It’s easy to define Würzburg and the surrounding villages as Franconia. That is, Franken in German. After all, here you will find the classic and well-known sites such as Würzburger Stein, Abtsleite and Innere Leiste. Roughly 30-40 minutes away from the regional capital you will reach sites as Escherndorfer Lump or the Kalb in Iphofen. I have to admit, I tend to do exactly the same myself and narrow the region down to Silvaner land. But then I forget about Mainviereck, the most western part of Franconia, where Spätburgunder runs the show. And you just can’t do that; think of Franconia without having some of Germany’s best Pinot Noir wines in mind. You can’t.
Franconia is big, surface wise, but vines aren’t cultivated all places. Which could explain why one tends to miss Mainviereck. From Würzburg and westbound it takes roughly an hour to reach Klingenberg, where the Pinot action starts. Fifteen more minutes and you’re in Bürgstadt, the other main village in these parts of Franconia. Along the way, from the capital you won’t spot many vines. Then after a while the red soil, the buntsandstein so typical for Mainviereck, starts to show. The south-facing hills gets more steep and in order to keep the buntsandstein in the vineyard, terraces are built. When entering Klingenberg you will spot the Schlossberg, an impressive vineyard location where leg muscles extra-ordinaire is mandatory to work the land. By the way, the Mainviereck wine district is one of Bavaria’s warmest locations and more suitable for red wine, instead of Silvaner and Riesling.
Stadt Klingenberg – Benedikt Baltes
We’re on our way to meet Benedikt Baltes at Stadt Klingenberg. Benedikt, native from the Ahr region where his parents run Mayschoss an der Ahr, took over the weingut three years ago when it went up for sale. A young guy, 28 years old and really dedicated and passionate about one thing; Pinot Noir. Entertaining, funny and with a clear vision. That’s my initial picture of Benedikt. When I taste the first glass he pours I quickly add talented as hell to my impressions. You see, this is a guy and winery with only a three years long track record but the current outcome is already closing in at the same level as Paul Fürst’s wines, the king of Spätburgunder in Franconia.
Benedikt bought Stadt Klingenberg just a few years ago. Previously, the winery which had its 100th birthday last year, was administered and run by the city of Klingenberg. His first vintage was the ever so difficult 2010 but the result he turned out was quickly recognized in Germany. Yes, I’m a huge fan of German Pinot Noir but also do admit that too a many either suffers from: generous use of new oak, residual sweetness, sage scent and taste which can become quite bitter or dominant.
When listening to Benedikt Baltes he keeps returning to what seems a mantra, a philosophy of his; Pinot Noir needs to strive for elegance and finesse. I already like the guy. Tasting the wines it’s easy to claim he has succeeded. Even the entry level Pinot Noir, the gutswein, 2012 Buntsandstein Spätburgunder, showed finesse and a structure which shared more similarity with Burgundy than many other German Pinot regions. A slight floral nose, strawberries, a touch of compost and humus. The acidity is so food inviting. The moderate alcohol, the dryness. And it’s around 10 euros, a great value Spätburgunder!
Benedikt works with remarkably low yields. He’s lucky to have old vines in the steep vineyards of his; Klingenberg, Schlossberg and Grossheubach. This means he’s not in need of any green harvest as the yields are still down at 25-40 hl/ha depending on the wine. Older and larger oak barrels are used and he’s also avoiding cultivated yeast. The wines are bottled without filtration. One more thing; longer maceration is also a key factor of his; resulting in wines with good acidity grip and an age-worthy structure.
A step up in quality is the 2011 Klingenberger Spätburgunder, an ortswein. More of everything compared to the gutswein but most importantly, a sense of place in the wine. The fruit shows a slightly darker character, more wet smoky earth and there’s also a little tannic feel. It still needs some time and will probably show at its best in two or three years. Benedikt has a red line through his portfolio. You can identify his style, how he likes his wines.
“It’s not a big quality step from the previous wine,” Benedikt says before the 2011 Klingenberger Spätburgunder “R” is poured. I beg to differ. The wine is outstanding, adds depth and has a classy structure. Benedikt Baltes explains his statement, that the amount of work in the vineyard behind the premium wines such as the “R” and the lagenweine, doesn’t differ much to for example the ortswein,” It’s basically all about a lower yield, older vines and of course in premium parts. But the work is the same. At 32 euros this is one heck of a buy. But do cellar it for a couple of years.
2011 Schlossberg Spätburgunder GG
Released on the 1st of September as the VDP rules requires. Already sold out. Benedikt Baltes produced only 700 bottles of the 2011 Schlossberg Spätburgunder Grosses Gewächs. It’s pure top class, a joy and honor to taste. A profound wine with lots of earthy scents, smoke, freshly mashed wild strawberries and moist tobacco. On the palate it’s of Grand cru measures as well. Really gentle oak, floral notes, dark cherries and strawberries, a greenish note and fine tannins. Finesse and elegance, power and structure. One of the best German Pinot Noir wines I’ve ever had (on the same level as Rudolf Fürst’s Hundsrück) and my wine discovery of the year.
Although he is implementing quite traditional methods for his wines doesn’t make him a conservative. Try his 2011 Klingenberg Blanc de Noir, a white wine made of Pinot Noir. Spicy oak, floral and black currants mixed with a mineral driven and impressive acidity bite in the end. So cool, so good, so much the best still Blanc de Noir I’ve ever had. Why does he produce a wine like this someone asks. Easy answer. Since he’s aiming for 100 percent Spätburgunder in his vineyards he still needs a glass of white every now and then. Point taken.
It’s wineries such as Stadt Klingenberg that confirms why I love wine. It’s passionate and clever winemakers like Benedikt Baltes we should put our hope in. Let the sense of place do the talking in the wines, not the accessory, not the new oak.
Web-page of Stadt Klingenberg can be found here.
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Importer? Believe me, this is the stuff you would be proud of in your portfolio.