Imagine a hilly landscape somewhere in Europe. The sun is burning down. The temperature is way above 30° C. Sitting on a porch, you look around an area that was shaped by volcanic activity. While there is no lava any more, you have been told by locals that this small town is the warmest in the country. Your host returns to pour more Pinot Grigio. Southern Italy, you may think? Not at all! Chances are that you are sitting in the town of Ihringen in the South West of Germany, drinking a Pinot Grigio, Grauburgunder I wanted to say, made by the Heger winery. Well, it is still winter while I am writing this, but a few days ago I opened a bottle of a Grauburgunder, as the Pinot Grigio/Gris variety is called in Germany, for two friends here in London - Dr. Heger's Oktav.
The Heger winery was founded in 1935 by Dr Max Heger, a GP and wine lover. It is based in the town of Ihringen in a region of Germany called Kaiserstuhl (emperor's seat/chair), an area dominated by volcanic hills. It is one of the warmest regions of Germany - Ihringen is said to be the town with the highest average temperature. It is no wonder that the Heger family is growing red wine such as Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon. However, most of the wine produced is white, such as Riesling, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Silvaner. Heger specialise in the use of barrique barrels for maturing wine, even for some of the whites. I am usually very sceptical if it comes to white wine aged in barrique - 'If I want my wine to taste of wood I go to the carpenter.', as a winemaker once told me -, but some of the Heger barrique wines that I tasted over the last few years were just gorgeous, robust yet elegant.
Robust yet elegant is also a good way to describe this Grauburgunder. While the colour is a delicate yellow, the aromas are quite robust indeed, but without being overwhelming. The nose combines apple and other fruit, such as quince and mirabelle plum, with a little honey and a certain toastiness that indicates that this wine may have seen some oak (it is by no means heavily oaked, just a bit). Delicate aromas of orange peel or orange blossom add that little something extra to the bouquet. On the tongue the Oktav is well-balance and round, with good fruit - in comes a little melon -, some spice and a pleasant acidity. While the finish is more on the medium side, it leaves you with an almost tingly sensation on the gum that again reminds you that the Oktav combines a well-structured body with pleasant freshness. One of my guests remarked that the acidity almost reminded her of a Riesling, although not as intense.
If you like Pinot Grigio it could be an interesting adventure to try this somewhat different German interpretation of what many people know as the quintessential Italian white variety. And if you do not like what the Italians do with Pinot Grigio, well, perhaps the German interpretation could be something for you?