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Weingut Jakob Schneider

Tasting Year


Jakob and I used to do a lot of blending during my visits, for base-cuvées of certain wines, and for RS-balance in others. The work was good and hard, and time consuming, and what really made me happy tasting his wines at home was, I could take my time with the Spätlese/Auslese, not to mention taste them out of their zygote stage.

Jakob continues to refine his identity, and to help us understand what that identity actually is. While one might have surmised he’d emulate his shouting-distance neighbors the Dönnhoffs, in fact he’s going his own particular way – for which I am admiring and grateful.


2020 Estate Riesling Trocken                                                            +

Used to be known as “Melaphyr,” after its origin-terroir, but the English (and simplified) label was probably….<sigh>…. inevitable. In any case it smells like melaphyr (which you can google) and which announces it immediately as a Nahe wine, which is to say, like a highly exotic Riesling creature. It hails from two sites I assume are erste Lage (i.e., 1er Cru, at least they ought to be) called Felsensteyer and Rosenberg.

The wine is excellent. And I am so glad to be tasting it in December as opposed to the March after the harvest, when everything was pretty relentless and savage and turbulent. Now it’s the juice bomb I always surmised it would be, eventually, but often I realized too late just how fine it was.

It’s smoky-juicy-gingery-tropical-exotic and wonderfully rich and balanced. The slightest phenolic kick at the end will be obliterated with food. The wine is very likely not bone-dry, which is all to the better. What do I mean? There’s a crucial difference between a wine with, say, 2 g/l of RS and the same wine with 7 or 8. The Trocken limit is 9 g/l, and below that level we have gradations of dryness – all the wines are definitely dry – but with 8 grams the wine is juicy dry with a richer texture (not to mention more nuance, fragrance and length) whereas with 2 grams it is often a gnarly mean beast.

The wise producer understands this principle, and accounts for it. And the wise drinker isn’t such a damn pill about “pure” dryness. A pox on your hairless-cat Rieslings!

This minor masterpiece will introduce you to the vamping mysteries of Nahe Riesling, the most distinctive in all the world, at an entry level price. To me this wine is indispensible, and brilliant, like something that came from a vizier’s cauldron. A winery made this? I don’t believe you.


2020 Niederhäuser Hermannshöhle Riesling Trocken

The Federspiel equivalent. It smells noble, beautifully inscrutable, enticing and, if you’re seeking language by which to describe it – maddening.

The palate is even-keeled, drier (feeling) than the estate wine, a straighter through-line. It’s almost sedate, it has a kind of sobriety, at least until the rather jangly, static-y finish. Another three grams of RS would have ameliorated that, but that battle is long since lost, and what the hell; it’s just a wine.

But it hails from a great terroir, which it demonstrates, fitfully, more than flickers but less than glowing.

I have a Spätlese coming up from this vineyard, and I am going to put a half-teaspoon of that into a glass of this, and test my theory. I have been wrong before. Some wines just don’t cooperate.

Okay, I did it. It was too much RS at first; we don’t want a feinherb wine, just a better-balanced Trocken. I tried again. More aroma, as might have been expected. But the palate still doesn’t sing. Then I tried something naughty, and used the Hermannshöhle Auslese as my blending partner. Even less of it; a quarter teaspoon. I’d never ask Jakob to do this, but I’m home and I get to play blend-meister.

And this one works. It gives a highly useful new note in the chord. The wine remains stern, but with more complexity and middle, and an especially longer finish. But so what, right? The wine doesn’t actually exist except in my kitchen for a few minutes. I suppose it’s an object lesson, or some little conceit of mine. The wine could have been better, and it doesn’t matter very much.


2020 Niederhäuser Hermannshöhle MAGNUS Riesling Trocken  +

Here’s the Smaragd, or the “GG” if you prefer. A half-percent more alc (13 versus 12.5). A gold capsule A stupid heavy bottle. Jakob, friend, esteemed colleague, business partner for nearly forty years, YOU DON’T NEED IT. Spend the money on the label. The heavy bottle is bad for the world. 

