Chateau Ste. Michelle hosted its third “Riesling Rendezvous” at the Hyatt Regency Bellevue, Washington, Sunday 7/11-Tuesday 7/13. Lynda Eller, Communications Director of Ch. Ste. Michelle, explained that even though the event was enlarged this year to a capacity of 250 (producers, trade, media and a few consumers), more than doubling what it was the first year in 2007, it sold out the first week of June.
A highlight of the event was the outdoor walk-around tasting at the Chateau on Sunday afternoon from 5-8PM, which featured 600 consumers, media, trade and producers (up 50 from 2008). It was a riesling lover’s dream, with dozens of rieslings in all styles and from all major regions of the world. Nearly 70 producers from six countries and seven U.S. states participated.
One big improvement in the Grand Tasting this year was how many North American rieslings were included, with significant contingents from Oregon, New York’s Finger Lakes, Michigan, and Washington State, as well as British Columbia, Ontario and California and even New Jersey (!)
The broadening of the North American contingent showed everyone how high the quality has grown in the regions across the continent, as well as how regional terroir is being expressed.
One impressive example was the riesling from Alba Vineyards in New Jersey. This wine is from the Warren Hills AVA in the cool north of the state and has Old World minerality. A rare and very impressive treat was the Dr. Konstantin Frank, 08 Riesling, Finger Lakes (AVA), Bunch Select Late Harvest, made in the traditional German trockenbeerenauslese style. The nose was reminiscent of Tokaij Aszu, with dried apricot, mineral/smoke and creme brulee. On the palate, the wine was sweet but elegant and exquisitely balanced.
Wines from Ontario, Finger Lakes and Michigan impressed conference attendees in the two major tasting sessions (dry wines on Monday, off-dry wines on Tuesday). Frequently in the past it has been relatively easy at Riesling Rendezvous to distinguish Old World from New World rieslings (although it can be hard to describe the difference). This year, one of the unexpected pleasures was finding high-quality wines from the New World that the audience (and panelists) were divided on whether they thought they were Old or New World.
Examples of North American rieslings not from the West Coast that impressed the attendees included: for dry styles, Ch. Grand Traverse Old Mission Peninsula riesling 2008; Henry of Pelham Speck Family Reserve riesling, Short Hills Bench, Niagara Peninsula ON; for off-dry styles, two Finger Lakes and one Ontario riesling had the audience split on Old vs. New World origin, but everyone was impressed with the quality. The first was the Cave Spring 2006 CSV, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula ON; followed by the 2007 Anthony Road Martini-Reinhardt Selection Reserve, and the 2009 Glenora Wine Cellars riesling, Finger Lakes.
Wines of Northern Michigan sponsored a lunch on Tuesday and had a vertical tasting at their booth, allowing attendees to see how the wines mellow and change with time, while racy fruit and acid balance are still retained.
One seminar topic at the conference was ageability of riesling. Etienne Hugel, from the eponymous Alsatian wine family, remarked that the two qualities that make riesling great are its compatibility with a wide range of foods, and its ability to age gracefully. For rieslings grown in classic cool climate regions, the harvest pH (around 3) and high acidity ensure that even with low alcohol, the wines will last for years if not decades if well cellared.
This point was developed by two Finger Lakes wineries last May. That month is riesling month in the Finger Lakes, and Lucas Vineyards (Cayuga Lake) and Fox Run Vineyards (Seneca Lake) both presented vertical tastings of rieslings from their cellars, from current (even pre-releases) back to the fine, warm 2001 vintage.
For those who are fans of classic riesling, no matter the region, it’s worth considering when you buy riesling (especially from Eastern wineries who will sell out quickly), to lay a bottle or two down to age in a good cellar from every vintage. In the first two years after release, riesling is forward, fruity and juicy. After that it will lose some of that freshness and go into a trough. After 7-10 years, the wine emerges with more evolved aromatics that are different from fresh fruitiness, with mineral and petrol complexities, but with more depth and rich dimension than when young. Well-cellared, these wines can last a decade or more, and reward the patient wine lover with complexity that can’t be found in current releases. Here are tasting notes for the wines in these two Finger Lakes vertical tastings. It’s interesting that for that classic riesling region, cool and warm vintage rieslings are both good but with different characteristics.
FOX RUN RIESLING VERTICAL 5/10
Bouquet: lanolin, yellow apple and peach, with some smoke and mineral in the background. On the palate, full and round ripe yellow apple, peach with some mango, leading to a dry but mellow and lingering finish. Elegantly balaced between fruit, alcohol and acid, holding well. A ripe, full-bodied style with generous fruit, texture and dimension. This vintage was the “sun child” style.
Nose: taut, vibrant and racy; full of green apple, lime and mineral/shale with a bit of smoke. Palate: like flavors of lime and green apple with a very vibrant mineral/shale acidity in the finish. It drinks like it’s three or four years old, and has the chemistry to last another decade or more. Drinks like an Eden or Clare Valley riesling from Australia.
Lively and complex bouquet of lime, passionfruit, and slate with a whiff of petrol. Lots of lime, grapefruit/ citrus on the palate with vibrant acidity, yet a broad round smooth mid-palate and a lively long finish of lime, mineral/slate and green apple. Very stylish, still young and with lots of life and evolution ahead. This wine reflected the wet, cool vintage with high acid and citrus fruits; the “moon child” style.
