Monday, October 12, 2009

In the Glass: Pinot Noir from California, France and Germany

Picture: Christian G.E. Schiller at Koenig Wilhelmsberg vineyard

In the US, Pinot Noir shows great promise in Oregon and California. In the latter, a wine region south of San Francisco has recently moved to the forefront with its Pinot Noir and other wines: The Santa Lucia Highlands. This unique California AVA established in 1991 produces some of the finest Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays on the market. The International Wine Review visited the region for a first-hand look at the vineyards, wineries and wines. The report is being prepared in collaboration with the Wine Artisans of Santa Lucia Highlands and expected to be issued in a few days.

In Germany, the Pinot Noir is called Spätburgunder. It is to red wine what the Riesling is to white wine: the cream of the crop.

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).

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).

My wife Annette and I tasted three Pinot Noirs from Aloxe Corton in the Bourgogne/France, from Santa Lucia Highlands in the US and from Hochheim in the Rheingau/Germany.
1996 Aloxe Corton, Appellation Aloxe-Corton Premier Cru Controlee, Maurice et Anne-Marie Chapuis, Aloxe Corton, Cote-d’Or
2007 Pinot Noir, Sleepy Hollow Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands, Martin Alfaro, Corralitos, Californaia
2003 Wickerer Koenig Wilhelmsberg, Spaetlese trocken, Weingut Wilhelm Hueck, Hochheim, Rheingau

Picture:Wickerer Koenig Wilhelmsberg

Interestingly, the French wine does not mention the grape variety on the label, but the village in which the wine is grown and made is printed in fat letters, with the exact appellation below it; for the American wine it is just the opposite: the grape is printed in fat letters. Well, the focus in the old world is clearly on the terroir. Terroir is a French concept involving the complex combination of micro-climate, geology, topography and soil that determines the taste of a wine. The classification for Aloxe Corton groups all wines into four different groups. Terroir is on the back burner in the new world. The focus here is on the grape variety.

All three wines were great.

The American Pinot Noir was purple red in the glass--a deep red wine. An amazing attack of concentrated dark red fruit and dark chocolate note on the nose. Spicy wild berries, deep fruit aromas on the palate that lasted through a long finish.

The French Pinot Noir was 10 years older and a bit on the brownish side in the glass, but still very fresh and at its height. Smoke and wet leaves on the nose, typical for the Pinot Noir. In the traditional French style of a Pinot Noir, it was lighter in color and body than its counterparts from the warmer climate in California.

The German Pinot Noir was a Spaetlese trocken, thus had elevated sugar content at the harvest, but was fully fermented and became a bone-dry wine, like the French and American counterparts, with 1.3 gram sugar/liter. Koenig Wilhelmsberg is a vineyard in neighboring Wicker, which is in Alleinbesitz, that means Hueck is the only winemaker who owns that piece of land. Smoke on the nose, even lighter in color and body than the Aloxe Corton, but not in terms of tannin and acidity.

Spaetlese is part of a classification system that is unknow outside of Germany, except in Austria. It is based on the sugar content of the grape at harvest. As I have discussed in my blog of August 14, 2009, it however does not say anything about the sweetness of the finished wine. This is unfortunate in my view.

We had a jambollaya with it and it paired very well with all three wines.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Christian,

    Thank you for sending me your link. I love to hear about all Pinot Noir. I am a grower and winemaker that drinks all types and styles of Pinot Noir. I try to appreciate each wine for what it is and not what people think it should be. In my cellar you will fine Pinot Noir from all over the world and all different styles.

    We make up to 10 different Pinot Noir bottlings from different vineyards. Most are sourced from Santa Lucia Highlands and Santa Cruz Mountains.

    Thanks for trying my wines.


    Richard Alfaro