Tag Archives: Riesling
After departing Pinot-centric Central Otago, I carried on north to the next New Zealand wine region of Canterbury, located about 45 minutes outside of Christchurch. One of my three winemaker visits included the eye-opening Pyramid Valley, known for being the first vineyard in New Zealand — and one of only a few in the world — to be established from nascency under strict biodynamic principles, as well as stick to a strong non-interventionist/natural winemaking philosophy.
My lovely host for the afternoon, Brittany Thompson, Assistant Winemaker and Production Manager, picked me up in her truck full of energetic dogs. Our visit started not with a traditional winery tasting, but rather a picnic on top of a nearby hill with wine box “baskets” prepared by winery co-owner Claudia Weersing, who dabbles, quite effectively, in cooking. Apparently, I was the guinea pig for the wine box-cum-picnic basket concept, and I wholeheartedly gave it a green light, suggesting they make it available to future customers. The box included a clever dessert in a jar, smartly wrapped sandwiches, and the elusive greengage plum–my first. I was also introduced to the country fun of sliding down a hillside hay field on one’s belly or back, an activity apparently never endeavored with journalists — until meeting me.
Set in Northern Canterbury, Pyramid Valley Vineyards, was founded in 2000 by Mike and Claudia Weersing. They spent ten years working to find the perfect tract of land with the ideal limestone and geology make-up for the vines they wished to plant. They knew they’d hit proverbial paydirt when the consultant back in France reviewing their soil sample asked where they were in Burgundy. After pulling the hay from my hair and out of my shirt, and socks, and pants, we sat down at the tasting bar to go through their entire line-up of wines. I had a hard time holding back my surprise at how characterful, how evocative of place each wine was. Certainly no poker face could I project. I was particularly fond of the Cab Franc — it was the best I tasted in all of New Zealand. I recommend tracking down their Pinots, Chardonnays–frankly, anything from this winery.
THE OWNERS MIKE AND CLAUDIA:
Mike and Claudia Weersing came to New Zealand in 1996, when Mike began making wine with Tim and Judy Finn at Neudorf Vineyards in Nelson. After a long and intensive search to find a site for their own vineyard, they purchased a farm in the Pyramid Valley, near Waikari in North Canterbury, in 2000.
Mike studied oenology and viticulture in Burgundy, beginning at the Lycee Viticole in Beaune, and continuing at the Universite de Bourgogne in Dijon. He has worked extensively in the vineyards and cellars of Europe, for producers such as Hubert de Montille, Domaine de la Pousse d’Or, and Nicolas Potel in Burgundy; Jean-Michel Deiss and Marc Kreydenweiss in Alsace; and Ernst Loosen in the Mosel. He has made wine in France and in Spain for Randall Grahm of Bonny DoonVineyards, vinifying in the Rhone Valley, the Languedoc-Roussillon, and the Navarra. New world vintages include apprenticeships with James Halliday at Coldstream Hills in the Yarra Valley of Australia, and with Russ Raney at Evesham Wood in Oregon’s Eola Hills.
Claudia was born in Schleswig, Germany. A fashion student and skilled clothesmaker by trade, she is now a committed biodynamicist which guides her approach to the land.
Wine to us is a genie, genius loci; our job is to coax it from its rock to bottle. Every gesture we make, in vineyard and winery, is a summons to this spirit of place. Biodynamics, hand-based viticulture, low yields, natural winemaking – these are some of the means we’ve adopted better to record and transmit this voice.
For example, all of our wines are fermented with their own yeast starters, cultured every year, from the vineyard itself. If wine is meant to be the bottled breath of a certain place, from a certain moment in time, then we feel that working with yeasts from that site, of that season, is an important step towards transparency and authenticity. Our cultures allow very long, very regular ferments: most of our whites ferment for more than a year. During this time, the wine is protected, so no sulphur is necessary. After so long a ferment, the wine is stable: thus most of our wines are bottled unfiltered, again with little or no sulphur.
Each wine is allowed to flower as it wishes. If the Pinot Blanc stops with 4 grams RS, so be it. If the Gewurztraminer ferments to dryness, that is its choice. As my friend and hero Edmond Vatan once replied when I asked him about malolactic fermentation, “Pwah, le malo, si ca se fait, ca se fait.”
