The vineyard at the center of today's offer - the Niederberg - is the newest single-vineyard bottling from the legendary Emrich-Schönleber. The first bottle labeled as such was released in 2019: a towering and chiseled dry wine. In 2020 the estate released the second dry wine from the site and for 2021, for the first time ever, the estate has released not only a dry Niederberg but a Kabinett as well. This bottle is a little slice of history.
Although the Niederberg has been classified as a "1G" or "Erste Lage," the Germanic equivalent of a Premier Cru, to me the wines this vineyard produces feel every bit the equals of the legendary wines from Halenberg and Frühlingsplätzchen.
A bold assertion? Yeah, maybe - though taste for yourself.
The question posed: Is there a deeper truth to the site, a style or characteristic that remains constant despite the bold differences of the wines' styles? The answer is a resounding, 100% YES - it's so wild to taste.
The Niederberg vineyard wraps itself around the Halenberg (see map above), extending both further east along the Nahe river valley and north, around the top of the Halenberg, pushing up against the famous Grand Cru parcel "Auf der Ley" (this wine, perhaps the estate's most mineral and structured, is sold only at the auctions). My first serious tour of the vineyard was with Frank Schönleber in the late-summer of 2021; I had to make a small pilgrimage after first tasting the wine in 2020. He explained that the site is in many ways comparable to Halenberg. Perhaps, he said, it is a touch cooler.
And this, to my palate, is exactly what you taste: the rigor and cutting structure of a site on the razor's edge. Both the dry and the Kabinett showcase a chilly, blue-toned minerality, a cooling herbal note that never quite gets to spearmint, but nonetheless provides a simply bracing freshness. It's fascinating tasting them side-by-side, to taste the flash of exoticism that the Kabinett-style adds to this fundamentally restrained wine.
Both of the 2021 Niederbergs - both dry and Kabinett - are monuments. They are both compact and dense with mid-palate extract, yet both are superbly focused and have so much energy and thrust you do not feel the weight.
You simply taste the length as these wines rocket across your palate like a comet; enjoy the trail of Riesling-dust.
These two wines also take a slate-riddled hammer to the notion that 2021 is only a Kabinett vintage.
Yes, the structure and dancing energy of the 2021 Kabinetts, from the Mosel through the Nahe and Rheinhessen, will make these wines legends. That is, unquestionably, the center of the vintage. However, while dry wines in 2021 were a wily gamble in the cool Mosel-Saar-Ruwer (there are some astounding successes, but they are rare), when we get to the Nahe, Rheinhessen, Rheingau and Pfalz, there is a strong argument to be made for the dry wines.
Perhaps - perhaps - 2019 will prove to be the "best of" when we review the dry wines of 2019, 2020 and 2021. But perhaps not.
I write this neither to be provocative nor to try and fan the flames of a different vintage, but for me there is something about the angelic lightness and finesse of 2020 and 2021, especially in the Nahe and Rheinhessen; perhaps these are the dry wines I prefer to the 2019ers?
I think the obvious truth, for now, is that the 2020ers and 2021ers show a finesse and elegance that the 2019ers just don't. These are weighty and powerful and structured wines. For that grand tasting in 20 years - for sure, the 2019ers might rule the roost.
But for the next 20 years of drinking, well, if you pass on 2020 and 2021 dry wines from the Nahe and Rheinhessen, it's truly your loss.