By The Glass
Try Germany’s pinot noirs
I hope someday to be able to taste one of the fabulous top-end 2005 red French burgundies -- rare and exquisite wines such as Chambertin, Richebourg, La Tache or Romanee-Conti. Given their scarcity and expense -- especially with the current state of the dollar versus the euro -- the pursuit of these wines is a game for the big boys, the serious collectors.
Until I can play with them, I'll enjoy wonderful wines from rising stars in less-heralded places.
Still under the radar are the fine pinot noirs (aka spätburgunders) from Germany. Yes, Germany. The vast majority of the finest pinot noirs in the world come from the majestic Cotes de Nuits villages of Burgundy, France. California and Oregon also craft noteworthy pinots, and are making some of the greatest in recent history. But Germany is doing amazingly well, especially as it is not graced with the exceptional climate and terrior for pinot noir as its Franco neighbors.
Before we get all charged up about the possibilities, let's be clear: German pinot exhibits more terrior, black fruit, minerality and savory spices, compared to French or U.S. versions.
So, why German? The wines are exceptional values and excellent with food. The aromatics and fruit intensity do not distract, but interact well. American pinot noir is vibrant, warm and bountiful; French (Burgundy) is stylish, aristocratic and alluring. German pinot is dramatic, chiseled and mysterious.
From the Baden region in the town of Ihringen, the Heger family has been producing wine since 1935. Owner Joachim Heger is a jovial man who enjoys his craft. The volcanic soils of the region allow him to produce an exceptional range of wines, including riesling, silvanner, pinot gris, pinot blanc and chardonnay. His pinot noirs are charming food wines. The Weinhaus Heger 2006 Pinot Noir Trocken-Dry ($36) is aged in large, neutral oak barrels. The modest aromas of bing cherry, white pepper and anise make it an ideal pairing for seafood or selected Asian-inspired cuisine.
The picturesque Ahr Valley is a place of lush gardens, a harmonious blend of traditional and modern homes, and steep hillside vineyards that make you wonder, "How did they plant those vineyards way up there?" The valley is home to the most famous pinot noir makers in Germany, and 2006 was a textbook vintage, with rains in August and perfect weather in September and October for pinot noir.
Werner Näkel and his family-owned estate have been making wine for more than 200 years. An innovator, Werner was one of the first to use small French oak barrels instead of the traditional 1,000-liter barrels. The results put Werner on the map as a serious pinot craftsman. The Meyer Näkel 2006 Pinot Noir Trocken ($42) is a pretty wine with a sweet, deep-cherry scent, white pepper, hints of cassis, mint and a textured finish.
In the Franken region, Paul Fürst and son Sebastian produce subtle and sublime pinot noir, as their family has done since 1638. One of the most interesting German pinot noirs I have tasted lately is the Rudolf Fürst "Klingenberg" 2005 ($85). Harvested from vines 20 to 25 years old, it has an aromatic profile of jam, black fruit, graphite, Asian spices and sweet vanilla, with a texture/finish contrary to the seemingly light color. Paul's barrel-aging and careful work in the cellar have refined his style by crafting a bridge between German and Burgundian approaches.
In Vinos Veritas!
Kevin Toyama is a sommelier at the Halekulani and an advanced certificate holder from the Court of Master Sommeliers.
This column is a weekly lesson in wine pairing written by a rotating panel of wine professionals. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org