By Rick VanSickle
Of all the wonderful wines that are crafted in Niagara, Riesling stands taller than all the others. â€¨ It is the one grape that thrives year after year in the soils and climate of Niagara’s unpredictable growing season. Seldom does a vintage pass by without yielding a bevy of beautiful Rieslings.
Whether it’s a hot season such as 2007, with its voluptuous and fleshy wines, or a cooler season such as 2008, with gorgeous flavours and mouth-watering acidity, Riesling seems to be the one constant when the quality of other varieties can vary vintage to vintage. â€¨ It is arguably Niagara’s most important varietal, and when it’s made right, nothing beats a glass of crisp Niagara Riesling.
A group of wine fans recently decided to find the most exciting Rieslings in Ontario and used Twitter (you can follow me at rickwine) as the sounding board. Once the call was put out to the Twitterverse, the favourites poured in. â€¨ Much debate raged. Different tasters liked different styles. Bench Rieslings have what some described as “terroir” while other Rieslings are fruit-driven.
About the only thing the tasters could agree on were the two leaders in the Ontario Riesling hierarchy — Cave Spring Cellars and Thirty Bench Wine Makers, both of which specialize in Riesling and have reputations staked on that grape. You can view full group results at www.spotlighttoronto.com. â€¨ What follows is a list of great Rieslings from Ontario, not the definitive list, but a great starting point.
Quintessential Rieslings â€” Two Riesling producers rise to the top of most tasters’ lists. Both Cave Spring Cellars and Thirty Bench Wine Makers have intense Riesling programs that represent all that is good about this variety in Niagara. Here are two of the best Rieslings made in Ontario:
Cave Spring Cellars CSV Riesling 2007 ($30, winery, Vintages) â€” A fabulous Riesling and a benchmark for this varietal in Niagara. It’s just now starting to open up with notes of honeysuckle, citrus, stoney mineral and white peach on the nose. It really shows its pedigree on the palate. A core of summer peach followed by grapefruit and a touch of sweetness that is balanced by moderate acidity.
Thirty Bench Wine Makers Small Lot Riesling The Wood Post 2008 ($30, winery, Vintages) â€” This single-vineyard Riesling from the famous trilogy at Thirty Bench is a blockbuster. It’s all about the minerality, the quince, the white peach and white flowers all neatly stitched together. It’s a layered, complex wine that combines citrus, wet stone and grapefruit. â€¨ New Kids on the Block– Riesling is a grape winemakers love to craft with. It can be so personable and unique from winery to winery. These two relatively new Rieslings show the creative side of Riesling.
Charles Baker Riesling 2007 ($35, available at Stratus) â€” Riesling purists love the minerality this grape can show and Vinemount Ridge, where these grapes were harvested, is always loaded with minerals that show from the opening sniff. What follows are nice lemon-citrus scents with a hint of diesel. The palate reveals grapefruit, peach and lemon-lime all in broad strokes. It’s a fleshy wine that gives generously.
Ravine Vineyard Riesling 2007 ($28, sold out but the 2008 should be released soon) â€” A lemon-lime-grapefruit powerhouse that draws its personality from 25% botrytis-affected grapes. This is such a unique and utterly profound wine with honey, mineral, peach, lime, quince flavours and wonderful mouth-feel. â€¨ Single-vineyard Rieslings– It is my opinion that Riesling is best expressed when picked in a single vineyard that shows unique personality. Here are a few to try.
Hillebrand Showcase Riesling Ghost Creek â€¨ Vineyard 2008 ($25, winery) â€” This wine possesses a sensational nose of white peach, pineapple, tropical fruits and a mineral edge. It’s downright electrifying on the palate, with bracing acidity followed by lime, citrus and peach all focused and pure in the mouth.
Creekside Butler’s Grant Riesling 2007 ($16, winery) â€” From a nice little vineyard on the Twenty Mile Bench, this is a unique expression of Riesling. The aromas range from grapefruit, honey and subtle petrol notes to ginger and peach. It reveals more citrus acidity than other ’07s, with gushing grapefruit and peach flavours and a balanced, playful interaction between sweet and tart.
Flat Rock Cellars Nadja’s Vineyard Riesling 2008 ($20, winery) â€” Another Riesling from the Twenty Mile Bench. It shows white peach, mineral, melon, citrus and apple notes on the nose. It’s made in a dry style that delivers precise citrus fruit on a backbone of acid. It’s tight and focused with a lemon zap on the finish. â€¨ A Riesling to watch– There’s no doubt Stratus is making some fine juice at its high-end artisanal Niagara-on- the-Lake winery. The grapes for its Riesling come from Vinemount Ridge, a mecca of sorts for this grape.
Stratus Riesling 2008 ($29, winery) â€” A refined Riesling with pretty aromas of grapefruit and peach in harmony. The laser sharp acidity of the vintage hits the palate with a juicy, mouth-watering citrus blast. This wine will improve with time in the cellar.
Some other great Rieslings â€” I’ve written up some other Rieslings lately that deserve to be on a list such as this. They include: â€¨ Tawse Wisner Vineyard Foxcroft Block Riesling 2008 ($22, winery), Fielding Estate Lot No. 17 Riesling 2008 ($25, winery), Calamus Estate Vinemount Ridge Riesling 2007 ($17, winery), Inniskillin Legacy Series Riesling 2008 (not yet released, $25-$30.) â€¨