At the beginning of the year 2017, it seems foolhardy to even attempt to predict what the future may hold, even (or perhaps especially) when it comes to the whims of the wine world. Better then to focus on the now, and the abundance of riches available currently, during what is arguably one of the best times in recent memory to be a wine drinker, provided you have an open mind and modestly adventurous palate. And though classic Mosel Riesling in its various levels of perfectly balanced sweetness has long dominated discussions of German wine (and rightfully so), we now find ourselves at a moment where the most exciting category of German wine is dry wine. And within that ever burgeoning category of dry German wines (and with due apologies to dry Riesling, which forever holds a place in a wine geek’s heart), the Pinot Trinity–Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc & Pinot Gris–have quickly and quietly risen to a level that can only be ignored if one is uninterested in thrilling, delicious, food-friendly, terroir-driven wine at affordable prices.
Pinot Noir: Spätburgunder (the “late” grape from Burgundy). Germany has quietly become the 3rd largest producer of Pinot Noir worldwide, behind the United States & France, but more importantly, the quality has skyrocketed in the last few decades. German winegrowers have figured out which clones to plant where, grown more judicious in their use of oak, and adjusted their farming to the changing climate—where once ripeness was the goal, today freshness and balance are equally important. And so we see elegant, fine Pinot Noir from Germany today, at times reminiscent of 1er and Grand Cru Burgundy, at other times a trans-Atlantic cousin to the most gracious Pinot Noirs from Oregon, but always also reflective of their soils: slate, sandstone, limestone, volcanic. As a side note, for those tired of the mediocre, mass-produced, one-note rosés currently flooding the market, keep an eye out for quality German rosé: early-harvested, limited skin contact or direct-pressed Pinot Noir that lends itself to distinctive, beautifully structured rosé that doesn’t need to be served ice cold to be palatable.
Pinot Blanc: Weissburgunder (the white grape from Burgundy). What in Alsace can be leesy and round and aromatic, in Germany becomes racy, driven and mineral inflected. Grown in limestone it presents a distinct chalkiness; in volcanic soil a near pungent minerality bordering on gunflint. A chameleon of sorts, with a weight that flirts with Chardonnay dimensions, then leaps back to its highwire act, balancing acid and fruit and minerality with ease. If you have never before considered making Pinot Blanc your house white, then you haven’t had a good German Pinot Blanc. A wine that makes one salivate, that begs for food, and specifically for shellfish. In the absence of that, some good music and decent company, though fair warning, one bottle tends to disappear faster than one would expect.
Pinot Gris: Grauburgunder (the grey grape from Burgundy). So the Germans have not yet picked up the habit of overcropping this grape (also known as Pinot Grigio) to the point where it tastes like wine-flavored water, and for that we all should be thankful. If the great producers in Alsace have reminded us how noble and intense Pinot Gris can be, and if the best producers in Collio and Alto Adige have shown us how transparent and reflective of soil Pinot Grigio can be, then the Germans have found a middle road. Aromatic, but not overwhelmingly heady; mineral driven, but still fresh and fruit forward; long-finishing, yet never cloying or tiring. More than anything, these are wines that refresh the palate, that are clean and clear and utterly enjoyable.
So, as you can see, for anyone willing to be just a tiny bit adventurous, there is a wealth of thrilling wines coming out of Germany these days. And though one could spend a good deal of time just drinking one’s way through the family of Pinot-based wines in Germany, even that is only a slice of the exciting world of German dry wines.