Reaching the Riesling Summit

From the New Brunswick Telegraph Journal
Good Drink, March 26, 2010
Reaching the Riesling Summit
By Craig Pinhey

There has been a huge increase in the number of food and wine dinners, beer and spirits events, and festivals in Atlantic Canada over the past 10 years. It is difficult for a fan of these sorts of things to get to all, or even most, of them. I feel obliged to spread myself around the region, too, as I represent the Atlantic Provinces in a national wine magazine ( and beer magazine (   I have to be selective, but there are several tastings I absolutely won’t miss.

One is an annual Riesling tasting held each spring in Nova Scotia. We call it the Riesling Summit for no other reason than it sounds a bit ridiculous and grandiose; it is actually a small tasting with a tight group of people whose lives have been brought together through wine.  It is small in number, in that each person only needs to bring one bottle (some can’t resist bringing more), and there are only 16 or so people each year. We can’t have more, as these are one bottle tastings, and one bottle only goes so far before people start complaining that there isn’t enough to properly assess (and enjoy, when you find your favourites!)   And, by limiting it to one, it increases the odds that each person will bring a special bottle.

This tasting is quite different from many others I go to, in that there are always a few winemakers present.  This year was no different, as there were four of the young, promising crop of Nova Scotia winemakers: Ben Swetnam from the soon to be opened Avondale Vineyards, Gina Haverstock of Gaspereau Vineyards (noted for her award winning Nova Scotia Riesling), Jean Benoit Deslauriers from Benjamin Bridge, and Simon Rafuse from Blomidon Winery. Swetnam and Haverstock previously worked at top German Riesling producers: St. Urbans Hof and Georg Breuer, respectively. The rest of the group consisted of Sommeliers and wine enthusiasts.

I don’t have the column space to go through all of the 24 wines we tried last Saturday, but I will describe a few to give an idea of the diversity available from this most noble grape.

In our first flight of 8 wines there were several I really liked. The first was a traditional method sparkling Riesling from Maleta in Niagara, Ontario. Very dry, with yeasty notes, green apple aromas and crisp acid, this was a nice surprise. It sells for under $30 in Ontario. Another good Niagara Riesling in this flight was the 2007 Jackson Triggs Grand Reserve , which had mineral notes and a pleasant, off-dry palate.  The winner of the flight, though, was a great value Cono Sur Riesling from Chile. It had forward “wet stone” minerality, lemon lime aromatics, and balanced acidity. This wine sells for only around $12-13 in Nova Scotia. We have a very similar wine here in New Brunswick, the Cono Sur Bio Bio Riesling, for $12.99.  That is my WINE OF THE WEEK. There was an excellent Georg Breuer in the flight, too, but unfortunately it was corked.  Still, you could tell there was a great wine underneath that defect.

Flight 2 had several noteworthy wines, the most interesting for me being a fresh, minerally 2007 Leasingham Reserve Riesling from Clare Valley, Australia, and a “non purchasable” wine, a Riesling from the Le Clos Jordanne winery in Niagara, which had shrill lime acidity and a leesy (yeasty) complexity. Bone dry, it needs time to develop and soften. The other winner in the flight was a 2007 Grand Cru from Ribeauville, in Alsace. This had great fruit and balance.

The last flight was made up of older wines, so not surprisingly there were some with really complex aromas and flavours.  Aged Rieslings are some of the best wines in the world, so I could say something nice about all the wines, but there were a few real standouts.  The first was a rich, nutty, and petroleum infused (a key feature of good aged Riesling) 2002 Riesling Cuvee Frederick Emile, from the well respected Trimbach in Alsace, France.  Another tasty wine was a 2003 Schloss Reinhartshausen Riesling Spätlese from the Rheingau, Germany. This had rich honey notes and sweet apple flavours.  My next favourite was a 2002 Auslese from Piesporter Goldtröpfchen, made by St. Urbans Hof in the Mosel, Germany.  This decadent beauty had sweet caramel and honey, good appley acidity and a yummy, long aftertaste.   The oldest, and perhaps most compelling wine of the tasting was the last, a 1986 Valwiger Herrenberg Riesling Auslese from Dr. Zenzen, from the Mosel.  Although almost 25 years old, this still had a delicate palate, with tingly acid, petroleum notes and a balanced finish.

Very few wines, or perhaps no other wines,  can age as well for your buying dollar as a good Riesling.


Craig Pinhey is a writer and Sommelier, available for private tastings. Visit him at and follow him on twitter (frogspadca)