After 100 plus days in lockdown – in Auckland – it was great to be back into wine tasting and judging mode these last few weeks. After an overnight trip to Waiheke Island and then a visit to (a mostly closed) Wellington and (gloriously open and vibrant) Martinborough, it was a good call to host another Top 10 Tasting early in 2022. It almost felt like a celebration.
Riesling is one of New Zealand’s hidden gems. I’m delighted to say that we had a really good representation from across the regions, and an excellent number of wines to try. I always say it is a hard decision to choose just our Top 10, but this time it felt really cruel to be leaving the last four or five wines that came in places 11 to 15 off the Top 10 list – the standard across the board was super-high.
Pre-tasting, and settling in with an excellent benchmark wine – a 2019 Joh. Jos. Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett from Mosel – we did discuss the wide range of styles that are made from this varietal. We argued that a ‘dry’ style has to work just a little harder then a ‘medium’ version – with the added sweetness making the wines more palatable, and easier to love. A very austere bone-dry expression will often blossom in time – turning into a gorgeous 10-year old bottle – but might be a tougher ask on release – compared to a version with 20-30 grams of residual sugar to round out the edges and balance the acidity?
Across this tasting, we were looking at wines that ranged from under 1 gram, to over 80 grams of residual sugar per litre. How those wines kept a balance was – to my mind – key. Rule no. 1 at WineFolio is “delicious”. And whether any wine is dry, medium or sweet – that is what we are on the search for.
Looking at the Top 10 results, the top three, and five of the Top 10, come from Central Otago. This is a powerhouse of Riesling. Alongside Pinot Noir, Central just does these two varietals beautifully, with conditions and sites just ideal for making world class wines from these two grapes. We also had three wines in the Top 10 from Marlborough’s top producers, and one each from Martinborough and North Canterbury. To my mind, where you’ll find good Pinot, you’ll find good Riesling being made. Again apologies to the producers who supplied excellent wines that just missed our Top 10, by fractions, from all our regions.
On to the wines…
Our winner… No.1 – Maude ‘Mt Maude Dry Riesling’ 2021
Vibrant aromatics, with a jazzy, exotic palate showing the perfect balance of ripe citrus fruit, spice, herbal-florals and acidity. A dry, serious expression – light on its feet but with a dazzling complexity. A saline and slatey minerality completes the picture. This should age majestically (but it’s gorgeous right now too).
The team at Maude had this to say about the vintage and the winning wine:
“The 2021 vintage growing season began early, thankfully not too early for the Mt Maude Vineyard (family owned & operated since 1994) which managed to miss the early October frost, bud bursting a few days later. Mid October also proved challenging for us, helicopter at the ready, narrowly avoiding another significant frost. Warmer Spring conditions followed, steady and even growth, flowering began in mid–November, whilst drawn out the flowering indicated healthier crop levels than the previous year.
Despite a couple of snow falls on surrounding hills during the latter part of the year, the frost risk was low. Warm, dry weather continued throughout the rest of the growing season and harvest began on our West Block of 0.5ha of 27 year old Riesling vines almost 2 weeks early, fruit ripened to perfection with bold interesting flavours”.
The harvest date was 23 April 2021, and 1639 were bottled on 23 July 2021. Residual sugar sits at 5.3 g/L with Alcohol of 12.5%, pH of 3.09 and acidity of 7.6 g/L.
No.2 – Dicey Riesling 2021
Lively, floral-led nose brimming with mandarin, grapefruit and lime leaf aromas. Elegant and balanced, with a swoon of sweetness to balance the pure acidity. Good weight and intensity into the palate. Honeycomb, beeswax texture and nuances towards the finish.
No.3 – Misha’s Vineyard ‘The Limelight’ 2019
Lots going on with this Bendigo wine. White cherry, pear, fennel and apricot flavours bursting from the glass. Unctuous, mouth-watering and pure through the palate. Real drive of acidity and fluidity, then ending quite ethereal and wispy – a storybook of a wine with real beginning, middle and end.
No.4 – Pegasus Bay Riesling 2019
Rich aromatics to this, with phenolics, floral and spices. Powerful, with a ripeness of stonefruit and citrus. Complex, with layers of flint, herbals and a pillowy texture that is offset with a lively spritz to the tongue. Great length to the finish.
No.5 – Mondillo Riesling 2021
A drier style for this pale and aromatic Riesling. A delicate opening with talc and candy floss, that quickly blooms, with a honeysuckle, orange blossom floral to the nose. Playful but with an underlying structure and poise. Lime sherbert, pear and quince. A bright lengthy finish, with more floral notes returning at the close.
No.6 – Greywacke Riesling 2020
Super personality to this one – some pithy, funky complexity on the nose. Pure citrus and ripe nectarine, with crushed herbs. Harmony of acidity and lush fruit. Some wet stone minerality and a waxy, lanolin texture completes a very rounded, intriguing wine.
No.7 – Butterworth Riesling 2021
This dry, delicate and young example could easily be overlooked, but it has potential plus. Good structure, balance and bones are overlaid with crisp apple, citrus and floral characters. Dried fruit – mango and guava, with verbena and marigold flowering herbals. Ripe, bright and well worth spending time on. Bright future ahead for this one
No.8 – Domain Road ‘Duffers Creek’ Riesling 2018
Another example with real soul. Chamomile, meyer lemon, red apple and spring flowers on the nose. Dry, taut and concentrated, with an intensity and zestiness that gives real tension against the fruit and the acidity. A saline and mineral chalkiness also. Excellent length.
No.9 – Fromm ‘Spatlese’ Riesling 2021
Citrus, apple sherbert, ginger and lime flowers on the nose. Smells super sweet. Structured and elegant with a clarity and purity of acidity that tempers the sweetness shining through. An interesting, drying, coppery, good-bitterness note adds immense interest and edge to what is a confidently well-balanced wine.
No.10 – Astrolabe ‘The Farm’ Riesling 2019
Nashi pear, apple and lemon mingle with aromas of honey and rose petals on the nose. Dry, light bodied, with a delicacy that flits across the palate. Beautifully balanced and subtle, yet showing an intensity of acidity that is bracing – briney and flinty. Enigmatic and full of promise – a wine you can be really spend time with.