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Schatzel Nierstein Riesling Kabinett 2017

Schatzel Nierstein Riesling Kabinett 2017

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"Like his dry “Reinschiefer” bottling, Schätzel’s village-level Kabinett (which is his estate’s largest single bottling) issues from Hipping, Ölberg, Pettenthal and Schloss Schwabsburg. With residual sugar in the lower 40s, it reflects a creeping-up from other recent vintages, but doesn’t taste overly sweet and manages to project animating, consummately refreshing citric brightness. Faint hints of smokiness add some interest to a lusciously lingering if relatively simple finish. (The label name for this cuvée was previously spelled “KabiNett,” reflecting a play on words in German meaning “nice Kabi.”) Drinking window: 2019-2022. 89 points

That the 2017 vintage set estate records for earliest harvest date is hardly surprising. But one has to bear in mind that since Kai Schätzel took the reins here in 2007, harvest has increasingly tended to start early in September. Schätzel is keen to dispel any notion that considerations of acid retention determine his choice of picking date. “I pick my grapes when they taste good to me,” he told me. “And if they have high acidity at that point, then the eventual wines will have correspondingly high acidity.” That said, the delicate Kabinett that has come to dominate production in terms of volume, and become a signature style chez Schätzel, not only demands that harvest take place at relatively low must weight, but also that there be ample acidity to offset 40 or more grams of residual sugar. Schätzel’s results with Riesling in 2017 perpetuate his justifiably growing reputation as a master of profoundly flavorful wines that are delightfully low in alcohol (meaning 10–11.5% in his dry bottlings and, less shockingly, 7–8% in the overtly sweet, Prädikat-designated Rieslings). He did not attempt any Spätlese or Auslese from 2017’s healthy and relatively rapidly harvested fruit. Schätzel’s Pettenthal Grosses Gewächs continues to enjoy a second winter (and, indeed, a second early spring) in cask and to be sold at auction. But from 2016, only a 600-liter Halbstück was released, while a full 1,200-liter Stückfass of Pettenthal will remain in the cellar. Schätzel has provisionally earmarked the latter for release five years after harvest. “As I tasted my Pettenthal month by month, I would always be left with the impression ‘could benefit from even longer time in cask’,” he related, adding that perhaps three or more winters in cask might eventually become the norm for his dry Pettenthal. (There are two Stückfässer of that wine from vintage 2017.)

I was saddened to learn during my most recent visit of Schätzel’s decision to phase out those numerous bottlings that have until now occupied the lower end of his estate’s price spectrum, in particular his delightfully distinctive clutch of Silvaners. Ostensibly this downsizing was “because we are noticing lately that our focus is increasingly on the themes of Grosse Lagen and Kabinett; and because I often find it takes too long with journalists to show them six intro-level [Basis-] wines.” There are to be only two generics: Riesling and Naturweiss, the latter serving as the estate’s sole outlet for Silvaner, but incorporating Riesling and whatever else is still represented in the Schätzel vineyards, most notably Müller-Thurgau. (It seems that the small parcel of Pinot Blanc in Paterberg discussed in my review of Schätzel’s 2016 Weissburgunder trocken has been replaced with Riesling.) Having related these changes, Schätzel then promptly presented me with three other vintage 2017 generics, each mono-cépage, and two representing components of his new Naturweiss. These three bottlings are very limited in volume. Schätzel insists that they are intended merely to serve as experimental reference points and won’t appear on his price lists (though he will sell them). A further unhappy note for US-based readers: Schätzel reports that attempts to make progress selecting a US importer are now “at a standstill,” particularly in light of the fact that he is having trouble managing his already high ratio of demand to supply.

Finally – and to conclude on an up note – I cannot resist mentioning Brau.nett, a joint project with the Kuehn Kunz Rosen brewery in Mainz, featuring terrifically distinctive 4.5–5%-alcohol libations co-fermented with the skins of Schätzel’s grapes, one “white” and the other pink thanks to Portugieser. (Technically, these don’t qualify as beer, but are “alcoholic beverage[s] fermented from grapes and malted barley.”) Even if you are in the area, though, scoring a taste, much less a six-pack, may require some of the same perseverance worth investing in the search for Schätzel’s wines. Drinking window: 2019-2022. 89 points"

David Schildknecht, Vinous (07/19)