Tasting Panel – Riesling

From issue #71.March 15, 2017
Tasting Panel – Riesling

As the quality of riesling hits new heights, the Dish Tasting Panel are torn between telling everybody to quickly embrace this variety and keeping the secret for themselves.

All the more reason for riesling

Anyone in the wine trade will tell you if they had a dollar for every time wine industry folk lamented that people don’t drink enough riesling, they’d be slithering around like Smaug the dragon on his hoard of gold inside Lonely Mountain (or some other “I’m ridiculously rich” simile). 

Oddly, the grape that’s considered one of the world’s most noble, still struggles to gain traction on mainstream taste buds. We’re drinking more chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and pinot gris than ever, yet in the five years since our last riesling panel, entries have reduced from 138 to 92. This indicates fewer companies are choosing to produce this glorious variety. However, by the end of this epic day of blind-tasting, we can safely say less is definitely more and the quality of our riesling is increasing exponentially. In fact, 65 per cent of the entries achieved a medal, with seven golds, 22 silver and 30 bronze medals being awarded. That’s an outstanding result and a huge improvement on previous stats. 

But what’s really amazing, is when you look at the Top 10, you’ll see there are wines from 2011, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016, which proves well-crafted riesling will not only stand the test of time, but can also wow professional palates even when only bottled for a matter of weeks.

 “I have to reiterate just what a delight it is to judge New Zealand riesling,” gushed Jane Boyle. “The best examples have such a sense of place and the purity and focus of the fruit is fantastic. It’s obvious the highly awarded winemakers possess great passion for the variety and the fact they religiously produce such stunners, is testament to their dedication and skill. As I always say: the Kiwi wine consumer is blessed to have these world-class wines available at such reasonable prices.”

However, riesling also lays bare any imperfections. Some wines were dilute, (due to excessive cropping) with others showing signs of unsound fruit (rot). “In my view,” noted Colin Ford, “2015 showed more variation of highs and lows, while 2016 showed more uniform quality; there were fewer troughs but fewer peaks too.”

Without doubt it was also our cooler, southern regions (where longer seasons can mean improved ripeness and more finely grained acidity) that shone location-wise, in the medal stakes.

When it comes to food pairing, riesling is a foodie’s dream-wine. “It forms a frame for fresh seafood that’s unequalled,” offered Colin. “For richer dishes such as pork, its rapier-like acidity cuts through fat and refreshes the palate for the next bite. As an aperitif, it spurs the appetite and after dinner, lower alcohol examples soothe the constitution.” Both Yvonne and Jane agreed, something like pan-fried snapper with a herb and lime crust would sing with a youthful, limey riesling.

“Being a riesling lover is like being a member of a secret society,” added Jane. “When kindred spirits meet, there’s an exchange of knowing looks and gushing comments about the object of your affection. On one hand, we feel we should spread the word, but on the other, we hope no-one finds out just what a steal New Zealand rieslings really are. I don’t like our chances of keeping the secret for too much longer, however, with the standard we saw in this Dish tasting.”

Style/varietal: Riesling
Tasting date: February 2017
Entries: 92

Yvonne Lorkin (Dish drinks writer)
Jane Boyle (Wine consultant)
Cameron Douglas MS (Senior Lecturer AUT and Master Sommelier)
Colin Ford (Director of Winework Solutions)

Rating System
Gold ★★★★★ – ​Superb. Strongly recommended.

Silver ★★★★ – A cut above the rest in quality.

Bronze ★★★ – A good quality crowd-pleaser.

"Best Buy" status is given to wines which achieved Silver medal or higher, yet retail for under $25 

(NB: All wines are judged blind and the scores of judges for their own wines cannot exceed those of other judges.)

Top Riesling Wines of the Tasting

Envoy Johnson Vineyard Riesling 2011 ($32) first equal
★★★★★ Gold Medal

While our judges all agreed this six-year-old wine was still carrying seriously attractive, youthful citrus and tropical fruit layers, the thing that really snagged us was how deliciously it was taking on the complex secondary characters of kerosene, apple skin, nutty, caramelised biscuit notes alongside those zesty apple and mandarin flavours. “Very Germanic,” noted Cameron. “It’s classic, juicy and shows great minerality.” “I loved this wine when it was first released and I love it more now,” shrugged Yvonne. “It’s a really lovely wine, joyful, with delightful acidity,” added Jane. “A real gem.”

