36 hours, 50 pages of notes, and more than 100 Rieslings later, what can I tell you about the City of Riesling celebration in Traverse City, Michigan?
For one, events like this are really a must for those who might be in the business of selling or serving wine professionally. Restaurateurs, Sommelliers, Wine Stewards, or Wine Geeks in general - you name it, these events are immersive and very educational.
Different grapes frequently suffer from misconceptions: Rosés, because of their association with ‘blush’ wines such as White Zinfandel are often dismissed as being too sweet – which is hardly the case with most, which are usually quite dry.
Carmenère, a dry red from Chile, can have a “green” note on the finish, if it isn’t ripened properly, and Chardonnay at one time was vinified to be overly ripe and flabby, such that there was an ABC movement – Anything But Chardonnay.
With Riesling, there has frequently been the expectation that we are going to be drinking wines that are medium-sweet. There is nothing wrong with wines of that kind, and it is a style that was very popular back in the day.
In Traverse City, the Rieslings tasted were pre-dominantly dry, or if not fairly dry, had the necessary acidity to bring the wine into balance. At last year’s event, Californian winemakers referred to Riesling as “Vitamin R”, because it was occasionally blended judiciously with Chardonnays that needed an acidic jolt.
Speaking of “acidity”, I was surprised at one of the seminars when a professional Sommelier reacted to my mentioning it. Many of the Riesling producers provided the number of grams of sugar per litre, the PH, (acid to base balance) and the tartaric acid levels. But from a “selling point” in restaurants, apparently, mentioning acidity seemed to be a ‘No-no’.
As far as I am concerned, it can be helpful for consumers to understand what it is that makes a wine taste good, and acidity is critical. I guess, however, that referring to it as “citrus” is more palatable than “acid” – though in the end, it is what it is, and it is essential.
One Oregon winery that gets it right is Anne Amie Vineyards, about 60 miles southwest of Portland. Winemaker Thomas Houseman, who prior to becoming a winemaker had pursued a career in Modern Dance, seems to have brought that artistic sensitivity to his winemaking as evidenced in his 2013 Riesling, one that retails for $20 U.S.
From dry-farmed (un-irrigated) vines, this wine had an intriguing impact, with a racy quality and fine texture. Harvested over a period of time, the fruit seems to have taken on some interesting characteristics, including a smokiness as well as a “marmalade” note- this is a term that Australian winemakers like to use rather than ‘petrol’ a common note in very good Rieslings. This was a wine that invited you back again and again.
One session, “The Joy of Sekt”, concentrated on Sparkling Wine – for which the German name is Sekt… you can understand the puns and innuendos. When it comes to sparkling wine, I must confess that the Rieslings in general didn’t captivate me. It may be a matter of personal taste, but I find that many Ontario examples made from grapes like Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, such as the Jackson-Triggs Entourage Grand Reserve, are more appealing.
Still, of those tasted in Traverse City, two of the best were actually made right in that area. The Shady Lanes Sparkling Riesling 2016, a wine made in the Charmat method which induces the carbonation under pressure as is the method for Prosecco, was balanced with an ample mousse (lots of bubbles!). It was just off-dry and quite flavourful.
The other favourite was the 2 lads MMVIII 2015, which had a persistent, fine mousse and positive fruit flavours which continue after you swallow. It was clean and mildly characterful. It retails for $30 U.S.
The highlight of the event was “The Berth and Ernie…and Hunter Show”. The panel consisted of Bob Bertheau of Chateau Ste. Michelle in Washington State, Ernst Loosen of Loosen Brothers in Germany’s Mosel Valley, and Hunter Smith of Frankland Estate in the Margaret River region near Perth on Australia’s western coast.
Of particular interest was Loosen’s efforts with the Urziger Wurzgarten old vine vineyard. The red volcanic soil is unique in the Mosel and is said to impart a spicy minerality to the wine.
Ernst Loosen explained how his grandfather would keep his best wines in barrel for 8 years, and now he himself is striving for four years on the lees before bottling. We were able to taste the 2014, which has had one year of the lees, the 2013, with two, and the Hommage 2012 with a full three years in traditional wooden casks. In addition, the wines have extended time in the bottle prior to release.
The first was honeyed and lush, despite being dry, and was deftly knit and elegant. The second was rich, bright and lively with magnificent extraction and an amazing mouthfeel. The third was a bit softer but it still dances with exciting breadth and depth. These ae the kinds of wines that shatter any preconceptions one might have about Riesling, especially about their potential for quality and longevity.
Two of Loosen’s wines are widely available now, with a third being released in Vintages on July 7. Loosen Up, $13.95, is ideal for these hot summer days, with only 8.5% alcohol, off-dry sweetness, and an acidity that sings with a hint of effervescence.
Dr. L Sparkling Riesling, $14.95, carries this description from the Wine Enthusiast: - “exuberant green floral perfume, melon and peach abound. It's delicate in mousse with soft, persistent bubbles and deeply penetrating flavors of stone fruit and tangerine. Vibrant and spine-tingling.” Score - 91.
