It’s no secret that I love Riesling. I love everything about Riesling and every style it is made in. Just a few days ago, I picked up a cellar of wines that had a substantial collection of aged Riesling – and promptly opened a 1992 Leeuwin Estate Art Series Riesling, 1998 Pewsey Vale Riesling and 1995 Leo Buring Leonay Riesling – all still holding up beautifully. This got me thinking about 2019 Six Nations Wine Challenge, the mountain of admin and logistics ahead of me, and where the standout wines would come from this year.
I have found in discussions with Trade (Wine Retailers, Wholesalers, writers etc) as well as wine collectors, wine lovers & occasional drinkers over the past 3 years that the general awareness of Canadian wine is very low indeed (or at least on this side of the world). Most people don’t know that Canada produces wines – sure they’ve heard of Inniskillin, but that’s about all – disappointing, but equally exciting.
I sit in a very fortunate & unique position to be able to compile information first hand, as a result of the data at my disposal when running the Six Nations Wine Challenge (for those of you reading this but who don’t know about the Six Nations, please be sure to sign-up to be kept in the loop). So, It’s time to do my bit from this side of the world and tell everyone just how wonderful Canadian wine is… and not just Riesling! But more on that in future posts.
I want to keep these posts informative, interesting, entertaining and engaging. No cardigans here thanks! To set the scene, my desk is a complete mess – there are bottles pending write up encroaching on the space needed for my mouse, a few piles of paper, a cold coffee, PC cables everywhere… but some sweet rock n roll tracks (Stevie Nicks & Tom Petty, Led Zeppelin, Alice in Chains – for those playing at home) are filling the air on this wet & grey Sydney morning & I’m smiling! Let’s get into this.
Riesling – a snap shot.
Riesling is found within most winemaking regions around the world. This delicious variety is used in the production of dry wine and is equally well suited to dessert wine and Icewine. Its origins date all the way back to 15th century Germany. Recent technology has determined that one of the parents of Riesling is a grape called Gouais Blanc, a grape that is rarely found today.
Riesling produces a pale-coloured, light to medium-bodied white wine. It tends to have an initial signature aroma of petrol or gasoline, which gives way to very aromatic notes of pear, apple, nectarine, apricot, and hints of honey and ginger. Riesling wines are typically very high in acid; they are also often off-dry but can be produced in a dry style. Although Riesling is often consumed young, it has high acidity and can benefit from ageing. Riesling is very versatile in terms of food pairings, but tends to go especially well with spicy dishes – the acidity and sugar will balance out the heat.
The Niagara Peninsula is one of the most acclaimed grape-growing and winemaking regions in Canada. Many of the wineries are small, producing limited batches of wines available only at cellar door.
The large wineries in Niagara have made a huge impact for Canadian wine on the world stage over the years, paving the way for all producers – this impact continues to grow. At the 2018 Six Nations Wine Challenge, Thirty Bench Winemaker’s Blend Riesling 2016 took out the Trophy for best Riesling, second year in a row. In fact, Canada dominated this class with 6 Rieslings in top medal positions. A full list of Canadian winners with Judges Comments follows:
Trophy: Thirty Bench Winemaker’s Blend Riesling 2016 – Niagara Peninsula
- Michael Fridjhon (South Africa) – “Very good fruit, some terpenes, dry-ish”
- Patrick Comiskey (USA) – “Pineapple and apple, lean, dried apple finish”
- Christopher Waters (Canada) – “Fresh intense nose. Juicy and complex. Exciting style. Fresh and fleshy”
Runner Up Double Gold: Thirty Bench Small Lot Wood Post Riesling 2016 – Beamsville Bench
- Michael Fridjhon (South Africa) – “Ripe, sweetish, very good balance”
- Patrick Comiskey (USA) – “Raspy and grainy. Spiced apple. Med dry. Lovely depth and persistence, lingers on mouth beautifully. Fresh and looselimbed. “
- Christopher Waters (Canada) – “Bursting with ripe fruit. Delicious. Intense. Balance. Pure. Refreshing. Serious! “
Runner Up Double Gold: Two Sisters Riesling 2016 – Niagara Escarpment
- Michael Fridjhon (South Africa) – “Good melon terpene fruit, CO2 lifting fragrance”
- Patrick Comiskey (USA) – “Very nice. Peach and lemon, hint of wheat, med dry. Granular and fine, some savoriness in middle palate, dries out elegant on finish. Passion fruit and a volatile spice. Love how it finishes, sharp and on point”
- Christopher Waters (Canada) – “Juicy and balanced. Ripe core. Balance, Length, Intensity & Complexity off the charts. Complete”
Double Gold: Tawse Quarry Road Riesling 2016 – Vinemount Ridge
- Michael Fridjhon (South Africa) – “Fresh terpenes, hints of tobacco”
- Patrick Comiskey (USA) – “Scallion celery leaf. Onions and apples. Sort of a nice high toned apple flavor. Lean just off dry, nice zippy acid notes.”
