Wine Review: 2010 Tantalus Riesling

23 11 2011

I feel like I’ve been remiss in not writing this review until now, seeing as how my visit to Tantalus might have been the highlight of my trip to the Okanagan in September.  I’ve been a fan of the winery (one of the few in Canada about which I can honestly make that claim) for awhile, and actually getting to go there and meet some of the people behind the eye-catching mask-labelled bottles only heightened my respect for who they are and what they do.  I was lucky enough to get a guided tour of both the vineyards and the winery from winemaker David Paterson — which is probably the only reason I was able to answer WSET Advanced exam questions about vertical shoot positioning and replacement cane pruning — and I left there as excited about wine as I’ve ever been.

Believe it or not, this is in a city. Did I mention I'm moving to Kelowna?

Unlike many Okanagan wineries which are based in the hotter, drier southern portion of the valley, Tantalus is located right within Kelowna’s city limits, in as pastoral a setting as possible given that the closest Starbucks is less than 10 minutes away.  All of their wines come from grapes grown directly on their estate, and on the rolling slopes of their vineyards they have planted Pinot Noir and a growing amount of Chardonnay; however, to me at least, they are synonymous with brilliant, high-quality Riesling.  They have some of the oldest Riesling vines in Canada (40+ years) on location, where Kelowna’s relatively cooler but lake-moderated climate is ideal for this hardy, late-ripening Germanic grape.  The winemaker has a clear vision about what he’s trying to achieve with this privileged source material, letting the fruit speak for itself and preserving natural acids, and consistently delivers on the site’s potential.  Although Tantalus also makes a reserve Old Vines Riesling from their decades-old vines (and is starting to experiment with sparkling Riesling as well), tonight’s wine is the producer’s base Riesling bottling, which packs more of a punch than anyone has a right to expect for the sub-$25 price.

This might be the tallest bottle of wine I own. It almost didn't fit in my fridge.

The ’10 Riesling is widely available in Alberta, but I picked up this particular bottle (as well as a killer wooden display box) at the winery itself, which always makes it a little more special to pop (or in this case, twist) and pour.  The first thing I noticed about the Tantalus tonight was that it wasn’t as pale and delicate-looking as many Rieslings; instead, it was a rich, bright lemon/straw colour that was deeper than I expected from last year’s vintage.  The wine had a classic aromatic Riesling nose of grapefruit, lime, lemon zest and Granny Smith apple interlaced with a pervasive mineral/burnt match quality and an aroma I can weakly describe as “water”, like the smell of waterfall spray or fresh rain.  On the very first sip, the unquestionable highlight of this Riesling took centre stage:  its absolutely seismic acidity.  I have actually used previous vintages of this wine to show people how to detect acidity in a wine, and if this is something that you have difficulty with, let me recommend the 2010 Tantalus as your best teaching tool — I guarantee you’ll feel that telltale tingling on the sides of your tongue.  I learned a great trick in WSET class about how to gauge the acid level in a wine:  once you’re done swallowing, relax your mouth and tongue, let your head drop forward a bit, and wait.  Since acid in wine stimulates saliva production (which is part of what makes acidic wine a good palate-cleanser and great with food), the more you feel your mouth water, the more acidic your wine is.  I tried that trick with this wine and had to make sure my mouth stayed closed so that I didn’t drool on the floor.

Even though the acid is the story and triumph of this wine, that’s not to say that it overwhelms the rest of the Riesling’s flavour profile; thankfully, the wine has enough “stuff” not to get lost in this impressive structural display and is instead given a screaming vibrancy and energy from the streak of tartness running down the middle of it.  The acidity is balanced nicely (though certainly not tamed) by the Tantalus’ medium body and lush texture, as well as a bare hint of residual sweetness that helps round out the palate.  It delivers a string of clean, intense flavours that echo its nose — green apple, lemon/lime, grapefruit/tropical fruit, bath salts, and good old Germanic wet slate — and that power into a pure, refreshing, mineral-laden finish that lasts for close to a minute.

Stelvin Rating: 1/10 (Sorry to end on a down note, but plain black screwtops don't cut it. Throw on a T or something.)

This isn’t just a good Canadian wine; it’s a GOOD WINE, period.  Its deft mixture of richness and taut electric acidity makes it an ideal food partner, and its remarkable concentration and structure makes a serious statement for a so-called entry-level Riesling.  It just shows what happens when the right grape is grown in the right place by the right people.  Because of what they have done with my favourite grape in my home and native land, and because of their clear dedication to quality and their amazing hospitality on my recent visit, Tantalus might be my favourite winery in Canada.  If you’ve seen their wines at the store but have never picked one up, this Riesling is a great place to start.  Go find it!

92 points

$20 to $30 CDN

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