So, at home we’ve sponsored a marriage of clay-limestone soils to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, hoping to bring to the wine world a special, new place-voice. With the Growers Collection, we are allowed to work with admired colleagues, and with sites, soils, varieties different than those at home. All of our wines are devoted to people and place; all bring rich rewards of community.
Each block is planted to reflect a specific soil type hence the somewhat irregular looking blocks. In total we have only 2.2 hectares planted in 4 separate blocks. The differences you can taste reflects the soil and climatic differences between each block, which is never more than 400 metres at most. We vinify each block and variety separately but identically in a mixture of old oak and clay amphorae so the outside influences on the grape are minimised.
The blocks themselves were named by Claudia after the weed varieties predominant in each, which also reflect the different soil. The Angel Flower is a more exposed block, north facing that reflects a lightness, delicacy and an ethereal scent. The Lions Tooth with its golden dandelions and obvious lime rich soil shows a rich golden colour with a toasty sulphite nose. The Earth Smoke is a heavier clay, with a denser, wild, gamey outcome. The Field of Fire slopes away to an eastern aspect and into the heaviest clay and makes typically a green-hued delicate wine.
This past Friday, an Australian wine importer friend came by and we decided to open wines we can’t get readily get our hands on here in NYC. I’ve stocked my wine fridge from travels abroad, so our drinking options ranged from wines like Plavac Mali smuggled out of Croatia; Furmint slogged back from Hungary; and a Roussanne from a small producer in Australia.
However, we decided to dip into the case of wine I brought back this past June from the Okanagan Valley, British Columbia. The Canadians and U.S. have a very cool alcohol import/export relationship; thus, these wines are wholesale, unavailable in the New York market, and, I think, most of the U.S. Such a shame. The Okanagan whites, in particular, the Rieslings, are outstanding. There’s also growing Pinot Noir production up-and-over there (there being the far west of Canada, but still a 5-hour drive east of Vancouver).
The Canadian government handles all wine sales; thus, I gathered my assemblage of vino at the VQA in Penticton. The shopkeeper professed intimate knowledge of the local wineries and wines, so I asked him to help me put together an all-star kit of under $30 bottles, showcasing producers and a variety of grapes. I have nine more bottles left, so I will post commentary and photos once those make their way into my glass. For now, I’ll address the three we consumed. And for you, readers, the best way to enjoy these wines is to visit the source. Between snow-dusted mountains peaks, arctic blue lakes, friendly locals and organic, local food scene, the Okanagan Valley is one of the most beautiful wine regions in the world, setting a lofty bar for the wines to reach. Fortunately, they arc high above it.
TANTALUS RIESLING 2012: YIKES. Scary delicious. Both ripe, yet nervy, full of bright, saliva-inducing acid, citrus-y lemon-lime, but plump full of tropical notes, too. Layers and layers of flavor. 2012 was a warm vintage, and maybe that shows, but there’s plenty of structure to keep this wine focused. And what, exactly, does a “warm vintage” mean in Canada, anyway? Although the Okanagan is one of the northern most winegrowing regions in the world, it’s still an arid, desert-like zone, experiencing warm to hot summers.
MOON CURSER VIOGNIER 2011: Gorgeous bottle, eh? Frankly, my photo doesn’t honor the colors nor art since it’s in black and white; the actual bottle shimmers with golden highlights as though treated to an appliqué of delicate gold leaf (see pic below). The juice inside is equally striking. Compared to 2012 (see above), 2011 was a cooler vintage, which probably helped tip this wine away from the ripeness scale, into a leaner, delicate style that’s uncharacteristic, but wonderful, for the grape. An obvious note of candied ginger pricks the tongue, followed by white peach, white flowers and a lemon-chiffon finish.
