Saturday, 15 October 2011

German Wine Trip: Ahr and Jean Stodden

In 2009, wine writer Ch’ng Poh Tiong held a talk titled “Pinot Noir Wine Styles: The Traditional and the Generation NEXT” in conjunction with Wine for Asia. The forum showcased Pinot Noir from Old and New World, including examples from Burgundy, New Zealand and Italy among others. The wine that captured my attention was a Pinot Noir from Ahr, Germany. From the first sip, I marvelled at how delicate, perfumed and elegant the wine was.
Fast forward two years later, and I find myself outside Jean Stodden, producer of the wine I tasted at the forum that inspired me to seek out this little known part of Germany. Winemaker Alexander Stodden has become much busier since we last met, juggling between the demands of being a father and travelling to promote his wines. It’s a hectic schedule, but he is unperturbed as he shows us around the winery facilities. 
The vineyards of Jean Stodden cover around 6½ hectares planted mostly with Pinot Noir with some Riesling and Frühburgunder (an earlier ripening mutation of Pinot Noir). Alexandar is careful to select only clean and healthy fruit, employing up to six people to sort the grapes manually. He leaves the juice in contact with the skins for up to 24 days, so any rotten fruit would contaminate the whole batch and result in off-flavours. The must is micro-oxygenated during fermentation. This is a technique that involves running tiny bubbles of oxygen through the tank to encourage yeast activity and soften tannins. “I love working with air”, declares Alexander. “Wine needs oxygen for development”. The top line of wines are neither fined nor filtered. Alexander believes in letting the wines evolve naturally, stating that “everytime you work with a wine you slice away a little bit of the quality.”
Evolution and experimentation are key concepts for Alexander. "Don't let tradition limit you," he says. Since I last tasted them, the wines have added depth, tannin and body. In my opinion, it would be a shame to drink them young, as they are capable of developing much more interesting flavours and aromas with age. Alexander states that his aim is not to make wines that compete with Burgundy, as they are a different style of Pinot Noir, but simply to make the best expression of Pinot Noir in the world. His efforts have paid off; Gault Millau rates Jean Stodden as one of the top three producers of Pinot Noir in Germany. Most of the wine is consumed domestically, with the main export markets being the US and Japan. In Singapore, the wines are available from Magma.

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