Weingut Jakob Schneider

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!