STONEBOAT VINEYARDS PINOT NOIR 2010: I wanted to love this bottle after my enchanting encounters with the first two, but the Pinot tasted just a bit too green for my palate. I can normally get behind more delicate wines–this bottle actually reminded me of a red Sancerre from the Loire I had recently–another region that struggles with Pinot Noir ripeness. I know Stoneboat is an excellent producer, so I will give them another shot when I head back to the valley in the spring. Not all was lost, however–this wine had lovely notes of savory wet leaf, a bit of spice and earthiness, with a tea-like quality. The fruit played hide-and-seek, but when it popped out, I tasted a bit of currant, pomegranate and sour cherry. This might be to the taste of some folks out there. Interestingly, I found a number of other Okanagan Pinots swung too far on the richness scale, many of them overoaked (I heard producers are moving away from that style), so kudos to Stoneboat for not resorting to such masking measures.
Above is a photo of Moon Curser bottles, taken this summer near the winery in Osoyoos.
Vin du Lac Winery, LEHM Riesling 2010, Lake Chelan, Washington
Vin du Lac winery sits perched above Lake Chelan in Washington State. This sliver of 10-year-old wine country in North-central WA puts out a handful of excellent Rieslings, Gewürztraminers and Cab Franc, amongst other varieties planted and currently being experimented with. Founder of Vin du Lac winery Larry Lehmbecker, a former lawyer (they always are), arrived with the very first wave of winemakers seeking to replicate the success of their Canadian cousins’ vineyards around Lake Okanagan. Larry decided to test the theory that great wine could be made from the sloping sites around Lake Chelan and the results are conclusive: yes.
Vin du Lac 2010 LEHM: The moderately aromatic nose for a Riesling belies the burst of tropical fruit salad that washes in on each sip. Waves of juicy acidity deliver additional doses of apple, apricot and tart-lemon. Bright and refreshing, this is a perfect afternoon wine to enjoy lakeside as we did. Our companion during this tasting, a Sonoma resident and marketing director for a well-known winery, bought a case to take home. Maybe that says something. Unfortunately, this wine isn’t available in the New York market. Visit the tasting patio and pick-up in person.
A few months back, I addressed the growing number of wines-on-tap in restaurants around New York City. The problem with the trend was that many of the wines stunk–particularly the ones sourced abroad–and they weren’t priced like tap wines! I thought the savings were to be passed down to consumers? At least that is one argument being made for the use of kegged wines, yet NYC restaurants still charge a ridiculous $9-$14 a glass for not very good wine.
In my opinion, the first goal of a wine-on-tap program should be a focus on high-quality, local wines in a sustainable package, as the Europeans have done for thousands of years. The trattorias of Chianti certainly aren’t serving up Côtes du Rhône alongside a plate of pappardelle al ragu di cinghiale. Not only was it natural due to isolation and travel cost considerations to develop a culture of eating and drinking locally, but they had great raw ingredients and made good wine, so why go elsewhere?
Nowadays, food and wine are shipped from every corner of the globe, overnight. The energy costs are high, but consumers are curious and demand both local and international options. Thus, if they are going to drink Austrian wines anyway, why shouldn’t they also be served-up in “green” packaging? Foremost in sourcing international wines for kegs is the Gotham Project. Although their first, flagship wine was a Riesling from the Finger Lakes, they quickly began adding overseas options to their line-up. Unfortunately, I found those wines awful–a Moschofilero from Greece and Garnacha from Spain, undrinkable and seriously overpriced. Perhaps maintaining their position as industry leader was more important than the wines themselves?
Yesterday I attended Michael Skurnik’s Grand Portfolio Tasting. The first booth I ran into was the Gotham Project, so I started there to see if they might change my mind about their wines. The first pour was a Grüner Veltliner from Weinviertel, Austria. The wine crackled and popped from bright acidity and a little CO2 spritz, showing green apple and flinty minerality. For the right price, I would certainly order this in a big carafe on a hot afternoon with a group of friends. The next two wines were NY State: Empire Builder White and 2012 Riesling. The Empire Builder is a Chard/Riesling blend from the Finger Lakes, perfectly serviceable, although not as immediately satisfying as the Grüner. Their latest version of Riesling from 2012 is supposedly a lot sweeter, although the acidity kept the sugar in balance and thus I found it more appealing than past incarnations that lacked backbone.
