Modern Mosel Pinot Noir: Riesling Dressed in Red

Steffensberg Pinot vineyard in the Mosel encased in fog
Photo credit: Weingut Immich-Batterieberg

Everyone knows that a party at Weingut Immich-Batterieberg generally means two things: Riesling and more Riesling. After all, it is one of the oldest estates on the Mosel, with an unparalleled portfolio of ungrafted, steep-slope vines. Yet, it was at one of those legendary open-air evenings back in 2018 that I found myself drinking almost exclusively Pinot Noir. Mosel Pinot Noir. Sourced from Monteneubel, a 24-hectare vineyard located directly next to the Steffensberg. It sits in a side valley near Enkirch and is the oldest historically verifiable vineyard in the village. The 2010 magnum Kollman poured into my glass was far from the first Mosel Pinot Noir (a.k.a Spätburgunder) I’d ever had. But it was, without a doubt, the best. 

Coming to Terms with Mosel Pinot

When Kollmann took over management of the winery in 2009, he found 2,500 square meters of Pinot Noir in Monteneubel. It was unclear when the vines had been planted, or even which clone material had been used, but the loose cluster and small-berried fruit suggests French clones. Although Kollmann had previously consulted for wineries that cultivated Pinot Noir, he had never had direct contact with the variety in his own vineyards. However, as a Burgundy lover, he not only had many years of experience with the variety, but also a clear idea of what he wanted to do.

German winemaker Gernot Kollmann stands on the banks of his steep Pinot vineyards .
Gernot Kollmann (l) and vineyard manager Philippe Clementi (r) of Weingut Immich-Batterieberg.
Photo credit: Weingut Immich-Batterieberg

Such clarity of vision appears to be one of the key determining factors in producing a good Pinot. Kollmann felt that most German Spätburgunders to that point had been overly focused on achieving an international style. Little, he felt, distinguished German Pinots from bottles from Südtirol-Alto Adige, Oregon, or Switzerland’s Bündner Herrschaft; every wine seeking to be bigger (and thus theoretically better) than the last. The wines often featured heavy oak and chaptalization, and “a drive to be ‘impressive,’ to show that the producer knew how to make a Grand Red,” Kollmann says. This typically drained the wines of their playfulness and momentum. “In Burgundy I’d always been drawn to the smaller vintages where the acidic interplay was more pronounced, as well as to the villages that produced more elegant wines, for example, Marsannay,” he recalls. He asked himself what a Pinot Noir from Enkirch could take as its inspiration and concept.

Modern DNA Inspired by Tradition

Spätburgunder has a long tradition on the Mosel. Or, perhaps more accurately: It had one. Production of red varieties, a feature in the region for several centuries, was outright banned in 1934. The choice is a difficult one to fathom, given that by that point the variety played a miniscule role in local viticulture — in fact, red varieties represented less than 0.1% of the region’s vineyards in 1910. According to Mosel Fine Wines, the vines that were present included not only Spätburgunder, but also a bit of Portugieser and even Cabernet Sauvignon.

Yet earlier, in the 19th century Spätburgunder had been important enough in the Mosel to receive its own version of the famous Prussian site map classifying Riesling sites. It presents the Scharzhofberg as the sole Pinot Noir Grand Cru and the village of Könen on the Saar as the only one in which Spätburgunder was actually predominant. Jean Fisch and David Rayer, authors of Mosel Fine Wines, never did determine why production was banned in 1934. The steps that led to the repeal of the ban in 1986 are much clearer. A growing number of winegrowers, led by Ulli Stein from Bullay, had pushed authorities for the right to restore Pinot Noir to their vineyards, arguing that it was standard practice in other German winegrowing regions.

The instincts that bind knowledge and training on the one hand, and the proximity to Mosel terroir and tradition on the other, form the basis for a new and internationally appreciated Pinot identity.

A vision of Mosel Pinot Noir began to coalesce for Kollmann. The wine would need its own distinctive Mosel DNA. It would need to be imbued with the playful, fresh, and lissome demeanor for which Mosel is known, without sacrificing complexity. The model resembled a “Kabi”: dry, non-chaptalized, harvested early, fermented with ripe stems and on the skins in open vats, nearly chewy in the initial phases, and sent it on its way with plenty of potential, generally not to be released to the market until six, seven, or even eight years after harvest.

