I pulled out ‘the good stuff’ when the parents were here last week. When Jancis Robinson declared earlier this year that the Tantalus Riesling 2008 was Canada’s best white wine, I managed to snag a half case plus several other vintages and bottles to make up the twelve. And I’ve been hoarding it ever since.
Riesling is an often mispronounced and misunderstood wine grape, but it’s immensely versatile and capable of producing wines that span the spectrum of possibility – from bone dry to late harvest sweet wines with racy acidity that can last for decades.
One of its parents is Gouais Blanc, also a parent of other noble varieties Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Riesling does not like being with oak and tends to be low in alcohol and is not always considered very fashionable because of this.
However, in earlier times, back in the 1800s for example, Rieslings were valued because their acidity could enable them to age for decades regardless of how sweet they were or their alcohol levels.
Being sweet may also have eventually damaged the reputation of this grape’s wines because that is often (erroneously) equated with lesser quality. Riesling is capable of producing top notch botrytized icewines, Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese style wines (try saying that 10x in a row) because its bunches are tight and this makes the grapes susceptible to botrytis and other infections. It buds late so can avoid spring frosts but ripens early meaning it can be picked sooner.
This grape is the main noble varietal of Alsace and the first records of it being planted there date back to 1628. In Germany, it has been cultivated since the Middle Ages and today comprises 80% of plantings in the Rheingau, but its German showcase are the steep south facing slopes of the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer where 25% of the vines are Riesling planted on red and blue slate soils that warm the vines during cool evenings.
Riesling is noted for its rapier-like aromas – flowers, steel, honey and if you’re lucky, a whiff of kerosene or petrol. This is released by something called TDN – ‘Tri-methyl-dihydronapthalene’ – which evolves with age and is considered highly valuable by cork dorks.
This version by Tantalus is clear and bright, medium gold with legs. On the nose, it’s clean and has pronounced developing aromas of wet rocks (the steely scent mentioned above), minerals, blossom, quince, pomelo, a splash of lime zest and petrol.
The palate is off dry with medium minus alcohol and the grape’s signature high acidity. The body is medium minus and the flavours are pronounced – white flowers, bergamot lime, ripe yellow apple, Granny Smith, more quince and a ripe Okanagan pear. The wet rocks and minerals round it off with the kerosene and a strong medium + finish.
The top end of WSET ‘very good’, this is a wine that could age for 5-8 years with the fruit and acidity to develop the TDN flavours and aromas but it’s drinking absolutely beautifully now.