As the beverage director at Walnut Street Cafe in Philadelphia, Tom Stevens has had to navigate the added complexities that come with working with wine in a control state. “Buying wine in Pennsylvania has a few extra obstacles,” explains Stevens. “The heavy involvement of state regulators means wines have an added cost that restaurant buyers have to consider. Sometimes this added cost can drive the list price of classics like Pinot Noir into a price bracket that is a little high for most consumers.”
To compensate, Stevens looks for alternative wine regions that can provide Burgundy-level quality at a fraction of the price. Fortunately, he has found some stellar options. “Due to the leg work of a few dogged importers and distributors, we are able to get access to a handful of German Pinot Noirs that are still at an accessible price for folks looking for alternatives to Burgundy or California,” says Stevens. “The quality of these terroir-driven wines continues to increase year after year and guests at Walnut Street Cafe love them.”
German Pinot Noir, or Spätburgunder, is now planted in several regions across the country thanks to the warming effects of climate change. As in Burgundy, Spätburgunder reflects its terroir well, making these bottles highly diverse and satisfying for wine drinkers with a range of different taste preferences. “Pinots from the Pfalz and Baden might show a little more muscle, while Pinots from the Mosel are a little leaner and feel more mineral-driven,” says Stevens.
Selling Points for German Spätburgunder
- German wines, especially Spätburgunders, tend to represent great value across the board. “Once guests understand they’re getting in on a deal, they tend to be more open to trying an unfamiliar category,” says Stevens.
- Germany is so closely associated with Riesling that a lot of high-quality Spätburgunders slip under the radar, making it easier to acquire top bottles.
- Thanks to their terroir transparency, German Spätburgunder can offer a broad range of flavors. “Having a few different options on the list makes a pivot from Burgundy or Sonoma more compelling.”
3 German Spätburgunders to Watch
- Ulli Stein Spätburgunder Kabinett Trocken 2021: This wine “has that Mosel zippiness to it while still maintaining ripeness of fruit,” says Stevens. “Stein puts so much energy into working with difficult or abandoned vineyard sites and the labor shows in the wines. These kinds of stories go really far with getting guests to try something new.”
- Ziereisen Spätburgunder Talrain 2019: “Atypical for German Pinots in its concentration and eccentric balance of earth and fruit,” says Stevens. “Think dark cherry and currant layered over pine and bitter herbs. Guests who want some muscle in their wine will not be disappointed, but these wines are doubtlessly weird and elegant at the same time.”
- Muller-Catoir Spätburgunder Haardter Herzog Erste Lage 2020: “This wine shows off the silkiness inherent to good Pinot Noir,” says Stevens. “While the color is faint and rosy, there’s some definite new oak here that might appeal to a certain kind of guest.”
Caitlin A. Miller is a New York-based wine writer and the current associate editor for SevenFifty Daily. Her work has appeared in Food & Wine, Vinous, and Christie’s International Real Estate Magazine. She holds the WSET Diploma in Wines and was the recipient of the 2020 Vinous Young Wine Writer Fellowship.