Tags Posts tagged with "riesling"

riesling

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Meeting Ann Pinckney, Vine Legend

In the car with Ann Pinckney and some of her pets

We’re driving up a steep and winding driveway to a plateau at the top of her property, Ann Pinckney and I, where some of her original vines – among the very first ever planted in Central Otago – from the early 1980s still grow. In the back of the car with us are three dogs clearly used to car life. They hopped in the back and got into their seats side by side without discussion as if they’ve always sat this way. When I comment to Ann about her dogs she responds that they’re usually back there with a goat she also has as a pet. Today the goat is out grazing one of the paddocks. When we get to the top of the hill and step out of the car we’re quickly surrounded by a flock of pet chickens.

Ann Pinckney was the first person to plant vitis vinifera vines commercially in Central Otago in the modern era. The very first vines in the region were actually established in the 1860s by Jean Desire Feraud, a French settler to the region, for his Monte Christo winery in Clyde, in a different valley of Central Otago than Ann’s Speargrass Flats. The region had grown significantly thanks to the gold rush and Feraud saw it as an opportunity to serve the area with quality wine. When he sold his property in the late 1880s the site included over 1200 vines, planted from cuttings he imported from Australia, as well as orchard fruits, several thousand mixed berry bushes and a half acre of strawberries. He used the fruit to make various sorts of cordials, distillates and vinegars for cooking. His original vines were propagated in multiple locations on the South island. Walking beside his original winery, unidentified, dark-berried, old vines still wrap and climb sections along the side of the stone building.

the Monte Christo Winery building, still intact in Clyde

Even with Feraud’s previous successes, at the time Ann began her work with vines in the mid-1970s, it was universally understood that Central Otago was too cold to grow grapes. Vineyards had been established further north in New Zealand and viticultural research stations were even in country but Otago’s cold semi-continental climate was viewed too extreme for vines. Asking Ann about her determination to try anyway she explains that Central Otago already had an established, albeit small, orchard industry. She was certain that if the region could ripen tree fruits it could also ripen grapes.

We walk from the car to where the trees surrounding her house open up near the edge of the hill. On the way the ground is covered in horse manure where she explains she kept her pony until recently. The plan has been to use his droppings to help enrich the health of the soils so she can begin planting again organically.

We step around the corner, just past the pony’s recent home, and there are vines so full of canopy they look like bushes. They’re surrounded by fencing to keep out Otago’s infestation of rabbits. From her original 1980s vineyards established on this plateau, Ann managed to save these few hundred vines of Riesling and Gewurztraminer, as well as one rogue Chasselas. Up here at around 1100 ft, she says, the vines have never been frosted. Even so, they have sat unwatered and uncultivated for the last several years but still produce fruit. In a desert climate with very little rain that is a testament to their hardiness, at least partially thanks to vine age. In 2016 she managed to harvest 17 kilograms of fruit and made 10 liters of wine with it as an experiment. With such little volume it was easy to forget about so the wine was left unattended. She shows it to us. The amber-gold colored wine has been oxidized. Its aromas are muted but in the mouth it so clearly tastes of the ginger and rose blossom spice of Gewurztraminer and the finish is mouthwatering. You can see from it the site could grow interesting fruit.

Ann Pinckney beside her Gewurztraminer vines

Ann’s comment about the site’s lack of frost is not insignificant. Frost proves one of the biggest challenges in Central Otago’s marginal growing climate. One of the most important factors to consider when establishing new vineyards in the region is not just soil or sun exposure but its natural frost protection. Lower elevations sites are more likely to suffer damage from cold, but higher sites can be hit just as easily if poorly situated. Most locals make the point though that no site is truly frost free. Huge weather systems occasionally blow north from Antarctica creating a genuine freeze through the region that can’t be avoided by anyone regardless of elevation.

Along with a series of personal setbacks, frost proved the demise of Ann’s previous career in viticulture. While her still existing high elevation vines have survived every frost in the region, she had expanded her vineyard plantings to include a site down below. At the end of the 1980s the region was hit by a deep freeze and the lower elevation site lost its vines. Her production was cut in half. Even so, Ann explains the set back wouldn’t have been enough to stop her work in viticulture except that in the same year her mother’s health declined. Ann chose to step out of farming and step into taking care of her mother. It was her mother’s generosity that first helped Ann begin growing vines.

Her very first vineyard was planted in a deeply cold subzone in Dalefield on her mother’s home property. Ann explains she knew it was unlikely to do very well by grapes but it was the land she had access to at the time and her thought was that if she could get vines in that area anywhere close to ripening it meant vines could ripen essentially throughout the rest of Central Otago. Her intention was to test the far outer limit for cold. The experiment worked. At the end of the 1970s she found the 250 vines she planted on her mother’s property in Dalefield could grow. So, a year later she found property in the slightly warmer area of Speargrass Flats and propagated own root vines with cuttings from the original site. As she explains, even then she knew the site wouldn’t be as warm as further inland near Bannockburn but it was where she had the chance to establish vines so she took it. She gave herself ten years to prove not only that vines could successfully grow in Central Otago but also that they could produce commercially successful wine. Then she set about traveling around the world to work in vineyards and learn more about how to grow vines in a cold climate region.

looking into uncultivated Gewurztraminer vines at Ann Pinckney’s Taramea vineyard

Ann’s determination proved pivotal for Central Otago. To gain more insight she worked and studied viticulture in Australia, France, Italy, Alsace, and Germany, eventually befriending Dr Helmut Becker, a professor of viticulture at Geisenheim University in Germany. Once she returned to her vineyards he served as a long-distance advisor to dealing with everything from frost setbacks to pruning to selecting best varieties. Her global studies helped her establish not only her own vineyards but also advise others being planted in the region.

Soon after getting started, Ann met and befriended two other viticultural pioneers of Central Otago, Alan Brady and Rolfe Mills. The three of them planted in three distinct subregions of Central Otago, each placed along the outer edges of the region – Ann first in Dalefield and then at the site where she still lives in Speargrass Flats near Queenstown, Alan in Gibbston Valley, and Rolfe on the opposite side of the region on the shores of Lake Wanaka. Through the isolation of spearheading an industry in a region otherwise unrecognized and so remote they’re shared community would keep them going in the venture. Together they would also problem solve vineyard issues.

The three growers would also make their first wines together on Ann’s Speargrass property in a several year process of trial and error. The area had never even seen fermentation tanks, a traditional wine press, or barrels and there were very little supplies available generally. Central Otago was a region essentially near the bottom of the world. It was so remote life in general, let alone winemaking, was a process of making due with what could be found. Their first fermentation vessels were food-grade safe milk tanks used in farming of the region. It turned out the acidity of the wine leached unpleasant flavors from the rubber in a way that wasn’t an issue for milk. They lost that vintage. Grapes were pressed by hand, and, at the end of the process, wines were filtered before bottling using clean women’s knickers. It would take ten years of trial and error from when Ann established vines until the first commercial bottling would be released.

In 1985, the group made the first successful wine on the property from Ann’s Gewurztraminer, as well as a Chasselas from Rolfe’s vines in Wanaka. In 1987, the winery would finally be bonded and the first official commercial wines would be made on the property – a Gewurztraminer from Ann’s vineyard bottled under her winery label Taramea, and a Pinot Noir from Alan’s label Gibbston Valley. The same year Rolfe also successfully made his first Pinot Noir under his label Rippon though it was held a bit longer before release than Alan’s wine.
The success of these first wines would finally change people’s minds on Central Otago. By 1988, the group’s wines would already be featured in an international cool climate symposium in Auckland grabbing the attention of international professionals like Jancis Robinson. Rolfe’s Chasselas bottled for his Rippon winery would be among the first wines to prove Central Otago could successfully make quality wine. By the early 1990s, wines from Central Otago were already being sold in the UK. Among the first to be recognized commercially there was a 1989 Taramea dry Gewurztraminer. A 1990 Gibbston Valley Pinot would also find its way to London where Jancis Robinson tasted it during dinner with a friend alongside a wine from Alsace and another from Burgundy. The experience increased her interest in New Zealand wine. By the early 1990s outside interest turned its attention to Central Otago and new plantings began to go into the central areas of the region in what is now known as the Cromwell Basin or Lake Dunstan subzone beginning first in Bannockburn.

Though Ann Pinckney has not made commercial wine since the mid 1990s she explains that her intention is to use cuttings from the vines still growing on site to reestablish a vineyard in the same spot she once planted on the plateau near her house in Speargrass Flats. The site down below where her vineyard suffered frost damage has since been sold for houses. With its proximity to Queenstown, it’s a part of Central Otago where residential land prices standout. For most developers the higher prices for residential land mean vineyards have not been a worthy venture. Even so, Ann explains, the value of land cannot be thought of only in relation to short term gain. For her, the upper plateau is an area worth investing in vines.

Copyright 2017 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

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Central Otago

Central Otago is in the midst of finishing its 2017 harvest with the last picks on Pinot Noir and Riesling coming in over the next several days. Most of the other varieties are already finished, and much of the Pinot has come in already as well. The cooler reaches of the area – vineyards at its outer edges such as Gibbston Valley and Wanaka – and higher elevations are still harvesting some vineyards.

