If you have ever read this blog before, it will likely not shock you to learn that I love Riesling. It is probably my all-time favourite grape, and even though I drink more red wine than white, I probably drink more Riesling than any other varietal. I’ve had Rieslings from Germany and Austria, France and Australia, Canada and the US…but never from New Zealand, until tonight. I wasn’t even aware that any meaningful focus was being placed on Riesling in NZ until last week; even though it’s a cold climate wine country that seems particularly well-suited to grow the grape, the world’s (and my) focus on New Zealand wine has been locked squarely on the country’s star vinous attraction, Sauvignon Blanc, with Pinot Noir starting to make rumblings far behind. At the moment, Riesling barely registers. But I think it makes such food-friendly, versatile, intriguing and profound wines that the right people growing Riesling in the right spots in the country could open a lot of eyes, sow the seeds of a new NZ white wine revolution and start budging the Sauv Blanc monolith. Forrest Wines could well be one of the producers at the forefront of this kind of movement.
I was made aware of this particular Riesling by the folks at Highlander Wine & Spirits, who recently hosted a tasting dinner in Calgary featuring one of Forrest’s winemakers and a selection of their wines, including this one. The Doctors’ Riesling is one of TEN different Rieslings made by Forrest, ranging from dry to semi-sweet to dessert and grown in various different regions across the country. The Doctors’ Riesling comes from the Marlborough region, which is on the northeastern tip of New Zealand’s South Island ,and which, more importantly, is the birthplace and bastion of the NZ Sauvignon Blanc phenomenon. With Marlborough SB readily finding willing buyers on the market, it’s rare to see anybody plant anything else there, but Forrest told me via Twitter that it’s the region that they believe also makes the best Riesling, so they took the plunge.
The first thing that jumped out at me about this bottle (other than the fact that it had a screwcap that wasn’t black, which is awesome) was the alcohol level, labelled at 8.5%. Since grapes picked at any decent degree of ripeness will contain enough sugars to convert into alcohol levels in excess of 10% (with whites, it’s usually more like 12-14%), this low an alcohol percentage is a surefire indicator that the wine inside the bottle will have some sweetness to it, because it strongly suggests that the winemaker stopped the sugar-to-alcohol fermentation process before all of the grape sugar had been used up, leaving some residual sugar in the resulting wine. This is a practice often used in Germany, which is known for its sub-10% off-dry (i.e. partly sweet) Rieslings. The Doctors gets its name from the two Dr. Forrests who own the winery, John and Brigid, although the Germanic style in which this Riesling was made, as well as its flavour profile, also had me conjuring up the names of all the German-born producers who throw the same honorific on their bottles — Dr. Loosen, Dr. Konstantin Frank, Dr. Weins-Prum, and more.
With that extraordinarily long lead-in, let’s get into the wine! It was an extremely pale, totally transparent, almost greenish colour, which was not surprising for a 2010; equally unsurprising from a Riesling was the monstrous aromatics jumping out of the glass, sweet red apple/apple-cinnamon balanced with sharp grapefruit and even gooseberry (a hallmark of NZ Sauv Blanc) tartness and that classic half-mineral, half-stony Riesling undertone that sets this grape apart. There was definitely some noticeable sugar on the palate, but The Doctors’ light, delicate body and piercing acidity made sure that the residual sweetness neither weighed down the wine nor made it cloying or dessert-like. However, the sugar and the acid sort of seemed like distinct entities here: whenever I swirled the Riesling around in my mouth, instead of noticing both components at once, I first felt the sweetness front and centre on my tongue and then felt the acid make a ring surrounding the edges, like a big palate doughnut. Thankfully, before I got too wrapped up in what part of my tongue was feeling what, these technical musings were quickly washed away by waves of green apple, lime, grapefruit and pineapple, backed up by a noticeable rain-on-pavement sort of flavour and a quieter underlying note that reminded me of ocean spray. My favourite part about The Doctors was the crisp, clean finish; the wine’s sweetness doesn’t linger, but its tartness and minerality do, even for minutes after you swallow.
It would be very interesting to taste this wine blind side-by-side a German Kabinett Riesling from the Mosel Valley. Both are built in similar fashion, and both rely on a knife-edge balance between sweetness and acidity to make themselves sing. I think I would have a hard time telling them apart, which, given my predilection towards all wines Germanic, is high praise for the Forrest. I’m extremely interested to track the progress of this Riesling over the next few vintages, and to (hopefully) watch the growth of NZ Riesling in the next decade or so, because the grape and the country are clearly a good match.
$20 to $25 CDN