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2021 Emrich-Schönleber
the Grand Cru GGs
2021 is not "only" a Kabinett vintage

{ The 2021 top dry Rieslings of Schönleber are simply pinnacle expressions of a cool-climate vintage; these are chiseled dry wines the likes of which are not likely to come around all that often as we proceed further into a warmer world... }
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The Grand Cru releases of Emrich-Schönleber are something of a moment for us; these represent, unquestionably, among the greatest dry Rieslings to come out of Germany. They also represent something of our origin story here at Source Material - our first-ever offer was for the 2019 GGs.

While these wines are not inexpensive, for the top-top tier that they represent, they become greater values every day. Only Keller and Schäfer-Fröhlich are serious comparisons – perhaps Breuer in the Rheingau – and all of these top wines are considerably more, if you can find them.

The truth is, for the moment, Emrich-Schönleber's top wines are available. This will change, but for the moment this is where we’re at and it's not a bad place to be.

We began with this, but it's worth repeating: The 2021 top dry Rieslings of Schönleber are simply pinnacle expressions of a cool-climate vintage; these are chiseled, dry wines the likes of which are not likely to come around all that often as we proceed further into a warmer world. 

Those who write off 2021 as "only a Kabinett vintage" will be proven very wrong. Without a doubt the heart of the 2021 vintage (especially in the Mosel) is Kabinett, yet this is a matter less of quality and more of quantity.

In other words, the top dry wines of 2021 are extraordinary in quality, especially as one heads south from the Mosel. They are just extraordinarily rare in quantity at many estates.

As with the 2004s and the 2008s, which the 2021ers at Emrich-Schönleber most closely resemble, these will be epic wines... though they will require time. If you drink them younger, give them a hearty decant, or drink 24 to 48 hours after opening. Seriously.

While Emrich-Schönleber is one of the "big three" of the Nahe (along with Schäfer-Fröhlich and Dönnhoff), for me the closest stylistic reference is Keller. Note: This is not a schlocky, salesy way of implying: "Yes you too can get a $500-bottle of wine for only pennies on the dollar!" This would be insulting to both Keller and Emrich-Schönleber who are pursuing their own visions in very different terroirs. Yet both estates present a hyper-focused, seamless and extraordinarily elegant, almost meditative dry Riesling. Yes, Keller's wines show more fruit in youth, Emrich-Schönleber's less, yet with 5+ years the wines come into a fascinating dialogue with each other.

And in fact the most interesting part of the estates' differences is, as you might expect, the terroir.

Not enough has been said about the Nahe and how it compares to the Mosel and Saar or the Rheinhessen, or about the wild differences from the lower Nahe to the upper Nahe, where Emrich-Schönleber is. This is a very cold region and if there is a parallel, it is not the limestone-riddled Rheinhessen, where Keller is, it is the Saar with its slate. Even just 20 years ago, many wrote off the extremes of the upper Nahe as only good for Sekt, so cold was the climate.

Once you understand this, the relatively inscrutable quality of Schönleber's Grand Cru dry wines in youth makes more sense. These are Saar wines... sorta. The wines are both unflinchingly mineral and austere - a combination of traits which is equal parts thrilling and confusing. Frank Schoonmaker's quote about Saar wines from his 1956 book The Wines of Germany makes a lot of sense in the context of the chiseled, cool-climate wines of Emrich-Schönleber's upper Nahe: "There is a combination of qualities which I can perhaps best describe as indescribable - austerity coupled with delicacy and extreme finesse, an incomparable bouquet, a clean, very attractive hardness..."

As we enter a more mature phase of understanding the Grand Cru dry wines of Germany, I have some useful, and yes maybe slightly absurd, suggestions for thinking about these wines. The Grand Cru wines of the Rheinhessen and Pfalz and parts of the Nahe (especially the lower parts), can be thought of, in many ways, as the Grand Cru wines of the Côte d'Or. These are, in general, the most textural and lavish and powerful, the most fruit-driven. Yes, there are exceptions, but this is a good general way of thinking about these wines.

The dry wines of the Mosel and Saar - which are just beginning to enter their golden age - are perhaps more the Chablis of the dry German Riesling world. They are stonier, more essential, more austere and cut.

Please keep in mind these are questions and contrasts of style, not quality.

The wines of Emrich-Schönleber (and to some extent Schäfer-Fröhlich) are the hardest to interpret. They have something of the texture and punch of the Rheinhessen wines, yet they feel stonier, more essential and austere than these wines. They lie, philosophically and geographically, somewhere in the middle - in many ways the best of both worlds.

We obviously have no idea how pricing will proceed - the only thing we can say with some certainty is they will not get cheaper as we move into the future. Instead of bemoaning the horrible allocations and non-existence of certain bottlings from certain estates, what if we celebrate the fact that there is in fact greatness available, right here and... for the moment, right now.

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