One of the goals for my Vancouver trip was to enjoy some wines not so readily available in Australia. I’ve written about a number of wines already in that regard from both Canada and the USA, but I couldn’t help but pick up this bottle from Germany as well because not a great deal of German wine makes its way to Australia, and those that do are almost entirely Riesling. So today it’s a wine straight out of Pfalz, the Johann Wolf Pinot Noir 2008.
This is my third German wine in this blog, with the first having been the Wittmann Silvaner and the second the Forstmeister Geltz-Zilliken Riesling. Germany was a curious area to study at the Diploma level because for me it was heavy on theory and light on the practical. At one point I was expected to be able to list the differences in wine quality levels and identify regions and villages, but sadly I haven’t retained a great deal of that information, largely because in Australia I have so few opportunities to make use of it. Even here in South Australia, which has a very large German community, Barossa especially, producers may have Germanic names like Kellermeister or LiebichWein but their wines are Australian through and through. So when I had the chance to grab a bottle of German Pinot Noir, I didn’t hesitate.
Pinot Noir is known as Spätburgunder in Germany, with the name meaning late ripening Burgundian. It is the most widely planted red grape in the country, making Germany the third largest producer of Pinot Noir, though it still accounts for a smaller percentage of production than both Riesling and Müller-Thurgau. Red wine production as a whole in Germany is rising, though exports continue to be dominated by the white wines for which the country is better known.
This wine is from Pfalz, in the south of Germany, hemmed in between the Haardt Mountains to the west and the Rhine River to the the east. Perhaps a more familiar way for some to locate it would be to start in Alsace and follow the natural curve of the region northward and when you cross the border into Germany you are in Pfalz. The climate is continental, and being situated in a rain shadow, it is one of the driest and sunniest German wine region. Soil types vary along the lines of Alsace, with granite and basalt influences from the mountains, sandstone and limestone underlying the flats, and alluvial gravel washed throughout.
The J.L. Wolf wine estate was founded in 1756 in Wachenheim. An assessment of slopes of the region was done in 1828 for tax purposes. In the style of Burgundian classification, the Wolf estate had a number of grand cru and premier cru vineyards. It reached something of a pinnacle mid-19th century with the construction of and estate house and villa, featured on the label. However, in the second half of the 20th century it fell into decline.
In 1996 the estate was taken over by Ernst Loosen (of Dr. Loosen, arguably the best known quality wine brand of Germany) who wanted to produce drier, fuller bodied Pfalz Rieslings to complement the lighter wines he was already producing in the Mosel. In addition, the Dr. Loosen collection of wines was expanded to include the Pinots Blanc, Gris and Noir of the estate, as well as Gewürztraminer and Silvaner. The current production range includes entry level Villa Wolf varietals (including a Pinot Noir rosé) and Rieslings from village, classified vineyard and first-grown vineyard levels of quality.
[While I'm fairly certain this bottle falls into the entry level varietal collection, it is branded Johann Wolf whereas every other wine referenced on the company website is branded J.L. Wolf.]
In the glass this wine is clear and bright, with a medium minus ruby colour and quick legs. On the nose it’s clean and developing, with medium intensity and notes of raspberry, some sour cherry, and herbs. On the palate it’s dry, with medium plus alcohol, medium minus body, medium plus flavour intensity, medium minus tannins, medium plus acidity, and medium plus length. There are notes of raspberry, pencil lead, sour cherry, and just a bit of cranberry.
This is a good wine. It’s fruity for a Pinot Noir in a very New World style. The fruit though is fresh – not candied. The alcohol sticks out a bit even though the bottle only indicates 12.5% ABV. It’s not overly complex but it is certainly not simple. I would think this wine would be unlikely to make it to Australia, in that the style is too similar to locally produced wines and with taxation it would be priced above its direct competition. Still, I am very glad I was able to try it because it was certainly enjoyable and not something I see very often.