Ontario Riesling: Confusing(ly delicious)!
Somewhere between the dog days of summer and evening sweater weather is where Riesling becomes the dominant white wine consumed in my household. It is always a favorite, but what kicks our love for it into overdrive is being able to pair it with the flavors of late summer/early fall. Everything from peaches, corn, all sorts of greens, squash, potatoes, a plethora really, and Riesling is a wine with as much depth and range.
Riesling is neck and neck with Chardonnay for production volume of white vinifera in Niagara, and both are heads above the rest; there is on average 2.5 to 3 times more Riesling and Chardonnay processed in Ontario than the third and fourth varieties (Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc).
Who is drinking all this Riesling? Certainly, some goes into dessert/Icewine, but most is made into table wine. Speaking from experience, Riesling as a table wine is one of the least ordered glasses in many restaurants in which I have worked. Style variation and unknown sweetness level seems to be the cause; it’s confusing. We most often see it as dry to off-dry (from about 6 grams/litre or residual sugar to upwards of 20 g/l), but this is not always discernable.
Overall, most white wine drinkers ask for dry wines, and balk at the term ‘off-dry’ and the presence of sugar in the glass. Pity, as there can be found an immense pleasure in a wine made in this style. I am referring to the more delicate ones as there are a lot of clunky, unbalanced, overly sweet (usually inexpensive) and frankly crappy ones, and I get why some have trepidation about taking a chance on an unknown.
The good off-dry ones though are like a dainty tightrope walker, on tiptoes holding a perpendicular pole representing acidity-vs-sweetness and walking through a dewy pear/apple/peach orchard. One of the greatest attributes of the style is that of matching many foods, especially chef-y foods- aka multi-faceted and complex. I have worked with some challenging chefs in terms of their flavor/texture use (you know who you are) and off-dry Riesling has often gotten me out of a pinch.
But a dry Riesling made from fruit that had a healthy, long autumn hang-about, with ripeness, concentration, intensity, is also amazing. There are many I can think of from Germany, most of them under the moniker Grosse Gewachs (GG) which talks about the site they come from as being prestigious, their quality as high, and their sweetness as dry to bone-dry. Intense and powerful, they find their way into my glass when I’m in the mood to ponder its contents. There are only a few producers making Ontario Riesling in this style, who have the quality of fruit/vineyard site and drive to do so.
Bottom line is this, I’m a non-committed Riesling drinker; I swing both ways. And I think you should too. I get that it takes a bit of time to figure out which ones are worthy and what to expect. But, for guidance, look to the people selling it to you in your local bottle shop or restaurant; good places will guide you well. Let’s celebrate its spectrums, embrace its bracing dryness or sweet nature, and give Riesling a chance. Here are some Ontario off-dry examples and a super dry one that I’ve recently enjoyed.
Flat Rock ‘Nadja’s vineyard’ 2020 VQA Twenty Mile Bench $32
Slightly herbal, like a hint of rosemary alongside more pronounced aromas of tree flowers and fruits, and pink grapefruit. The palate is layered with freshness and a good fruit ripeness, with a pithy tactile sensation that begs for food (mmm, perhaps a little charcuterie to go with finishing writing this note). This has all the benchmarks of quality, well-ripened fruit and great winemaking; beautifully balanced. Clocking in at 18 g/l but with overachieving acidity.
Pearl Morissette ‘Oxyde’ 2021 VQA Lincoln Lakeshore $28
Pearl Morissette is always a go to for bone-dry, edgy Riesling and this vintage of ‘Oxyde’ is no exception. At just 2 g/l sugar and with the expected cool-climate acidity, this wine shows its angles. There is balance from its fruit ripeness which shows through despite the short growing season of 2021. Delicate aromas and flavors of green plum, peach, citrus. This is a ‘walk the line’ wine; one that I quite enjoy, mouth-watering, complex, and thoughtful.
Tawse ‘Carly’s Block’ 2020 VQA Twenty Mile Bench $33
I like the petrol note here (or reductive note?); there is a ripeness to the fruit on the nose that seems honeyed, and the two aromas play well together. Sweet-tart palate and juicy first-bite-into-peach flavors. Definitely lush, medium-dry in style (over 30 g/l sugar). Pairing options open here to include fruit desserts and dishes with generous heat/spice.
Fielding Estate ‘Estate’ 2019 VQA Beamsville Bench $22
Showing reduction on nose; shy fruits- Red Haven peach, nectarine, quite floral behind the slight gassy note. Shines brighter on the palate, juicy mandarin, ripe almost tropical, but with modest alcohol feel. This does show its sweetness at 19 g/l.
Thirty Bench ‘Small Lot-Wild Cask’ 2019 VQA Beamsville Bench $32
Aromas of crushed lime candies, peach and a faint breadcrumb note. Key-lime-pie-ish nose. Lovely sweet-sour play on the palate, with some minerality arriving, along with a more orange citrus character. Medium finish to the flavors but quite pleasant and juicy. 20 g/l sugar makes this wine off-dry verging to medium-dry, but the acidity keeps everything fresh and balanced.