I was introduced to an enthusiastic wine lover who was new to Wellington the other day. In trying to get a feel for what this wonderful city of ours has to offer, he asked what’s good? My immediate response was anything that Geoff Kelly is hosting. I had just that night been to a Library Tasting looking to answer the question, does Riesling age? (Spoiler alert: yes, yes it does.)
Many of Geoff’s tastings will look at rare old Bordeaux and Burgundy reds. These types of tastings are well attended by wealthy suits who were noticeably missing from the Riesling tasting. And it was definitely their loss as these wines were delightfully curious and terribly interesting.
This was a tasting for the wine drinkers who love wine for the sake of it.
Each tasting includes a detailed introduction complete with historic tasting notes on each of the wines. Typically I will peruse these notes as I inevitably wait for other participants to trickle in. Such is the life of the perpetually punctual. Sitting down to write up the tasting I looked them over and there were some interesting notes on the purpose of these tastings that helped to guide the evening.
Firstly, these tastings are for people who are interested in tasting older wines, not just for wine aficionados the emphasis is on the wine and how it came to be the way it is, not its label or price. Secondly, the wines we taste were typically bought by Geoff on release and can be described as curious but highly interesting, thus opening them to be disparaged by wine elitists.
Alsatian riesling are generally full-bodied and dry, powerful with higher alcohol. Their flavour profile includes a stony, mineral quality with peach and citrus flavours. Here TDN – the compound responsible for the petrol notes found in many mature rieslings – is a desirable quality.
1989 F Trimbach Riesling Clos Ste Hune Vendanges Tardives
According to Roberson Wines of London this is one of the most coveted wines in the world. Hand-harvested from c. 50-year old vines on a grand cru vineyard planted solely to Riesling.
This wine shows a touch of terpenes with cool citrus notes of lemon and lime alongside more tropical pineapple notes. The wine is still gold in colour but rather pale. Ripe and tropical, the palate mimics the nose. Rich, thick and viscous with healthy hits of acidity that has an undertone of sourness.
Due to the warmer climate with a shorter growing season the wines need to be picked early to retain their acidity. As a result they have a tart, citrus profile alongside an oily texture. These wines will broaden to show honey and toast with age. The best rieslings benefit from being elevation-cooled.
1962 Penfolds Minchinbury Rhine Riesling
Introduced as a taste of history, as the Minchinbury winery and vineyard came under pressure from encroaching suburbia with wine production and viticulture ceasing in 1978. No historic tasting notes were found.
The deepest golden colour yet, very engaging. The nose lacks fruit and freshness with notes of oxidation that are almost sherry-like. There’s a bit of a yeasty quality where dough, almonds and herbs mix with the candied caramelisation of baked kumara. It’s rich and complex. One of the more interesting wines of the night.
1984 Jeffrey Grosset Rhine Riesling Polish Hill
1984 in Australia was a cooler year so a more elegant style of wine is expected.
Deeper golden colour that is starting to pale with age. The wine is drier with more savoury fruits and dandelion florals. In the mouth the wine becomes thin and bitter, lacking any of the more charming aromas seen on the nose. After the first taste, I wasn’t interested in a second.
2002 Jeffrey Grosset Rhine Riesling Polish Hill
2002 was an exceptional year in South Australia with the whites of the Clare Valley being rated 10/10 by James Halliday, a rare rating indeed.
Petrol and kerosene notes dominate on the nose but still show some elements of delicacy. A lovely texture but a sour finish indicating that the wine is past its peak. The palate really lets this one down.
2004 Howard Park Riesling
This wine was included as a way to compare and contrast an Australian riesling from a cooler district with the New Zealand wines.
There’s off notes on this wine. The off notes show in small enough quantities to be more interesting than offensive and can comfortably be characterised as sticking plasters. Again the palate follows the nose but it’s amplified, resulting in a sour, bitter finish to the wine that verges on unpalatable.
German Rieslings have a preference for fruitier young wines and they look to stay away from petrol notes, a defect for them. These wines tend to be quite light bodied and delicate. The level of sweetness is clearly indicated on the label through the pradikat system. German wines are renowned for their balance.