The wine is very much a WOW! It is also unique in the context of Hermannshöhle, because most proprietors in this supernally great Riesling vineyard make filigree, lacy wines, the better to show all the theological intricacy of this magnificent terroir. Not here! This guy is landing fat punches on the heavy bag. And apropos “Smaragd,” there’s more than a hint of Achleiten in this picture, and a lot more than a hint of the Wachau torque.

It’s a subterranean being; no flavors are really above-the-ground. It’s all a smolder, a magma, as if to growl some antediluvian text from the ancient volcano; flavors are less chiseled than smelted.  A fiery, impressive wine, not really my type, but who else is showing the vineyard in quite this way? Heroic, implacable, magnificent?

Just the unfurling fragrances in the glass(es) I poured suggest splendors await over the coming days. There is also an uncanny balance here; the wine knows how to use its power.


2020 Spätburgunder Rosé Trocken                                              +.

As always, this is a wonderfully original and distinctive Rosé, and based on what I’ve tasted this year, I’d put it with Prieler and Heidi Schröck both qualitatively and in offering the “fine-wine drinker” the elements (s)he seeks in the “fine-wine” experience.

We have solidity and grip. We have spices and incenses, we have wet leaves and forest-floor and we have potpourri, we have the loveliest florality, we have pink peppercorns, and finally we have a wine that’s limpid and hale and smart and shapely and with an almost tactile intelligence.

The finish is playful and many-layered, and the aromas evolve into an articulate swoon. I’m both delighted and deeply impressed with this crazily interesting wine.

Two closing notes; the contributing sites are (sandstone) Höllenpfad and (slate) Rosenheck. And you may recall the wine used to be feinherb, but Schneider’s American importer requested a Trocken bottling, and it works beautifully.


2020 Niederhäuser Kertz Riesling Feinherb

This great site was bedraggled, with several small producers having retired and many parcels gone to seed. It was a tiny site to begin with. Finally and calamitously it was absorbed into its neighbor Niederhäuser Klamm, a site with an entirely different terroir, but wait! There was a cadaster called “Auf der Kertz” that Schneider owned, and that could be used to keep the name alive.

Yet I have a bottle that says Niederhäuser Kertz. Some little fibrillative spasm in the law? Whatever the explanation, the label is permitted.

Always my favorite wine from Schneider, but this ’20 is behind a sulfur shroud at the moment. Its acids are also rather whippy, and while the vineyard fragrance is present, the whole gestalt is a bit of a jumble. Nor am I persuaded by the sugar-acid balance. A day or two open may help, but this isn’t an attractive first impression. Will it persist?

Yes and no. It’s funny the tricks sulfur can play. A day later the wine is “true”  (yet the day after that it was sulfury again – go figure) and we can really examine the balance question. The aroma is lovely and exotic, if a little pointed. The palate is markedly salty and tangy, but “tangy” is a word I often use to depict a sweetness that isn’t assimilated. My sense is the wine wanted to be sweeter but would then have jumped over the feinherb border (such as it is), not to mention the wine is conceived as a feinherb, and another sweet wine would have distorted their portfolio.

Please know I’m not trying to be nice here. But the wine smells lovely and the palate works in its angular way, until the finish where its basic strife is too evident. In other words, drink with food.

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2020 Niederhäuser Riesling Kabinett              glug-glug-glug

The village-wine, which we used to sell as a Liter wine. And whew, what an aroma. Not surprising given it contains two Grand Crus (Kirschheck and Klamm) plus some fruit from the Pfaffenstein.

As always, I’m tempted to say. I mean, this is Nahe, and even better, central Nahe, and even your “normal” wine is going to have sensational vineyard material in it.

This is the kind of wine where you just want to get up from the tasting table saying “It’s perfect, OK? Now leave me in peace.” It’s a parfait of peaches and gravels in seamless balance, the kind of wine that looks easy, but never is. Indeed, in modern Germany this sort of wine is getting harder to find, because (too) many of the sweet wines are sugary, so when you find something like this you can remember the beneficence of fruit without having to paddle through a gooey mass of fructose. Instead it’s all charcuterie, baked hams and peaches, the kind of wine where the bottle vanishes at warp-speed.

Chapeau, Jakob! I certainly join the worshippers at the altar of your Grand Crus, but nothing impresses me more than your skill and generosity, to offer a wine as delicious and craftsmanlike as this to your customers for such a friendly price.


