I, along with three or four other people (ok, it’s not that bad, it just feels that bad), profess to love Riesling, so much so that I actually purchase it with my own hard-earned cash. So I’m not the kind of wine writer to turn down a media invite to the Seattle-hosted Riesling Rendezvous event when it rotates back stateside (alternating in other years with Europe and Australia).
This is my second stint attending RR, and between the 2013 incarnation and this one, held in mid-July 2016, I can give you a rough idea of what positive and negative trends have emerged in Riesling-world.
- The state of Riesling, in general. The quality of Riesling fine wines, overall, has rarely been as high as it is right now. Emerging Riesling regions, such as Canada and the U.S. Midwest, are really starting to hold their own with the likes Austria, the Finger Lakes, and even Germany.
- The standard-bearers. Alsace, Germany, and Austria – probably the holy trinity of Riesling in terms of what we consider as fine wine standards – showed up and showed off big time at RR 2016. More to come on Alsace in particular in a separate post.
- Terroir. Seriously. RR 2016 repeated the panel format of RR 2013, when several dry Rieslings were tasted blind by a panel of experts, as well as a room full of wine media, producers, industry folk, and avid consumers. This format was then repeated for off-dry/sweet Rieslings from around the globe. There were many excellent wines in the lineups, but the trouble came whenever the expert panelists (and the the very knowledgeable audience members) attempted to guess where each wine originated.Our success rates? Maybe 30%. And that’s being generous. The majority of the time, winemakers couldn’t successfully identify their own wines.To me, that suggests that a) several dozen people who do wine (and in some cases, Riesling) for a living don’t know what they’re doing, which seems incredibly unlikely, or b) the quality of Riesling winemaking in general is one the rise, causing a bit of non-threatening conformity, which does seem extremely likely, and c) the common notion among wine peeps that Riesling is a lightning rod grape for the expression of terroir has been significantly overstated. Discuss among yourselves…
Following are what I considered several highlights (about 15 wines, if I’m still able to count correctly) from those panel tastings, so start paying close attention, you Riesling warrior acid-freaks…
Generally, the longer the take on each wine, the more interesting I found it; within each category, I tried to list the wines in order of increasing sweetness levels. You’re welcome.
- 2013 Chehalem Wines 3 Vineyard Riesling, Willamette Valley, USA, $25
Racy, lemony, very good, and very, very, very easy to like.
- 2014 Dr. Konstantin Frank Semi Dry Riesling, Finger Lakes, USA, $15
We all thought this was German. We were all very wrong. It’s floral, peachy, and spicy, with a nice touch of toast and richness.
- 2014 Cave Spring Cellars “The Adam Steps” Riesling, Beamsville Bench, Canada, $20
What’s stepping out are the tangerine, petrol, and lime aromas. Quite a classic Riesling presentation from a not-so-classic region.
- 2014 Framingham “Classic” Riesling, Marlborough, New Zealand, $20
Petrol and pine, limes and spice, lovely and vibrant.
The Kick-Ass Contingent
- 2013 Tantalus Vineyard Old Vines Riesling, Okanagan Valley, Canada, $25
Intellectually demanding, pretty much no one thought that this dry number was Canadian. Toasty, with mineral and citrus aromas, and a fantastically racy attitude.
- 2014 Weingut Wittmann Westhofener Morstein Riesling Grosses Gewachs, Rheinhessen, Germany, $50
Daaaaaammmnnn… This is sooooo fucking good. Saline, herbs, limes, great mineral action and citric backbone. Textbook Rheinhessen (hindsight being 20/20 in the blind tasting, mind you): electric, steely, racy, vibrant, and long.
- 2014 Fritz Haag Brauneberger Juffer Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese, Mosel, Germany, $35
At the price, this is almost a bargain. It comes off as quite sweet, but that doesn’t take one iota away from its overall excellence; exotic, ripe tropical fruits, white flowers, and a long-ass finish.
- 2009 Egon Muller-Scharzhof Scharzhofberger Riesling Spätlese, Mosel, Germany, $180
Decidedly not a bargain, but also undeniably excellent. Candied lemon peel, white flowers, delicious tropical fruit flavors, sweet mint aromas, lively and rich, and waaaaay far away from its full aging potential.
- 2009 Domaines Schlumberger Riesling “Cuvee Ernest” Selection de Grains Nobles, Alsace, France $NA
Things don’t get a whole lot sweeter than this, in both senses of the word. For all of the sugar (nearly 110 g/l), it’s incredibly drinkable and actually kind of perky, with candied citrus and honey action for days. Named after M. Ernest Schlumberger, this is only the fifth vintage of the stuff since 1945.
The Elegant Takes
- 2013 Weingut Emmerich Knoll Ried Schutt Riesling Smaragd, Wachau, Austria, $50
Nectarines, limes, toast, wet rocks, a fairly voluptuous body (in Riesling terms, that is), and a very consistent (and consistently persistent) impression from start to finish.
- 2015 Mari Vineyards “Scriptorium” Riesling, Old Mission Peninsula, Michigan, $NA
This is the first vintage made of this particular wine, which made me shake my head – in a good way – at how damned poised and solid of an effort it is. The name of the game here is tension: between opulent and racy, fruity and mineral.
- 2010 Hugel & Fils “Grossi Laue” Riesling, Alsace, France, $50
Another first release, and another excellent one. The length of the finish alone makes this one worth the fifty clams; adding the mineral, floral, lemon-drop-filled aromas, tropical fruit flavors, and linear, focused palate seals the deal.
- 2014 Carl von Schubert Maximin Grunhauser Abtsberg Riesling Kabinett, Mosel, Germany, $30
This is on the off-dry side of Kabinett, and comes with the subsequent extra sense of richness. That this wine, which I adored, is under $50 pleases me to no end. It’s gorgeous; citric, mineral, and very floral, with a mouthfeel that’s finessed, toasty, and almost electric.
The Sexy M-Fs
- 2011 Battenfeld-Spanier Nieder-Florsheimer Frauenberg Riesling Grosses Gewachs, Rheinhessen, Germany, $40
Essentially unpronounceable if you don’t speak German, you certainly don’t have to be German to drink this bedroom-eyed white. There are plenty of mature notes already in this – smoke, toast, spice – but the stone fruits and minerals are strutting their stuff here, too.
- 2010 Weingut Robert Weil Kiedricher Grafenberg Riesling Beerenauslese, Rheingau, Germany, $180
One of the few wines that I actually called correctly. The finish is so long, and so good, it’s like two straight days of foreplay and sex. Smokey, spicy, full of bold stone fruit and petrol aromas, it’s about as straight-on seductive as Riesling gets.