Baden wines are in the news. Two articles appeared recently in major publications (the FT and Decanter) singing their praises, with particular reference to Pinot Noir. I can never decide if I should rejoice because the wine world is finally getting it about these gorgeous wines grown right on our doorstep, or if I should come over all grumpy because that means prices will inevitably rise. As a follow-up to my earlier posts on Ziereisen and Fritz Wassmer, Baden for Beginners and Baden for Intermediates – and at the risk of ruining the market even further – it’s time to spill the beans on another top grower: Martin Wassmer in Schlatt, near Bad Krozingen, in the Markgräflerland.
In this stunning sub-region, which stretches from Basel up to Freiburg, the vineyards – most of them planted at the foot of the Black Forest, and forming a mirror image of Alsace’s vineyards in the Vosges foothills across the Rhine – share the space with orchards and asparagus fields. This is novice territory, distinguished by a handful of talented, often self-taught winemakers. Many of them – even those who have recently shot to stardom – have only planted vines and started making wine in the past 20 years.
Martin Wassmer is a classic example. His wines are present on all the top wine lists in Baden-Württemberg (and farther afield) and he’s been on my radar for a while. Earlier this year he scored a Platinum Best in Show award in the 2016 Decanter World Wine Awards for one of his Pinot Noirs. Time for a visit (I love that we live astride 3 borders and can – and do – visit winegrowers in Alsace, Baden and Basel at the drop of a hat).
Like his brother Fritz, he only started adding wine to the asparagus and strawberry portfolio in 1997. Since when he’s been quietly buying up some of the best slopes that no-one else wanted to work any longer because they were too steep. He now owns 35 hectares (87 acres) and has recently built a spanking new winery and tasting room in Schlatt, just across the street from the farm shop. It’s astonishing what a reputation he’s built up for himself and his wines in such a short time.
You can visit all year round – see the website for opening hours, or call to make an appointment. Our tasting began with Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris), super nose, rich and fleshy but fully dry. His entry-level Sauvignon Blanc, the product of 60hl/ha yields and grown on clay and loess, was expressive to the point of being a bit shouty (always a risk with Sauv. Blanc), while the next level, labelled SW, is a noticeable notch up, the result of lower yields, limestone soils and a spell in 400-litre barrels.
His Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc) Maltesergarten is a demonstration of what you can do with an unpretentious grape if you really put your heart (and a discreet dose of oak) into it. “Pinot Blanc is a bit of a diva,” he says affectionately, “if you overdo the oak, she flounces out in a fit of pique!” [I’m left wondering why producers across the Rhine don’t try something similar with their Pinot Blanc, a grape which in Alsace is mostly undistinguished, often underripe and destined for Crémant. Maybe some do….note to self to find out.] His SW Chardonnay from Dottinger Castellberg, Wassmer’s prime site (he calls it a Grand Cru), is broad-shouldered from the hot 2015 vintage, and a little leaner from 2014 (a cool year). His mastery of oak (for whites and reds alike) is impressive for someone who’s only been making wine for 20-odd years – it seems all too easy to overdo the wood it at the beginning of your winemaking career.
Wassmer’s trump card is Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir), which makes up 55% of his total production. Yields are low (30-35hl/ha), grapes are hand-harvested into 10-kilo boxes and fermented at low temperatures, with punching down three times a day. The results range from the deliciously quaffable, unoaked, entry-level Markgräfler Spätburgunder, his bestseller in the UK (The Wine Society has it at around £13, or find it at the winery at €8.90), via various named vineyard sites and on up to what he calls his Grands Crus. Among the named sites, I loved the Schlatter Spätburgunder SW (the DWWA award-winner, €15.50 ex-cellar) but found the Roter Bur from the Glottertal (€45) lacking in charm and a little too austere for my taste. Oelberg tempts with its sweetly spicy nose (€45) while at the top of the tree GC Maltesergarten and GC Dottinger Castellberg (€49 and €68 respectively) are beautifully balanced and gloriously expressive. All, in varying degrees, have the haunting perfume and sweet fruit of good Pinot Noir.
He clearly loves his Spätburgunder and relishes the challenge of coaxing the best from this demanding grape. While the Burgundian influence is freely acknowledged, Wassmer’s wines have a distinctly Badisch character of their own (and sell at prices that are competitive with Burgundy of comparable quality – not hard nowadays). Beat a path to Schlatt if you’re in the neighbourhood: vaut le détour.