Wednesday, February 17, 2010

In the Glass: Mirjam Schneider's 2007 Merlot No.2 from Rheinhessen, Germany

Picture: Christian G.E.Schiller with Mirjam Schneider

2007 Gau-Bischofsheimer Kellersberg, Merlot, No.2, Barrique, Lagenwein (89 Points), Weingut Lothar Schneider und Tochter

This wine made by Mirjam Schneider is a very special wine, for several reasons.

It is a red wine. Germany is traditionally a white wine country. But German red wines are increasingly appearing in the international wine market. Of course, given its location, they tend to be not like the fruity red wines we know from warmer countries, but lean and more elegant, with a lot of finesse. 30 years ago, in the international scene, people would not talk about German red wine. But this has changed. Germany now produces red wines that can compete with the best of the world. The share of red wines in terms of production has increased from 10 percent in the 1980s to about 35 percent now in Germany.

It is a Merlot. Until a few years ago, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot were grape varieties that Germans would know from Bordeaux or other wine regions in the world, but it was alien to German wine making. This is apparently changing. Well, the story behind this is global warming. The head of the wine maker association in the Bourgogne has warned that in 50 years, there wouldn’t be any Pinot Noir wines from the Bourgogne any more. But we might have excellent Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlots in the Rheinhessen region. In this global warming process, there will be winners and losers. And the concept of terroir will lose its meaning, I fear.

Merlot is one of the most popular red wine varietals in the world. It is estimated to be the third most grown variety at 260,000 hectares globally, with an increasing trend, behind Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. France is home to nearly two thirds of the world's total plantings of Merlot, where it is one of the primary grapes of Bordeaux wine. It is particularly prominent on the Right Bank of the Gironde in the regions of Pomerol and Saint-Emilion where it will commonly comprises the majority of the blend. One of the most famous and rare wines in the world, Château Pétrus, is almost all Merlot. In California, Merlot can range from very fruity simple wines to more serious, barrel aged examples. I have also had some excellent Merlots from Long Island on the East Coast.

It is a wine from Rheinhessen – an area that used to be known for winemakers often focusing on quantity and not quality. Rheinhessen is the largest viticultural region in Germany. Every fourth bottle of German wine comes from Rheinhessen. The high-yielder Mueller-Thurgau accounts for about 1/5 of the vineyards. Unlike in other German wine regions, where monoculture of the vine is the norm, here the many rolling hills are host to a wide variety of crops grown alongside the grape. Rheinhessen also has the rather dubious honor of being considered the birthplace of Liebfraumilch. At the same time, Rheinhessen is among Germany’s most interesting wine regions. A lot is happening there. This is not because of the terroir, but because of the people. There is an increasing group of mostly young and ambitious winemakers who want to produce and indeed do produce outstanding wine and not wines in large quantities. Mirjam Schneider is one of them.

Mirjam Schneider sells this wine as “Lagenwein”. What is Lagenwein? Along with other winemakers, she is moving away from the classical German wine classification and has established her own quality standards. She groups her wines into 3 categories: Gutsweine (***), Ortsweine (****) und Lagenweine (*****). All wines, by law, need to be classified according to the 1971 German Wine Law. All the Schneider wines are classified as Tafelwein or QbA, according to the classical German wine classification system, and thus they can be chaptalized. But the QbA on the label of this wine is meaningless and confusing. This Merlot was at the Auslese level at harvest. And it was chaptalized a bit to increase the alcohol content. It is a bone dry wine. A top level wine.

The Schneider Estate in Hechtsheim at the outskirts of Mainz looks back to a long winemaking tradition. Already since 1715 the Schneider family has grown and made wine. Mirjam Schneider, a young lady in her 20s is the 6th generation. She has split up the work with her father, Lothar Schneider, who looks after agriculture, while she is responsible for the viticulture and the wine making in the cellar. In the farm shop of the Schneiders, you will find both fresh fruits and vegetables and wines from Mirjam's cellar.

Picture: Mainz

Mirjam Schneider says that she always wanted to become a winemaker. She did her formal education, went to New Zealand to get an international perspective and took over the winery in 2005. As many other winemakers, she is trying to push nature to the fore and chemistry to the back: “The focus of my work is dealing with nature - because wine is for me a valuable natural product. I therefore attach great importance not only to keeping the wine in the process as natural as possible, but to bring this understanding to the vineyard as well.”

Because of this Merlot, but also because of her other wines, Mirjam Schneider was awarded one grape by the prestigious Wine Guide Gault Millau in 2010 and thus is now member of the group of winemakers on the Gault Millau list.

Picture: 2007 Gau-Bischofsheimer Kellersberg, Merlot, No.2, Barrique, Lagenwein, Weingut Lothar Schneider und Tochter

Before moving to my tasting notes, here is what Mirjam had to add:
- strict pruning in the vineyard is a major quality component of the wine
- this is my second merlot vintage
- the wine was aged for 18 month in small barrels (barrique)
- the wine was filtered just once and then immediately bottled
- the grapes were harvested on October 6, 2007. At harvest, the grapes had a sugar content of 99 degrees Oechsle; this is Auslese level.
- to increase the alcohol content , the wine was chaptalized by 1.5 percent in terms of alcohol, as a lot of alcohol is lost during the tradional mash fermentation.

The Gau-Bischofsheimer Kellersberg is a south facing slopes vineyard with a sandy loess-loam soil. As its ground warms quickly, it offers Pinot Noir and Merlot optimal conditions.

Tasting Notes: Dark ruby red in the glass, tight legs, attack of cassis on the nose, with leather and charcoal, coupled with toned down vanilla, full-bodied wine, good firm tannis, good structure on the back, long spicy and hot finish. An attractive old world Merlot. I give the wine 89 points.

Weingut Lothar Schneider & Tochter
Klein-Winternheimer-Weg 6
55129 Mainz-Hechtsheim
Phone 06131 59678

Schiller Wine - Related Postings

In the Glass: 2007 Rheinhessen with Oysters at the Ten Bells in the Lower East Side in Manhattan

In the Glass: 2001 Riesling Gold Quatrat trocken Weingut Sybille Kuntz Mosel

In the Glass: 2005 Christian's Cuvee Woelffer Estate Vineyard Long Island USA

German Wine Basics: Sugar in the Grape - Alcohol and Sweetness in the Wine

German Wine: The Wines of the Gault Millau Wine Guide Shooting Star - the Baron von Gleichenstein

Tasting Notes: German Wines imported into the US by Valckenberg

Wine tasting: Soter Wines from Oregon at Out-of-Sight Wines in Vienna, US

In the Glass: A 2007 Pinot Noir from the Gault Millau Shooting Star of the Year - Estate Baron Gleichenstein, Germany

Wine tasting Notes: Woelffer Wines from Long Island, New York State, US

In the Glass: Pinot Noir from France, Germany and California


  1. You get these wines in the US? Or bring them with you from your trips?

  2. I was in Germany in November and December and tasted the Teschke, von Gleichenstein and Schneider wines there (as well as other wines). But I also posted something on wines that I got from an US Importer of wines (Valckenberg)here in the US.