It’s been an interesting vintage with stretches of cold weather through the growing season slowing down ripening. That’s meant that the length of time between the very first pick of the season and the very last is wider than usual as the coolest sites come in more slowly. I’ve spent the last month in the region getting to know growing conditions for the marginal climate while also researching several articles and a couple of panels I was assigned after my visit earlier this year. It’s been a really great opportunity to do a deep dive, which I love, but even so I left feeling like there is still so much more to explore. With my time there revolving around specific articles (some of which you’ll get hints of from the photos below) there were more producers I didn’t have the chance to see. I fell in love with New Zealand and hope to get back again soon not only to keep getting to know Central Otago but also to spend more time in the other growing regions of the country.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be writing up producer visits from the last month here. In the meantime, here’s a look at some of what I was up to through photos as shared while on the go in Instagram.

Official Tastings for the Pie Club, Central Otago chapter continue with a Kiwi classic. Jimmy’s Pies. #nzwine

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I ARRIVED WITH THE FIRST FEIJOA OF THE SEASON!!! I LOVE THIS FRUIT!!! FEIJOA==YES! #nzwine

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Taking it to the source. Jimmy’s Original Pie Shop. Roxburgh. #nzwine

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Fish and chips. Champagne. Southern Ocean. Fromm Syrah. Sunday breakfast. #nzwine @frommwinery We call this heaven.

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Though I tend to think of Malvasia (at its best) as the perfect wine to capture the fresh rising character of a late Spring morning – the crisp cool tension of late morning temperatures lifting aromatically towards the warmth of day – tasting Sand Reckoner 2014 Malvasia Bianca from the crazy high elevation desert of Southeastern Arizona with its snappy cool nights and blooming agave aromatics here in the Autumn night of Central Otago’s Lake Wanaka makes me realize it’s the perfect wine for sunset – effusive and pretty, lifting in color while simultaneously squeezing ever more towards the tightening close of night. Beautiful, reflective and somehow almost melancholic in its beauty. Delicious and nicely done. #nzwine #arizonawine @sandreckonervineyard

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Super affordable delicious – the Picnic Riesling and Pinot from Two Paddocks. #nzwine @twopaddocks @sam_neill___

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I am a fan. Prophet’s Rock 2012s Riesling, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir. #nzwine @paulpujol

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Sitting on the hill at Rippon with Mister Nick Mills. #nzwine @ripponhall @ripponjo

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Heading down the hill to the compost pile on Rippon with Nick Mills. #nzwine @ripponhall @ripponjo

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Entirely way too cool. Nick Mills heading home. #nzwine @ripponhall @ripponjo

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Super interesting to taste across vintage and technique with Lucie of Aurum – we did side-by-side tastings of the Aurum Estate Pinot, which is 100% destem, and the Aurum Madeline Pinot, which is 100% whole cluster, from both the 2014 and 2015 vintages. All special and delicious wines. Part of what blew my mind though was seeing that, in the end, the vintage contrast felt more apparent than the technique difference. 2014 was a dense and savory, deep toned vintage with tactile, lightly angular structure, while the 2015 was comparatively lighter, more lifted and fresh, pure fruit focused and pretty. The difference was clearly vintage expression rather than just time in bottle. Really awesome comparison. #nzwine @aurumwineslucie

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Quartz Reef 2014 No dosage sparkling kicks butt. #nzwine @quartzreefwines

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Jimmy’s Mince & Cheese Pie. Tomato Sauce. Regional Kids Rugby Tournament. Perfect Saturday. #nzwine

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Awesome look at 9 and 10 year old New Zealand Pinot both aging like champs with plenty of time left in bottle. Impressive depth and freshness in both. The Seresin 2007 Sun & Moon shows off natural concentration and energy with a savory, fresh midpalate and lots of length, all elliptical shaped through the mouth – round while focused and trim. The Rippon 2008 Tinker’s Field felt like the mix of scents given from sitting at the edge of a wild raspberry and blackberry patch – hints of earthy soil combined with just a touch of woodsy forest wafted through occasionally by a wind in the distance, dried grass accents and the pixelated, fresh lift of tiny blossoms all with a heart of mixed wild berries. Both really delicious wines showing off how the best New Zealand Pinots can age. #nzwine @seresinestate @ripponhall @ripponjo

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Bannockburn was the first subzone within the larger Cromwell Basin planted in Central Otago after the original vineyards were established essentially simultaneously in Wanaka, Speargrass Flats, Earnsclugh and Gibbston. Bannockburn has a bit more heat than the first plantings and it includes incredible soil diversity from dense white clay, to decomposed and gravel schist, windblown loess, and sand. Most interesting among these, the Bannockburn series is one of the only soil types on the planet classified as man made. (DID YOU JUST READ THAT?! MAN MADE SOIL == MIND BLOWING!!! MAN MADE! THE *SOIL* WAS MAN MADE!) The Wild West mesa-looking formations shown in these photos are actually the result of hydraulic gold mining. Massive amounts of water were washed and blasted through the mountains and terraces of the region in the search for gold deposits. The eroded rocks and soils were sluiced and anything that didn’t contain gold was chucked to the side and washed through caverns out of the way. The Wild West mesa-like formations are what remains of the original mountain and terraces. Miners were given very specific land allotments and not allowed to cut into land they didn’t own. The remaining mesa-like shapes are spots where for whatever reason prospectors just didn’t mine that allotment. Everything surrounding them was washed away in the search for gold. When you stand near these sluice spots and look into the wash-away caverns there are giant rocks everywhere piled up from being thrown away and at the bottom mounds of gravelly silt that was washed down the hill. #nzwine

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Perfect extraction. I have been primarily drinking coffee from Venus Coffee Roasters beans while here in Central Otago and it is good. Roasters in the US have gone through waves of style that remarkably parallel those of US wine – moving from over roasted styles that end up being more about burnt roaster style than origin to super high acid styles without the body to balance the coffee and show its flavor. Not many of the coffee cool kids there have found the middle road yet so I have a hard time finding coffee I enjoy. This Venus coffee is hitting that balance I dig – super fresh with some enlivening high notes for lift and interest but still bringing that just-a-bit-earthy heart of darkness with a lightly bitter finish my fisherman’s heart needs. Venus for the win! (Good name too.) #nzwine

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@kenichi_ohashi look who I found! Akihiko Yamamoto, famed wine writer of Japan, at Prophet’s Rock. #nzwine

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Driving vineyards all day with this guy. Duncan Forsyth of Mount Edward. #nzwine (Hi @mrbglover !!) @wineswinger

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Driving the Gibbston Valley area with Alan Brady. Unbelievably beautiful with the storm. #nzwine

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Tasting Chardonnay for Jesus! Yay! Happy Easter, Everybody!! #nzwine

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These high elevation Pinot Noir berries from clone 113 are just about ready to be picked. On such a cold vintage the high elevation sites come in quite a bit later than the lower ones as the span of harvest from first pick to last pick sites widens. The thing about checking these today though is they taste and (once plucked loose like this into individual berries) look just like what we call blueberries in Alaska from a good year. Alaskan blueberries are low bush tundra berries – a hint herbal with a burst of acid and light wash of sweetness – that come in late in the year when the weather has started to catch a slight chill to the air, much like the Autumn day today here in Central Otago. So between the feel of the weather, the mountain landscape, my spending harvest in what are essentially my old fishing clothes and then these grapes tasting of tundra berries, there is a comforting synchronicity of my life now as a wine writer and my home from Alaska. It’s a pretty good Easter. #nzwine Happy Holiday, Everybody, which ever of the several happening this weekend you may celebrate.

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“I think winemaking is a message of peace.” – Francois Millet of Chambolle Musigny. Tasting through the 2017 vintage fermentations and the 2016 elevage of the Francois Millet and Paul Pujol Cuvée Aux Antipodes collaboration Pinot Noir after having spent the morning interviewing Francois and last night tasted the 2015 bottling with them both. Our several hour conversation today moved in and out of the way in which winemaking operates as a relationship between the winemaker and the land with the winemaker acting as an interpreter whose goal always is to let the land show before the person. The winemaker is meant to “stand behind.” He or she must make decisions and importantly guides the process but the goal is to let the wine speak as an expression of the land in the mood of that vintage. Because doing so demands great humility, patience, observation and close listening it is an act and a message of peace. #nzwine @paulpujol

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Going deep on Central Otago Chardonnay. #nzwine

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Central Otago even has charming hippies. Ram Dass inspired restaurant in Queenstown. Amazing. #nzwine

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My last feijoa juice in New Zealand this time around. Boo. #nzwine

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Copyright 2017 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

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I’ve flown to New Zealand to attend and speak at the New Zealand Winegrowers annual Pinot Noir NZ event. People fly in from all over the world to attend and this year is no exception. There are speakers and attendees arriving from all over Europe, the United States and Canada, Australia and of course New Zealand. Many of us too have flown in in advance to tour the wine regions of the country getting to know the geography and unique growing conditions, and how they express through the various wines. The first couple days have several of us in Central Otago studying primarily Pinot noir from the area’s subregions. I’ll be posting about a Central Otago Master Class on structure in Pinot as well as a vintage study for the region in the next couple days.

