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