Wine Review: 2010 Mission Hill Martin’s Lane Riesling

6 08 2012

[This bottle was provided as a sample for review purposes.]

R is for Riesling.

Time to issue the first official correction in PnP history.  When I reviewed Mission Hill’s Reserve-level Riesling back in June, I stated that the Reserve (the 2nd lowest of 4 quality levels of MH wines) was Mission Hill’s top-level Riesling, and I openly pined for the winery to put together a high-end single-vineyard Riesling that would really showcase what my favourite grape could do in Okanagan soil.  I said that if MH ever decided to release such a wine, I would be lining up to try it.  Shortly after posting, I received an e-mail from a representative at the winery that said something like:  “Well, actually, we already DO have a Riesling exactly like that…”, and a week later, this bottle showed up at my door.  In my defence, this particular Riesling doesn’t show up in the official portfolio of wines on the MH website, but as a devoted Riesling disciple, I still feel bad about not being aware of it, and I feel particularly bad about suggesting that it didn’t exist in front of an online audience.

Sorry Mission Hill — time to set the record straight.

Martin’s Lane is a special vineyard that was planted in 1995 just below Mission Hill’s winery southwest of Kelowna in commemoration of MH proprietor Anthony von Mandl’s father, Martin, who passed away the previous year.  The steeply-sloped vineyard is planted to two grapes, Riesling and Pinot Noir.  After years of development, each of these varietals from Martin’s Lane are now featured in their own small-batch, limited-release, artisanal offerings:  the first Martin’s Lane Riesling was bottled for the 2009 vintage, while the inaugural 2010 Martin’s Lane Pinot Noir was just released to market this year.  The ML Riesling is an international effort:  von Mandl and Mission Hill winemaker John Simes produced it in collaboration with German Riesling luminary Fritz Hasselbach, owner of the Gunderloch winery in the Rheinhessen, and it was not released as its own bottling until all three parties gave it their seal of approval.  Only 400 cases (4800 bottles) of Martin’s Lane Riesling were produced in 2010, and mine was the first bottle I had ever seen in Alberta; I haven’t seen it on retail shelves anywhere in Calgary, which may mean that you have to hit up the winery to find one. But trust me, it’s worth it.

Stelvin Rating: 1/10 (I know MH’s style is to run with the plain black screwtop, but for a special bottling, maybe some special stopper decor is in order? