Pinot Noir, “Chalofe” 2013, Thalheim (Tom Litwan), Aargau
In a recent article wine writer and author Jon Bonné makes an obligatory end of year prediction designed to arouse controversy, to wit: Swabia will be Europe’s next great wine region. He notes the wines have already passed hipster muster in Brooklyn and San Francisco and are now making inroads to the rest of us, mostly on the coattails of the natural wine movement. After all, he argues, they seem to offer what we all want, a human scale, the pursuit of balance, a centuries-old terroir and deliciously eccentric takes on a few familiar names: the three pinots—noir, gris and blanc—riesling and the less familiar gutedel or chasselas.
He may be on to something. Geography and history have long conspired to make the Swabian story an unnecessarily complicated one. Swabia’s once considerable cultural and political reach included all of German speaking Switzerland but nowadays its influence there is mostly geological. A slice of the northern Swiss wine region of Aargau shares a terroir with Baden, the current western flank of Swabia, and is its southern most appendage. It is a particularly sunny and dry part of Switzerland and, like in Baden, pinot noir does especially well there. Silky smooth, stunningly perfumed, sheer and cunningly light reds are the house specialty and the audience is growing even if it is mostly Swiss.
Tom Litwan, the winemaking owner of Thalheim, learned his craft in Burgundy just across the neighboring Vosges. He farms his estate biodynamically and has natural wine street cred because of it. He makes an assortment of pinot noir cuvées, one of them sparkling, a chardonnay and a riesling/sylvaner blend each with finesse and nerve at the core. He works with a hands-off approach in the cellar and is rewarded with a portfolio of wines that show both restraint and vigor, the two ingredients necessary for tension and balance.
The Wine: Visually the Chalofe cuvée is somehow “weightlessly” pink in color and entirely transparent. It does morph into a shade of darker ruby and develops a greater herbal accent with air, but the initial nose jumps with red fruit, sweet spices, savory herbs and a mix of balsam and cedar. There is no sense of alcohol present. Texturally, and this is a big part of its appeal, it offers a precise, lacy balance that seems hung together with the thinnest matrix of glycerol and fat. It is as pure and light on the palate as it is intensely flavored. There is no unfinished angle or unpolished edge. This is an architectural pinot noir of the Le Corbusier school.