- Christopher Waters (Canada) – “Ripe juicy expression. Mouthfilling fruit cup and honeyed sweetness. Germanic.”
Gold: Fielding Estate Riesling 2016 – Beamsville Bench
- Patrick Comiskey (USA) – “Scents of white stones and a hint of peach. Very satisfying palate of pear and apple, some weight, but dry. Dry and elegant, snappy, energetic, has an attractive snap to it.”
- Christopher Waters (Canada) – “Serious nose. Expressive. Sweet core. Harmony and balance.”
Gold: Flat Rock Cellars Nadja’s Riesling 2016 – Twenty Mile Bench
- Patrick Comiskey (USA) – “Celery, parsley. Nice quiet wine, pear and apple, whyaty phenolic granular texture.”
- Christopher Waters (Canada) – “Woodsy. Mineral. Serious nose. Sweet core of lemon/lime. Compact and harmonious. Fleshy and long.”
For our friends in Canada & USA, I would urge you to seek out these amazing wines, or better yet get in the car and visit these estates – support the winemakers! The the rest of us that have some significant distance in between us and Canada, get onto www.wine-searcher.com and see what maybe available online.
So, what is the secret to the success of this region?
The greater Niagara growing zone that includes Niagara Peninsula, Niagara Escarpment, Beamsville Bench, Vinemount Ridge, Twenty Mile Bench etc is one of Canada’s most important wine-growing regions. It is located on the southern shore of Lake Ontario. Chardonnay, Riesling and Pinot Noir are the most important grape varieties planted here, making elegant, age-worthy wines that are widely considered to be amongst the best in Canada.
The Niagara Escarpment landform is a 1000km long limestone ridge that begins in the US state of New York and runs through Ontario and Michigan before ending in Wisconsin. The escarpment is the result of gradually eroding rock, and is home to wine regions in both Canada and the US, although its most noted achievement is as the geological feature that gives rise to the world-famous Niagara Falls. (Wine-searcher)
Lake Ontario is located close to the growing areas and as a result, the vineyards benefit from the ‘lake effect’, where the waters of the lake are warmed in summer and cooled in winter. During the late summer, warm air over the lake rises, causing cooler air from the land to be sucked into its place. This is then displaced with the warmer air from the lake, which warms the vines and extends the growing season. The cliffs of the escarpment themselves help to keep the air constantly moving, helping to stave off frost. (Wine-Searcher)
Cabernet Franc is a specialty of the escarpment, with the best examples augmenting their dark cherry and black fruit characters with mineral notes of graphite and gun-barrel. The limestone sites are particularly conducive to rich Chardonnay and bright Pinot Noir and generally command the highest prices. Riesling has established itself as a local favourite and may be produced as either a dry wine or a lusciously sweet ice wine. (Wine-Searcher)
Well, I hope my ramblings have shed a bit more light on this amazing variety, and have peaked your interest enought to at least google “Canadian Wine”. More importantly than reading this blog post – please get out there and try new things. There are so many amazing wines being made all around the world. Drop the safety net and don’t be afraid to try something new – you may just find something amazing – I sure have and continue to! If you have any questions, i’d be delighted to try and answer them, or at least refer you onto people that are in the know. Don’t be shy.
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Till next time – get your Riesling on!