Kollmann, Stein, and the winemakers that follow below are part of a core tending an old tradition that is budding anew on the Mosel. Like a Riesling in red, the Pinots from their hands reach for elegance and complexity, edginess and vitality. They show that the instincts that bind knowledge and training on the one hand, and the proximity to terroir and tradition on the other, form the basis for a new and internationally appreciated identity.

The Practical Workings of Pinot Noir in Piesport

Creating a compelling Pinot is, in fact, a massive challenge, and one that demands experience. Because small factors play a major role when producing Pinot, it should come as no surprise that it took many years after Spätburgunder was reauthorized for the first decent bottles to surface on the market.  

One prime example is Weingut Später-Veit in Piesport. In the 1820 site classification map, Piesport stood alongside Kanzem, Kasel, Wehlen, Lieser, and Traben, while Enkirch, Winningen, and 14 other locations were assigned one classification lower in the ranking. In 1991 — just five years after Spätburgunder was officially allowed to be replanted — Heinz Welter took advantage of an opportunity to do just that. 

His timing proved excellent. Prior to 1986, Spätburgunder would rarely have achieved ripeness. That situation soon improved as climate change took hold. Welter oriented himself toward Burgundy.

Over time, Welter amassed a detailed understanding of the practical workings of Pinot. “1997 was the first vintage that was enjoyable, 1998 was even better, and 1999 was the first really good vintage.” The 2000s remain in his library and continue to shine, although they can oxidize quickly in the glass.

Niklas Welter, Heinz’s son, worked with his father for five years before taking over the estate in 2015. The bottles from his hand are a true insider’s secret and sold almost exclusively to private consumers. The 400-year-old estate has more than 10 hectares of vineyards, seven of them steep sites, with 1 hectare of Pinot Noir each on the Piesporter Falkenberg and Grafenberg and the neighboring Winttricher Großen Herrgott

Welter ferments his Pinot Noirs spontaneously, just as Kollmann does. By contrast, however, the share of stems is typically 25%, with single site wines (here called “privat) receiving roughly 50% stems. The wines remain on the skins and stems for up to 10 weeks  before going into a range of used and new barrique. Masterful barrel aging shapes the wines without dominating them. 

wine barrels at the Maximin Grünhaus Ruwer estate in Germany
Barrel cellar at the Maximin Grünhaus winery | Photo credit Weingut Maximin Grünhaus

Learning to work with oak on the Mosel is a long and excruciating process. Günter Steinmetz planted his first Spätburgunder vines shortly after official permission was granted. When it comes to Pinot Noir, Steinmetz’s preference for a refined style is evident in both his entry level “Pinot Noir,” as well as its partner “Pinot Meunier.” Both wines proudly voice their origin with stony minerality, red fruit freshness, savory grace, and a lively acidity. Beyond that, a visit to Stefan Steinmetz — who now runs the estate together with his wife Sammie — also turns up single-site Pinots from Kestener Herrenberg, Kestener Paulinsberg, Drohner Hofberg, and Mühlheimer Sonnenlay

Steinmetz adjusts the stem levels to the conditions of the vintage. His father introduced the practice of wild ferment for all his Pinots after failing to get the desired results from cultivated yeasts. Stefan’s contribution has been the purchase of second-use barrels from Dujac and Domaine de la Romanée-Conti.

Mosel Pinot Flagship

Those same types of barrels are also used by Daniel Twardowski, who annually drives his 12.5 ton truck over the border to Burgundy to acquire his barrels from the finest producers. Twardowski is unlike anyone else on the Mosel. Originally from northern Germany, his family moved to Saarburg while he was still an adolescent. He spent his teens drifting through the area’s bars and discos, making friends like Andreas Adam vom Weingut A.J. Adam, his frequent companion in cooking and drinking wine. His attempts selling wine (and used Nintendo games) on a small scale grew into a business in rarities, purchased from places like Christie’s and Sotheby’s and resold on eBay. “But that was back when I was still a student and treated everything like a bit of a joke,” he explains. “Why would I want to take my business degree and look for a regular job somewhere when I already had total freedom?” 

German winegrower puts hand in vat of Pinot Noir grapes in the mosel winery.
Daniel Twardowski of Weingut Dwardowski | Photo credit: Chris Marmann

That freedom included the purchase of parcels on the Dhroner Hofberg in 2006 and regrafting those vines to Pinot Noir. “They were just happy because they thought they’d found a sucker willing to cultivate those steep sites,” Twardowski remembers. Disappointing initial results made him reassess his choice of Gravesac as an early-budding clone. He turned to friends in Burgundy for help in arranging for later-budding clones. The quality improved, but Twardowski felt it still lacked the essential character trait that he sought. His first wine, vintage 2011, had “too much” body with excessive extraction and barrique influence, the very thing Kollmann bemoaned. “I didn’t particularly want to drink it either,” says Twardowski, who prefers the “sweet spot” between elegance and finesse.  And then came 2014. A vintage that would go on to become famous, as the Mosel Pinot would go one to be categorized several times as a cru from Gevrey-Chambertin in comparative tastings. At the time, no one realized that such a wine could come from the Mosel.

