In Praise of the Versatility of Riesling
By: Mackenzie Brisbois, Alex Sproll
If you cut a sommelier they will bleed Riesling. That is to say they really like drinking Riesling. I don’t recommend you head out to your favourite wine bar and cut open your favourite somm, but I do recommend you head out to your favourite wine bar and try out some bottles they recommend!
Somewhere between the average wine drinker and the professional
wine drinker the love for Riesling changes. Riesling is one of the most versatile grape varieties out there. From sweet to tart to richly perfumed, it can be made into table wine, sparkling wine, dessert wine or even orange wine. And so I can only speculate that most of the access we have had to Riesling in Ontario has been sweet and unbalanced and it has turned people away from this incredible grape.
We have taken up the challenge of changing the way we think about Riesling!
Rieslings can be super dry on the palate and have had influence from old oak, malolactic fermentation* or time macerating on the skins. Very far removed from the sweet style.
We craft expressive Rieslings in a few different styles. Our small-batch approach allows me the flexibility to determine winemaking at the time of picking – which is crucial in capturing the sense of time and place each year.
To better understand how this grape showcases the purity of its terroir I travelled to Germany and met with producers across the country to learn about the grape growing and the winemaking. I drove the autobahn, ate sauerkraut and sampled beautiful, terroir-driven wines. I suffered through many delicious tastings in the name of research :)
Last year we were thrilled to take on a new vineyard — Grimsby Hillside Vineyard — which as is self, evident is just at the foot of the Niagara Escarpment new Grimsby. It is one of Ontario’s historic vineyards and has been growing grapes since 1874. While the vineyards have been replanted many times over the site, and growing are impeccable — and starting with the 2022 vintage, the vast majority of the fruit we select from here — including 100% of the Riesling — has been grown with organic farming practices. Venturing on a deep-dive into terroir, we make two different skin-contact Rieslings from two distinct plots of this site: Cumulus and Nimbus, the first from the flats further from the escarpment and Nimbus from a plot tucked right up to the base.
Further down the Peninsula, we have been working with the Foxcroft Vineyard since 2014. Here the soils express a different trait: savoury, earthy complexity, and fantastic fleshiness! The site is partially up the Niagara Escarpment but dips to face south. Here, we pick Riesling and ferment exactly as Chardonnay — it’s a style which is well-known to fail many a VQA panel tastings for diverging too far from Ontario Riesling “typicity”.
But that is another topic!
*The conversion of malic acid (tart tasting acidity found in grapes) to lactic acid (a softer type of acidity) by lactic acid bacteria. It’s often something that happens in Chardonnay and red wine, but not often in Riesling! The winemaker usually chooses if they want a wine to go through malo, as we call it, or if they want to block the process using filtration or copious amounts of sulphur.
Photos from winesinniagara.com