Next up were the reds. First, we tasted a rosé called Schnieder & Bieler made from Finger Lakes Cabernet Franc. Not sure what was going on with that wine–the hue reminded me of a rusty screw. The wine offered barely discernible berry notes, although it was rather crisp. It wasn’t terrible, but lacked identity. We moved on to the El Rede Malbec from Mendoza, Argentina. The pleasantly fruity wine was overwhelmed by a bitter finish. So far, not a great start to the group. Unfortunately, before we got to try the Empire Builder Red, Sangiovese and Cab Sauv, the tap pooped out.
My conclusion, having tasted half the wines, is that the whites were promising. The grüner in particular. Hopefully Gotham Project found reds that can compete, and will also encourage restaurant partners to sell them at competitive prices. Otherwise, why would consumers buy an average wine on tap without the benefit of the savings, given there are plenty of great by-the-glass options in this city that come from bottles. Either find better wines or sell them for less!
Australian Riesling Round-Up
I felt like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day every time I wrote an Australian Riesling tasting note. “Minerals, acidity, lemon-lime, dry as a Brit’s sense of humor”—yes, most of the wines had some or all of these qualities. If you like this taste profile, try these wines. I found them to be very good to excellent in quality, and aside from one bottle, extremely reasonably priced. If any of the wines are sold-out through my links, try wine-searcher to check for bottles around the country, or the next vintage if the one I reviewed is no longer available. Unfortunately, I have looked back on a few bottles I tasted and discovered they are now tapped out completely in the American market.
After tasting 9 Rieslings, I conclude they offer the following:
- Reliable quality and flavor profile. Across the board, these wines are very consistent in palate. For the wine buyer who doesn’t like to purchase brands they don’t know, this is a good thing. I was a little surprised not to find more variation between the wineries or even Clare and Eden Valley, but at least you know what you are getting yourself into if you can’t find the specific bottle you want. This is also good for Australia—their wines need to achieve regional identity to attract more admirers, and this is aided by consistency.
- Good value. I found many of these wines on sale, most likely because the American wine drinker doesn’t value them. Very few people are storming the stores looking for Australian Rieslings, as evidenced by my inability to find them in local shops. I also imagine the casual wine buyer searching online, for say, white wine on sale on wine.com is not aware that for Australian Riesling, older vintages are better—this goes against the norm of white wine; shoppers may be disinclined to order them, mistakenly thinking they are over the hill. Which brings me to the next suggestion:
- Look for older vintages. The fresh-out-of-the-vineyard wines are full of acidity and could use a year or three to even begin to mellow.
- No need to drop a lot of cash. You can reap the rewards of Australian Riesling in the lower price bracket, as they are well-made wines. If you do splurge for prize wines (Grosset), get the oldest vintage you can find or hold it for several years, to really get the most bang for your buck and enjoy the qualities that make aged Riesling special.
I hope this enlightened some of you to the joys of Australian Riesling. Comments or suggestions are welcome, particularly if you have another bottle to recommend or an idea for the next Untapped Region Series!
We have reached the final wine in my Australian Riesling review—Pewsey Vale “The Contours” Museum Reserve from the Eden Valley; the most prestigious bottling in the winery’s narrow line-up. The winemakers hold this wine back for an impressive 5 years before it hits shelves, making 2006 the most recent vintage available.
You would never believe this juice was bottled nearly six years ago. The wine exudes freshness and bursts like a citrus-y pop-rock on the tongue: zippy and bright with grapefruit, lemon, lime and green apple. As the wine opens and warms, toast and a touch of honey shine through with hints of Marcona almond and key lime pie. Clearly this bottle can endure many years of wine-ownership, if you have the storage space and the self-restraint. $26.99 at K&L Wines.
LET’S DRINK THIS IN IBIZA, SPAIN!
Late-nights at mega-clubs, drunk Brits and chicks, Euro boys in tight clothes and party sunglasses—this is the European version of Jersey Shore, and for many first-time visitors to Ibiza, their only taste of summer on the island. But with a car and a companion, one can discover all the secrets of this intriguing place— hidden, romantic restaurants; the wild, herb-scented shores of the rocky north coast; gorgeous beaches found by following a footpath coupled with curiosity; and historic villages in which the original islanders still reside. After a day exploring, let’s unscrew a bottle of The Contours, watch the sun set and toast to taking the road less traveled.