We’ve also gotten to taste a peppering of white wines with meals and there are some lovely Chardonnays and Rieslings from Central Otago. While I didn’t manage to get a photo of either bottle, I quite enjoyed the Chardonnays from Felton Road and Maude. Felton Road has of course made a substantial name for itself world wide. They have some of the oldest vines in Central Otago as well as a long standing serious commitment to quality in both the vineyard and cellar. Maude, I’ll admit, is new to me. This is the first trip I’ve encountered the wines. Their Chardonnay offers just enough of a reductive edge to bring tension and a nervy cut to the shape of the wine. The flavors are all fresh and full of sapidity.

The Riesling of Central Otago has turned out to be a stand out for me and I’m hoping for more. In a few days we’ll do an Aromatics seminar in Nelson that will include a wash of Riesling, I’m guessing. I’m especially looking forward to it.

Our first night in Central Otago a bottle of Rippon Riesling was snuck into the middle of dinner. It was a refreshing surprise and one of my stand out wines for the first day of tasting. The 2011 offers an elegant gravitas – a wine with nice purity and precision that avoids austerity while still being restrained. The age offers just enough flesh on the palate to carry its wash of acidity with pleasure.

Rippon is one of the celebrated producers of Central Otago for both the quality of their wines and the beauty of their site.

Rippon is a family owned and run project. We were able to meet them on the last night in Central Otago while sharing dinner with the family at their winery. Winemaker Nick Mills, shown here, works with his mother, and siblings to produce the wines and run the business. I’m sorry not to have a portrait of his mother, who is an inspiring presence. She made dinner for several ten of us and was a pleasure to hear speak as well.

The other Riesling stand out from Central Otago was Prophet’s Rock, made by winemaker Paul Pujol, shown here. He’s also utterly charming – one of those thoughtful, jovial, and kind people I can’t help but want to spend time with. Originally from New Zealand Paul’s career had him making wine for a few years each in both Alsace and Willamette Valley before returning to Central Otago to make wine.

His 2010 Dry Riesling carries the glittering acidity of Central Otago housed in fresh stone fruits but most of all it opens the palate with purity and that sort of clarity that comes from glacial mountain water – if you’ve ever lived or traveled in a cold mountain region you know that pleasurable shock that comes from a cold glacial stream. It’s some of the purest flavor too on the planet – but then through the midpalate the wine opens to a kiss of apricot peach sweetness that closes the palate. It’s a lovely wine.

The 2014 Prophet’s Rock Dry Riesling comes in lighter and more finessed right now than the 2010, following a tighter arc across the mouth than the 2010. Some of that comes from age, I suspect, but there also seems to be a difference in vintage expression – less fruit focus on the younger vintage that I don’t think will turn into the level of apricot peach flavors of the 2010 though the younger wine offers fresh stone fruits too. Again, its gift is that purity.

The apricots of Central Otago are almost shocking in their vibrancy. They’re utterly high, bright acid like putting a light bulb in your mouth but then the fruit notes that come just after the shock are lovely. My first bite of one jolted me but then I couldn’t get enough. I’m a fan of that feeling of food or wine lighting up the back of my head. The apricots of the region share that sense of mountain glacial purity that I find in the Rieslings mentioned here, and while the wines aren’t shocking in the way the fruit is there is a spectrum of commonality between them – light touch flavors of stone fruit, glacial mountain purity, and an ultra long finish of pleasing acidity.

Copyright 2017 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

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The Judgment of BC

View from the Judges Seat, Judgment of BC

This week I’ve been touring wine country of the Okanagan Valley with Jamie Goode and our trusty (and patient) tour pilot, Laura Kittmer. We’re hosted by the BC Wine Institute and welcomed by WineAlign to help judge the annual National Wine Awards of Canada looking at wines from across Canada at the close of our visit.

One of the highlights of the trip so far was participating in the 2nd Annual Judgement of BC. The tasting brought 29 top tasters from across Canada, as well as Jamie and myself, to blind taste and rank 12 wines from BC against 12 wines of the world. It was arranged in two flights, one pinot noir, the other riesling, both evenly split between BC and International wines. The event was sponsored by the BC Wine Institute and organized by Canadian wine educator DJ Kearney.

The inaugural event last year celebrated Steven Spurrier visiting British Columbia wine country for the first time and looked at Syrah and Chardonnay. As DJ Kearney explained, the goal for the Judgment of BC is not to ask who is best in the world but rather to investigate how BC wines rank against standard bearers from around the world. It’s an opportunity to investigate how well a relatively young wine region is doing on the world stage in terms of quality.

It was an honor to become part of the group present for the tasting. It’s a group that includes top writers, sommeliers, and buyers from across the country. Jamie also served as a judge last year. This year they decided to include a second international judge as well and kindly invited me.

DJ did a masterful job selecting wines. The international wines were all chosen purposefully to offer wines known as standards from their region meant to both push the local industry towards quality and give the judges insight into how local wines are actually doing currently. Wines were also selected to be in a relatively comparable price range.

As a taster one of the things I found most insightful was that when it came to quality the wines of BC were on par with the international selection. It was profoundly difficult for judges across the board to accurately select the BC contingent from their international counterparts.

Here are the final rankings. Judges were asked to taste each of the two flights and rank wines 1 to 12. Judges’ results were then added together and averaged to determine the final rank for the wines.

Pinot Noir

1. Bouchard Pere Premier Cru Beaune Clos de la Mousse Monopole 2012 Burgundy, France 13%
2. Bachelder Oregon Pinot Noir 2012 Willamette Valley AVA Oregon USA 14%
3. Felton Road Bannockburn Pinot Noir 2014 Central Otago, New Zealand 14%
4. Haywire Canyonview Pinot Noir 2014 Lenswood, Adelaide Hills, South Australia 12.5%
5. Meyer Family Reimer Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012 Okanagan Valley, BC 13%
6. Quail’s Gate Richard’s Block Pinot Noir 2013 Okanagan Falls, BC 12.5%
7. Blue Mountain Vineyard Reserve Pinot Noir 2013 Okanagan Falls, BC 12.5%

Two wines tied for 8th place:

Thibault Liger-Belair Bourgogne Les Grands Chaillots 2012 Burgundy, France 13%
JoieFarm Reserve En Famille Pinot Noir 2012 Naramata, Okanagan Valley, BC 13.6%

10. BK Wines Skin n’ Bones Pinot Noir 2013 Lenswood, Adelaide Hills, South Australia 12.5%
11. Moraine Pinot Noir 2013 Naramata, Okanagan Valley, BC 13.1%
12. Meomi Pinot Noir 2014 California, USA 13.7%

Though I was disappointed to see Meomi in the tasting (yes, I did score it 12 as well in my personal ranking of the wines), DJ was smart in her explanation of why it was included. Meomi is the number one selling Pinot Noir in all of British Columbia by a large margin and she felt it was important for judges to be aware of what that market share looks and tastes like in the context of global wine. Not all judges ranked it in last place.

Riesling

1. Max Gerd Richter Grazer Himmelreich Riesling Kabinette 2013 Mosel Valley, Germany 9%
2. Cedar Creek Platinum Block 3 Riesling 2014 Okanagan Valley BC 12.2%
3. Wild Goose Stoney Slope Riesling 2013 Okanagan Falls BC 13.3%
4. Chateau Ste Michelle & Dr Loosen Eroica Riesling 2013 Columbia Valley AVA Washington 12%
5. Leeuwin Art Series Riesling 2012 Margaret River, Australia 12%
6. Synchromesh Storm Haven Vineyard Riesling 2015 Okanagan Falls BC 8.9%
7. Culmina Decora Riesling 2015 Okanagan Valley BC 13.5%
8. Pewsey Vale Eden Valley Riesling 2014 South Australia 12%
9. Robert Weil Kiedricher Riesling Trocken 2012 Rheingau, Germany 11.5%
10. Tantalus Old Vines Riesling 2013 Okanagan Valley BC 13.1%
11. Orofino Hendsbee Vineyard Riesling 2013 Similkameen Valley BC 12%
12. Trimbach Riesling 2012 Alsace, France 12.5%

It was interesting to judge both flights blind partially because of the mix of styles and sugar levels for both sets of wines. Ranking them was very much an exercise in looking for harmony and quality regardless of style.

Before results were announced judges had the opportunity to judge amongst themselves and beyond the judging, just in terms of personal interest, some expressed a strong preference against the sweet styles while others notes that the RS in some cases brought the balance to the wine.

In my own case I noticed I was more willing to allow RS in the Rieslings than the Pinots and did feel that in the case of the Rieslings the high acidity levels sometimes benefited from a bit of sweetness. In other words, my views here remained consistent with how I’d viewed tasting Riesling previously.

It’s been a ton of fun to investigate BC wines and get to know the people of the region. I’m looking forward to tasting wines from across Canada when Jamie and I join the final rounds of the National Wine Awards.

If you want to read more about the event, this article offers some additional information from one of the other judges:

http://myvancity.ca/2016/06/22/the-wines-of-british-columbia-stand-up-to-the-world-at-the-second-annual-judgment-of-bc-wine-tasting/

Copyright 2016 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

Wine & Spirits Sommelier Scavenger Hunt

Sommelier Scavenger Hunt Somms15 Sommeliers for Wine & Spirits Sommelier Scavenger Hunt

To open their Top-100 festivities this year, Wine & Spirits hosted their inaugural Sommelier Scavenger Hunt on Monday of this week. The event was designed to seek out, and celebrate the new classics of domestic wine.

