The 2012 edition of German Wine Bible "Gault & Millau" rates a total of 10 growers across the whole of Germany as five star producers (we list 7 of them). In Baden, the region that lies just across the Rhine from Alsace, nestled below the black mountains in much the same way as Alsace is beneath the Vosges, there is only one with the five star rating - Bernard Huber.
Described by World of Fine Wine as "one of the most important wine producers in Germany of the past 20 years" Bernard Huber's small, family owned estate sits to the East of the region in the village of Malterdingen. Famed for his Pinots, in particular his world class Pinot Noir but also his superb Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc, Bernard ascribes the fact his wines are often mistaken for Burgundy (by Burgundians) to the cool often wet Malterdingen weather and its limestone soils, very similar to those found in the Cote d'Or. Indeed, records show that Cistercian Monks brought Pinot Noir to Malterdingen from Burgundy almost 700 years ago, planting the Wildenstein parcel in the Bienenberg vineyard. As today's Burgundian Grand Cru sites prove, when it comes to Pinot Noir, the Monks had an eye for terroir.
With the oldest vines on the estate dating back to the 1950s and Bernard's 25 years of tireless dedication to clonal and massal selection, his holdings now include three single vineyard Grosses Gewachs sites which produce a quality of grape that Pinot producers anywhere in the world would be green with envy over. To further enhance the vineyard definition, Bernard likes to pick his grapes early in the window of ripeness, promoting their individual terroirs, but also combining "concentration, ripeness and complexity with elegance, freshness and purity in a way that is unrivalled in Germany".
Vinification for the reds will often include a percentage of whole bunches, malo-lactic fermentation in new French oak before racking into one and two year old barrels and a gentle bottling without fining or filtration. Everything is done with the aim of preserving fruit, nervosity, freshness and site specific character.
Bernard's superb entry level whites consist of a Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc; the former aged entirely in stainless steel, all yellow peach and stone fruit, starting ripe and round and finishing taut and mineral; the latter, half in steel (without malo) and half in 500L wood (with malo), rounder but somehow more tensile, with delicate touches of tropical fruits, spice and a finish of essential citrus oil.
His top Grosses Gewachs white is the Weisserburgunder Bienenberg GG, aged 100% in oak, 1/3 of which is new. It's a knockout combination of ripeness, texture, intensity and focus marrying aromatic fruit to saline minerals, mango and cut grass. It is completely unique, and like the entry level wines, totally dry.
To finish off, one final quote from Stephan Reinhardt, the author of the Finest Wines of Germany, World of Fine Wine book from which the above quotes have come. "I can hardly imagine how the wines can get any better. Maintaining this level of quality is probably even more difficult than reaching it. But Bernard Huber is rooted in the soil, and if anybody can stay on this pinnacle, it is he."
Baden is a tough region to generalise about. Made up of nine distinct districts and spanning over 250 miles it goes without saying that climate, soil type and topography varies greatly. However, Baden is without doubt the heartland of Germany’s Spatburgunder plantings. Particularly fine examples are found around the Kaiserstuhl, thanks to a clement climate and limestone soils. David Schildknecht, contributor to the Oxford Companion to Wine, feels that particularly around Freiburg and Breisgau, the “higher proportion of calcerous soils promotes firm fruity acidity resulting in Pinot Noir that marries richness with vivacity, and whose virtues have become increasingly evident over the past two decades.” Standout sites from this part of Baden include Malterdingen, Mundingen, Kondringen and Hecklingen. White wines tend to be enjoyably fruity and simple in style, produced in the main from Weisserburgunder, Grauerburgunder and Muller Thurgau. As the reputation of Baden’s Spatburgunders has steadily grown, quality conscious young winemakers have regularly visited, and taken inspiration from, their Burgundian counterparts. In recent years that has meant starting to experiment with new winemaking techniques, vineyard practices, and sources of clonal material in an effort to further hone their style. The Bernhard Huber estate, now run by the ambitious Julian Huber, is a five-star producer in the region.