This was a hot vintage, like 2002 or 2001; generally alcohol levels rose while acid levels fell, resulting in a lot of flabby, bland rieslings. This one is a happy exception. The nose is subtle and intriguing, with yellow apple, spicy pear, and mineral/smoke elements. On the palate, the wine is well-integrated with a smooth, refreshing texture and a clean, cool finish; outstanding for cooling down in hot weather. Interestingly, although the wine is 12% alcohol, the acid and cool fruit character prevent any heat or coarseness. Quaffable yet elegant.
2008 Seneca Lake Estate Reserve Dry
The semi-dry non-reserve below is easier to taste at this point. This wine is serious and almost Wagnerian in its remote austerity. The nose is not fruit-forward but has some typical Finger Lakes apple notes, almost dried apples. On the palate, the texture is complex; round and full in the mid-palate, then tight and racy in the finish with brisk lemon/citrus acidity and minerality. This is bone dry, but opens to layers of dimension and flavors of ripe apple and pear with lemon hints, but the texture is multi-dimensional too. Will likely develop flavor-wise similar to the semi-dry (below) but with more depth and dimension. A wine to lay down for five years or more for the full experience.
Medium-gold color (some ullage). From color and condition of the cork, possibly oxidized some. Nose: Rich and complex; butterscotch, honey, mineral, smoke with yellow apple and peach notes. Palate: spicy pear and yellow apple, with yeast/biscuit crust in the background, full and round, dryish, with apple, pear and apricot flavors with a crisp cinnamon crème brulee hint lingering in a clean finish. A bit short and compact but a large mid-palate. This bottle fading.
A mature, complex nose of mineral/shale, ripe yellow apple, smoke and petrol. Rich and round on the palate though finishing with bright crisp acidity, with flavors of yellow apple and white peach, with a citrus lemon/lime finish. Dryish, but full and balanced with lovely integration of mineral, fruit and acid elements.
2006 (Reserve, Estate Seneca Lake AVA)
Nose: exotic tropical fruit cornucopia of white peach, mango, and nectarine with a hint of smoke/petrol. This is a Zydeco riesling (If you don’t know Zydeco, visit the Crescent City, and I don’t mean Mecca). Palate: the Zydeco theme continues: juicy, Phat texture, a riot of white tropical fruits—peach, star fruit, passion fruit, etc. with a rockin’ Zydeco beat, and syncopated acidity jumpin’ on the percussion for a lively finish. A full, rich wine only now coming out of its shell with years (maybe decades) of life ahead of it. “C’est bon!”
A cool vintage produced a lean, steely, racy wine at first, with lots of bright white fruits (star fruit, yellow apple, white peach and yellow plum) with firm lemon/lime acidity. [on first opening] the nose is largely closed and hard to reach. On the palate, the wine is mostly textural now; firm slate/mineral and green apple, followed by exotic tropical and citrus fruit (like kumquat and tangerine) that linger in the finish, taking the wine from the ordinary lime/mineral to an exotic land of vibrant fruit/acid balance. Being semi-dry this wine has a nice plumpness that fleshes out the tight acidity well. A wine (and vintage) to watch.
LUCAS VINEYARDS (Cayuga Lake) VERTICAL TASTING 5/10
Lucas Vineyards held a vertical tasting of rieslings, also dating to 2001, for members of its wine club, which I attended shortly after the conclusion of IEWC where I had tasted the Fox Run riesling vertical with the judges. Winemaker Jeff Houck chose to feature only the semi-dry versions, which he (and many others) feels tend to taste better with age than the dry rieslings.
2001 (second-ranked favorite of the group): Light gold/medium straw color; nose reminiscent of the Ruwer, with white flowers and hay with a slight hint of petrol. On the palate, peach, pineapple and mango fruits hold forth but feels mostly dry; still holding well.
2002: pale color, some sulphur, seems reductive (could be Atypical Aging Syndrome from a drought year); fading.
2003: A dark color, bit of oxidized “bruised apple” on the nose; fading on the palate.
2004: Color medium straw. Green/yellow apple notes on the nose, much like the ’03. Palate: nice slate/mineral notes, vibrant acidity but fruit fades out.
2005: (favorite ranked of the group): Complex mineral Mosel-like nose, yellow apple notes. Palate: fine yellow apple/white peach flavors with fine acidity and a long finish.
2006: Color looks oxidized. Nose: Nice Saar/Ruwer notes of mineral, yellow apple. Palate: Racy, tight, high acid, needs time, drinks a lot like a fine Saar riesling.
2007: V. pale, hint of sulphur in the nose with green apple and mineral. Palate: closed, touch of sulphur, still tightly wound, needs time.
2008: Nose: very closed and tight, with sulphur notes. Saar-like green apple and white flowers. Palate: yellow apple and white peach, good acid, still young; needs time.
2009 Reserve (not yet released): Nose: very Mosel-like; racy, tight, slate/mineral notes with hints of sulphur; lots going on. Palate: racy, green apple and mineral/slate, fresh, tight, long finish with lingering flavors of pink grapefruit. Very impressive but will need a couple of years to realize its full potential. For me, this is the star of the cool vintages (2001 and 2005 the stars of the warm vintages), but this isn’t a quaffing wine for “girly men” as the Governator says; if he drank white wine, this would be it (until he found out it wasn’t from Caleefornia).