As Wine & Spirits editor, Joshua Greene, explained, the last six months have been spent preparing for the Sommelier Scavenger Hunt event. Towards that end, five teams of three sommeliers each from around the country were selected. Each team was then assigned to visit a different domestic wine region tracking a particular varietal expression for that region. In traveling the region, they were meant to study the region’s specific viticultural conditions, and then select six wines to represent a coherent picture of the breadth and typicity of their region’s unique terroir. Along with each region’s flight, the sommeliers offered a ten minute informational presentation.

Joshua Greene introduced the event. Following are notes from his introduction, followed by a brief look at each of the flights.

Introducing the Sommelier Scavenger Hunt 2014

“Sommeliers like competition. They often test themselves, whether in sommelier exams, going to Tex-Somm, or otherwise. We wanted them to do something collaborative. Rather than battle on their own, we decided we would have them work together, and then compete in groups. To win, they would have to work together.

“[In this context,] what does winning even mean? Rather than finding a wine that would be hardest to guess in a blind tasting, [for the Sommelier Scavenger Hunt] it is about finding a wine that would be the easiest to guess [as from its region] in a blind tasting. We asked them to go out and find the future classics, that really describe the place the wine is from.

“[The Sommelier Scavenger Hunt] is also about travel, and getting to know the place. I got into [wine] because I like to travel. A lot of wine travel you see is more about lifestyle, and expensive. We decided we wanted them to do something more like The Amazing Race.

“While there they would select six wines meant together to be broad, and precise, [expressive of its region]. We’re asking them to show you a really specific connection between the place and the wine. We want them to show you that connection so that when you taste the wine you really feel that connection. We asked them to really think, what is terroir? and what is a great wine?

“Our staff got together and chose five sommeliers we really enjoy working with, and asked them to choose a team of two more, and then choose a specific region and varietal focus.

“We’d like you to think about these wines as you taste, as to where it is from, not do I like this wine?, but where is it from? how it communicates to you as a drinker, as a taster.”

Joshua Greene then introduced the first group from the Finger Lakes. Following are brief notes on the five group presentations.

Tasting the Sommelier Scavenger Hunt 2014

The quality of wines throughout was impressive. It was a pleasure to be able to taste these, to see the selections chosen to represent each region, and to be included in seeing the work each group had done together.

Sommelier Scavenger HuntJoshua Greene and 15 sommeliers from around the country fielding questions about domestic wines at the end of their Wine & Spirits Sommelier Scavenger Hunt presentations

TEAM FINGER LAKES: RIESLING

Matthew Kaner of Covell in Los Angeles, Pascaline Lepeltier MS of Rouge Tomate in NYC, Steven Morgan of Squire Wine Co in Chicago

While viticulture in the Finger Lakes has historically focused on hybrid varieties made into quaffing sweet wines, more recently winegrowing through the area has turned towards crafting serious quality wines in a range of styles. With the oldest bonded winery in the United States, newer producers have the benefit of a wealth of already established geological and viticultural knowledge to draw on in exploring quality wine production. Riesling has risen to prominence as the signature grape for serious wine with a range of possibilities for the region.

The Finger Lakes flight showed good consistency of quality over the broadest range of styles of any of the flights. Due to the vast range of winemaking goals or style choices occurring in the region, this group had the greatest challenge in striking the balance between expressing regional typicity and coherence with breadth. Producers of the Finger Lakes are still exploring the region’s unique signature. That said, the wines all offered distinctive personality, and very good quality at mind blowing value.

* Tierce 2012 Finger Lakes Dry Riesling
all stainless steel, no malolactic fermentation. a wine with nice clarity, lots of length and “extraordinary personality.” very small production.

* Bellwether 2013 Finger Lakes A&D Vineyard Dry Riesling
ultra small production. captures a nice balance of weight to acid without residual sugar. great mouth watering length.

* Kemmeter 2012 Finger Lakes Sheldrake Point Vineyard Riesling
nice precision, juiciness, and length. clarity, focus, and balancing breadth.

Ravines 2011 Finger Lakes Argetsinger Vineyard Dry Riesling
one of the stand out wineries of the region — available, affordable, bring out its personality with food

Hermann J Wiemer 2012 Finger Lakes HJW Vineyard Dry Riesling
one of the founders of quality in the region. nice overall balance, with a changeable finish. place along side food for additional balance.

Bloomer Creek 2012 Finger Lakes Auten Tanzen Dame Second Harvest
the wild card of the tasting, a very slow fermentation for additional richness and complexity, with an oxidative style, and a bit of residual sugar. pair with clam chowder to match the fleshiness of the wine, and give the acid something to cut into.

TEAM SANTA BARBARA COUNTY: CHARDONNAY

Ian Becker of Absinthe and Arlequin, Haley Guild Moore of Stock & Bones Group, and Gianpaolo Paterlini of 1760 and Acquerello all in San Francisco

Chardonnay proves to be one of the greatest quality varieties in the incredibly diverse growing region of Santa Barbara County. Though Pinot Noir from the region receives more consistent attention, the potential for quality on its white cousin is very high. The wines selected offered a very linear focus with lots of flavorful fruit expression and mouthwatering acidity.

The team for this flight chose to focus on a very specific style of chardonnay for the region. Within the competition, the Santa Barbara County flight was most expressive of the team’s preferred style, when considering the breadth of styles in the region as a whole. That said, the region’s signature clearly showed through the wines selected, and the quality was very good. This was also the most pleasing, tasty flight of the tasting.

Qupé 2011 Santa Maria Valley Bien Nacido Block Eleven Chardonnay
the outlier of the tasting, the Qupé was the only Santa Maria Valley chardonnay selected, and was chosen out of regard for the heritage it expresses of the region. giving nice citrus curd mixed with olive, this wine offers a oceanic creamy waxy quality familiar of the Santa Maria Valley with tons of mouthwatering length.

Au Bon Climat 2012 Sta Rita Hills Sanford & Benedict Vineyard Chardonnay
flinty mixed citrus, with a creamy palate. this wine strikes the balance of restraint, focus, and rich flavor, with tons of juicy length.

Chanin 2012 Sta Rita Hills Sanford & Benedict Vineyard Chardonnay
clean, crisp mixed citrus fruit, with a moderately creamy palate and a focus on length

* Tyler 2012 Sta Rita Hills Zotovich Family Vineyard Chardonnay
pleasing reductive tension brings a taut focus to the mouthwatering mixed citrus flavors. nice mineral length

Sandhi 2012 Sta Rita Hills Rita’s Crown Chardonnay
the most linear, and taut of the chardonnay’s shown. all about structure. mouth watering and lightly drying both.

Pence 2013 Santa Barbara County Chardonnay
delicate citrus blossom coupled with expressive citrus fruit layered with clay accents on a nervy taut mouthwatering line

TEAM ANDERSON VALLEY: PINOT NOIR

Vanessa Trevino Boyd of 60 Degrees Mastercrafted, Steven McDonald of Pappas Bros. Steakhouse, Christian Varas of River Oaks Country Club all in Houston

Ranging from a genuinely zone 1 cool climate close to the ocean just into a zone 2 climate a bit inland, Anderson Valley carries the most definitive signature of the region’s tasted. Pinot Noir has risen to prominence as the area’s trademark variety.

The Anderson Valley flight had the tightest, most recognizable expression of regional typicity giving a wash of red fruit, and buckets of mouthwatering acidity throughout. It was the flight in which the region offered the most apparent expression before cellar technique. It was also clear that this is largely due to the area, rather than simply from the group selection, for example.

Drew 2011 Anderson Valley Morning Dew Vineyard Pinot Noir
light carbonic elements on nose, a wash of red fruit through the palate, long mouthwatering finish. wants air to open

LIOCO 2011 Anderson Valley Klindt Pinot Noir
high tone, lifted aromatics, spiced palate. red fruit throughout. lots of length.

Copain 2011 Anderson Valley Kiser ‘En Haut’ Pinot Noir
lots of clarity, tight focus with lots of precise structure but soft red berry and open midpalate

Lichen Estate Anderson Valley Solera Volume 2 Pinot Noir
unique of the flight yet still expressive of the region. red berry fruit with layers and folds of concentration, vintages 2011, 12, 13 blended in solera-type method

Elke 2011 Anderson Valley Donnelly Creek Vineyard Pinot Noir
bright, crisp red fruit both nose and palate, accents of forest and herb, lots of mouthwatering length

Phillips Hill 2011 Anderson Valley Two Terroirs C&R Pinot Noir
nice cut of red fruit with structural strength, and spiced oak accents throughout

TEAM WASHINGTON: BORDEAUX-VARIETY REDS

Lindsey Whipple of Charlie Palmer Group in New York City, Will Costello of the Mandarin Oriental in Las Vegas, Mark Hefter of Crush Wine Bar MGM in Las Vegas

The Washington wines selected carried dusty mineral and saline crunch throughout. Five of the six wines grew from Red Mountain, and one originated from Walla Walla. We were also able to taste an older vintage on the final wine. Unfortunately, one of the wines was unavailable for tasting due to unexpected distribution issues.

This was the most challenging flight for me as several of the wines were intensely concentrated, inky dark on the palate. Still, the quality was good throughout.

