Tasting Reviews

New Zealand Riesling Challenge Wines in Wellington

The inaugural New Zealand Riesling Challenge from the 2010 vintage was indeed the start of an intriguing project. (The details of the event can be seen at www.rieslingchallenge.co.nz). For wine consumers, the question is will can the expression of Waipara terroir in Riesling be sufficiently resilient when the fruit is interpreted and made in different ways by a dozen different winemakers. The results of the official judgement conducted in December last year revealed the winners, firstly Matt Donaldson of Pegasus Bay, then Matt Dicey of Mt Difficulty and third Mike Brown of Golden Hills Estate. But little has been said on the subject of how faithful the 12 wines were in retaining their Waipara-ness. A group of Wellington wine trade tasters led by Richard Ellis and Jeff Warburton tasted the New Zealand Riesling Challenge wines to investigate this aspect of the wines as well as seeing if the original results would be replicated. For interest, three interlopers were inserted into the group of wines, masking 15 wines served in three flights of five. The wines were tasted blind and the identities revealed at the end of the tasting.  I was one of the tasters, and my brief comments follow:

Flight One
First wine up was the New Zealand Riesling Challenge ‘Duncan Forsyth' Waipara Riesling 2010 (18.5-/20), a wine with tight, lime and mineral aromas and a dry, crisp palate showing bold lime sherbet fruitiness, excellent acidity, and very good line and length. This was a powerful wine with exemplary fruit. Benchmark Riesling. ‘Dry' on the IRF scale, and 12.5% alc. Duncan Forsyth is from Mount Edward in Central Otago. Next was the New Zealand Riesling Challenge ‘Paul Bourgeois' Waipara Riesling 2010 (16.0-/20), showing herbal and nectarine-like fruit aromas, possibly brought out by some reduction. Dry on palate, this displayed unusual cool, herbal fruit characters, quite fulsome, allied to racy acidity. ‘Dry' on the IRF scale, and 12.5% alc. Paul Bourgeois is from Spy Valley in Marlborough. The New Zealand Riesling Challenge ‘Simon McGeorge' Waipara Riesling 2010 (17.5+/20) had a very fine, delicate, but beautiful nose of limes, lemon, minerals and honey. Off-dry to taste this was very refined and a little shy in flavour, lime and honey showing, with soft acidity and a smooth, lush texture. The finish is carried a little by the residual sugar. Between ‘Dry' and ‘Medium-Dry' on the IRF scale and 12.8% alc. Simon McGeorge is from Waipara Hills in Waipara. Then followed a ‘ring-in', a Leo Buring Clare Valley Dry Riesling 2010 (18.0+/20), at 11.5% alc. Tight and intense with strong, nearly raw citrus and lime aromas. Very dry to taste, this was somewhat austere, with tight, but very intense lime fruit characters on the palate. Very fine textured, this displayed some real power, and toasty elements were appearing, adding interest and complexity. Drink over the next 5-7 years. Final in this flight was the New Zealand Riesling Challenge ‘John Forrest' Waipara Riesling 2010 (16.5+/20), with a firm, tight nose with savoury, flinty elements to the white stonefruits and citrus. Off-dry to taste, this had gentle, but exotically nuanced flavours of citrus and tropical fruits, good weight and soft, fine textures, the finish a little sugary. 'Medium-Dry' on the IRF scale and 12.0% alc. John Forrest is from Forrest Estate in Marlborough.

