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NZ riesling 2012

The wine panel found attention to detail and dedication evident in the top rieslings.

by John Saker | Cuisine issue #157 | Tuesday, 26 February, 2013
As usual, riesling provided the highlights of the aromatics tasting. And once again, the panel was left wondering why the beauty and verve of this classic white variety are so under-appreciated by Kiwi wine drinkers. With its relatively low alcohol levels, general food-friendliness and (not least) modest pricing, riesling has what it takes to be a popular modern wine. Eight of 103 entries won five stars and a further 14 were rated four stars or above. “It was exciting to see excellent wines across six vintages,” says John Belsham. “That’s an indication of the maturity of our better riesling producers.” Five of the Top 10 were also rated Best Buys. Adds Anna Flowerday, “We saw attention to detail and winemaking passion in the riesling and gewurztraminer tastings, but a lack of both in pinot gris.” Drylands Dry Riesling 2012 took the top award. Says Belsham, “Dry riesling is one of the most difficult wines to perfect. It’s about growing and harvesting pristine fruit that is not overt in any way. Our top wine is so transparent, it’s almost translucent. It’s not easy to make wines of such quality without exuberance. You have to marvel at the beauty of it.”

The Tasting panel
Panel chair John Belsham, respected international judge and owner of Foxes Island Wines, Marlborough, was joined by Anna Flowerday, winemaker and co-owner of Te Whare Ra, Marlborough, and NZ Master Sommelier Cameron Douglas. Cuisine’s NZ wine writer John Saker was the associate judge (non-scoring).

1. Drylands Dry Riesling 2012 (Marlborough) $22 - 1-7
The panel waxed lyrical over our top riesling. “So often people look for obviousness in wine and the beauty of this is that it’s not obvious,” says John Belsham. “The closer to perfection a wine is, the more difficult it is to describe.” Our top wine is understated, with pure fruit running in long clean lines over the palate. Zingy grapefruit, a herbal note and a slaty undertow all play important roles. “I’d offer it as an aperitif, as a promise of things to come,” says Cameron Douglas. Ideal with a whitebait fritter made just with egg whites.

Few (if any) winemakers in New Zealand have a title like that of Darryl Woolley: senior vice president – winemaking. It’s all part of working for the world’s largest premium wine company, US-owned Constellation Brands. At Constellation NZ’s Marlborough HQ, Woolley oversees production of a raft of labels that includes Nobilo, Selaks, Monkey Bay and Kim Crawford. While volumes are large, there’s still the opportunity for Woolley and the winemaking team to devote care and attention to premium-tier wines, such as the Drylands Dry Riesling 2012. “Drylands has always been about highlighting what we do best in Marlborough,” says Woolley. “This wine stood out from the beginning because we all got together and discussed what we wanted – a dry style with good ripeness, but with softer acids. That meant a lot of extra work in the vineyard.” He’s very happy with the result. “It’s the kind of riesling I like to drink, with its tight palate structure, balanced acidity, citrus and floral on the nose.” Riesling has always been a personal passion for Woolley, who grew up in South Australia’s Clare Valley, a region renowned for its fine rieslings. His ties with Drylands date back close to 30 years, when the Selak family first set up the label. Today Drylands is offered as a super-premium brand in markets around the world. In the US, Woolley says, it is only available in selected restaurants. Here it occupies a less-exalted market niche, but “Kiwis should know it’s a terrific buy in this country”.

2. Grower’s Mark Bone Dry Riesling 2009 (Marlborough) $18-$25 - 1-7
Despite its age, this wine retains a sprightly, youthful demeanour. “It’s still a beauty and is ageing very gracefully,” notes Anna Flowerday. “It’s like the mother of our top wine – great genes and equally gorgeous.” Intense lime leaf, lemon zest and custard flavours are carried by clean acidity.