2020 Niederhäuser Klamm Riesling Kabinett


Sponti aromas, in a nice way!

If you forgot, this is adjacent to Hermannshöhle, and its steep sections are the steepest in the central Nahe. But it’s a concave bowl leading down to a large-ish flat section which is by no means second-class. The wines, from a mélange of porphyry and sandstone, are a little like the Roter Hang wines of Nierstein, particularly the cusp where Hipping and Oelberg meet.

It’s a wholly admirable and tasty wine. It has polish yet also the lovely “rural” touch from the sponti; it has juice and also precision, and it has perfect balance. A real farandole of fruits here too; quince, Cox’s Orange Pippins, white peach, meyer lemons – plus candy-cap mushrooms (that smell like maple syrup), all in a generous and open hearted wine that somehow manages to finish firm and dry.


2020 Norheimer Kirschheck Riesling Spätlese                             +


Don’t you smell good!

I’d forgive you if you took a whiff and said “What have they done to this? It can’t be wine…”  All I could say would be Welcome to the Nahe.

It’s a Spätlese in the modern idiom, largely determined by climate change, and partly determined by the reviewing apparatus wherein gaudy wines get the gaudy scores. Not that this wine is “gaudy,” but it is rich. Yet you really couldn’t make a drier wine from this material. This truly lovely wine is like good patisserie; interesting, not oppressively sugary, rich but somehow also dainty.

Partly that’s Kirschheck, its slatey soil and signature flavors of apples and cherry blossom. It’s also the way ones palate habituates to sweetness; the more sweet wines you taste the less sweet they start to seem. When I took my fourth sip I found the wine minty and almost stern, and the sweetness was pinpoint poised. But I’d have liked a vein of mineral to add some yin to the picture.

I feel like quite a kvetch, fussing over this actually lovely wine. It isn’t the wine, which is honorable and fine. My cavil is larger, and the question it seems to form is: If this is the way such wines are formed in our new world, how are we to use them?

Have you ever noticed that some sweet wines taste less sweet after they’ve been open a day or two? This does, up to the finish, which again runs toward sweetness. My inner voice is rebuking me: stop fussing. Stop being so obsessed with this minutiae! But I love German wine and have for much of my adult life, and it distresses me – and always will – their strange tendency to bold-stroke their wines conceptually – dry wines (often) too dry, sweet wines (often) too sweet.


2020 Niederhäuser Hermannshöhle Riesling Spätlese          +

First cork-finished wine in the group. While it takes on air, I’ll tell you a little story.

Several years ago Jakob poured us a few wines he’d bottled under both cork and screwcap, the same wines, now three years old. The results were wildly dramatic, with the cork-finished wines tasting much older, while the screwcapped wines tasted like they’d been embalmed. Better, worse? It didn’t seem to pertain. It was more a question of how much oxidation the drinker might want from a 3-year old wine, or concomitantly, how much frozen-in-place would that drinker want, whereby the wine tasted identical to the flavors that made her buy it on release?

So here the choice of cork is both symbolic – the “noble” wines must have the expected closure – and also prescriptive. This wine will develop in a certain way.

Back to the glass, and the fragrance is still reticent. But the palate is something else again. It has a half-percent more alcohol than the Kirschheck, and tastes considerably drier, perfectly so in fact.

Time for the Jancis glass.

Aside from the great terroir, two things about this wine are noble. One is its interiority, its implosiveness, and the other is its restraint. The wine seems quite diffident regarding whatever “impression” it might make. It has that rare is-ness, the magnetism of the silences. Notwithstanding that poetic affect, it’s likely the wine will bestir itself and show more mojo tomorrow. It’s signaling in that direction. Even so, I can’t imagine Jakob making such a wine ten years ago. The truest way to profundity is to trust the quiet. (Proverbs-R-us! If this wine writing thing doesn’t work out I’ll go into the fortune cookie business.)

A day later the wine is little changed, which is fine by me. It’s a suggestive, questioning wine, beautifully secretive and pensive.


