Producer: Winzergenossenschaft Ihringen
Country Hierarchy: Kaiserstuhl, Baden, Germany
Grape/Blend: Pinot Gris
Food Suggestion: Root Vegetables and Squashes
Wine Style: White – Tropical and Balanced
Ihringen is a wine-growing town in the Kaiserstuhl district, in western Germany’s Badenregion. It is located on the eastern side of the Rhine River plain and on the south-western slopes of the extinct volcano of Kaiserstuhl. Achkarren is to the north of Ihringen, across a heavily terraced hill-country landscape, with the city of Breisach to the west.
Ihringen’s red wines are almost exclusively Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir), and are among the very boldest and ripest made anywhere in Germany. Notes of baked, spiced cherries and sandalwood are typical in these wines. The whites rank among Germany’s ripest and most tropical-scented examples of Riesling, Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris) and Weissburgunder(Pinot Blanc). Tasting notes often refer to ‘fat’ and ‘powerful’ wines with aromas of melon, pear, apricot and pineapple.
Terraced vineyards near Ihringen, Kaiserstuhl
Soils all around Ihringen tend to consist of dark, mineral-rich, volcanic bedrock (lava and tuff) covered by a layer of fertile, loose-structured loess. As an aeolian sediment (one transported by wind), loess is naturally fine and loose-structured. Because of this, it has sponge-like qualities, so it absorbs rainwater (preventing flooding) and steadily releases it over time (preventing drought). Importantly, it also has naturally good aeration, essential for the development of strong vine roots and for the overall microbial health of the soil system.
Ihringen’s undisputed top vineyard site is the Winklerberg. This is located just west of the town itself, at the very south-western edge of the Kaiserstuhl hills. Winklerberg is a VDP-classified Grosse Lage site whose steep slopes (which have a gradient of 50%) face perfectly south-west. The 290-acre (117ha) site is one of Germany’s very warmest vineyard locations, and not just because its south-westerly aspect angles it towards the afternoon sun. The porous, black basalt in the soil here has strong heat-absorption properties; it retains heat during the day and warms the vines gently at night. Adding to this effect are the retaining walls that support the terracing here.
The result of all this heat is a much richer and riper style of Pinot Noir than is found anywhere else in Germany. One particularly enthusiastic tasting note from a well-respected critic referred to ‘fireworks on the nose … mouthfilling, chocolatey, macerated cranberry-sweet bitterness … glowingly embroidered, jeweled, silky”.
The Winklerberg rises to almost 1000ft (300m) and looks over the Rhine into France. Clear days here offer uninterrupted views towards Colmar, the wine capital of Alsace. Beyond Colmar lies the key reason for the Kaiserstuhl’s warm, dry climate: the Vosges Mountains. This low-lying range casts a rain shadow over the Kaiserstuhl, reducing rainfall and bringing both sunshine and higher average temperatures.
Immediately north of Ihringen, right at the heart of the Kaiserstuhl hills, lie the villages of Oberrotweil and Achkarren. Just a few miles beyond that, on the lower-lying land close to the Rhine River, lies Burkheim.
Pinot Gris is a white-wine grape originally from the vineyards of Burgundy, but now found in wine regions all over the world. When produced in the pale, light style popularized in late 20th-Century Italy, the variety and its wines are typically referred to by the Italian name Pinot Grigio.
One of the more famous members of the extended Pinot family of grape varieties, Pinot Gris is a pink-skinned mutation of Pinot Noir. The two varieties are indistinguishable in the vineyard right up until veraison, when Pinot Gris berries take on their distinctive array of colors; anything from orange-pink to pale, dusty purple. The adjective gris is French for “gray”, and refers to the dusty, light-gray sheen the grapes often take on. Although possibly confusing to English speakers, this convention is widely used in Europe, notably in Italian (grigio), German (grauer), Slovenian (sivi) and Czech (sede).
Pinot Gris grapes
Although sometimes used as a blending component, Pinot Gris is most commonly produced as a varietal wine. Flavors and aromas vary greatly from region to region and from style to style, but commonly feature notes of pears, apples, stonefruit, sweet spices and even a hint of smoke or wet wool. Most winemakers avoid obvious oak character in their Pinot Gris, but some use older barrels (which leave less oak flavor in the wine) for fermentation. For weightier, more complex styles of Pinot Gris, lees contact and partial malolactic fermentation are commonly used. Sweet late-harvest versions wines are common.
Pinot Gris grapes are naturally low in acidity and high in sugars, so the finest Pinot Gris wines come from the world’s cooler viticultural regions; those from warmer climates tend to lack acidity and structure and can be overbearingly alcoholic. Europe’s showcase examples come from vineyards on either side of the Rhine river, from Baden and Pfalz in Germany and, particularly, Alsace in France. In these regions, the wines are made in varying levels of sweetness, from bone dry to lusciously sweet; a Pinot Gris Selection de Grains Nobles from Alsace is one of the sweetest, most intensely flavored wines on earth.
In Alsace, Pinot Gris was known for many centuries as Tokay or Tokay d’Alsace. However, in 2007 the European Union outlawed use of that name in Alsace, in order to prevent confusion with Hungary’s prestigious Tokaji wines.
Of the New World wine regions, the variety is doing well in the United States (most notably Oregon but also Washington and California) and New Zealand. New World producers have recognized and respected the distinction between the Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio styles, and typically label their wines accordingly (lighter, drier versions as Pinot Grigio, while sweeter or richer styles as Pinot Gris).
For more information on Pinot Gris’ lighter, crisper alter ego, see Pinot Grigio.
Synonyms include: Pinot Grigio, Rulander, Grauburgunder, Grauer Burgunder, Grauer Riesling, Grauklevner, Malvoisie, Fromenteau Gris, Pinot Beurot, Auvernat Gris, Auxerrois Gris, Tokay d’Alsace (prior to 2007), Szurkebarat, Sivi Pinot.
Food matches for Pinot Gris include:
- Insalata di bresaola (air-cured beef salad)
- Salt and pepper squid
- Pulled pork with fennel and apple slaw
(source: wine searcher)