There were many such awful puns at last week's meeting of the Nottingham Wine Circle, as we gathered to taste a selection of young white, rosé and red wines from the tiny and relatively unknown Ahr Valley region of Germany. Most of us had very little previous experience of Ahr wines before this tasting, presented by Kevin Scott and his half-German wife Ena Marie. The Ahr Valley is even more northerly than the Mosel Valley, but its particularly ambient microclimate makes growing red wines (pricipally from Pinot Noir) viable. The wines are certainly not cheap (around 10 Euros seems to be the starting point for a drinkable wine) but the proximity of cities such as Bonn and Cologne means that the majority of its relatively small production is easily sold directly from the cellar door, to day trippers from the cities. Hence, very few of them seem to find their way across the water to the UK - and if they do, they are invariably expensive.
Here are my tasting notes, with cellar door prices (where available) in Euros;
1. Meyer-Näkel 2009 Weissburgunder - €9.80
Very pale colour. Lots of non-wine aromas - minerals, slate, flowers and spices, with just a hint of lemon and apple. The palate is very lemony, yet quite rich and peppery, not unlike a Gruner Veltliner. Well balanced and quite complex, finishing very fresh.
2. Kreuzberg 2009 Pinot Blanc - €10.00
Ultra-pale colour. The nose is very minerally, herbaceous too, with aromas of pea pod and nettle. Very young, fresh and fruity, with tangerine and grape flavours, but again very minerally. Not complex, but a nice drink.
3. Kreuzberg 2009 Blauer Spätburgunder (Blanc de Noir) - €10.00
Almost white, but with a very pale pink hue. Herbaceous and minerally, with lovely grape and wild strawberry flavours and nice acidity. Not serious, but very fruity and refreshing.
4. Meyer-Näkel 2009 Riesling
Nettles and lemons, with some minerality. Not very Riesling-like on the nose, though a touch more so on the palate. Very minerally and lemony, herby and herbaceous. A touch sugary, but with with excellent minerality. I think this has lots of promise. Edit - over a week later (I took the remnants home with me) that sugary layer has disappeared and it the wine is much more integrated, quite lemony, even steely, in an Alsace sort of way.
5. Deutzerhof 2009 Catharina C
This too is a Riesling, but has aromas and flavours of caramel. There is a touch of lemony fruit, but despite some richness on the palate, it is really quite austere on the whole, and quite bitter. Not a particularly pleasant drink.
6. Deutzerhof 2008 Saumon de L’Ahr (Rose)
An interesting nose - smoky, spicy, but Pinot-y. The palate, however, is harsh, like cheap Beaujolais Nouveau. Lemon-pithy and bitter.
7. Deutzerhof 2009 Cossmann-Hehle (unoaked) - €9.50
A nice New Zealand-like Pinot nose, which promises much, but delivers stalky tannins. There is some really nice Pinot fruit lurking in there, but it is virtually impossible to get past those tannins. Hard work.
8. Max Schell 2008 Frühburgunder - €9.00
Frühburgunder is apparently a different clone (or mutation) of Pinot Noir from the usual Spätburgunder version. This one has a lovely nose - very fruity, peppery and spicy. The palate has some noticeable oak to it, along with some nice fruit, but it is spoiled a little by a slight bitterness on the finish. Perhaps smothered by the oak?
9. Meyer-Näkel 2009 Frühburgunder - €17.00
This has a really deep colour and smells a bit like a serious, oaked Gamay, rather than a Pinot Noir - squished plums, cherry and bramble do not suggest Pinot. The palate is rich, soft, deeply fruity and velvety. A touch of stalkiness on the nose is softened on the palate by some classy oak. I think there is an interesting (though atypical) wine in there just waiting to emerge, but it needs a good few years yet.
10. Kreuzberg 2008 Spätburgunder unplugged - €14.00
A nice light colour, with a delicately fruity nose - strawberry, raspberry and undergrowth. The palate is light, but very fruity, even if a touch lean at the moment. A nice drink.
11. Meyer-Näkel 2008 G - €14.50
A deeper colour, with an attractive nose displaying typical Pinot fruit and a hint of orange. Nicely oaked, slightly medicinal and again a touch stalky, but quite peppery too. Needs time, I think.
12. Deutzerhof 2007 Balthasar C - €20.00(?)
Pinot ..... and Coca Cola, with some older oak notes, herbs, spices and leather. The palate is nicely fruity, sweet and orangey, with good acidity and a hint of tannin. A bit like a middling New Zealand Pinot, but without the sweet finish. I like it.
13. Deutzerhof 2007 Caspar C - €21.00
Somebody said "Givry meets Frühburgunder - and I see what they mean. There's quite a lot of extraction, but it is well done, with a nice whiff of old(er) oak. The palate is quite Burgundian to begin with, but then it becomes a bit astringent, with a somewhat stalky bitterness on the finish. I think this needs time, but for now, the jury is out. See * below, for a later assessment.
14. Kreuzberg 2007 Schieferlay GG Spätburgunder - €27.00
Very Pinot on the nose - fruity, very fragrant and elegant. Sweet wild strawberry and orange fruit, nicely balanced, if slightly low on acidity - again, there's a touch of New Zealand style winemaking here. The best Pinot of the night, and a lovely wine - but is it really worth that sort of money? See ** below, for a later assessment.
15. Meyer-Näkel 2008 S - not sure of the price
A deepish colour. I get the feeling that this is (or was) a good wine, but - though not overtly oaky - whatever time it has spent in barrel seems to have stripped away the vitality from the fruit. I'm really not sure about this one.
As a postcript to this tasting, it wasn't until a full 6 days later that I remembered I'd taken the remnants of a couple of the Pinots home with me - and, to my amazement, they has really blossomed!
The Deutzerhof 2007 Caspar C is really rather lovely, especially the nose, which has a wonderful perfume of pure, Burgundian Pinot Noir fruit - wild strawberries and redcurrants, with gamey, herby notes and polished old wood. The palate also has true Pinot structure and flavour, not to mention a great deal of elegance, which suggests to me that this could end up being something quite special in another 5 to 10 years.
The Kreuzberg 2007 Schieferlay GG Spätburgunder is also really singing. It too has that wonderful wild strawberry fragrance that only great Pinot Noir seems to be capable of, along with a touch of orange zest, rotting leaves and polished wood - a nose that puts me in mind of a Joseph Swan Pinot Noir. In fact, if I were tasting it blind, I might be fooled into thinking it was a very fine cool-climate Californian Pinot, or even a semi-mature 1er Cru Burgundy, although the slightly restrained (though still ample) acidity would suggest the former, rather than the latter. Oak? Yes, it is there, but it works in complete harmony with the fruit, in a wine which really does add up to more than the sum of its parts - a glorious wine, in fact!
Would I buy these wines for myself? Well, to be honest, not many of them - the prices, even at the cellar door, are not really matched by the quality I would expect. In fact, the white wines appear to be no more than competent, at best - and when you can visit a really good grower in the Mosel and buy some really cracking wines for around 6 Euros upwards, the Ahr whites offer a very poor quality-price ratio. The "cheaper" Ahr reds also don't really deliver. But I'm really glad that I tasted the above two wines again, because they were a revelation, and demonstrated that the Ahr Valley is capable of producing world class Pinot Noir - all they need is time to reveal their true colours.