2020 Niederhäuser Hermannshöhle Riesling Auslese           ++

At first a high-toned aroma, as from the slatey parts of the vineyard. The palate, too, feels more overtly expressive of the site, without some of the less agreeable markers of “Auslese” such as blatant botrytis or excess sugar. I had a notion to question the cork, but all seems well.

For all the aromatic brightness the palate is adamantly spicy and redolent of the “dark” elements of this magnificent vineyard. The palate starts to swell into the earthy volcanic profile we saw in the dry “Magnus” – this is the big sister of that wine – and it leads, improbably, with weight and savor. As such it is an explicable and tangible profundity, all the more poignant for being so humble and diligent. My sense is Jakob isn’t saying “Watch me make a 95-point wine!” but rather Let me show you something about the Hermannshöhle,  as he leads us to the fundament.

Simply as a drink, this wine is more useful than, say, the Kirschheck Spät; it has body and chewiness and its sweetness feels like some primordial glaze over the roots and logs and the decomposing leaves. Where so many modern Ausleses shine with a lurid glare, this one has burnished to some antique verdigris, an earthy grounded richness. Wines of the 50s and 60s expressed themselves this way, albeit with less ripeness. I feel a fine, melancholy thread, reaching back to Granddad, who would have understood this wine but possibly fussed that it was too clean! 



2021 Estate Riesling Trocken

I’m assuming this is the wine formerly known as Melaphyr after the exotic soil from which it hailed (thanks to the vineyards Rosenberg and Felsensteyr), and it sure smells that way. It also answers the question “Why Nahe?” because it doesn’t smell like any other Riesling in the world, and the cost of entry is comfortable. From the Jancis glass the fragrance is so exotic you wouldn’t suppose it was “Riesling” and you might wonder whether it is even wine, or else some esoteric potion executed by a mixologist who is, let’s say, not necessarily unfamiliar with psilocybin. 

I remember very well the blending parameters for this wine, and so I know what Jakob aims for, and how the ’21 vintage played its own particular havoc. Mind you, the wine is impressive and yet (as you’ve gotten tired of hearing) there’s a constrictedness about some ‘21s that removes some of the clemency this wine wants. The melaphyr flavor is dark, spicy, ferrous, less chummy than the porphyry profile, and if you add a vintage-based asperity to that you have a wine that clangs and judders.

But as soon as those words escape my mouth I feel I’m being unreasonable. What’s good about the wine is wonderfully good, the brilliant saltiness and the spice-cake doughy mid-palate. In fact that second flavor is compelling, and most palates on most occasions will view what I see as a clipped-ness instead as an agreeable finishing tang and zing. I myself see it that way as the wine warms in the glass(es).

I won’t soft-pedal my subjectivities but I will make them as clear as I can. I expect I’m roughly one in fifty people for whom this wine does something bothersome. The rest of you, please, dance by the light of the moon.

The next time I tasted it the sample was about 59º and the wine showed a lot of leesiness. My impression is basically the same; it’s a vamping sort of being but with a crabby edge, despite what I infer about how Jakob formed it. When you read down, you’ll see a rapturously lovely quartet of wines-with-RS, which seemed better suited – at least here – than the Trockens to the vintage’s singular nature.  What’s crisp and aerial in the sweet wines is mordant and tart in the dry ones – if I may generalize grossly! 


2021 Niederhäuser Rosenheck Riesling Trocken

Sandy slate. I’m glad he sent this, as it was showing poorly (as were several of his ‘21s) when I speed-tasted them in May ’22. In case you haven’t noticed, I like being proven wrong.

Or in this case, sort of wrong. The wine is certainly more expressive and less raw than before, and the earthy Nahe slate is appealing in its forthright way. The wine’s a little wrinkled with sulfur today, and I sense it’s like a little kid who had to get dressed up in scratchy clothes, and is not happy. But tasting in the fresh air (of an isolated sea-breeze and sweetly cool day) brings out its playful side.

Actually, when the rich mid-palate emerges from the screw-cap shroud the wine grows a lot more satisfying and tasty. For a ’21 you could almost call it mellow, especially from the Spiegelau stem. (The Jancis, so kind to the previous wine, seems to want to scold this one.)  It’s a lusty, earthy wine, but its earth is good earth and the terroir saturation is a lot of fun. And there’s a lot of tertiary length in this ’21. 

