If you visit wineries and talk to the proprietors about the grape growing season, it’s easy to come away associating good wine with high temperatures and warm regions.
While some grapes, such as syrah or zinfandel, thrive in the heat, on the other end of the spectrum are cool-climate grapes, such as the favorite, pinot noir.
A pinot noir vine will grow well in hot places, but it will make a jammy, high-alcohol, flabby wine. In a cool region, where pinot noir can slowly ripen, it develops delicate, complex character and acidity. Pinot noir is not supposed to be a big red.
Germany is known for white wines, but it most definitely produce reds and has a tradition of pinot noir production that extends back to the Roman era. Germany is just behind France and the United States in total pinot noir production, but you rarely hear German pinot noir invoked. There, pinot noir is called spätburgunder, which probably doesn’t help sales in non-German-speaking markets. Also, Germans drink a lot of their own wine, so the dry riesling and reds often don’t make it out of the country.
At a recent store visit, I could put my hand on just one novelty pinot noir from Germany — Affentaler Winzer Valley of the Monkey 2017 Spätburgunder — which was not a great example of the exciting things happening with German pinot noir. The brand uses a monkey label; the story is that monks who cultivated wine in Baden had hooded robes that made them appear as monkeys. The semi-sweet wine has ripe cherry character and is soft, simple, pleasant and easy drinking. $16. ♦♦♦1/2
I hoped for better from Germany’s neighbor, Austria, and I found one conveniently tabled for the English market. Anton Bauer 2017 Wagram Pinot Noir captures the complexity of pinot noir with the benefit of some bottle aging. The elegant wine has notes of stewed cherries with hints of toffee, black pepper and cedar with a nice acidity. $16. ♦♦♦♦
In the same general part of Europe is the Saxon-tinged French region of Alsace. Again, it is mostly a white wine region, but pinot noir is present. Willm 2016 Reserve Pinot Noir shows a delicate cherry and red fruit character with a brush of tannins. This wine is a closeout in Pennsylvania for just $14. ♦♦♦♦
Other cool locations for pinot noir that may not come to mind include the Casablanca Valley in Chile and, of course, cool regions outside of California — including pinot noir powerhouse Oregon and cool wine regions in the east, including Southeastern Pennsylvania and some sweet spots in New York.
GRADE: Exceptional ♦♦♦♦♦, Above average ♦♦♦♦, Good ♦♦♦, Below average ♦♦, Poor ♦