I love Riesling. It’s one of the purest expressions of the winemaking art and probably the white varietal, I drink the most of. It doesn’t see oak, and what you get in the vineyard usually translates into the bottle. The Bench area of Niagara along the base of the escarpment is abundant in limestone that tends to bring out steely minerality in this amazing grape. And contrary to what most folks think, it ages quite well. This interesting point was recently brought home at a special tasting hosted by Vineland Estates Winery in Niagara.
Vineland is one of the pioneers of Riesling here in Ontario. In fact the Weis family of Mosel, Germany, were the founders of the winery and planted the Weis 21 Riesling clone, brought from their homeland, on the 75 acre St. Urban Vineyard on the property from 1979 to 1981. Many other Ontario wineries followed suit and utilized the clone. When Allan and Brian Schmidt, President and VP/Winemaker respectively of Vineland, invited the Wine Writers’ Circle to the winery to taste a vertical of their Riesling, dating back to 1989, it was a great opportunity to emphasize Riesling’s fabulous character and longevity. Although the labeling on their bottles has changed over the years, sometimes stating the vineyard name on the label and other times not, one thing has been consistent: the incredible quality of fruit this particular piece of land delivers and ultimately the wines made from it.
We started off with the 1989 Semi-Dry, St. Urban Vineyard (10.7% alc.) Medium golden straw in colour, this 23-year-old wine still showed life. Surprising honeyed peach marmalade, baked apple, light spice and minerality wafted out of the glass, still backed by tart acidity! (The Schmidt brothers may not recall, but as a member of the first ever VQA tasting panel here in Canada back in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s, I remember giving this particular wine VQA status when it was initially created.)
Next the 1993 Semi-Dry St. Urban Vineyard (10.9% alc.) from a cool, long growing season was interesting. Medium golden straw in colour, this wine showcased piney, kiwi, kerosene-like, lemon/lime acidity.
The 1995 Semi-Dry (11.8% alc.) from a very hot vintage, was medium golden straw in colour and really reflected the hot growing season with sherry-like oxidation, nutty baked apple and petrol notes.
The 2002 St Urban (11% alc.) followed. Pale golden straw in colour, this lean, very austere number sported steely minerality and citrus with slight petrol aromatics.
We then moved into the 2004 Reserve (11.5% alc.) Reserve wines are produced only in the best vintages with limited production. This straw coloured baby was chock full of limey, steely minerality, citrus and white peach. Beautifully balanced, slight residual sweetness added richness to the wine. Pretty darn tasty!
Moving up a step, we then dove into the 2008 Elevation (8.5% alc.) The fruit sourced for this level of wine comes from the highest spot on the property and is hand picked and hand sorted. This squeaky clean, impeccably balanced, pale straw wine exhibited perfect harmony between extract, sweetness, fruit and alcohol. Textbook, zesty, limey lemon, minerality, citrus and an interesting green tea note were overwhelming. Will age decades!
Not actually part of the vertical, but enjoyed over lunch afterward, the 2009 Semi-Dry (9% alc.) was simply delicious. Pale straw in colour with lovely lemony, lime, mineral, green apple, pear, white peach and elegant citrus complexity, it’s a steal for the money (approximately $13.95, LCBO).
We finished up with the 2011 Elevation (9.5% alc.) Although, there was a slight whiff of sulphur from recent bottling which will blow off over time, this pale straw offering shone bright with floral, white peach, steely, lemon/lime citrus, minerality, and crisp, driving acidity that should keep this vino going for a long time.