The Riesling Challenge!
The Riesling challenge was initiated in 2010 to exemplify the influence winemakers have in processing grapes into wine. The challenge was taken up by 12 leading New Zealand winemakers, who each received 4 tonnes of identical grapes, picked on the same day, from the same site (Mud House Glasnevin Rd block, Waipara) and distributed evenly from each part of the vineyard. Each winemaker was then charged with creating the best Riesling they could from the grapes provided (The_Riesling_Challenge 2010).
Seven of the twelve wines were tasted in the flight, which was led by Simon McGeorge from Waipara Hills, who provided winemaking notes and tasting notes for each of the wines.
Paul Bourgeois Riesling Challenge Riesling 2010
This wine was the most lifted of the flight, most likely because it had the lowest residual sugar and highest alcohol, which helped to bring out the aroma. The palate was quite linear and a touch hot from the acid, with crisp apple flavour on the front and a candy aftertaste. These factors are likely due to excessive fining leaving flat and compartmentalised flavours.
Mike Brown Riesling Challenge Riesling 2010
The defining feature of this wine was the lack of phenolic structure. This is a direct result of only utilising free run juice for the final blend and consequently having an unbalanced wine. The acids were sharp as would be expected from free run juice, but surprisingly the high acid didn’t carry the flavours through the palate, which dropped off after the mid-palate. The upfront flavours were pleasant and complex enough to make this a pleasant and easy wine to drink.
Patrick Mateman Riesling Challenge Riesling 2010
This wine was exceptionally easy to drink but had little in the way of interesting flavours. Patrick used the most technical and elaborate techniques to make this wine, including three separate ferments, multiple rackings, acid adjustment and protein fining, and as a result has stripped all character from the wine, leaving it boring but easy on the palate. Acids were at the higher end of the spectrum, but all other metrics were decidedly mid-of-the-range, leading to the conclusion that he made this wine ‘by the book’.
Simon McGeorge Riesling Challenge Riesling 2010
I found this wine bland and boring. Simon was the only winemaker in the flight to fine the must with a casein agent prior to fermentation, which will have helped remove most solids from the juice, leaving a somewhat linear and un-complex wine. The addition of the sweet wine seems to have added only sugar to the mix, resulting in a closed nose with vinous qualities. Additionally, storing the wine for a month at 0oC may have prevented any secondary or tertiary characters developing post ferment.
Matt Dicey Riesling Challenge Riesling 2010
A slightly higher residual sugar led to lower perception of acids in this wine. The wine had a slight bitterness and strong phenolic structure, most likely from not separating the free run juice from the press cut. As a result he had to add acid to balance phenolics, although a good overall balance was achieved as a result. The winemaking style was not outstanding in any way and neither was the wine.
Larry McKenna Riesling Challenge Riesling 2010
This wine was my favourite of the flight because it had the best balance and yummiest flavours. The wine had the second highest RS of the flight and the lowest alcohol, a style popular for German Rieslings. The light pressing limited phenolic pickup and halting the ferment early left sufficient sugar to balance the high acids nicely. Hints of wet concrete on the nose are indicative of H2S, which may have come from disulphides being reduced in the low redox conditions under screwcap.
Matt Donaldson Riesling Challenge Riesling 2010
Great concentration of floral, citrus, honey and pear flavours made the wine rich and luscious. With the highest TA of the flight the acids pulled through the high RS to give length and hints of phenolics gave excellent structure. The phenolic pickup likely came from the time taken to freeze the grapes prior to crushing, because he only took free run juice for the fermentation. Personally I found this wine was too sweet for a table wine, and not sweet enough for a dessert wine, and I felt that more acids would have helped cut through the sickly sweetness better.
Each of these wines was different but all had undertones of the same varietal composition. The expression of the grapes in these wines was unavoidable and though each wine was different, all had similar aroma and flavour descriptors of pear, honey and apples.
I found this tasting most interesting because it demonstrated the actual effects on flavour, aroma and mouth feel of a variety of winemaking decisions and highlighted some definite do’s and do not’s. Particularly interesting was that all winemakers chose gentle pressing or only free run cuts to avoid phenolic pickup which is undesirable in Riesling. This choice will have also maximised acid intensity to help carry the flavour through the varying degrees of residual sugar.