It’s less angular than the estate Trocken and also less interesting, but it’s also more generous and drinky. It too showed a lot of lees on second (and less chilled) taste.


2021 Niederhäuser Hermannshöhle Riesling Trocken                  +

I’m sorry, but PRETENTIOUS HEAVY BOTTLE ALERT! Jakob’s not a pretentious man, and his showcase wine would stand on its own without the dismal symbolism of the silly bottle.

I mean, just take a sniff. The wine speaks entirely well for itself!

At first glance what stands out is both intricacy and complexity, and both of a cerebral nature. This is something I’ve always appreciated about this “regular” bottling, in contrast to the GG-type of the “Magnus.” Neither of these is lyric, but each is generous in its way. And here the Jancis glass illuminates every crook and nanny of this kaleidoscope of Riesling.

Accept that it isn’t hedonic, and enter a rare beauty. Some wines can seem to defeat you the more you try to deconstruct them. This one meets you with arms open; all you need is time to limn its astounding complications. Do understand that relative to Dönnhoff – the illuminatus of Hermannshöhle – Schneider’s wines are more muscular, and in a certain way, more tangible. But the nature of this astonishing bit of terroir precludes anything but the outer limits of….of everything! Of paradox, of polyphony, of the clarity of the inexplicable, of all the things that rub our faces in the mysteries of greatness.


2021 Niederhäuser Felsensteyer Riesling Halbtrocken

This bottle doesn’t carry the American importer’s strip; did they offer it? This ground-zero for melaphyr Riesling smells entirely gorgeous.

The palate is decidedly high-toned and phenolic – I might have guessed it as a 2020 – and it’s easy to glean what this wine wanted to be. The serenely powerful fragrance almost always announces a perfectly balanced wine, and for all I know this is one such, but the structure and texture are shrieky, and I can’t imagine why.

I could try to imagine, and what I’m thinking is that this was a stainless steel wine that would have been happier in cask. Because the sugar-acid tandem seems to work, at least until you hit the wasabi wave. I’m mindful of the screwcap distortion and we’ll see what retasting brings – all these wines are encouraged by oxygen and warming – but this could be a wine that got away.

Just for a lark, I blended this with the estate (melaphyr) Trocken, and the results were more viable than either was alone. Of course it would be viciously unsaleable.


2021 Spätburgunder Rosé Trocken                                                 +

Very good terroir behind this, and I always found it to be exceptional in character and distinctiveness. But given the perverse proclivities of my palate, I liked the Halbtrocken version they offered me, which (apparently) hindered its sales. My successors decided to turn it Trocken, and I prepared myself to lament – but the wines have been good. Really good. And this one is too.

Behind the customary “rosé fruit” is a depth of earthy terroir you have no reason to anticipate. It smells less like “pretty” things than like raw pancetta – fatty, a little feral, herbs in the background, and somehow both evanescent and thick on the gob. You could even call it crusty.

It speaks to a side of Pinot Noir we don’t often consider; the rusky texture, the tomato-leaf resinousness, the part that tastes like a plant. This to me belongs with the top rosés I know (Heidi, Prieler, Diel) and adds something uniquely its own.


2021 Niederhäuser Rosenheck Riesling Kabinett                          ++

This “hedge of roses” appears not to have been offered in the States (which prefers the Klamm Kab) but it smells like a million bucks. And this is exactly the kind of wine that shows the genius of 2021, and gives us reason to cherish this vintage despite the (too) many tart little ankle-biters in the Trocken segment.

I haven’t had a Kabinett this perfect in a long time; it’s a paradigm for the “type,” at least as a few of us remember it. It has a lyric and comely fragrance of slate, purple lilacs and wisteria and even, dare I say, roses. (Is there quartzite in play in this terroir, I wonder?) It’s also crisp, superbly balanced – which is to say you don’t notice the balance – and the sweetness is ripe and yet crunchy; the whole thing is serene and angular, like an apple that freshens your breath.


I hope Jakob sent it because he was proud of it; he has every reason to be. It has the seamless ur-beauty of Merkelbach wines  at their best.