Avennia 2011 Columbia Valley Sestina Red Wine
funky unusual nose, dusty mineral crunch through palate, bell pepper throughout

* Delille Cellars 2011 Chaleur Estate
nice acidity, opens and lengthens significantly with air, elegant finished, balanced concentration

àMaurice 2011 Walla Walla Estate Red Night Owl
intense concentrated palate, good tension, lots of length, inky dark

Upchurch 2011 Upchurch Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon
highly concentrated, inky dark, challenging intensity

Fidélitas 2011 Red Mountain Optu Red Wine
unfortunately, do to a mix-up with distribution we were unable to taste this wine.

* Cadence 2001 Red Mountain Ciel du Cheval Vineyard
nicely balanced, aged wine with the dancy feet to balance the fruit concentration and dusty tannin. pleasant, beautiful.

TEAM NAPA VALLEY: CABERNET SAUVIGNON

Michael Madrigale of Boulud Sud in New York City, Josiah Baldivino of Bay Grape in Oakland, Michelle Biscieglia of Blue Hill in New York City

Team Napa Valley balanced their presentation of Napa Valley Cabernet with both valley floor, and differing mountain expressions of the fruit. The wines selected also paid tribute to a range of historic houses well respected for their quality contributions to the development, and sophistication of the region’s wine.

This flight was most successful in hitting the balance of the three elements requested of the sommelier team in choosing their wines — coherence, breadth, and typicity of the region.

Robert Sinskey 2009 Stag’s Leap District Napa Valley SLD Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
concentration, intensity, dark polish

Robert Mondavi 2011 Oakville Napa Valley To Kalon Vineyard Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
considered the 1st growth of Napa Valley, Mondavi owns the largest portion of the historic To Kalon Vineyard. this is a wine of concentration, polish

* Corison 2010 Napa Valley Kronos Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon
offering characteristic floral aromatics, and nicely balanced, mouthwatering palate

* Mayacamas Vineyards 2008 Mt Veeder Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
still ultra nervy youthful wine, pleasing mouth watering length and nice palate tension

* Smith Madrone 2011 Spring Mountain District Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
the most distinctive of the cabernets selected, the Smith-Madrone shows refreshing bell pepper aromatics, and ultra mouthwatering length

* Diamond Creek 2008 Diamond Mountain District Napa Valley Volcanic Hill Cabernet Sauvignon
pleasing mountain tannin and dustiness, nice acidity, want to revisit

***

The winning team of the Sommelier Scavenger Hunt will be announced at the Wine & Spirits Tuesday evening Top-100 tasting.

Post Edit: It was announced tonight that Team Napa Valley won the Wine & Spirits 2014 Sommelier Scavenger Hunt. Congratulations Team Napa Valley!

Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

0

This write-up appears as a follow-up to a previous article on Santa Barbara County wine growing.

Santa Barbara Wine Country

For more information on over-arching growing conditions for the region, such as climate and weather patterns, please see that article, which appears here: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2014/05/20/understanding-santa-barbara-county-wine/

Santa Maria Valley

Driving South through California on Highway 101 the sand dunes begin to appear as the road comes closer to the ocean. By San Luis Obispo (SLO) county (home to Paso Robles, San Simeon and its famed Hearst Castle, as well as Morro Bay) ocean succulents, and cypress dot the roadway, growing from sandy loam of the seascape. The highway hugs ocean through Pismo Beach, then cuts inland again lifting over a slight climb in elevation, through the drop on the other side. You’ve arrived in Santa Maria Valley.

Santa Maria Valley proves the second oldest appellation in California, after Napa Valley, and includes some of the oldest contemporary vineyards in Santa Barbara County (SBC), as well as some of the most distinctive Chardonnay plantings in the state. However, the area has received historically less attention for wine than its Southern siblings such as the Sta Rita Hills.

The Agricultural Richness of Santa Maria Valley

The Northern most appellation in Santa Barbara County, the land formation as well as the appellation of Santa Maria Valley include sections of San Luis Obispo county. From the North, it is the San Rafael Mountains that circumscribes the Valley floor, and the intersection of the Santa Maria River with the water flowing through North Canyon from Twitchell Reservoir that marks the SLO-SBC border. Bien Nacido Vineyards, for example, sits just inside the North-western edge of SBC while its strawberry fields on the flats sit just inside the South-eastern rest of SLO.

Santa Maria Valley proves one of the most agriculturally diverse, and active regions of North America hosting a range of berries, avocado, spinach, beans, squash, broccoli, cauliflower, and even a cactus nursery. With avocado entering the region in the 1870s, this section of California quickly became the primary supply for North America. It still hosts (one of) the largest groves in North America.

Grape growing through the region reaches back to the 1830s, with more contemporary vineyards being established beginning in the 1960s, many of those early own root vines still giving fruit. As a result of such agricultural diversity, the area includes one of the more residential farming communities in the country, with farm workers able to remain year round as they rotate between crops.

Local cattle ranching and indigenous beans find focus through the tradition of Santa Maria BBQ. It appropriately claims the title of Best BBQ in the West, offering a local-oak fired tri-tip that proves more spice-rubbed than sauced, coupled with a side of pinquinto beans. The beans stand as a reminder of the relevance of land formations in agricultural development. The small pink morsels originate from and grow only within this area of the Central Coast.

Winegrowing Santa Maria Valley

SMV map

click on image to enlarge

Santa Maria Valley AVA offers the only valley in North or South America with unhindered ocean influence. No hillside formations rise within the center line of the appellation to shade or shield portions of the valley floor. The mouth of the valley opens to the Pacific, with the West-East narrowing funnel of the region cut by the San Rafael Mountains to the North, and the Solomon Hills to the South squeezing together near Sisquoc. The center of the valley is defined by the open pull of the Santa Maria-Sisquoc river bench.

The shape of the valley generates a clockwork regularity of fog at night through morning, then wind by afternoon. It is the wind that balances disease pressure from the ocean humidity. Open valley floor also means temperatures average one Fahrenheit degree warmer per mile driven East. Some slight nooks along the river bench, or canyon formation along the Northern mountain and Southern hills offer variation.

Considering Soils

Soil variation within the valley can broadly be cut into four types. Along the Northern portion of the Santa Maria-Sisquoc River colluvial soils cover slope sides giving rocky freshness to grapes grown throughout. Moving towards riverside, soils become unconsolidated as mixed alluvial soils appear from old wash off ancient mountain rains.

Bien Nacido, for example, grows vines from hilltop, through slope-side, and into the rolling flats approaching Santa Maria Mesa Road. The absolute flats they reserve for other crops. Walking the midslope vineyards of Bien Nacido offers a mix of rocky soils rolling into Elder Series, and then finally sandy loam near the bottom. Bien Nacido, and Cambria (growing directly beside Bien Nacido to the East) both contain a mix of colluvial and Elder Series soils, with some dolomitic limestone appearing near the tops of slopes, and shale in mid-slopes further East in the Valley. By riverside, soils are entirely unconsolidated giving a mix of some Elder series, and some sandy loam.

Across the street from Bien Nacido, the soils change, becoming unconsolidated alluvial soils. Rancho Viñedo grows in entirely unconsolidated soils, Pleasanton Clay Loam. In broader context these sorts of unconsolidated soils are often treated critically when it comes to grape growing. After rains soils like Pleasanton Clay Loam act like cement, as the soils do not absorb water easily crops grown in such ground tend to flood. However, in a region where rain is rare, thanks to the rain shadow effect of the San Rafael Mountains, such concerns become almost irrelevant. The rare cases when flooding does occur in the region come from ocean storms hitting so hard and fast the question of soil has little to do with the result. Flooding would have happened anyway.

On the Southern portion of the Santa Maria-Sisquoc River soils dramatically change. The Western portion of the appellation rises from ancient sand dunes, once part of the sea floor. Sections of the valley, then are almost pure sand mixed through in areas with silt from mountain erosion. The South-western quadrant of SMV moves from almost pure sand, into sandy loam as you travel North-east, or silty loam as you move into the Solomon Hills.

Sections of the newer Presqu’ile Vineyard, for example, appear as incredibly sandy giving a sense of suave tannin to red wines. By the time you reach the Dierberg planting a touch closer to the river, however, it has become more sandy loam. On the plateau of the Solomon Hills North of Cat Canyon, overlooking the valley, Ontiveros Ranch grows in unconsolidated silty soils.

Moving East along the Southern side of the river, the valley squeezes closer to the river bench, and the ground changes to predominately mixed cobbles and rocky loam. Riverbench Vineyard, for example, includes blocks on rocky clay loam, approaching Foxen Canyon, or more rocky plantings approaching the riverside.

While the North-eastern section of Santa Maria Valley contains a predominance of colluvial soils and Elder Series from the Mountains, sandy soils appear mixed throughout Santa Maria Valley with some sections of these vineyards including sandy loam.

Though the valley’s soils can be described through four major types, and the region’s climate has an overall sense of regularity, throughout the appellation there are subtler distinctions within sites that must be expected. As examples, thanks to the ocean influence salinity plays unexpected while sometimes significant role in vine vigor. Slight rolling character in what might seem an otherwise flat vineyard site can create slight air pools that change growing temperatures for vines in those sections. Individual vineyards, then, have significant internal variation.