3. Maude Mt Maude Vineyard East Block Riesling 2012 (Central Otago) $24-$26 - 1-7
Here’s a wine displaying the sheer deliciousness that riesling can do so well. Floral, jasmine-like aromatics lead to citrusy, white peach flavours, the sweetness tempered by crisp acidity. A fresh and balanced wine to serve with calamari and lemon juice.

4. Framingham Dry Riesling 2005 (Marlborough) $30 1-5 - 1-5
Anyone yet to discover the joy of aged riesling should track this down. Toast, honey, lime and lanolin spread out over a crisp, dry base. The texture is fleshy and the wine displays refreshing lift. Perfect with your favourite seafood.

5. Vidal White Series Marlborough Dry Riesling 2011 $21 - 1-5
As with gewurz, making riesling in a dry style and achieving the right balance is not easy. Vidal’s Hugh Crichton has done a splendid job with this fleshy, generous wine, with a nice line of acidity and a bountiful helping of apple, lime and white peach notes.

6. Villa Maria Private Bin Marlborough Dry Riesling 2012 $22 - 1-3
Always a wine that offers plenty for the price. The “awesome length” admired by Anna Flowerday is a key attribute in this lip-smacking dry wine. Kaffir lime, mandarin and juicy green apple flavours are tempered by a more austere wet stone, minerally note.

7. Amisfield Dry Riesling 2011 (Central Otago) $28-$32 - 1-5
This wine makes a strong statement, as Central Otago rieslings have a habit of doing: there’s an array of drenching citrus flavours, focused acidity and a lovely crisp finish. A little bottle age is evident in the toasted, honeyed edge. Try it with seared calamari and a squeeze of lime.

8. Maude Mt Maude Vineyard Dry Riesling 2010 (Central Otago) $24-$26 - 1-7
Ageing beautifully, this wine has a core of elegant lemon curd hemmed by flint and toast flavours, and a finish that says tarte Tatin. The zesty forward drive is coupled to an attractive textural fleshiness. The old vines on Maude’s Mt Maude Vineyard give winemakers Dan and Sarah-Kate Dineen great material to work with.

9. Forrest The Doctors’ Riesling 2012 (Marlborough) $19-$25 - 1-3
It wouldn’t be a line-up of top New Zealand rieslings without a Forrest label appearance. The Doctors are back on duty and you’ll enjoy their prescription: jasmine and lime florals, delicate and pure mandarin-infused fruit and a well-honed acid line.

10. Domain Road Vineyard Duffers Creek Riesling 2012 (Central Otago) $22-$27 - 1-3
The acidity has free rein and is in full gallop in this lively wine. It is enticingly fresh and juicy, reminiscent of a tropical fruit salad drizzled with fresh lime juice. A degree of sweetness balances the acidity well. Pair it with chilli prawns.

Corbans Homestead Riesling 2012 (WAIPARA ) $17 - 1-5
“It’s hit the magic spot with its sugar-acid balance,” notes Anna Flowerday. This wine cuts an elegant, seamless dash in the mouth, leaving a trail of fresh lime and apple notes. A lovely, pure, light style, perfect for sipping on a sunny afternoon. [C]

Distant Land Riesling 2010 (Marlborough) $20 - 1-3
This wine is a head-turner. “It’s a sound example of a riesling ageing well,” observes Cameron Douglas. The years have added a layer of toasty, honeyed notes to a lively core of lime and lemon zest. “It’s focused and has panache,” notes John Belsham.

Domain Road Vineyard The Water Race Dry Riesling 2012 (Central Otago) $22-$27 - 1-5
This charmer from Bannockburn producer Domain Road skips lightly across the taste buds, dispensing apple and lime sherbet notes. It’s young and shy at the moment, but the elements are there for an assured, beautiful riesling to spread its wings.

Forrest The Valleys Brancott Riesling 2009 (Marlborough) $24-$29 - 1-5
Age is not wearying this accomplished wine. The aromatics are all toast and honeycomb, but in the mouth fresh fruit holds sway, exuding sweet ripe succulence. “It has length and integrity,” notes John Belsham.

