What Is Spätburgunder?

Staff Writer
A German red wine worth seeking out
John Tilson

The history of Spätburgunder, a German red wine worth seeking out.

Spätburgunder is a German red wine made from the pinot noir grape, and the name translates to "late Burgundian." Historically, spätburgunder has received little acclaim in the U.S. and I think that continues to this day. Why? Funny you should ask. But how about the name for starters? It is hard to know what it is. But now that you do, why should you care? That’s a good question. But, first let me explain a bit more about spätburgunder.

The pinot noir grape is believed to have left the Burgundy region of France to be cultivated in Germany in the Middle Ages. It is the most widely planted red grape in Germany and now accounts for about 7 percent of the country’s vineyard area. Baden, Pfalz, and Ahr are the primary areas of production. Spätburgunder is usually quite light, fresh, and fruity, and mostly made for local consumption. But, there are some that have more substance and complexity. And some of these can be quite expensive.

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As we know, the names of German wines are very difficult for most people outside of Germany to pronounce and understand. Nonetheless, the great German rieslings have been known worldwide for centuries to be one of the greatest white wines in the world and capable of aging for an incredibly long period. As a matter of fact, it was only in the last 100 years or so that montrachet ascended to the throne as the greatest white wine in the world, displacing riesling. Today, the great late-harvest German rieslings vie with the great sauternes as the best sweet white wines in the world and the drier styles of rieslings are receiving increasing acceptance.