Establishing Santa Maria Valley Wines

Modern day viticulture appeared in Santa Maria Valley in 1964, with the planting established by Uriel Nielsen in what is now the Byron Winery and Vineyard facility. The area benefits from the cool climate of SMV while hosting the slightly warmer day time temperatures that give darker red fruit in comparison to plantings on the Western side of the Valley.

In 1972, Louis Lucas and Dale Hampton would establish what would become the famous Tepusquet Vineyard, simultaneously pronouncing the great viticultural promise of the region shown through the cool climate, the ocean influence, and the water availability even in desert conditions. The Tepusquet Vineyard now stands in the Cambria Winery and Vineyard facility at the Northern side of the Sisquoc River.

Soon on the heels of the Nielsen and Tepusquet plantings, in 1973 the Miller brothers would begin one of the most influential vineyards of the valley, Bien Nacido. The site would establish itself as what was at the time the largest certified nursery-service-plus-vineyard in the state. By maintaining soil testing on a regular basis and ensuring the health of the vineyard through FPMS certification, Bien Nacido could not only generating crop for area winemakers, but also vine material for future regional vineyards.

These three early vineyards served as what were essentially viticultural test plots surveying what grape varieties, clonal types, and rootstocks could prosper in the region. Figures such as RIchard Sanford, while known more for his original plantings in Sta Rita Hills, also played key roles in helping to identify the appropriateness for Pinot Noir in the region, the valley’s signature variety.

Other vineyards, such as SIerra Madre originally planted in 1971, would prove influential for their later replants. Santa Barbara County includes a long history of influence on the more well-known Napa and Sonoma counties. Well established winemakers known for their North Coast wines utilized grapes grown in SBC to blend and bring added dimension to their North Coast wines. Off paper, then, SBC’s grape quality has been long established.

In the 1990s, however, that reputation was backed up by a series of purchases from big name wineries such as Robert Mondavi, and Jackson Family. In the 1990s, Robert Mondavi took interest in the Sierra Madre site, and decided to use portions to graft newer Pinot and Chardonnay clones in order to study their viability. The unique quality of the site became inspirational force for a range of winemakers both within the region and without. Mondavi’s clonal changes predominately remain within Sierra Madre, some of which offer fruit unlike that seen anywhere else in the state.

Newer vineyards such as Solomon Hills, or Dierberg both planted in the 1990s, and Presqu’ile in the 2000s, expand insight on ripening in SMV. Set near or on the Western boundary of the appellation, each receives cold air, and afternoon ocean wind bringing ultra cool climate focus to their fruit development.

Pinot Noir of Santa Maria Valley

Pinot Noir proves Santa Maria Valley’s signature grape. The valley’s signature marks its Pinot with red fruit character integrated through with the classic blend of Chinese Five Spice and tons of juicy length. The subtle complexity of this flavor study, coupled with the region’s mineral tension, and juiciness give it a profile distinctive from its Pinot Noir neighbors to the North and South.

Within the appellation, soil and temperature changes give fine-tuned distinctions to wines grown from different vineyards. Fruit from the South-western quadrant, for example, consistently carries the suave tannin of sandy soils, and a brighter red profile than the wines of the warmer North-eastern section. The sandy soils have also shown the ability to manage a high portion of whole cluster during fermentation to good effect.

With older vineyards such as Bien Nacido still showcasing own-root original plantings of Pinot Noir, now inter-planted with comparatively younger grafted vines of the same vine material, SMV also offers unique opportunity for winemakers to experiment with fruit from older and younger vines grown side by side. At Byron, sections of the original clonal and rootstock experiment planting are maintained allowing winemakers there the opportunity over decades to separately vinify fruit by clone-to-rootstock combination.

The best Pinot Noir from Santa Maria Valley has also proven its ability to age well. The subtlety of the valley offers its Pinots what is an almost brooding even while red fruit character, that turns outward again as it ages giving slightly older examples a beautifully surprising energy and lift.

Chardonnay of Santa Maria Valley

While Pinot stands as Santa Maria Valley’s best known variety, some of the most distinctive Chardonnays of California herald from the region. Unique clonal material grows through SMV offering distinctive flavor profiles from vineyards such as Sierra Madre.

The underlying Santa Maria Valley Chardonnay character shows up as Meyer lemon curd on toasted croissant with a long ocean crunch finish. Depending on area of the valley you can imagine that profile dialing down towards more mineral at the Western-reaches, or up towards riper in areas like Cambria. The ocean influence often gives a distinctively pleasing saline crunch or slurry to the white wines, in some of the cooler and sandier vineyard sites it verges into olive.

The mineral presence plus ample juiciness of the fruit give a lot of room for successful oak integration, and/or more reductive character. The two techniques give breadth and length of presence to the juiciness of the region’s fruit without having to dominate its flavor.

Other Varieties of Santa Maria Valley

Rhone varieties appear in small but successful portion through Santa Maria Valley. Most famously, Syrah has done well through the Northern-middle portions of the appellation with producers like Qupe bringing attention to the quality possible from the grape grown in the valley.

At the furthest Eastern side of SMV, Rancho Sisquoc grows a range of grape types successfully producing the range of Bordeaux varieties in warmer pockets near the close of the SMV funnel, as well as unexpected successes such as Riesling and Sylvaner.

***

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Tatomer Wines

Tasting with Graham Tatomer is an experience in site expression. His Tatomer wines are built to age, full of tautness, and length with flavors that uncoil into ample presence with age and air. Combining hands-on attention in his vineyards with winemaking built for stability, Tatomer wines are an expression of excellence in craftsmanship. They’re also unique for the state of California as he funnels his years of winemaking experience through a genuine dedication to the quality of Austrian grape heritage. To deepen his knowledge of the grapes of that country he worked his way into not only an interest in the wines there, but also wine work there over several years. Such grounded follow-through of intention shown in Tatomer’s winemaking history expresses the sense of authenticity felt while tasting the wines. Tatomer wines are just plain well-made, and a pleasure to drink.

Gruner Veltliner and Riesling are not common in the state of California, though plantings can be found.

Tatomerclick on image to enlarge

Gruner Veltliner

For Gruner, Tatomer sources from two uniquely different sites. His only San Luis Obispo vineyard, the Paragon in Edna Valley, gives him a clean and delicate, while present, aromatic expression of the grape. The wine is wonderfully textural, with a sense of quartz crystal crunch though the palate, giving touches of almond paste and pear blossom, accented by cracked white and green pepper corn. The Paragon carries a core of clean and poised strength. I really enjoy the ultra clean length of this wine.

The Paragon drinks like alpine water to the Meeresboden Gruner Veltliner’s ocean water. Where the Paragon is ultra clean, refreshing, cold water from the mountains, the Meeresboden carries the touch of sea sand slurry, and saline element only found at oceanside. The Meeresboden Vineyard rests within Santa Barbara County. It gives peach blossom and beach grass aromatics with that ocean shore note already mentioned. On the palate, the flavors roll into yellow flowers with ground almonds through an ultra long finish.

Riesling

Planted in 1968, the Sisquoc Vineyard in Santa Maria Valley gives textural white and clear aromatics, rolling into a palate showing notes of wet sand and river rocks, an inner core of faint petrol surrounded by crisp bread, all touched by tons of juiciness with red cherry and lime through a long textural finish. The Sisquoc carries the most intensity of the Rieslings. I love the texture. I love this wine.

The Vandenberg and Kick-on Rieslings both come from Kick-on Ranch, an incredibly cold vineyard site so far west in Santa Ynez it falls outside the Sta Rita Hills boundaries. Tatomer explains that he is able to implement viticultural knowledge learned in Austria especially at this particular site, and focuses a good amount of energy on the farming practices used on his block. The two wines are distinguished in selection and vinification methods. The Kick-on Riesling draws from only ultra-clean fruit with a little bit of skin contact picked a bit earlier. The Vandenberg takes advantage of hints of botrytis before real flavor concentrating impact, to give the final wine deepened flavor.

The Vandenberg Riesling offers white and yellow aromatics with hints of golden raisin bread moving into the most breadth of flavor showing almond and peach leaf through a smooth rolling palate, lots of juiciness and length. The Kick-on Riesling carries mint accents on almond leaf and dried jasmine flower, with the most focused flavor of the three Rieslings moving through tons of juiciness, and length with a strong but easy focus.

Looking Ahead for Tatomer

In 2013, Tatomer also started making Pinot Noir. In moving into red wine for the label, he chose to work with a dark, more tannic vineyard expression of the grape, and then treat it with a lighter touch in the cellar. The combination brings a lot of structure to the wine, with a more elevated palate. Keep an eye out for Tatomer Pinot Noir.

***

For more on Tatomer Wines: http://www.tatomerwines.com/pages/wines

To read more on Graham Tatomer and his wines check out Jon Bonné’s recent article naming Tatomer one of 2014’s Winemakers to Watch: http://www.sfgate.com/wine/article/Winemaker-to-Watch-Graham-Tatomer-5174137.php

***

Thank you to Graham Tatomer.

Thank you to Sao Anash.

Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

3

Tasting Brooks with Janie Brooks Heuck

A couple of weeks ago Janie Brooks Heuck and Revel Wine hosted a Brooks Riesling tasting at 18 Reasons in San Francisco. The event brought together a small group of writers and wine industry folks to taste through four flights including two dry Riesling verticals, one 2012 horizontal showing soil variation, and one off-dry to sweet style flight.