Growing Focus on the Ruwer 

Weingut Maximin Grünhaus is a Ruwer legend. Archaeological finds suggest that the present-day castle rests on Roman foundations. The wine cellar dates back to the early days of the winery, which was first mentioned in 966. It belonged to the Benedictine Abbey of St. Maximin in Trier until it was secularized after the French Revolution. Carl Ferdinand Freiherr von Stumm-Halberg bought Maximin Grünhaus in 1882 and laid the foundations for the winery’s current fame, which is now run by Maximin and Amelie von Schubert in the sixth generation. It has three world-famous sites for Riesling: Bruderberg, Herrenberg, and Abtsberg. Yet, 2024 saw the von Schuberts launch something else entirely. While their Riesling Großes Gewächs wines have long drawn plentiful attention, they are now producing a Pinot Noir Großes Gewächs as well — the first anywhere on the Mosel.

Naturally, Pinot had been cultivated over the course of the estate’s century of history. But as in the rest of the region, there was a phase when the von Schuberts were without Spätburgunder. In 2007, Maximin von Schubert’s father, Dr. Carl von Schubert, arranged for a hectare of Pinot Noir to be planted on the Abtsberg. An additional 0.4 hectare followed in 2008, with more vines set onto the Herrenberg in recent times, bringing the overall holdings to roughly two hectares. 

The style of the winery has also evolved significantly. The 2017 is still characterized by the barrique preferences of the previous cellar master. Maximin von Schubert has now replaced these barrels with much finer French barrels and tonneaux with oak from his own forest. And as the von Schuberts refine their use of oak, the Pinots are gaining focus and elegance.

From Devonian Slate to Dolomite Limestone

As the crow flies, it’s not far from the Ruwer to the Southern Mosel. Geologically, however, the Devonian slate of the Herrenberg is worlds apart from the Dolomite limestone of Wehr and Nittel. 

Jonas Dostert spent his years as an apprentice and journeyman in Luxembourg and at Leflaive in Burgundy before producing his own wines starting in 2018 at his father’s estate. Years earlier he had planted Chardonnay and Pinot Noir parcels, and his debut vintage of the Pinot in 2019 from the “Auf dem Haupfuhl” parcel and its successor in 2020 were masterstrokes. Dostert, a man with a clear vision for his wines, spent his initial years as a vintner like any other journeyman: testing and exploring the depths of his terroir. 

Dolomite limestone from the German vineyards of Jonas Dostert
Jonas Dostert shows his Dolomite limestone | Photo credit: Winzer Jonas Dostert

Those investigations now help him convey impressive energy in his wines. The alcohol is around 11% abv, but there’s never the feeling that something is missing. Like Twardowski, Dostert believes that a certain amount of volatility gives the wine an edge that accentuates its character. Dostert is no fan of the term “natural wine,” since he believes wine is inherently a cultural product. His Pinot Noir is spontaneously fermented and raised in used barriques, before being bottled unfiltered and with roughly 30 mg/l SO2. It is a successful example of a minimal intervention wine.

Pinot from the Extremes

Winningen is an essential stop on the Mosel Pinot trail. The town is famously shaped by Riesling, yet also offers at least two Pinot surprises. One is the portfolio of Daniel Fries. The vintner’s father, Reiner, planted his first Spätburgunder vines in 1986. These form the foundation for Fries’s work today. He made a conscious decision not just to apprentice at Riesling estates in the Pfalz and Rheinhessen, but also to study the art of Pinot in Burgundy and Oregon. Reiner and Daniel Fries have been working shoulder-to-shoulder since 2019, although Daniel maintains his own line of wines alongside the family’s. 

