As any devotee of German wines in America can attest, the Yankee love affair with Deutsche weine span a winding history of jubilant ups and sputtering downs.
While most Americans are familiar with the country’s most widely planted grape, Riesling, many consumers are just now getting a glimpse into the world of German red wine that has captivated the homeland over the last decade. Most notable is Pinot Noir, or Spätburgunder, as the grape is known there.
Germany’s history of Pinot production dates back to Roman times. Since 1990, however, plantings of the grape have doubled, making Germany the third largest producer of Pinot Noir after France and the United States. Today, fine examples are being produced in every wine region in Germany, from the warm, southerly Baden to the most northerly cool climes of Mosel and the Ahr.
While diverse in style even within Germany, Pinot Noir offers an oft surprising ripeness and fruitiness that is calibrated by invigorating acidity and minerality. Rudolf Fürst’s finest bottlings are breathtakingly opulent yet perfumed and spry. Friedrich Becker is known for his intensely mineral driven, weightlessly textured wines sourced from limestone soils in the Pfalz.
In the past, Germany’s limited production and high domestic demand for Pinot Noir kept exports down. Yet now, bottlings from top producers like Salwey, Wittmann or Franz Keller can be found on retail shelves between $20–30. The cream of the crop—its premier-cru and grand-cru equivalents of erste lage, grosse lage and grosses gewächs—won’t necessarily come cheap. That is, until one compares them to the skyrocketing prices of Burgundian grand cru or premier cru wines.
With ever increasing global demand for premium Pinot Noir, and rising prices for benchmark wines from Burgundy and California, Germany’s intensely terroir-driven Pinot Noirs offer remarkably high performance for the cost.
Rudolf Fürst 2015 Centgrafenberg Spätburgunder GG (Franken); $120, 96 points. While initially closed, time and aeration reveal seductive aromas of crisp red fruit marked by layers of earth, smoke and slate. On the palate, succulent black-cherry and berry flavors fall in massive undulating waves edged by firm penetrating tannins. It’s an exceptionally rich but elegant wine finishing on lingering notes of granite and cherry blossom. Rudi Wiest Selections. Editors’ Choice.
Friedrich Becker 2013 Sankt Paul Pinot Noir (Pfalz); $150, 95 points. Integrated notes of bramble, toast and spice recollect two years of oak maturation in this bold, concentrated Spätburgunder. While at first voluptuous on the palate in bold red-cherry and plum flavors, lip-smacking cranberry acidity and elegant tones of granite and violet freshen the midpalate. Persistent, mouth-coating tannins carry a long finish. Beautiful already but will improve through 2025. Rudi Wiest Selections.
Wittmann 2015 Rotwein Trocken Spätburgunder (Rheinhessen); $30, 93 points. Lavish yet acutely balanced, Wittmann’s basic-label Spätburgunder offers deep, ripe blackberry and red currant flavors off set by bristling acidity. Layers of bramble, toast and smoke add complexity to nose and palate, along with a reverberating crushed-granite finish. Framed by fine, persistent tannins, its approachable already but should show beautifully for another decade to come. Loosen Bros. USA. Editors’ Choice.
Hooked 2015 Pinot Noir (Baden); $14, 90 points. Intense black plum and cherry perfume juxtapose savory tones of smoked nuts and wet earth in this fresh and fruity yet composed wine. Plump black-fruit flavors are broad and rich but framed by brisk acidity and a trace of mineral complexity. A fantastic introduction to German Pinot that’s surprisingly easy on the wallet. Rudi Wiest Selections. Best Buy.
Rainer Sauer 2016 Escherndorfer Lump Silvaner Erste Lage Trocken (Franken); $70, 94 points. Blossomy and perfumed, this silky full-bodied Silvaner offers loads of fragrant melon, grapefruit and pear accented by a slick vein of honeycomb. It’s a mouthfilling creamy wine balanced by crisp acidity and a delicate hint of lime pith on the finish. Rudi Wiest Selections.
Hans Wirsching 2015 Iphöfer Julius-Echter-Berg Silvaner GG Trocken (Franken); $70. 93 points. Plump yellow apple and grapefruit lend heft to this dry full-bodied Silvaner. It’s a bold zaftig wine yet offset neatly by fresh green streaks of greengage plum and herb. Hints of smoked nut and salt linger on the finish, accented by a delicate phenolic grip. Approachable already but it should improve through 2030. Rudi Wiest Selections.
Michael Fröhlich 2016 Escherndorfer Silvaner (Franken); $23, 90 points. Lively lemon and tangerine acidity brighten this zingy dry Silvaner. It’s crisp and appley on the palate, accented by hints of nut, fresh herb and chamomile. This is a light bodied but sleek wine with a lingering, satiny finish. Drink now through 2023. Winesellers, Ltd.
Schloss Hallburg 2016 Dry Silvaner (Franken); $19, 90 points. While demure on the nose, zingy tangerine, green apple and yellow plum shine on the palate of this thirst-quenching dry Silvaner. It’s an exceptionally spry, feather-weighted wine but feels silky and lavish on the palate. The finish is prolonged by elegant murmurs of crushed stone and grapefruit astringency. Rudi Wiest Selections.
Ökonomierat Rebholz 2016 Im Sonnenschein GG Dry Weissburgunder (Pfalz); $100, 95 points. Weissburgunder, or Pinot Blanc, is often noted for its neutrality, but it is unctuously rich and textural in this wine, with invigorating strikes of white peach, lemon and lime. This is anything but neutral. Full-figured yet stately, it’s a lavish complex wine that lingers long on silken streaks of honey and waxy lemon peels. Enjoy now through 2031. Rudi Wiest Selections. Editors’ Choice.
Salwey 2014 Henkenberg GG Pinot Blanc (Baden); $54, 94 points. Bold notes of smoke and struck flint recede gradually, revealing prettier tones of grapefruit, lemon and lime. Full bodied yet anchored by spine-tingling acidity, this elegant wine offsets concentrated citrus flavors against savory tones of herb and dark mineral. Tasted in early 2018, it’s still a taut nervous wine that should meld nicely from 2023. Rudi Wiest Selections. Cellar Selection.
Wagner-Stempel 2016 Siefersheim Weissburgunder Trocken (Rheinhessen); $23, 92 points. Restrained notes of pineapple and tart stone fruit introduce this zesty, intensely mineral white wine. It’s delicate in mouthfeel but silky and mouthwatering, lingering on notes of honey, tangerine and crushed slate. The finish is brisk and crystalline. Rudi Wiest Selections.