The grape has been planted through the Willamette Valley since the early stages of their industry, however, initial styles were largely unsuccessful. Most early examples are today jokingly compared to Sprite. The future of Riesling in Willamette Valley became uncertain, then, when many early planters of the variety began pulling vines to shift attention to the more sale-able Chardonnay.

Jimi Brooks, however, saw potential in the Valley’s cool climate viticulture for the grape. He wished to preserve the heritage Riesling plantings in the region, with the idea that older vines would also produce higher quality fruit. He spent years hunting old vineyards, and convincing vineyard owners if they kept their vines, he’d buy their harvest. Some of the oldest Riesling vines in Willamette, then, continue today thanks partially to Jimi’s work. Brooks Wines now owns one of the oldest Riesling vineyard in the region, planted in 1974 on own roots.

Following are drawn notes, and brief information for each of the four flights tasted.

Tasting Dry Rieslings

Brooks Willamette Valleyclick on illustration to enlarge

Brooks’ winemaker, Chris Williams, ferments everything in small lots, then generating the best blend.

The Brooks’ Willamette Valley dry Riesling consists primarily of Brooks’ Estate fruit, with some grapes from sites further up Valley as well. The Willamette Valley blend flight began with the 2004 vintage, Chris’s first vintage as winemaker for Brooks. The second wine, 2007, was the coldest vintage on record at the time, later trumped for depth of chill first by 2010, and finally by 2011, the current coldest on record. 2009, on the other hand, was one of the Valley’s hottest vintages, with consistently higher yields and higher alcohols throughout Willamette. The first flight, then, shows a generous range of climate impact on the Willamette Valley blend, with lots of youth still throughout the four wines. The Willamette Valley blend is considered one of Brooks’ flagship whites. It reliably offers intense juiciness and linear character. I am a fan of its focus on mouth quencing acidity.

Brooks Araclick on illustration to enlarge

Another flagship white for Brooks, the Ara offers pretty floral notes alongside juicy length, countering the more linear character of the Willamette Valley blend. The five-year span on the Ara flight showed how beautifully the wine ages, with 2005 carrying a still youthful presentation.

Brooks 2012click on illustration to enlarge

In order to showcase the soil variation expressed through Riesling, Janie and Chris selected a 2012 horizontal of their three dry wines. The Yamhill grows from sedimentary soils giving a complex, multi-fruit focused presentation consistently showing peach and green apple through vintages. The Estate fruit, however, grows from volcanic soils and moves to a more floral and citrus focus. The Ara offers a blend of both soil types bringing the advantages of each with plush fruit character, lifted floral aromatics, and long juicy lines.

Tasting Off-dry and Sweet Rieslings

Brooks Off-Dry Sweetclick on illustration to enlarge

Today, Brooks produces nine different Riesling labels ranging through each step of the dry-to-sweet range. Though the overall tasting was focused primarily on dry wines, the final flight offered insight into their medium-dry and sweet styles.

Chris likes to entertain the sweet-to-juicy balance, letting the acidity focus wash the residual sugar from the palate. Though my preference falls strongly in the dry category of Rieslings, Brooks off dry, off sweet, and sweet wines have consistently proven pleasant to drink. With the winemaker’s focus on keeping acidity up, and Willamette’s cooler climate supporting that goal, their wines with residual sugar move through the palate with lots of palate stimulation and juicy length. The final flight, as well as the dry flights, showed again the quality of Brooks’ Rieslings. I am a fan.

***
Thank you to Janie Brooks Heuck, Chris Williams, and Dan Fredman.

Copyright 2013 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

1

Riesling from Red Tail Ridge, Finger Lakes

Red Tail Ridge Rieslingclick on image to enlarge

In the Finger Lakes Region of New York, Red Tail Ridge Winery has been growing in quality since 2004 offering unusual red varieties with a focus on Riesling.

The Finger Lakes Region of New York is known for its challenging climate that can bring serious growing difficulties in the vineyard including excess rain or moisture, and a genuinely cool climate. The area, however, has a long history of grape growing focusing on Concord grapes, and hybrids. More recently, some smaller growers have reached to International varieties with a strength for the cooler climate. In the last decade, these growers have successfully proven the region’s worth for quality Riesling.

Red Tail Ridge appears as an interesting winery for its focus on bringing together value-quality wines with both environmental and social commitment. Theirs is the first LEED gold certified green winery in New York State. Their Good Karma wine (labeled with the winery name on the back, it’s name, Good Karma, on the front) generates 10% of its profits for the region’s food bank, Foodlink.

The Wines

The Finger Lakes region produces Riesling presentation unique to the area. It succeeds at bringing together a cross section of fruits reaching out of citrus linearity into stone fruits and even light tropical freshness while maintaining acidity.

Red Tail Ridge offers Rieslings across a range of styles from dry to sticky. The three tasted here include the lighter side of their arc with a dry and to semi-drys. Each of the wines offers a strong focus on value with quality coming in well below the $20 mark. I am impressed by how much they are able to offer for their price.

The Dry Riesling is my favorite of the three giving clean fruit and flower across the full range of fruit characteristics showing a nice balance of citrus, stone, and tropical elements all with light feet and good focus. There are nice accents of mineral crunch and white rock here moving through a long finish. This wine retails for $18.95.

Good Karma brings together off-dry Riesling with unoaked Chardonnay for an accessible palate. The mineral elements on this wine range from crushed quartz to rock salt and bring another layer of interest to the nutty, lime blossom, and lychee combination. This wine retails for $13.95.

The Red Tail Ridge RTR Estate gives an off-dry presentation moving into more floral elements with its tropical notes giving jasmine and white tea alongside citrus and lychee, also retaining the mineral crunch. The light touch of sweetness here puts it alongside spicy food beautifully. The RTR Estate retails for $15.95.

Red Tail Ridge has also just released a new band of Rieslings, including their first dessert wine, and a late harvest presentation.

***

To read more on Finger Lakes Wines check out this article from Eric Asimov: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/12/dining/from-the-finger-lakes-seriously-good-wines.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

These wines were received as samples.

Copyright 2013 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

2

Tasting Australian dry Riesling

Riesling Characteristics

click on image to enlarge

Last week three of us got together and tasted through 24 wines focused on the theme of dry Australian Riesling. The goal of the tasting was to gather wines from all over the country, focusing centrally on dry examples. Bottles were selected based primarily on professional recommendation from wine educators specializing in the United States on Australian wine, and were provided by importers. Some wines were also selected based on prior tasting experience.

The quality through the tasting as a whole was impressive, with a high proportion of good wines. It was truly a pleasure. The top, stand out wines, Pikes 2011 “The Merle” and Pewsley Vale 2007 Museum Reserve, were excellent. Other stand out wines in the tasting are marked with an * asterisk. All wines are dry unless mentioned otherwise in the tasting notes below.

In designing these tastings, I prefer to have a particular theme that serves as the center line, while also including a few appropriate outliers as a way of bringing breadth to the tasting and offering perspective. In this case, we chose to include a few examples with a touch of sweetness, and one Riesling from New Zealand.

Wines were put in flights by region, and then arranged by alcohol level. The wines were initially tasted in succession over the course of several hours, then revisited in various arrangements over the two days following. Below are notes on Australian Riesling in general, and then on the particular wines by region.

Australian Riesling

Australian Riesling carries a unique style with a central focus of clean fruit flavors.

While German Riesling is commonly known for celebrating a petrol note, the characteristic is not necessary to the grape and arises primarily out of experience in the vineyard, such as high sun exposure of the grapes themselves, or water stress of the vines. Some skin contact en route to the winery also encourages the phenomenon. Historically the distance between vineyard and winery led to 12-48 hours from harvest to winery. Older pressing techniques served more to break up the fruit, rather than squeeze its juice out, leading to a more pulpy process than newer technologies. Historical necessity in some regions, then, encouraged a particular style to be recognized as the norm.

Australia’s Riesling culture, though, finding its roots in the 1800s, remains significantly younger than its old world counterpart. With the distance between them, Australia’s winemaking and viticulture were able to develop without direct influence of style. One of the effects includes a distinctive approach to harnessing the riches of the grape. Riesling culture in Australia, then, purposefully avoids inclusion of petrol notes, instead seeking a pure fruit expression. Less commonly, however, there are also individual producers that instead wish to utilize old world influence and instill petrol development in his or her wine.

WESTERN AUSTRALIA

Western Australia celebrates the advantages of a genuinely cool climate, and marine proximity for generating high acid whites. One of the effects on the fruit is longer hang time for a slow and steady development of flavor. The region is recognized for offering a touch more spice, with a focus on citrus fruit, floral notes, and a lot of mineral expression.

* Rocky Gully, Frankland River, Western Australia, 2012, 11%

Offering lots of evolution in the glass, the Rocky Gully gives an ultra clean, acidity focused wine. The aromatics here are light with delicate lemon-lime and touches of toast. Through the palate the citrus acidity carries forward into an ultra long finish. This is a wine all about acidity and linear focus.

Frankland Estate, Netley Road Vineyard, 2012, 11%

Giving aromatics of white peach and peach blossom curled through with white grapefruit, Frankland Estates Netley Road Vineyard rises over flavors of stone fruit and citrus then does a flip mid-palate into soft birch bark with a short finish. This is a clean focus wine with nice juiciness.

