In late August, I joined colleagues from around the world in Wiesbaden, Germany, for the 2023 preview of the VDP. Grosses Gewächs (GG) top dry wines. The tasting showcased a range of varieties, from Lemberger, Sylvaner, Weissburgunder to Spätburgunder and an extensive representation of Riesling. I reviewed nearly 300 of the 471 wines available over three intensive days. Though I missed a few entries, much of what I tasted proved thrilling, especially Spätburgunder.

I orchestrated my first deep dive into German Pinot Noir (Spätburgunder means ‘late Burgundy’ in reference to its ripening time and origin), for an article in The SOMM Journal in 2015. Back then, samples were hard to find and few retailers and sommeliers, even in New York City, had much to say about the category, let alone proffer compliments.

As a wine writer—and former editor of Fordham’s Environmental Law Journal—I’ve followed climate change closely for two decades. I suspected that Spätburgunder would be a category to watch. Indeed, the wines have gradually developed into legitmate challengers to their neighbours in nearby Burgundy, France, though at what cost to the country’s filigreed whites we might speculate - an article for another day, certainly.

Today, Spätburgunder flourishes in each of Germany’s 13 quality wine regions, covering a combined area of approximately 28,880 acres throughout the country. This positions Germany’s plantings as the third-largest global producer of Pinot Noir, following France with around 79,070 acres and the United States with 61,750 acres under cultivation.

Most Spätburgunder at the tasting hailed from the 2021 vintage, a cooler, wetter year with higher disease pressure from downy mildew. Baden, typically Germany’s warmest growing region, suffered late spring frosts and icy winds which damaged up to 80 percent of young wet buds in some vineyards, according to the Wines of Germany 2021 vintage report. The small, northern region of Ahr experienced a devastating flood in July, though the most attentive of growers recovered, turning out wines of delicacy and finesse.

During the preview, many 2021s reflected the chillier conditions with a throughline of freshness and tension at the expense of concentration and power. For example, 2020 was a hotter, drought-afflicted vintage that nevertheless imbued reds with more muscle and alcohol. Spätburgunder harvested in 2019 enjoyed an exceptionally balanced vintage for ripeness and brightness. Despite the slight vintage variation, however, German Spätburgunder has never been better, and it should be the Pinot Noir you’re seeking to drink.

More notes and scores coming over the following weeks, but here are some of my favourites.