Dandelion Vineyards, Wonderland of the Eden Valley, may have a whimsical label and name, but their grapes have serious history. The vineyard was planted in the early 190o’s—some speculate late 1880’s—and grower 90-year old Colin Kroehn has tended his grape babies nearly his whole life. Wha? No pension and gold watch for the farmer? I admire someone committed to the longevity of his passion, as did the Dandelion team, a young winemaking group who chose his grapes for their Wonderland Riesling.
Refreshing like a cold shower after a summer day in New Orleans, Dandelion is crisp, clean and focused. Fresh grapefruit, lemon pith and lime commingle with streaks of flinty rock, suspended by taut acidity. This wine exhilarates: a spa day for the palate at Guerlain, priced like a Chinese nail shop. Loving this stuff for $14.99 at Wine.com.
LET’S DRINK THIS IN NEW ORLEANS!
It is summer and New Orleans is a swamp. Fight these soggy dollar days (your hands sweat so much your fistful of bills are soaked) with a glass of Dandelion. If your B&B doesn’t have AC, kick your feet up on the nearest balcony and try not to move. Hand-held fans are coming back into vogue anyway. If you must get out of the city, shack up at a plantation house and whittle away the day gazing into the massive trees that frame the splendid Oak Alley. A platter of the state’s finest oysters round out a sultry afternoon.
Damn girl, you got it going on but your tag is priced high—too many awards inflate the ego? Grosset in the Clare Valley is considered by many the pinnacle of Riesling in Australia, including Langton’s, Australia’s leading classification authority on auction-worthy wines. It was definitely at the price point pinnacle of my Series, beating out the next highest wine by $20. Does Polish Hill merit the big bucks?
The nose is restrained, but the palate pops with what I have learned are the hallmarks of Clare Valley—lime and stone, and is bone dry. So what makes this bottle different from the rest? Balance, structure and intensity—Mikhail Baryshnikov posing as Riesling. Polish Hill waltzes seamlessly between wet-slate minerality, pressed-lime fruit and crisp acidity. While this is an impressive bottle and will age beautifully, $47 is a lot of money to drop on any wine, particularly one this young. Buy and hold, or mark your google calendar to wine-search a bottle on July 1st, 2014 at, say, noon? And invite me to your appointment, please. $46.95 at Sherry-Lehmann
LET’S DRINK THIS IN BARDEJOV, SLOVAKIA!
You are probably wondering where the heck is Bardejov and why anyone would go to Slovakia besides lascivious college kids looking for a hostel bunk. The answer is in the image, if beautiful, intact medieval villages woo you (they do me). There isn’t much to do there besides sit around and watch the passerby, so you want to have something good in your glass. Slovakia produces wine, but nothing great, yet, so Polish Hill will do nicely on a hot, Central European afternoon. Plus, the dry Riesling will cut the heaviness of Slovakian dumplings and bryndzové halušky (sheep cheese gnocchi), that you will find yourself over-eating.
Finally, a bottle from the Clare Valley! Wakefield Riesling is brought to us by Taylors Wines, three generations of winemakers who believe the terra rossa soil (red brown loam over limestone) of the region is conducive to premium wine production. By the way, if you are looking for other Taylor wines in North America, you won’t find them—due to trademark restrictions, they have to go by Wakefield up ‘round these parts.
How does she taste? This bottle is alive—all the energy of a red-bull without the caffeine. Her fragrance is evocative of fresh picked lemons and chiseled limestone. The acidity is fresh, exciting and pricks the tongue like a Sichuan peppercorn. Bursting with grapefruit and lime, delivered on a long finish, this bottle is still young at four years old—I could easily drink this for another five. Pick up a case and taste the fireworks. $15.29 at Wine.com.
LET’S DRINK THIS IN BEIJING, CHINA!
Riesling and spicy food are a natural duo, so let’s get down to business in China—they could use a few good bottles of wine over there. Not only can you find fiery cuisine in China, but a summer day in Beijing can feel like your skin and lungs are ablaze as well. With the sky a yellow haze that blankets your head like the breath of a 1000 smokers, a cold glass of Riesling is perfect for squelching the heat of Beijing’s midsummer days, or as a reward after a stiflingly hot hike up the steep stairs of the Great Wall.