Flight Two
Leading this group of wines was the New Zealand Riesling Challenge ‘Ant Mackenzie' Waipara Riesling 2010 (16.5/20), showing elegant, inviting mandarin and ripe citrus fruit aromas on a dryish palate featuring high, searing acidity. This seemed ‘electric' and needed time to settle. ‘Medium-Dry' on the IRF scale, and 12.4% alc. Ant Mackenzie is at Te Awa in Hawke's Bay. This was followed by the New Zealand Riesling Challenge ‘Matt Dicey' Waipara Riesling 2010 (18.5/20), fine, tight and intense on nose with wonderful purity of lime fruit and minerals. Medium in sweetness to taste, this displayed classic Waipara terroir with flavours of citrus fruit, blossom and honeysuckle. Though the acidity was bracing, the wine was soft and fine textured, and had excellent line and length. Between ‘Medium-Dry' and ‘Medium-Sweet' on the IRF scale, and at 12.0% alc. Matt Dicey is at Mt Difficulty in Central Otago. Also well-rated by me was the New Zealand Riesling Challenge ‘Mike Brown' Waipara Riesling 2010 (18.0-/20), elegant and honied with sherbetty, pear aromatics, almost showing late-harvest characteristics. Medium to taste, this had lovely depth and concentration of citrus fruits, honey and ripe mandarins on a firmish palate with some light phenolic textures and grip. Between ‘Medium-Dry' and ‘Medium-Sweet' on the IRF scale, and at 12.0% alc. Mike Brown is at Golden Hills Estate in Nelson. The New Zealand Riesling Challenge ‘Jules Taylor' Waipara Riesling 2010 (17.0/20) was somewhat austere on nose, with minerally characters alongside an unusual, intriguing soapy element. Medium on palate, this had luscious but linear flavours of citrus fruit and honey, the acidity rather brash and the finish showing the residual sugar. Nevertheless attractive and appealing. Entering the ‘Medium-Sweet' level on the IRF scale, and at 11.5% alc. Jules Taylor is at Jules Taylor Wines in Marlborough. The last wine in the flight was the interloping Greywacke Marlborough Riesling 2009 (17.5/20), showing complex Euro-funkiness on the nose, indigenous yeasts, solids? and toasty complexities on an elegant bouquet. Off-dry to medium on palate, this had softly expressed secondary flavours appearing. Kero and toast, some soft textural grip, but a Germanic lusciousness and good balancing acidity. 11.7% alc. and 20 g/L rs.

Flight Three
The first wine in this group was my (and the group's) pick of the 12 Challenge wines. The New Zealand Riesling Challenge ‘Matt Donaldson' Waipara Riesling 2010 (19.0/20) had beautifully refined, but complex layered and delicate aromas of lime fruit, lemons and orange blossom. Medium-sweet on palate, this was rich and lush on the palate with a marvellous interplay of citrus fruits, florals and honey. Vibrant, racy acidity provided the balance to the opulence. On the sweeter side of ‘Medium-Sweet' on the IRF scale, and at 10.0% alc. Some freeze concentration was employed. Matt Donaldson is at Pegasus Bay in Waipara. Next was the New Zealand Riesling Challenge ‘Patrick Materman' Waipara Riesling 2010 (16.0/20), with tight, dense and concentrated aromas of limes with some nutty reduction resulting in a firmness. Medium dry on palate, some reduction has hidden the fruit and hardened the textures, resulting n a firm, solid wine. There was suspicion of a little oxidation. Maybe a lesser bottle. More than ‘Medium-Sweet' on the IRF scale, and 10.5% alc. Patrick Materman is at Pernod-Ricard in Marlborough. Next was the non-Challenge wine, a H. Thanisch-Erben Bernkasteler Badstube Riesling Kabinett 2007 (17.5+/20), at 9.0% alc., possessing lush, honied aromas with limes and intense kero and toast notes. Medium-dry to taste, this had musky and exotic floral, mineral and nutty flavours with toasty secondary elements along with high acidity, fairly racy and creating excellent tension. This was followed by the New Zealand Riesling Challenge ‘Simon Waghorn' Waipara Riesling 2010 (17.5-/20), with a full, voluminous bouquet of lime fruits with spice notes and herbs, this was medium to taste, quite lively on palate with soft, gentle mandarin-like fruit and hints of honey. An elegantly sized wine. ‘Sweet' on the IRF scale nd at 9.5% alc. Simon Waghorn is at Astrolabe in Marlborough. The final wine of the flight and the tasting was the New Zealand Riesling Challenge ‘Larry McKenna' Waipara Riesling 2010 (15.5-/20), very tight and shy, with light lime fruit aromas, somewhat spoiled by oxidation. Medium to taste, this had an amalgam of subdued lime fruit with oxidation marring and preventing the full expression. Not quite the liveliness, and residual sugar apparent. This may have had a faulty scewcap closure? ‘Sweet' on the IRF scale and at 9.0% alc. 55 g/L rs. Larry McKenna is at The Escarpment Vineyard, Martinborough.
The tasting group was very pleased to see the top two wines of the night were the same as the top two in the original judging in December 2010. However, even more pleasing was the recognition of expression of a Waipara Riesling terroir character and style that was prevalent across all of the Waipara wines, regardless of who was making them. Soft, delicate and subtle lime flowers, mandarin and blossom aromatics and flavours are consistently seen in almost all of the wines. For the most part, soft acidity, matching the delicacy of the fruit was another feature. Of course winemaker signature plays a major role in the stylistic, if not qualitative outcome of the wines, and these influences are apparent. It will take a number of vintages of this Riesling Challenge to determine how strongly either terroir or signature are expressed and to what degree. Roll on 2011!
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