What Ahr We Drinking Tonight?

My dining companions promptly answered this question. Both hold Ph.Ds. and both are German Pinot Noir, or Spätburgunder, enthusiasts. Another dinner date with wine geeks….

There were three bottles of Pinot Noir, all carefully hand-carried back from Bonn, which sits just north of the Ahr River valley. This tiny strip of vineyards produces mostly red wine (Wines of Germany tells us that reds comprise four out of five bottles) and a significant portion is Pinot Noir. To impress upon you just how small this region is, I’ll make some comparisons. Its vineyards stretch 15 miles along the river. That’s just a wee bit longer than the island of Manhattan, which is 13.4 miles. Furthermore, the total vineyard area is approximately 1,300 acres, which is the area of land Beckstoffer Vineyards alone farms in Mendocino. (They farm another 1,300 acres in Lake County and an additional 1,000 in Napa!) I was surprised to learn that most of the region’s harvest is vinified at cooperatives. Our three bottles were, however, made by smaller producers.

The Ahr is one of Germany’s northern-most wine-producing regions, so it may come as a surprise that a red grape is so at home there. However, if you drew a line due west to France, you’d find that it’s not much further north than Champagne. It is, nevertheless, further north and in Champagne 99% of Pinot Noir is made into bubbly, not still wine. It’s the Ahr’s distinctive mesoclimate that allows its grapes to ripen. Of particular importance is the Eifel mountain range that blocks the north wind. The very long days of sunshine during the growing season are a great help as are the dark slate soils that collect heat during the day and radiate it back onto the vines during the cool evenings. Noticing the alcohols on these bottles hovered around 14% alcohol, I can assure you these Pinot Noir showed judicious ripeness!

The three Spätburgunder we enjoyed were all 2009s:

I’d once tasted the Meyer-Näkel as it is imported to the US. The other two were newbies to my palate. All were delicious. Nonetheless, as is often the case, I noticed one wine glass kept emptying before the others: the Nelles really latched onto my taste buds!

If you see an Ahr Pinot Noir/Spätburbunder, pick it up! They aren’t inexpensive, but they are worth the extra coin. I hope to see a larger selection available in the US in the next several years, so I’ll support the category along with you.