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Weingut Jakob Schneider 2023

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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! 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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