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SPÄTBURGUNDER – WHAT IS IT?

John Tilson • 2/7/11        Print This Post Print This PostComment Bookmark and Share

OK, here are your choices:

  1. A new hamburger from Wienerschnitzel
  2. A new line of shoes from Jimmy Choo
  3. A new Russian satellite
  4. Something you do when you don’t feel good
  5. A new hybrid car from Volkswagen
  6. The German name for Syrah
  7. Late Burgundian
  8. A hybrid grape variety that is a cross between vegetable and animal
  9. Something that is discarded as having little value
  10. A German rap group

Take a guess. Are you sure? Well I don’t know about all the choices, but I do know that number 7 is correct. Spätburgunder is a German red wine made from the Pinot Noir grape. The translation means Late Burgundian. Did you get that right? Historically, Spätburgunder has received little acclaim in the U.S. and I think that continues to this day. Why? Funny you should ask. But how about the name for openers? It is hard to know what it is. I think you probably just proved that. So, now that you know what it is, why should you care? That is a good question. But, first let me explain a bit more about Spätburgunder.

The Pinot Noir grape is believed to have left the Burgundy region of France to be cultivated in Germany in the Middle Ages. Thus for centuries the grape has been grown in Germany. It is the most widely planted red grape in Germany and now accounts for about 7% of the country’s vineyard area. Baden, Pfalz, and Ahr are the primary areas of production. Spätburgunder is usually quite light, fresh, and fruity and mostly made for local consumption. But, there are some that have more substance and complexity. And some of these can be quite expensive.

As we know, the names of German wines are very difficult for most people outside of Germany to pronounce and understand. Nonetheless, the great German Rieslings have been known world wide for centuries to be one of the greatest white wines in the world and capable of aging for an incredibly long period. As a matter of fact, it was only in the last 100 years or so that Montrachet ascended to the throne as the greatest white wine in the world displacing Riesling. Today the great late harvest German Rieslings vie with the great Sauternes as the greatest sweet white wines in the world and the drier styles of Rieslings are receiving increasing acceptance.

SpätburgunderBut, this says nothing of the red wine Spätburgunder. And that may not change for another hundred years. Nonetheless, there is reason to believe that a wine like this might find a better acceptance very soon. The reason is that the world is flooded with high extract, high alcohol wines. And, it may very well be the case, as I have been talking about for a very long time, that people are looking for alternatives. If this is so, then Spätburgunder may have a better future ahead in markets outside of Germany. A warmer climate means that the grapes ripen fully now more often than they did in the past. That means more wines with more fruit and less greenness or herbaceousness. That has greater appeal for most people. And, the best Spätburgunders are elegant, supple, delicious, and very easy to drink. They are represented by the letters G G which stands for Grosses Gewachs or Great Growths. This is the designation for the top level dry wines from selected sites of Germany’s vineyard area.

So there you have it. Give Spätburgunder a try if you can find one. I found one quite unexpectedly in Burgundy last year. You see, we came across a group of Germans at one of our tasting appointments. They were very much into Burgundy and drank every sip of all the barrel samples that were poured (the customary thing is to spit as Burgundy wine tasting trips involve tasting a lot of young, unfinished wines – see my article Along The Burgundy Trail which details how Burgundy is tasted from barrel). After the tasting, they gave us two bottles of German wine. One was a Riesling that was good, but not remarkable and the other was the Spätburgunder that is reviewed here. This is an example of how good German Spätburgunder can be today and it is certainly worth investigating. Who knows? You just might be the first person on your block to have one!

2007 Knipser Kirschgarten Laumersheim “G G” Spätburgunder Pfalz.

This is a gorgeous, supple wine. It has a deep color and a lovely perfume with hints of green olive and black cherry with herbal and spice nuances. There are complex flavors of black cherry, green olive, herbs, spice, and bitter almond with a faint citrus tinge on the finish. Unique and very tasty, this is a great example of the potential for Spätburgunder –- Outstanding.  3-yellow-stars

In Vino Veritas,

John Tilson

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