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German Pinot Noir
By Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Sep 25, 2012
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Weingut Bernhard Huber, Baden (Germany) Pinot Noir, 2010 (Valckenberg International, $38):  All the excitement over Riesling in the past few years is a boon for Germany and other places that make fine Riesling, and deservedly so.  But while Germany has been reinforcing its position as a pre-eminent Riesling territory, the focus within Germany has slowly been shifting.  Red grapes now occupy 36 percent of Germany’s vineyard acreage, up from just 11 percent 30 years ago.

Several German regions are responsible for the growth in red wine, including Rheinhessen, Pfalz and Wurttemberg.  But Baden — Germany’s southernmost and warmest wine region — seems particularly dedicated to red wines, and among those, particularly Pinot Noir.  It is the most planted of any variety, red or white, in Baden’s vineyards.

Bernhard Huber took the reins of his family’s wine estate in Baden in 1988 and, noticing the similarity of his limestone and clay soils to those of Burgundy, he became one of Germany’s most dedicated proponents of Pinot Noir.  Today 65 percent of his 15,000-case production is Pinot Noir.

The 2010 growing season was a challenging one in Germany because of poor weather during flowering, and the total crop was the smallest in the past 25 years.  In Baden, Huber reported that grape berries were small, which was “especially valuable for the fruit, tannin structure and depth of our Spätburgunders” (the German name for Pinot Noir wines).  “We harvested wonderfully ripe and healthy grapes.”

If you want to experience a stellar example of German Pinot Noir today, look for this 2010 Huber.  Although its color is barely medium-ruby, this wine is substantial, solid, and mouthfilling — all this at the same time as it is charming and vibrant.  Aromas and flavors are mainly those of red berries — such as bright cranberry, wild strawberry, and tart cherry — with accents of fresh herbs and a vein of chalky minerality.  The taste is totally dry but richly fruity, with high acidity lending a depth of flavor, and firm tannins that in no way overpower the fruit.  The wine’s long, flavorful finish shows concentration and purity of fruit character.  The wine’s gentle, velvety texture is reminiscent of a Burgundy from the Cote de Beaune.

This wine is Huber’s basic Pinot Noir, made from vines that are younger than twelve years old, from various of his vineyards; he practices a green harvest to reduce yields to about 3.5 tons per acre.  The vinification of this wine involves 25 to 30 percent whole clusters, an ambient yeast fermentation and a total of 21 days skin maceration, followed by aging for about 14 months in French oak barriques that are two and three years old.  Huber produces several other Pinot Noirs, from single vineyards, old vines, and so forth.

This wine is a chameleon whose taste varies with the glass shape you choose.  I like it in a fairly narrow glass, which accentuates the vibrancy of the wine and its red fruit character; you might prefer it in a wide, Burgundy-style glass, which gives the wine a softer, more ample taste.  This wine is young now, and will probably develop secondary complexities over the next five years.

92 points