Frankland Estate, Isolation Ridge Vineyard, 2012, 11.4%

Frankland Estate‘s Isolation Ridge Vineyard generates a more floral focused wine with textural aromatics of narcissus flower and white peach. The juicy palate is delicate carrying birch bark through the mid-palate, then opening into white peach and cracked pepper for a short finish.

Leeuwin Estate, Art Series Riesling, Margaret River, 2012, 12%

With distinctive, sweaty fruit and flower aromatics the Leeuwin Estate showcases perfume. The plush floral aromatics roll into a perfumed palate of lemon and lime blossoms. This is a textural wine with good focus, while less crisp than the other Western Australian examples. The acidity here is juicy, continuing into a long finish perfumed all the way through.

* Plantagenet, Mount Barker, 2010, 12.5%

Plantagenet gives a creamier palate of lime and peach blossom by the ocean, giving textural aspects of fleshy fruit with saline crunch. There are layers of complexity here giving hints of dried fruit, on a moderately acidic presentation, with a nice balance of texture and zip.

TASMANIA

Tasmania also carries a genuinely cool climate with maritime influence, generating intensely juicy whites with closely focused flavors and lots of linearity. With so much structure, the wines evolve significantly with time and love to age in the bottle.

* Uberblanc, Glaetzer-Dixon Family Winemakers, Tasmania, 2012, 11.3%

Intensely juicy, with an ultra long finish, the Uberblanc emphasizes the gifts of Tasmania’s cool climate. The complexity of the nose includes toast with lots of perfume, including rose potpourri. The palate carries floral touches forward through long acidic lines of citrus blossom and touches of toast. Uberblanc has pulled off complexity with an ultra long mouth watering focused finish.

VICTORIA

Plantings of Riesling in Victoria are disperse. However, the state also features what may be the oldest vines in the country planted at the end of the 1800s, start of the 1900s at the Garden Gully Vineyard in the Grampions district of Great Western.

* Jamsheed, Garden Gully Vineyard, Great Western, 2012, 12.7%

A distinctive wine in the overall line up, the Jamsheed Riesling carries multiple stages of interest. Opening with a touch of sweetness, the flavors are rich and creamy, rolling into a cascade of juicy acidity and saline that wash and stimulate the palate, then carry forward into a moderate long finish of snap clean flavors. This wine is distinctly textural.

CLARE VALLEY

Clare Valley hosts a high concentration of quality Rieslings, known as one of the smallest overall production zones of the country, but one of the highest production areas of quality wine. The area is known to generate intensely flavored wines with great longevity. The region is also quite varied, however, and as a result creates varied presentations as well. The wines of Polish Hill, for example, are recognized as more austere and subtle in their presentation, while those of Watervale offer great concentration and tension.

Some Young Punks, Monsters, Monsters Attack!, 2013, 10.5%

Meant as a good value wine with interest and a focus on fun, Some Young Punks give an off dry presentation of Riesling with light alcohol, good acidity, and a nicely achieved balance with sweetness. The flavors come in as lime juice, lime zest and touches of cracked pepper that waters the palate.

* Pikes, Clare Valley, “Traditionale,” 2012, 12%

Giving a crisp, clean fruit focus, Pikes Traditionale stands as their gateway to Riesling wine. White peach, is followed by white grapefruit with faint almond flower and touches of cracked pepper. This is a well made wine, with good value. It’s a Riesling that’s all about the fruit, and its smooth, easy long finish.

* Jim Barry, The Lodge Hill, 2012, 12.8%

Giving the most earth focused, though also one of the most delicate wines of the tasting, Jim Barry‘s The Lodge Hill showcased slate with touches of saline showing both in clean aromatics and palate. There are delicate hints of lychee in the pretty while light aromatics, and the well made, fine boned palate.

* Petaluma, Hanlin Hill Vineyard, 2012, 13%

With clean aromatics, the Petaluma turns into rich flavor with a broader palate. There is a lot of complexity here with good breadth of flavor including saline with faint hints of cracked pepper, guava, and a citrus mélange tumbling through a long, full mouthwatering finish.

** Pikes, “The Merle,” Clare Valley, 2011, 12%

With a textural nose and palate, Pikes “The Merle” focuses on fruit from the Polish Hill section of the region, offering greater tension and complexity, plus tons of juiciness. The wine gives green almond fruit with peach pit from the aromatics through the nervy mid-palate, full of action and length. I am a fan of this wine–a prize fighter with no need to show off.

Kilakanoon, Mort’s Block, 2011, 12.5%

The Kilakanoon Mort’s Block offers a clean, well made wine that, while a bit non-descript, offers nice fruit, and just a hint of toast. What the wine lacks in sophistication it makes up for in reliability and value. This is worth drinking.

Kilakanoon, Mort’s Reserve, 2012, 12.5%

Kilakanoon‘s Mort’s Reserve keeps it’s clean focus with a subtle expression. White flowers hint at narcissus and almond blossom carried through with lime and white grapefruit. The wine is clean, well made, and focused on delicacy.

EDEN VALLEY

Also known for its high concentration of quality Rieslings, Eden Valley competes with Clare Valley for its aging potential. By contrast, however, the region tends to generate lighter bodied wines with more subtle aromatics that focus on floral notes and orchard fruit.

Henschke, Julius, 2012, 11.5%

Subtle aromatics with still distinct elements throughout, the Henschke Julius keeps its focus on blossom notes bringing in moments of peach pit, peach blossom, and white peach with Meyer lemon, lime blossom, and a mineral crunch. The flower notes verge on bath soap but the wine focuses in on a pretty and light expression overall of well integrated scents and flavors.

Mesh, 2012, 12%

A cascade of juiciness pushes through light and subtle flavors in the Mesh. Citrus melange, complete with citrus blossom, dance with hints of bread and touches of talc. The wine is well balanced, and subtle, while also a bit generic. This is worth drinking.

St Hallett, 2011, 11.5%

With a touch of floral bath soap aromatics, St Hallett pushes into lemon with saline accents, leading into an explosively flavorful, juicy mid-palate and short finish. The wine also carries hints of lily, and charcoal to accent the central rush of salty citrus.

Dandelion Vineyards, 2012, 12.5%

The Dandelion Vineyards needs time to settle down as it opens a little disjointed while fresh. There are intriguing characteristics of delicate blossom aromatics, and fresh greenery leading into narcissus and grapefruit blossom on the palate. Compared to other wines in the tasting, this one presents as a bit clumsy while not badly made. This is a wine more like a country girl, less elegant, more at home in the fields and barn.

Penfolds, Bin 51, 2012, 12.5%

Unfortunately, Penfolds offered the only unpleasant wines in the tasting. Though many consider Penfolds an easy go to for Australian Riesling, Bin 51 drank with a more commercial quality than any of the other wines. The toast and citrus combination here performed as a singular note with medium high acid and a short finish. With such a singular expression, it’s one of the few wines tasted that stood out for lacking depth.

* Pewsey Vale, 2013, 12.5%

The Pewsey Vale shows a beautifully made classic Eden Valley wine. With a super floral (touch of bath soap) aromatic, the palate spins around a long and lifting ultra clean expression showing saline accents, and hints of potpourri on a creamy mid-palate moving into toast and nut on the finish.

** Pewsey Vale, Museum Reserve, The Contours Riesling, 2007, 12.5%

Aged in bottle 5 years before release, Pewsey Vale‘s 2007 Museum Reserve is a memorably beautiful wine. The subtlety and floral expressions here read as a sort of alluring inanimate intimacy. Hazelnut skin with toasted almond and touches of toast carry over into a palate of toasted lemon, touches of potpourri, and a long saline finish. This is a beautifully balanced wine with the most memorable nose of the tasting.

SOUTH AUSTRALIA

While both Eden Valley and Clare Valley fall within South Australia, they are considered distinctive zones in terms of style. The grape is planted elsewhere in the state as well at smaller concentration, as other grapes remain a larger focus.

Penfolds, Thomas Hyland, 2011, 11.5%

Unfortunately, Penfolds showed poorly in this tasting with its contrast to other wines highlighting the more commercial aspects of its flavor production. The Thomas Hyland drinks as though its meant to offer greater complexity than its Bin 51 counterpart, but the effect is of a wine trying to be something its not, generating a sort of faux petrol accent over toast, red apple, and muted fruit and flower.

Yalumba, Y Series, Barossa, 2012, 12.5%

Bringing fresh and dried floral notes with accents of spiced wood and bay leaf, the Yalumba Y Series also offers hints of apple, white peach, and peach blossom. This is a nicely made, and well balanced wine with a long clean, easy finish.

NEW ZEALAND

New Zealand Riesling differs from its Southern Hemisphere cousins by featuring the petrol notes absent in Australia. The common style incorporates floral notes with a mix of spiced citrus, stone fruit, and petrol accents. While dry Riesling is common throughout Australia, most examples in New Zealand incorporate the acid-sweetness balance of an off dry approach.

Greywacke, Marlborough, New Zealand, 2011, 12%

A refreshing contrast to the previous wines, the Greywacke carries distinctive aromatics of light smoke, apple blossom, and juicy peach with a touch of candied sour apple and chalk. The palate performs in an off dry (slightly sweet) style that balances juicy acidity with touches of white pepper and a medium-long finish.

Copyright 2013 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com