I drove up, alone, to Niagara this past Sunday to get my first serious look at the 2009 vintage in the bottle. As you may recall, I was in Niagara during the 2009 harvest last October - I most recently tasted a few barrel samples this May. While the majority of red wines have yet to be bottled, the 2009 rieslings are mostly on the market.
My first stop was to Thirty Bench Wine Makers. A stunning producer of rieslings above all else - but they seem to enjoy telling everyone about everything but. A shame, because let's be honest, their vineyards, and winemaking team, were made for creating distinctive, terroir-specific rieslings. Austere with impeccable balance, with discernible character across all their vineyards, these rieslings are simply stunning in their purity, clarity, and luminosity.
Their estate level riesling, the 2009 Winemaker's Riesling is always quite developed in its minerality early on, creamy lanolin and citrus. High acid as always, but the fruit seems riper. Clean wine, that needs a good 3-5 years to come around. Onto the single vineyard rieslings. I always have a hard time choosing between Steel Post and Triangle Vineyard - each vintage seems to favour different vineyards. 2005 and 2006 were clear successes for Steel Post, but in 2007 and 2008, Triangle Vineyard showed better. Of course, this is how I judged them when they were just bottled - I can't yet determine a correlation between vintage conditions and each vineyard.
2009 Steel Post Riesling, shining in its minerality and high levels of extract on the palate. Very austere, extremely high acidity completely hiding the residual sugar, but balanced and very long. Will need at least 5 years, but this is very exciting. 2009 Triangle Vineyard Riesling, more fruit-forward at this point, lots of grapefruit and citrus. High acid, and at this point, still very primary. 2009 Wood Post Riesling, a bit fuller in body and rounder, and again, the fruit is obscuring all else.
Finished off the tasting with two other wines, just to gain a bigger picture of the rest of the white wines. 2008 Pinot Gris, made in a slightly sweet style, round, and very, very soft. You know, I never thought much about pinot gris - this wine certainly did not do much to change that opinion. 2008 Chardonnay, showing some overt oak at this point. The acidity shows as balanced, but soft - of course, this was after tasting the absolutely electric rieslings.
This tasting showed without a doubt how successful the rieslings are here. I won't go into specifics about why I think they make so many other white (and red) wines, instead of sticking exclusively to their strengths. I'm not naive - wine production isn't all romance, it's a business. But I do think Thirty Bench can do a much better job of promoting their range of rieslings. These are exciting, electric wines. Powerful too, a different style than the absolute finesse and precision of say, Mosel wines.
Always a pleasure to taste these wines. Slowly but surely, building my vertical. With a solid push, a surprise entry in some international riesling contest, more aggressive promoting, whatever . . . these wines speak for themselves, and all it takes is for the right critic/writer/trade professional to have a taste, for them to get the recognition they deserve.