How does one of Niagara’s best Riesling-focused wineries improve upon an already stellar lineup of single-vineyard wines and estate bottlings?
If you’re Thirty Bench Wine Makers on the Beamsville Bench, the answer to that was crystal clear: add a sparkling Riesling to the mix.
For winemaker Emma Garner (pictured above), who likes to keep it interesting at Thirty Bench with surprises every vintage (the Wild Cask Riesling from 2015 comes to mind), a sparkling wine made with the estate’s signature Riesling was the perfect choice.
Bubbles in Niagara are hot right now, with wineries clamouring to add to their portfolios, and Thirty Bench decided that a traditionally-made Riesling, with a dosage of Steel Post Vineyard Riesling and lees aging for 11 months, fit nicely into the family.
“We’re just going for balance — dry, serious and focused,” says Garner as we begin a tasting of the estate’s new releases.
Here’s a review of the new sparkler along with the range of Rieslings and other wines upcoming (or already released) at the winery.
Note to readers: That provocative headline at the top of this post is actually inspired by a T-shirt I saw recently. I stand by it.
Thirty Bench Sparkling Riesling NV ($35, 90 points) — This bubbly is non-vintage but it is primarily from the 2013 vintage. It spent 11 months on the lees and has a dosage from Steel Post Vineyard Riesling. It’s lovely on the nose with lime, mineral, apple and toasty-baked bread notes. It has a gentle mousse and a range of citrus, grapefruit, and apple on the palate that’s bolstered by minerality and searing acidity.
Thirty Bench Small Lot Steel Post Riesling 2014 ($30, 91 points) — Most collectors of Thirty Bench single-vineyard Rieslings know instinctively to cellar these wines for a few years to let them round out and develop. These are serious wines, with depth, complexity and spark intellectual debate when you taste the three Small Lots side by side. The Steel Post has such depth on the nose with layers of lime, ripe apple, grapefruit and pure minerality. The electric acidity on the palate has “tension like a coiled spring,” says Garner, and flavours of lime, grapefruit and a subtle note of ginger. Age five to 10 years.
Thirty Bench Small Lot Wood Post 2014 ($30, 93 points) — Wood Post sat out the 2013 vintage as a single-vineyard offering with Garner making a “Wild Cask” Riesling from a blend of estate Riesling instead. The Wild Cask is back for 2015, with Triangle Vineyard taking a break. I’m glad Wood Post is back, this is the vineyard I am drawn to because it’s so damn good every time I taste it and it ages beautifully. The nose starts slow but builds as you swirl it in the glass and opens up to citrus and apple notes with fine minerality and salinity. It’s fully realized on the palate, a lush offering with some weight and power that drives the ripe range of fruits and leads to a long finish with lovely, defining minerals. A generous offering with electric energy. A beauty.
Thirty Bench Small Lot Triangle Vineyard Riesling 2014 ($30, 92 points) — Triangle offers immediate gratification or can be aged 5+ years. It is the wine in the trilogy that gets a lot of attention at the tasting bar because it shows well in its youth. The nose is more floral than the other two above and rocks with layers of citrus, apple and stony minerality. It has that ying-yang electric tension on the palate, a nice play between ripe citrus fruit and tart citrus acidity, and a true sense of place as these vines continue to mature and the winemaker hones her skill on picking the best parcels for the single-vineyard bottling.
Thirty Bench Small Lot Gewurztraminer 2015 ($30, 90 points) — The Small Lot Gew is back after a poor 2014 harvest (winter kill). The expressive nose shows gobs of grapefruit, lime, lychee, rose petals and ginger/nutmeg. It’s textured, somewhat viscous and rich on the palate with a layered array of ripe fruit and complex, exotic spices.
Thirty Bench Small Lot Rosé 2015 ($22, 88 points) — A blend of (wait for it) … Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. A big, juicy nose of raspberry, cotton candy, cherry, earth, loam and subtle herbs. It’s substantive (for a rosé) with ripe red fruits, earthiness and carries some weight through the finish.
Thirty Bench Small Lot Cabernet Franc 2013 ($45, 89 points) — A highly scented CF with notes of currants, barrel spices and earthy/herb bits. The palate reveals darker fruits of currants and blackberries with kirsch, pepper, licorice and stewed herbs all bolstered by racy acidity.
Thirty Bench Winermaker’s Red 2014 ($24, 88 points) — Made from the declassified Small Lot fruit, this blend has an attractive nose of plums, cassis, currants and spice. Fairly good balance on the palate with juicy fruits, some tannic structure and toasted oak spices.