Coming next week is Loosen Brothers Dr. L Riesling 2016, $14.95, again hailed by the Wine Enthusiast –“ Tangerine and green apple flavors are crisp and concentrated, showered in streams of lime acidity and cool mineral sensation.” – 90.
The Rheingau is considered the very heart of Germany’s Rhine region, and Balthasar Ress Von Unserm Rheingau Trocken Riesling 2015, $21.95, will also be available July 7. This one, says the Wine Enthusiast, “pulsates tones of steel and stone”. Green apple, fresh herb, lime and lemon, precision and power are other terms mentioned in the review – 91.
For versatility, breadth of style, and quality, as writer Dan Berger put it, Riesling may well deserve being called “the greatest wine grape in the world.”
Having said that, I must also mention that just as Riesling was celebrated in Michigan, Ontario will again host its International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration (i4C) In Niagara from July 20 to 22. There are many events, including tastings and dinners, along with the “School of Cool” a tasting and panel discussion revolving around Chardonnay winemaking. Visit coolchardonnay.org for information and ticket availability.
On The Shelves
Over the past couple of weeks I have tried a number of wines on the general list that are worth seeking out.
Black Tower Dornfelder Pinot Noir, $11.25, isn’t exactly a wine one would pay much attention to, in that it’s a German red made from a hybrid that few recognize – Dornfelder, though the Pinot Noir is no stranger. Still, this has bright fruit flavours and a degree of softness thanks to 13 grams of sugar per liter- it is still dry, but smooth. You could serve this ever so slightly chilled with a good Italian or German sausage right off the grill.
JP Azeitão Red 2017, $9.35, from Portugal has yummy flavours thanks to the great red grapes- Syrah, Castelão and Aragonez (Tempranillo) – dark satisfying fruit and decent depth characterize this wine. Perfect, no, but hard to beat at the price.
Lamberti Santepietre Pinot Grigio 2016, $14.70, is a good white to see you through the sweltering weather. It has notes of lemon drop and peach with enough substance to support it through to a crisp finish.
Leonardo Chianti Fiasco, $2 0ff at $14.25 until July 22, comes in a squat, straw-covered flask, or “fiasco”. The packaging is a throw-back to when all the Chianti we saw here was packaged that way, and considered ‘cheap’. The packaging honours tradition, but the enjoyable wine inside is velvety smooth with ripe tannins and tart cherry notes.
In Vintages, if you want to enjoy an exceptional red, consider the Robert Mondavi Maestro 2014, $59.95, from California’s Napa Valley. The “maestro” refers to Robert Mondavi himself, who was the driving force behind Napa’s rise to prominence as a producer of great wines. Part of the fruit comes from Mondavi’s To-Kalon Vineyard, one of the most prized in the Napa Valley. There is terrific depth and brooding density here, with dark fruit, and deep soft texture. Elusive hints of spice and herb chocolate and sage play at the edges, but in all sipping this wine is a unified and “fully together” experience. By itself or with a perfectly prepared steak, this is a wine to savour and appreciate.
July 7 Vintages Release
Thierry Delaunay Touraine Sauvignon Blanc 2017, $16.95, from France’s Loire region, promises the grassiness and gooseberry notes for which this grape is famous, as well as mineral notes and peach and tropical flavours.
Mas Des Bressades Cuvée Traditoin Blanc 2017, $17.95, is a Rhone white made from Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Roussane and Viognier. It promises tropical fruit including banana and pineapple, and has a rich texture, finishing with some crunch at the end.
Maycas Del Limari Limestone Coast Reserva Especial Chardonnay 2016, $22.95, from Chile: “A dense and fruity white with hints of sliced apples, lemons and stones” – 93 –James Suckling.
Cabriz Rosé 2017, $13.95, hails from Portugal and is made from traditional red varietals. Vintages says they produce “intense red cherry, strawberry and raspberry tones with a bright juicy food-friendly acidity.”
Chateau D’Aquéria Tavel 2017, $23.95, is full bodied and dry, an outstanding example of the Tavel wines which are exclusively rosé. With 92 points from the Wine Advocate, this wine provides us with the opportunity to understand what the best rosés can truly offer.
Messer Del Fauno Negroamaro 2017, $13.95, from Puglia is new to vintages. On the nose expect ripe cherry, tar, and even eucalyptus. Bright fruit, juicy texture and good acidity characterize this interesting and affordable red.
Casa de Cambres Reserva Red 2011, $14.95, is a mature Portuguese red at a bargain price. Vintages alludes to “superb structure and grip. Purple fruit, dark berry and earth with some herbal tones ride a crisp seam of acidity that keeps this feeling quite juicy.”
Chateau de Cranne 6ème Génération 2014, $17.95, from Bordeaux “is a rich wine with smooth tannins and plenty of spice. The wood-aging flavors are already integrated into the generous black fruits and concentrated structure.” –Wine Enthusiast – 90.