Few people know much about the wines of Baden, Germany, even those who live right on the doorstep in Alsace or Switzerland. If they have any perception of the wines at all, they may have some vague recollection of soft, sweetish Gutedel (aka Chasselas) and pale, slightly fizzy Spätburgunder (aka Pinot Noir).
Things have moved on – and how! From our perch here in Alsace (some of Baden’s best vineyards are less than an hour away) we’ve been exploring the region on and off for some 20 years now. Recently our visits have become more ‘on’ than ‘off’. Why? The quality – of both white and red wines – is high and the price-quality ratio outstanding.
The Pinot family brings Baden’s greatest rewards: Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc), Grauburgunder (Gris) and Spätburgunder (Noir). As you taste the first two, if you’re already familiar with Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris from Alsace, do a little mental comparison. You may find that Alsace’s white Pinots fall a little flat and that – counter-intuitively, because many people still think German wine is sweet and Alsace dry – they have more residual sugar than the ones from Baden. When trying Baden Pinot Noir, your thoughts will turn to the inevitable Burgundy benchmarks. Here I defy you to find equivalent quality at the same price points anywhere in Burgundy.
With friends visiting recently from the States, we scheduled a day in the Kaiserstuhl, which boasts some of Baden’s finest vineyards. Where is it? Look at the map (if you still own and/or consult such a thing…), locate Freiburg, then go left (west) of the city and you’ll see an egg-shaped enclave neatly ensconced between the Autobahn A5 and the Rhine: this is the Kaiserstuhl. And why famous and why worth a visit? At least 3 reasons (for me, anyway): it’s a region of extreme natural beauty, formerly a volcanic site, with some spectacular walks (and sightings, if you’re lucky, of the gorgeous Bienenfresser or bee-eater, which migrates up here from southern Spain to flit amongst the vines); it has some of Baden’s best vineyards and estates – that volcanic soil helps, plus lashings of loess, the powder-fine, super-fertile soil that blew in from the west and settled here aeons ago; and there are countless good-to-excellent restos (see Where to Eat in Baden).
First stop was Ihringen, which was living up to its reputation as the hottest spot in all of Germany so we made a beeline for Gio Gelati, the renowned ice cream parlour on the main street (go for passionfruit, or maybe mango, or even hazelnut…impossible to decide). Then, wandering on down the main street, we got an unexpected bonus: the town’s wine festival, the Ihringer Weinkost, was taking place, and several of the village’s top winegrowers (Dr Heger, Stigler et al) had opened up their courtyards for tastings of their own and their colleagues’ wines.
I’ve tasted and written before about Dr Heger wines (https://suestyle.com/2014/08/28/weingut-dr-heger-ihringen-badengermany/), which are some of the most distinguished in the region, present on the winelists of all the top restaurants. I was happy to be reminded of their Ihringer Winklerberg Weissburgunder (floral, fully dry, €17.70) and Mimus Spätburgunder (fragrant, good/discreet use of oak, €26) and to meet for the first time their Chardonnay, lightly oaked and elegant (€21). (For readers in the UK, The Wine Barn stocks an extensive selection of Dr Heger wines.
One of Heger’s guest growers was Huber from Malterdingen, who was probably the first to put serious Pinot Noir on the Baden map, and about whom I’ve written in Decanter. Their whites (Chardonnay, Weiss- and Grauburgunder) are all fully fermented out (“durchgegoren”), quite lean, with varying degrees of oak exposure; their Spätburgunders are legendary. I didn’t note prices except for the entry-level Malterdinger Spätburgunder (super Pi-nose, still quite tannic, worth keeping) which is their best-seller at around €17.
Just down the street we looked in on Weingut Stigler, whose broad sunlit courtyard was full of happy tasters. The Holzöfele restaurant across the street had a guest stand too, offering wraps filled with rucola, tomatoes, air-dried ham and cream cheese. By now it was at least 30 degrees and even the paeonies on the tables were looking a little limp – not ideal conditions for tasting wine but I loved Stigler’s cask-fermented Chardonnay from the Grosse Lage (i.e. Grand Cru) Ihringer Winklerberg, and their lively, floral blend of Weissburgunder and Chardonnay.
The weekend continued in the same vinous vein, with discoveries to left and right. I’ll focus on four more top Kaiserstuhl wineries in another post (so you don’t get Baden overload): Franz Keller in Vogtsburg-Oberbergen and their fab new restaurant the Kellerwirtschaft, stacked on the roof of the spanking-new modern winery; Weingut Johner in Vogtsburg-Bischoffingen, where you can taste the fruits of their vineyards both in Baden and New Zealand; Weingut Salwey in Oberrotweil and Weingut Bercher in Burckheim.
[Footnote: did you know that I do bespoke vineyard tours in Baden, as well as Alsace? To find out more, contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org]