Mosel winemaker mashes pinot grapes at harvest
Tobias Feiden | Photo credit: FeidenWeingut

The other surprise is Tobias Feiden. He is perhaps the only winegrower on the entire Mosel who currently produces exclusively Spätburgunder (plans are in place to add a Chardonnay in the future). As a long-time employee of Canal Sekt in Winningen, he also has plenty of experience in sparkling wine production, which he applies to his own Pinot sekts, pressed as whites and rosés. His wines are primarily sourced from the Taubesberg, which is part of the Winninger Domgarten vineyard block. Alongside his superb sekt and the village-level wine, which I feel is being sold too cheap, the most fascinating wine is probably the Moselsürscher Spätburgunder from the Fahrberg site. It is set high over the Mosel, across from an old slate quarry. The old vines deliver a Pinot that is subtle and earthy, shaped by the reserved manner in which Feiden raises his wines: with some destemming, spontaneous fermentation, more infusion than pump-over, no new wood, and extended lees contact of almost two years. 

These many efforts are beginning to gain real traction. Having completed  a wine fair day in March 2024, Daniel Twardowski headed out for a meal in Le Bon Georges in Paris, a classic corner bistro with equally classic cuisine and wine list. Alongside Rayas and La Tâche, he was surprised and thrilled to see his own wine listed. Even in Paris they’re aware that the Mosel is cooking up something new when it comes to Pinot Noir: wines well worth trying, and appreciating, both for their price and the growing impact of climate change on bottles from Burgundy itself.

Seven Mosel Pinot Noir to Taste

2015 Immich-Batterieberg Monteneubel Spätburgunder

The delicately reductive nose is accented with notes of crisp red currant atop sour and sweet cherry, forest floor, peony, herbs, and crushed stone. Its clarity, playfulness, freshness, and vitality testify to the belief held by many German growers that Spätburgunder is, at its heart, Riesling dressed in red — only here with the added textural dimension of tannins to harness its supple core. 

2019 Günther Steinmetz Sonnenlay Pinot 

Aromatic dark fruit is marked by notes of blackberry and cherry, and accented with tamari and Indian spices, toast, and dark chocolate. Although the elegant oak is dominant at this point, its quality indicates that this will recede with time. Dark and juicy with velvety tannins, its current youth is revealed in a growing brittleness on the palate. Captivating, complex, and long.

2015 Später-Veit Pinot Reserve

Reserve here refers to a single vineyard from the Großen Herrgott site in Wintrich. Radiant and transparent. Subtle reductive notes add dimension to the complex nose of elegant red fruit and dominant vegetal aromas (red beet and bell pepper), and delicate woodsy spice. A juicy core is harnessed within a fine net of tannins. Minimal extraction and minerality join a delicate mouthwatering acidity to form the illusive goal of every German wine: Trinkfluß

2020 Daniel Twardowski Hofberg Pinot Noix Réserve

This Mosel Pinot sets the current benchmark in both price and quality. Highly complex floral aromas of peony, violet, and lavender mingle with mint and verbena. Raspberry, wild strawberry, damson plum, and cherry come together with a delicate barrel spice and dried herbs. There is a fine mist of volatile acidity. Creamy and deep yet also delicate and approachable, the wine delivers profound depth and nuance, without a hint of arrogance or attitude.

mosel pinot winebottle on a shelf next to a pile of slate rock
Photo credit: Chris Marmann

2020 Jonas Dostert Spätburgunder

Along the lines of Kollman’s Monteneubel: early harvest fruit, low alcohol. Transparent and enchanting, fragrant and sensual with an appealing balance of sweetness and acidity, due in part to few added sulfites. Light and playful at first blush, yet never lacking for depth or concentration. 

2020 Tobias Feiden Moselsürscher Spätburgunder Marbleous

A single vineyard wine in all but name. The fruit comes from the Fahrberg site, from a small rocky overhang high above the Mosel. Unfiltered and released two years after bottling, a further testament to the quality of Pinots from the Mosel. Aromas of wild strawberry and herbs. Smoky and earthy accents form an unmistakable through line from vintage to vintage, which mingles a lightly yeasty sweetness in the fruit with a delicate balanced barrel influence. As nimble as it is nuanced, the palate embraces the earthiness into the ripe, tangy fruit. Sleek concentration, equal parts elegance and challenge, and a long, deep, saline finish. 

2021 Daniel Fries Pinot Noir Terrassen

Dark and smoky with dominant black pepper spice, clove, licorice, and cedar alongside an emerging fruit. Cherry and berry grow more prominent, soon to be joined by tangy accents.  Nimble and lively on the palate, with good momentum. When the impulsive yet well-integrated tannins of youth eventually soften, this too will join the impressive ranks of promising Pinots from the Mosel.

Translated from the German by

Similar Posts