Holger Koch has a reputation for making extremely fine Pinot Noir (also known as Spatburgunder in Germany). Nothing can really claim to be extremely fine until it has been assessed at Elitistreview Towers!
His naming scheme for his wines is a bit weird. This Three Star Pinot is from his best parcel of vines high up in Kaiserstuhl in the terraces of the Halbuck vineyard where they catch most sun. They are also the oldest vines he owns. The grapes are partially destemmed, fermented in open fermenters using wild yeasts then transferred to approximately half used, half new oak barriques for their elevage.
There is a wine above this in Holger’s selection. He chooses one new barrel of this wine that he considers has the power and density to survive a fully new wood treatment and bottles that as Reserve. Given the full-on-oak action of Reserve, it might be a while until I consider it wise to sample one.
This report is on the Three Star version, that may not get the 100% new oak treatment of the 300-odd bottles of Reserve made each vintage, but some people might think that a good thing – me included. Oddly, I have seen them priced identically and that price is remarkably affordable. Let us see if it if worth ‘affordable’ or even more!
Pinot Noir *** 2016, Holger Koch
I am always happy when I see a pale Pinot Noir. I know full well that the colour of Pinot tells you bugger all about it, it is just a nice contrast to those blackish-purple Australian Cabernets and Shirazes. Some people seem to think means they are high quality, when all it really means is that they are going to get extremely pissed and suffer serious palate fatigue very quickly.
Good lord! What an attractive nose! If the occasional nose of a wine was not so god-damned beautiful as this, we would not bother smelling them. The complete harmony and integration of this nose makes it a nec plus ultra experience to wallow in.
So why it is so good? It has plenty of joyfully ripe, utterly beautiful berry fruit – strawberries, largely. Also, like the last Baden Pinot I tasted there is a strong floral component to the complex, utterly stylish set of flavours on the nose. I hope this does not result in me mistaking my favourite Morey-Saint-Denis wines, from Domaine Dujac, for Baden wines when I am served them blind; Dujac Morey also has a strong floral component to it.
If I did not know the producer uses up to 50% new oak for this wine I would never have believed it. There is a new oak character to the nose, but it is very restrained and just a subtle spicy seasoning on the mainly fruity and floral nose. It neither dominating nor over-powering everything else. I was not bothered by the oak character in the slightest, indeed I loved it for a reason I shall shortly explain.
I also get a very sophisticated set of aromas of complex earthiness. Good! Pinot should not have all its natural earthiness stripped out of it! It is really subtle and smooth, but a noticeable element that adds to the complexity of the nose.
Now the real beauty of the nose is its harmony. Every element is totally balanced with every other, like the oak-level I mentioned above, and they have a synergistic effect with each other to make this wine staggeringly, gorgeously, delightfully beautiful. I am so smitten with this totally harmonious, totally attractive wine I can feel a speck of emotion welling up in the corners of my eyes.
The alcohol level, 13%, is another part of the integrated set of aromas, it is just at the right level to show the complexity of the entirety of the nose without even getting close to dominating. This is purest Pinot beauty!
So it smells terribly, terribly complex, supremely pleasing and just divinely harmonious. What does this winsome little lovely taste like?
Now do not get me wrong, I shall state it clearly here to make it certain you understand: this tastes like a beautiful, complex and desirable wine, alas the palate is all over the bleeding place.
What I mean by this is something that anyone who has aged Pinot Noir will know well – after two or three years, Pinot wines often close up and seem awkward and generally discomposed. Crap Pinot never recovers from this, but fine Pinot blossoms after a few years of awkward middle age and as beguiling as I bet this wine was months after its release. I am absolutely, definitely sure this will recover from this closed patch and be superbly enjoyable.
Firstly, let me explain why I think the nose was so freaking lovely and the palate not so lubriciously enjoyable. I think this bottle is only just entering its closed phase. Not all bottles experience the same conditions until they reach your cellar. Consequently, if you open a bottle NOW there is a chance it will completely brilliant. So go on, open one NOW!! If it is singing the song will be so heavenly!
I have just been unlucky. I have caught a bottle that has just began to tip over into its closed phase. Whilst the nose is still all one could want from a Pinot Noir, the palate closed down and not as satisfying as the glorious, glorious set of aromas on the nose.
I will try to explain why I think this wine will become an entity of purest charm and joyfulness in 4-6 years’ time. It can be encapsulated as all the components of a great, and I do mean great, wine are present, it is just that they do not speak with a clear voice and as a coherent entity.
The fruit has the nice strawberry and floral characters, they just do not sit together quite as well as they do on the nose. Moreover, the acidity, which is in no way too high, makes the fruit seem a little angular. When this wine recovers, the fruit and flowers will be delicious and fresh, with the acidity keeping them lively and vivacious.
I can tell that the tannins are incredibly smooth, polished and charge the palate with élan. When the acidity resolves this will create a beautiful, beautiful structure that will make the palate seem suave and svelte.
The wood tannins and vanillin seem a little strong, they don’t fit quite correctly with the grape tannins, acidity and fruit, but time will sort that out. There is a lovely earthiness to this wine but you have to have your palate set to hyper-analytical – it is just a bit subdued right now.
Writing that, it does not sound so bad and my description of it being all over the bleeding place seems a bit excessive; perhaps it is – but this bottle I know is not as beautiful as it will be in a few years’ time. I am so confident that this will be a great, great wine I am going to buy more and I will give those bottles the time they need and report on the next bottle I open – I bet you a penny it will be supremely enjoyable.
If my US readers are interested in getting some wonderful German Spatburgunder/Pinot Noir then you should get in contact with my chum Lyle Fass. Lyle gets all the good German Pinot, not always in great quantities, alas. Have a look at his website!