The Ahr region in Germany is given its name by a small river running through this beautiful narrow valley, north of the better known Mosel. Around 83% of production is red, with Spätburgunder (German name for Pinot Noir) the region’s dominant grape (65%), making this the world’s most northerly wine region dedicated to red wine production.
Despite its northerly position, Ahr has a warm microclimate, referred to as “Mediterranean” microclimate, perfect to ripen red wine grapes. I well remember walking through the vineyards experiencing extremely hot weather. This is because the steep slopes of rocky and volcanic slate offer extra warmth, reflecting the sun, while the Eifel Mountains to the west shelter the region from cold winds: it is like a natural amphitheatre. The region has transformed since 1990 from producing bulk easy drinking wines, uneconomic given the labour intensity of production, to its present day reputation for some of the finest expressions of Pinot Noir in Germany, if not the world.
Jean Stodden has been a name in the German wine industry since 1578 (a company even older than Berry Brothers). The current heir in charge of their 6.5ha of vines is Alexander Stodden, whom I personally met in the summer of 2015, during my first wine trip to Germany. It was a wonderful experience.
It was in Ahr that I first discovered my passion for German Pinot Noir. Until then I was a great fan of this grape variety but never thought I would find such a good expression of it in Germany. Jean Stodden’s Pinot Noir is very Burgundian in style, and definitely one of my favourites amongst German Pinot Noir wines, including those from Baden.
Alexander studied Oenology in Geisenheim, the most popular university for wine studies in Germany, and after spending some years in South Africa and Oregon he went back home to work together with his father in the winery.
When I met him, I was very keen to know more about his approach to viticulture and winemaking. I discovered he has an exceptionally detailed knowledge of his vineyards and of the region. His modern, international approach to winemaking is clearly deeply rooted in history.
Jean Stodden’s main goal is creating Pinot Noir with elegance and power at the same time.
While many local producers have planted Burgundian clones, their top wine is Pinot Noir Alte Reben (old vines) from single vineyard Recher Herrenberg. The vines are about 120 years old and ungrafted, which is very rare indeed anywhere in Europe. The vineyard is south facing and very steep, while the soil is slate and graywacke. The quality of the wine is the same as of a Grand Cru Burgundy, price point too. It’s a wine with unique intensity of fruit flavours and elegance; you can almost feel the slate.
Alexander showed me how in Ahr there are many small spots (very individual) and the vineyards are often terraced because of the steep slopes. Vineyards also benefit from many different soils that vary between slate, basalt and greywacke of volcanic origin.
In the vineyards he practices a sustainable model of viticulture. I was fascinated that when
green harvesting (to keep a high concentration in the grapes) the grape bunches are reduced in size (by half) instead of being reduced in numbers. This is very labour intensive but very effective.
Harvest is done by hand and the grapes are subsequently destemmed.
Before the fermentation starts there is a pre fermentation maceration (cold soak) to enhance the fruit’s aromatics.
Ageing of red wine is in oak barrels. For entry level wines they use 1000 Litre Füder and all other wines are aged in French Barrique barrels for 16-18 month.
The wine I would like to suggest is the entry level Pinot - a very good introduction to Ahr: Pinot Noir: Jean Stodden Spätburgunder, 2016
The nose is showing intense aromas of fresh redcurrants, roses, black pepper and mushrooms. On the palate it has freshness and concentration at the same time; it is also savoury with a spicy finish.
I recommend serving this wine at a slightly cool temperature of 15-17 degrees in a Burgundy glass.
I suggest a good pairing would be:
Slow cooked baby lamb served with spinach and baby carrots.
The silky tannins of the wine are a perfect match to the delicate meat of the lamb, while the wine’s savoury profile will complement the flavour of the lamb, herbal minerality of the spinach and hint of sweetness in the carrots .
I am keen to recommend this wine with a fish dish as well. The ideal match for me would be: baked salmon with soy sauce, ginger and coriander dressing.
The wine’s acidity will balance the fat of the salmon and cleanse the palate, while the wine’s spicy character will complement the spiciness of the dressing.
This wine is available in the UK market at around £20. (Note, as with all pinot noirs, there can be vintage variation).
For those who love cool climate Burgundian style pinot, I strongly recommend the mid-priced Spätburgunder JS (around £35) or, for a real experience, the Recher Herrenberg Alte Reben GG (around £80 – 100, depending on vintage).