The dark green fruit on the fig trees in the courtyard are the size of golf balls, and the lemons in a nearby garden will soon be ripe. I take a sip of red wine from the glass in front of me; the flavor is rich and silky, with the sweetness of blackberries mingled with smoke. I can almost imagine I'm in Italy. But the vintner across the table from me is named Hansjörg Rebholz, and the label on the bottle reads SPÄTBURGUNDER, German for Pinot Noir. I am at the Rebholz estate in Siebeldingen, Germany, tasting some of the radical new wines of the Pfalz region in the Rhine Valley, an hour and a half drive south of Frankfurt.
Germany has had a bad reputation as a producer of light, sweet white wines. Indeed, a decade ago, the Pfalz produced mostly generic Liebfraumilch, a semisweet blend. But in the 1990s, dry wines--especially Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc and Riesling--started becoming the norm, and their quality improved so much that today many Pfalz wines have become collectibles. Because this development follows the pattern of the Tuscan wine revolution of the 1980s and because the Pfalz is also blessed with a warm, dry climate, the region has been christened "Germany's Tuscany." So far few people outside Germany have discovered the area, and wine prices remain reasonable. However, if you want some of that 1997 Rebholz Spätburgunder, you'll have to move fast when it is released this fall. Word is spreading, and it's sure to sell out at the estate's tasting room within weeks.
Rebholz The tall, slim, fortysomething Rebholz is articulate and passionate. His small oval glasses give him the look of a university professor, and he is a patient teacher when it comes to explaining how the Pfalz became a producer of world-class dry whites and a serious challenger in the field of red wines. "The leap forward in wine quality was achieved by working together," he explains to me as we drive out to the vineyards. "By criticizing each others' wines, we pushed each other forward."