Lawson’s Dry Hills Riesling 2010 (Marlborough) $19-$22 - 1-3
The pioneering Ross Lawson died in 2009, but his memory lives on in wines like this. It’s showing a hint of attractive bottle age aligned with lovely warm citrus flavours. The fruit has density and incisive acids provide tension. “Germanic,” notes Anna Flowerday.

Roaring Meg Riesling by Mt Difficulty 2012 (Central Otago) $20-$22 - 1-5
Roaring Meg is up to her old tricks. A guava-like perfume introduces a tropical fruit and apple salad of flavours. Sweetness is a feature, but the sheer lusciousness of the fruit, with the fresh acids, gives balance. A delightful aperitif.

Vic Williams Selection Classic Marlborough Riesling 2012 $18-$23 - 1-5
Lime, peach, crisp apple, a dash of mint… this is a real fruit punch of a riesling, a joyous, sweet style enlivened by acids. Wine scribe Vic Williams happily puts his name to it and you can happily savour it. [D]

Mt Difficulty Bannockburn Target Riesling 2012 (Central Otago) $25-$27 - 1-5
Refreshing lime and mint characters offer instant pleasure. In the mouth this wine is juicy and almost moscatolike in its sweetness profile, lush in texture with crunchy acidity. Another delicious example of how well suited Central Otago is to growing riesling, this time from premium producer Mt Difficulty.

Toi Toi Marlborough Reserve Riesling 2011 $23.95 - 1-3
Cameron Douglas observes a hint of “mystery and intrigue” in this wine displaying zesty citrus-peel notes and a slaty acidity. While the nose is not effusive, that shyness is more than adequately compensated for by the fleshy, fresh elegance in the mouth.

Vavasour Riesling Awatere Valley Marlborough 2011 $18 - 1-3
Breathe in those spring freesia scents and revel in that fruit purity. This is a lightstepping, seductive wine – and smartly priced, what’s more. Lemon sorbet, lime peel and a background minerality all make themselves heard, while a kiss of sweetness adds charm. [B]

Villa Maria Cellar Selection Marlborough Dry Riesling 2012 $24 - 1-5
From an adept hand at making drystyle riesling, this wine is graceful and pure. Fine lines of appley acidity cut deep and the fruit is limey with flinty overtones. Wonderfully refreshing to serve with olives at the end of a warm day.

Villa Maria Reserve Marlborough Dry Riesling 2011 $27 - 1-3
The scents are beguiling… freshly cut spring flowers such as apple blossom come to mind. The flavours lean towards juicy lime and grapefruit pith. This dry wine oozes freshness and vibrancy, and yet the acids are not at all strident – it’s all about restraint and balance.

See here for wines awarded three stars in Cuisine’s NZ riesling tasting.

To source wines listed contact the distributor, indexed by letter.
[A] Constellation Brands, ph: 0800-662 456
[B] Foley Family Wines, ph: 03-572 7322
[C] Lion, ph: 0800-107 272
[D] NZ Wine Cellars, ph: 0800-809 463


Tasting method
All wines are tasted blind. If, after discussion, the tasters do not agree on a star rating, the wine will receive the rating given by the majority but dissenting comments will be included in the wine notes. The scores of winemaker judges cannot exceed those of other judges.

All wines entered in Cuisine tastings must be readily available at the time of publication. However, high demand and a six-week lead time between tastings and publication can affect availability. If you cannot find
the wines, contact the winery or distributor direct.

Suppliers are asked to provide a retail price range for all wines entered in tastings. Prices do vary between vineyard and low-to-high volume outlets and cannot, therefore, be guaranteed. All prices are quoted in $NZ.

Recommended by Cuisine stickers
Look for these top wines as your guarantee of quality.

Gold sticker - Wines awarded five stars can wear the gold five-star Recommended by Cuisine sticker.
Burgundy sticker - Wines awarded 4 1/2 and four stars can display the original Recommended by Cuisine sticker.


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