Marlborough Riesling 2015 ($16.99) first equal
★★★★★ Gold Medal

How incredible is it that this glorious riesling can easily be found in supermarkets pretty much everywhere in New Zealand. Crazy. The buzzword across all judges’ assessments was “purity”. “A fresh, lively, supremely crisp example,” said Cameron, while Jane Boyle noted its natural sweetness and lime zest notes. This wine had instant floral and fruit appeal on the nose, powerful punch across the palate via incredibly vibrant crystalline citrus characters and yet it carried balance, elegance and length on the finish. “This represents superb value for money,” noted Yvonne.

Awatere Valley Riesling 2016 ($29)
★★★★★ Gold Medal

It was the jasmine florals – so evocative of spring – that really elevated the sweet citrus notes in the wine. Incredibly vibrant, the ripe Meyer lemon flavours made a real impression on our judges, especially Colin who commented also on its depth of flavour, concentration and mouthfeel – “I really like this wine,” he said. Yvonne agreed it was a delicious, tangy style, “The juicy apple and lime layers really appeal.”

Riesling 2016 ($30)
★★★★★ Gold Medal
“Plenty of energy in this wine,” commented Cameron. “It’s young, pure and has a great life ahead.” All judges noted how beautifully balanced it was; the natural sweetness and acidity in perfect alignment. Crafted by Grant Taylor, one of the world’s great pinot noir producers, this citrus and honey-forward riesling shows he’s also rather awesome with aromatic whites.

Marlborough Riesling 2016 ($17.29) 
★★★★★ Gold Medal

“The citrus oil element is highly evocative and it has a lovely vibrancy and purity to it,” urged Jane Boyle. “It really has all the good things you want in a young riesling but promises even more with time.” Yvonne adored the cleansing apple, lime and honeysuckle layers, “Plus, it’s so nicely constructed,” she added. “It shows balance and beautiful persistence on the palate.”

Roaring Meg Central Otago Riesling 2015 ($23) 
★★★★★ Gold Medal

While this little central Otago stunner had a slightly more subtle nose than it’s other 5-star sisters, the sheer power in the palate more than made up for it. Loaded with lemon, kaffir lime, green apple and honeysuckle layers on the nose and palate, there’s a lovely lusciousness and concentration occurring in every sip. “I also really love the burst of banging acidity,” commented Yvonne. Cue nods of approval from all judges.

Marlborough Riesling 2014 ($29.95) 
★★★★★ Gold Medal

There is so much going on in this wine, it’s tricky to know where to start. “The slight peppery aromas, hints of apple and Rose’s Lime Cordial and succulent citrus across the palate did it for me,” announced Yvonne. Colin was seduced by the golden colour and honeyed nuances, while Cameron was wowed by its extensive palate appeal and “crisp, dry, energised yet natural” character.

Blackmans Gully Central Otago Riesling 2015 ($23)
★★★★½ Silver Medal

“This is such a cracker of a wine,” erupted Yvonne. “It just bursts with ripe apple, tangy mandarin, lime and a smorgasbord of citrus and it’s incredibly concentrated too.”  Cameron agreed, “It’s such a modern style, lush, crisp and beautifully balanced.” “Lithe” was another word that featured in the judges notes, while Colin felt this Central Otago stunner had legs to mature nicely also.

Classic Waipara Riesling 2013 ($19.50)
★★★★½ Silver Medal

“I love the colour,” urged Jane. “It’s so youthful for its age and the gorgeous stonefruit and honeyed notes are seductive.” It’s easy to see why this wine now has a cult following in Waipara due to its vibrancy, intensely tangy, natural citrus-edged sweetness. “It also has great depth, texture, complexity and persistence of flavour,” added Colin. It’s definitely a joyful little wine to drink and a real crowd-pleaser.

Juliet Marlborough Riesling 2016 ($24) 
★★★★½ Silver Medal

Crafted by Dave Clouston, this wine has a highly attractive nose, crisp apple sweetness, a nice mineral spectrum and deliciously clean, elegant lime and honeysuckle characters abound. That “minerality” factor was echoed across all our judges notes. “It’s a highly sophisticated style with lovely texture,” added Jane. It’s definitely going to be one to watch as it matures.