2021 Niederhäuser Klamm Riesling Kabinett                                   +

Porphyry and rotliegend here, in the next door neighbor to Hermannshöhle. It is thus more exotic, peaches and papaya and a prosciutto sweetness. It’s the spirit-sibling of Niersteiner Hipping.

It’s sexier than the Rosenheck, and feels a bit more like a “modern” Kabinett (i.e., with Spätlese elements), but it’s kind of absurdly attractive, and what’s most hypnotic is that it finishes sprightly and dry. Again, this is the ultimate shining of 2021, to add such soaring buoyancy to wines that might otherwise groan beneath the weight of their sugars.

We have a fine paradox here. There’s a sultry element that suggests a frost-bitten concentration, as though it were gathered on a very chilly morning, yet there’s also this keenness of finish, like the sharp tip of a fencing sword. Tasters talk of a “sugar-acid balance” as though it were something you weighed on your own mental scale, but when the balance works it works wordlessly, because every piece of the wine is at home and congruent with every other piece, and there’s no need to clamor about it.


2021 Norheimer Kirschheck Riesling Spätlese

The first pour from the (screwcaped) bottle seemed to present with TCA, but the next one didn’t. (I always pour into at least two different glasses, you may recall.) And yet there’s a cloud darkening the sky above this wine, and if Jakob made it in cask I’d ask him to examine that cask before he used it again.

(I’d also ask him to reconsider the stupid heavy bottle, but this seems to be a losing battle until y’all boycott any wines thus bottled.) 

The wine mostly cleaned itself up, and shows many of the best characteristics of the sweet ‘21s, a lift and wind-blown brilliance that focuses fruit to an almost absurd degree and blocks what could have been overly fruity finishes. And in the unlikely (and let’s face it, unforgiveable) event you don’t know Kirschheck, it is a rapture of prettiness that isn’t merely pretty and that’s entirely improbable. “This comes from grapes???”  A pastry chef who made a sauce that tasted like this would win a Beard Award for Best Pastry Chef Of The Millenium.

I still wonder about that pssssst! of TCA. It didn’t get worse from one day to the next – usually the marker for actual TCA – but it also didn’t disappear. It can be “tasted-through” and it could be any number of things other than TCA. It doesn’t cripple the wine, but it does have…a broken pinkie.


2021 Niederhäuser Hermannshöhle Riesling Spätlese                  ++

Heavy bottle again – and more on this at the conclusion, because I don’t want to muddy the waters with my usual ranting when I’m tasting this most supernal of Riesling vineyards. 

At first this gives the impression of an almost poignant restraint. This apparent sang froid is deceptive. Though it seems to keep to itself, it has a rich and intricate self to keep to.

In this vintage it shows every colored fabric in the skein, everything magnified and pixilated. You’ll see why the site amazes us as it does. Its integral-calculous complexity resides in a mid palate that also offers umami, so that there are both inferred and explicit flavors, driven partly by extract, itself an inference of flavor.

I’ve taken 20-30 years of groping for an explication of the flavors of this insane genius vineyard, and have used up my store of adjectives plus several of my neighbors’, who wouldn’t mind being paid back. I often wonder if there actually is a taster who could do it, definitively, so that there’d be a “standard-text” for Hermannshöhle. Could it even be done? I’m decently conversant with the dozen or so greatest Riesling vineyards in Europe, among which this is the hardest to write about.

I mean, I think I could do it. I could freeze-frame it long enough to nab most of the hundred nuances. But even if I did, grabbed them bastards and made a big ol’ list, you’d taste the wine and wouldn’t “get” many of them and would “get” a slew of your own. The point might be, the wine is smarter than our brains are, or it feels that way to me, yet that recognition carries a numinous spiritual and emotional charge. It allows for a kind of surrender, and even if you’re not “religious” you’ll recognize the moments when you perceive the divine, and even if that moment eludes you, you have surely stood before the sublime and felt both very deep and very small.

To the wine at hand; it is what may have been anticipated from ’21; its almost alarming clarity (including its articulations of the unseeable), a serene energy, a lowering of the “sense” of sweetness, and all in all in the time I’ve known Jakob, this is his best wine – up till now.

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