Discovering truly exciting Spätburgunder

Spätburgunder is the German name for Pinot Noir, the black grape made famous by Burgundy but also regarded as the crème de la crème of black grape varieties in Germany for quality winemaking.

The name translates as Spät (late ripening) burgunder (Pinot). Similarly, you’ll find Pinot Gris / Pinot Grigio is called Grauburgunder and Pinot Blanc is named Weissburgunder.

Discovering Spätburgunder wines

Traditionally, German Spätburgunder wines are lighter and lower in tannin than their Burgundian and international siblings, but a host of new wave winemakers are making fuller bodied, more complex styles of Spätburgunder.

I wanted to learn more for two reasons: one being that Pinot Noir creates some of my favourite wines, including Oliver Zeter’s Pinot Noir Reserve from the Pfalz that we stock at Novel Wines. The other reason is I wanted to prove myself wrong. Around five years ago, when I first got into the wine trade, I had tasted a selection of Spätburgunder and found them a little watery, and the thought still niggles at me whenever I see a Spätburgunder in a wine merchant. In hindsight the view was ignorant, but nonetheless down to my experience of tasting different Spätburgunder wines before now.

Spätburgunder grapes

Googling “Specialist German wine merchants in the UK”, I found The WineBarn. The award-winning wine merchant exclusively sells German wines and is described by Stephen Spurrier as ‘the Jewel in the crown of German wine merchants’. However, what really caught my eye was that Spätburgunder got a mention before Riesling on their about page; curiosity peaked, I discovered with a little digging this was thanks to founder Iris Ellman’s passion for the grape.

Picking out the Spätburgunder wines to try

The WineBarn have many Spätburgunder wines on their list and, to be quite honest, I didn’t really know where to start. Luckily, the WineBarn’s website is beautifully designed and easy to use, so exploring the range was good fun!

As a starter for ten, I decided to search by best-selling and added the 2015 Bercher Burkheimer Spätburgunder Village Pinot Noir QbA at £16.85. Seeing a few Premier Crus on the list, I added the best-selling Premier Cru: 2017 Aldinger Untertürkheimer Gips Spätburgunder Premier Cru at £21.85. Finally, to round out a range of three styles, I went for the second-best selling Spätburgunder, a 2017 Meyer-Näkel Estate Spätburgunder QbA at £18.75. Mainly because the Meyer-Näkel Estate is described as “a pioneer” in the dry red wines of the Ahr Valley, so it would have been a mighty shame to leave them out.

Ahr Valley, Germany

I wanted to get a sense of what Spätburgunder wines were popular and get a general idea of the style of today. I can tell you that, after tasting these three wines, the WineBarn is now one of my favourite merchants. You can buy the wines from them here.

Tasting Spätburgunder

2015, Bercher Burkheimer Spätburgunder Village Pinot Noir QbA ★★☆ – Coming from Baden, the warmest region in Germany and sheltered between mountain ranges, this family estate can trace its winemaking history to 1457 and have been making wines in the Kaisertuhl for over 300 years. Today, its 42 acres create a range of white and red styles. This Pinot comes from volcanic soils and is matured for 15 months in barrique. It has a very chocolatey nose with complementing aromas of figs, baked plums, pastry and glacier cherries. The grippy palate reminds me of cocoa powder. It’s voluptuous and mouthcoating with juicy notes of strawberry over cinnamon and clove spice. Tart cherry and cedar on the finish. This is a warm and spicy Pinot that is instantly satisfying.

2017, Aldinger Untertürkheimer Gips Spätburgunder Premier Cru ★★☆ – This one comes from the region of Württemberg, known for its red wines. The soils and subsequent styles of the wines are varied, but the best come from the steep slopes that run down to the Neckar River and its tributaries. Gert Aldinger, supported by his sons Hansjörg and Matthias, are building on over 500 years’ of winemaking at the estate and they continue to focus on quality, low yield winemaking. This Premier Cru red is deeply ruby hued with a nose of cracked black pepper and strawberries. There’s also a hint of orange rind and perfume. On the palate it’s delightfully smooth and juicy with flavours of freshly picked strawberries, candy peel, orange oils, cream candies and raspberries. The finish is tooty-fruity and long. An endlessly appealing style, which I kept returning to and discovering more and more as it opened in the glass. Superb with anything fatty and salty like lamb.

2017, Meyer-Näkel Estate Spätburgunder QbA ★★★ – The Meyer-Näkel Estate, forged in the wedding of Paula Meyer and Willibald Näkel, is a fifth generation family estate today headed by Willibald’s son Werner Näkel and overseeing 15 hectares of vines. Surrounding the Ahr river in the west, this is Germany’s smallest and most northern red wine region. In its centre, Spätburgunder is cultivated on steep sun-kissed terraced vineyards. Meyer-Näkel’s Estate Pinot is exciting! Deeply coloured but lightly viscous with a swirl, it leads with aromas of smoke, strawberries, plums and black cherry pie. The palate is structured with moreish, bright acidity and notes of liquorice, black pepper, strawberries, cherries and charred toast. The tannins feel leathery but smooth, the alcohol warming, and the finish full and wholeheartedly satisfying. As it opens up, it gets spicier and even more charming. This is an absolute winner!