Monday, June 3, 2013

Thirty Bench Winemakers - a table full of riesling

Top: 2007 Thirty Bench Riesling
Bottom: 2008 Thirty Bench Riesling

So a bit over a month ago, before all this bullshit mindfuck went down, a small of group friends gathered at my place for dinner. I was turning 27, and wanted to celebrate what looked to be my last birthday in Toronto for a few years at least. And it was a fantastic night. We cooked some of my favourite dishes, Shanghai classics. And on the table, a lineup of Thirty Bench rieslings I pulled from my cellar. These bottles have been sitting there for nearly 5 years now, and I was looking forward to seeing how they'd do with some age. The wines are lean in their youth, with an intriguing petrol/lanolin cream minerality showing quite prominently on the nose. Interesting, well-extracted wines. There are 4 distinct rieslings produced here - a blended riesling (from all the vineyards), and 3 single-vineyard bottlings. The point of this exercise was to see if each vineyard's specific characters would emerge in a clearer way with bottle age.

Starting with the pair of entry-level blends - the 2007 coming from that well-documented hot Niagara vintage, producing wines of great concentration and ripeness. The 2008 vintage, almost the complete opposite. I've drank a lot of both these wines, and always came away happy. But this was a very surprising start to the tasting. The '07 riesling showing little development - still with that lean citrus, lanolin minerality. Palate is nice, good fruit and a touch of sweetness. The '08 riesling showing good fruit, creaminess, and elegance - intensity and good amounts of extract.
Top: 2008 Thirty Bench Wood Post Vineyard Riesling
Bottom: 2007 Thirty Bench Wood Post Vineyard Riesling

Moving onto the single vineyard wines, we start with the Wood Post Vineyard rieslings. I always think of these as a bit more overtly fruity in their youth; tropical fruits, softer acidity. The '08 Wood Post had a bit of reduction which blows off. A creaminess, round, but so little fruit. Finishing bitter, a bit cloying, falling apart - not much here. The '07 Wood Post was open and soft, balanced with a touch of sweetness remaining. Lemon fruit, lots of lanolin minerality, good extract.
Left: 2008 Thirty Bench Steel Post Vineyard Riesling
Right: 2007 Thirty Bench Steel Post Vineyard Riesling

Look at those production numbers listed - 256 cases of the 2008, 264 cases of the 2007. The cynic in me says that these single vineyard bottlings are more the product of marketing decisions rather than terroir expression, but the Steel Post has always been my favourite riesling. Yes, they charge you a premium for the privilege, but these rieslings always seem more linear, more angular, more mineral ... steelier, for lack of a better word. The '08 Steel Post is a bit reticient, with some underlying fruit. Textural finish, some good depth and intensity, yet lots of finesse. Best palate so far. The '07 Steel Post is vigorous, well extracted, but a bit coarse. Some sweetness, but palate ends slightly bitter.
Left: 2005 Thirty Bench Triangle Vineyard Riesling
Right top: 2008 Thirty Bench Triangle Vineyard Riesling
Right bottom: 2007 Thirty Bench Triangle Vineyard Riesling

This is sort of the flagship wine. Triangle Vineyard seems to be the biggest riesling they produce, although 'bigger' is a relative term. We're talking extreme subtleties between all the wines here - one of my buddies flat out said I can't taste a single difference between all of these. And maybe he's right. The '08 Triangle is the most complex so far - smokey, savoury notes, brooding with good depth. Good fruit, not bright but elegant, fresh and ripe. Almost tropical here - papaya? Open and balanced, good sweetness, delicious. The '07 Triangle, rustic and almost all oily, lanolin aromas. Some sweetness and extract on the palate, not much fruit. Disappointing. And finishing with my oldest bottle, the '05 Triangle. And it just tastes old, that weird kind of Niagara old that's just ... weird. Petrol overriding here, almost no fruit, lean with some mineral interplay on the palate. No life here. If wine had an expiration date, this bottle reached it 3 years ago.

So what did this tasting teach us? That the wines aren't as age-worthy as I originally thought? And even in the instances where the wines were holding up, the overriding feeling is what's the point? Very little in way of development, of the wines gaining in nuance or depth or character. The 2007's, from that much hyped vintage, were a disappointment all around. Fruit fading fast, sugar and acid not really coming together, alcohol starting to stick out in a lot of them. The 2008's definitely a bit better. Fruit staying fresher, more elegant on the palate. 

Over-generalizations are always a bad idea, but maybe the point of these wines (New-World whites) isn't to be age-worthy. We put wines away to allow them to achieve greater harmony, complexity, texture, and depth. But it seems these wines are meant to be consumed within a few months of bottling, when they obviously show as more energetic and fuller in the sense of flavour and body. So maybe I'm approaching these wines from the completely wrong angle. In any case, an interesting look at one of the best riesling producers of Niagara.


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