1975 Rudolf Muller Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spatlese
From his introductory notes, Geoff highlights that one of the goals of showcasing the 1975 was to endorse the view that riesling is the pre-eminent white cellar wine, without any presumption that this is sublime. When Geoff reviewed the wine in 2012 he noted “the level of fruit and the freshness of the wine is amazing, there is absolutely no hurry here at all”. Unfortunately that’s not the impression I got on the night.
Deep lemon coloured with plenty of petrol and turpentine. Nothing fruity or floral. On the nose alone this would have been my least favourite, but the weight and silkiness of the wine redeems it and shows that some true beauty still remains in this wine.
2001 Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Kabinett QmP
2001 was the warmest autumn in a hundred years, which lead to one of the best vintages in the past 30 years as described by the owners. They compare the 2001 vintage with 1990 and 1975, “Riesling legends”.
The colour shifts towards pale gold, taking on a more honeyed hue. The nose is laced with caramelised sugars. A nice complexity to the palate, full-ish bodied, sweet and lingering hints of acid that compliment rather than overwhelm the wine. Really pleasant.
Back to a cooler climate, but we’re now in the New World, meaning there’s more variety in style. Ranging from dry to off-dry to sweet. Compared with our neighbours in Australia, you can expect the wines to be lighter and more delicate.
2001 Dry River Riesling
Dry River was added to the line-up because they’ve always made a feature of the cellar-worthiness of their wines, Geoff thought looking at their 2001 alongside both a Central Otago and a Mosel seemed fun. As a year, 2001 had an extended ripening period due to drought, leading to fully ripe phenolics, more floral flavours and markedly lower alcohols.
Not as fresh and young as some of the others with similar dates, starting to show more of a collection of stewed, candied and dried fruits. The wine is thick, rich and viscous and the palate shares a similar profile to the nose but with more yellow florals and a touch of clover honey. A wonderfully long finish for a wine of this age showing plenty of sweetness.
2001 Felton Road Riesling
A brief statement for the 2001, it was an average, even unremarkable vintage with the grapes being hand-harvested.
Candied with age mingling with an earthy element and a stinky barnyard quality. The nose carries across to the palate with more of a sharp cheesiness. A bit of time in the glass and all the funky bits remain but they soften and round out to a more gentle bouquet. When winemaker Blair Walter was told this wine would feature in this Library tasting he offered to send an alternative that has aged in a more traditional way. I’m glad that Geoff refused the offer. This wine is not pretty but it is quirky and full of character. If this was a person, I would rather spend an evening with the 2001 Felton Road than a more conventional alternative.
2002 Felton Road Riesling Block 1
The vineyard considers 2002 a near-perfect vintage; the grapes were hand-harvested and late-picked without any botrytis. In 2004 it was surmised that this wine should be very long-lived. Ten years later, I would have to agree.
This wine was a stunner. Still juicy and sweet with plenty of tropical fruit character. A youthful palate that’s light and delicately textured, bursting with peach and nectarine fruits.
2005 Glover’s Riesling Dry Moutere
From the introductory notes this wine is ushered in by highlighting that there is a measure of inconsistency in the wines from Dave Glover, which tends to obscure the odd gem. This one appealed to Geoff at release – he was looking forward to seeing it again.
Light, pale lemon coloured. The fruit and florals are definitely there on the nose but they’re fragile and starting to show more terpenes. The palate entirely lacks fruit and has a bitter astringency to it, definitely past its best. With time in the glass the wine becomes progressively less inviting, showing more old fruit and stinky cheese character.
The 2007 Escarpment was added to the line-up for a couple of years, it shows a younger wine against many much older examples. 2007 was a year of good quality and should stand up on its own. Finally, as Larry McKenna is so well known for his pinot noir, it’s nice to remind people that he has produced some lovely rieslings over the years.
A really shy nose that takes some time to open up, when it does it starts to show notes of kerosene. The wine is dry, light and delicate with a medium body and light acidity. This was the wallflower of the group.