what am i tasting?


Tasting Note

Posted February 28, 2013 This glistens with lime and apple flavors that keep skipping through the long, deft finish in this bright and zingy white.

And the answer is...


Varietal:

February is usually a time for hearty fare that calls for red wine, but that doesn’t mean white wines can’t share a place on the table. This bright and refreshing white could pair nicely with a range of food or be served as an aperitif. But can you identify our mystery wine?

There are several clues to help us get started. Our wine’s zingy character points to a dry style with crisp acidity, while the purity of its fruit flavors suggests that it’s either unoaked or has spent time in neutral oak. With this in mind we can eliminate Chardonnay and Viognier. While unoaked styles of these varieties exist, both grapes typically produce full-bodied wines with less acidity than ours.

Sémillon features prominently in the white wines of Bordeaux, where it’s often paired with Sauvignon Blanc. When produced in a dry style it typically makes medium-bodied wines with fig, pear and herbal notes. This doesn’t sound like our wine.

Arneis is a better choice since its flavor profile typically includes apple, as well as citrus, peach and tropical or mineral tones. However, Arneis is known for a faint bitter note on the finish, sometimes described as grapefruit peel or almond.

This leaves Riesling, whose bright acidity, distinct aromas and pure fruit flavors are a good match for our wine. Made in a variety of styles, its typical flavors include citrus, apple, peach and floral or mineral notes.

This wine is a Riesling.

Country:

Due to its popularity, Riesling is planted in many winegrowing regions around the world. Fortunately for us, the grape transmits terroir very well and its flavors and character are often influenced by where it’s grown. With this in mind we can narrow our options.

Chile and Italy have a small amount of acreage planted to Riesling but local vintners generally focus on other white varieties. Additionally, both Chile’s Rieslings as well as those from northeastern Italy’s Alto Adige region—where the bulk of the country’s Riesling is found—tend to be more full-bodied.

California has a long history with Riesling and several thousand acres are planted in the state, mainly in cooler locations such as Monterey County. However, California’s climate is generally too warm for dry-style Riesling so we should look to areas that focus on dry wines. France is a better option. In Alsace, the only area where it’s officially allowed to be planted, Riesling is adept at expressing the varied soils of the region. Depending on a producer’s house style, the local wines can be dry or feature some residual sugar. Still, we would expect our Riesling to have a stronger mineral character and more body if it were from Alsace, and so we move on.

The final country on our list is Australia. Riesling was first introduced to the country in the mid-1800s when settlers planted it in parts of Barossa Valley and Clare Valley. The grape thrives in high elevation sites where cool microclimates allow it to ripen fully. Australian Riesling is typically bone-dry with crisp acidity, and features stone fruit and citrus flavors. We have found our country.

This Riesling is from Australia

Age:

One of the Riesling’s defining traits is its ability to age, often for decades in the case of high-quality dry and dessert wines. Over time, Riesling can evolve, taking on flavors and aromas of dried fruit, candied citrus, honey and smoke. It may also gain some flesh in the bottle with additional accents of beeswax or mineral. Since our wine is zingy and fresh, we can safely assume it’s still young.

Focusing on the youngest age range, we should remember that vintners in the southern hemisphere start harvesting their grapes while vines are just flowering in the north. This means that many Australian vintners have already released their 2012 whites in the U.S., but 2011 is still on retail shelves. Comparing the two vintages, 2011 was a cooler year with low yields, producing wines with lower alcohol levels but good concentration of flavor. We have a winner.

This wine is from the 2011 vintage, making it two years old.

Appellation:

Riesling is grown throughout Australia, but the only two Australian regions on our list are Clare Valley and Margaret River. Of the two, Clare Valley is our most likely choice. The region consists of a string of hills to the north of Barossa, and Riesling is the star of the area. The high elevations coupled with cooling ocean breezes help produce vibrant, steely Rieslings that are distinctive for their lime flavors and mineral notes. In contrast, Margaret River is in Western Australia and enjoys a temperate climate. A small amount of Riesling is grown there, but it tends to be riper in character and is usually less distinguished compared to cooler regions.

This Riesling is from Clare Valley.

Wine:

It’s the Jim Barry Riesling Clare Valley The Lodge Hill 2011, which scored 90 points. It’s a relative value at $18, but only 150 cases were imported into the U.S. For more information on the white wines of Australia, see Harvey Steiman’s Australia tasting report, in the July 31, 2012, issue.

Augustus Weed, associate tasting coordinator

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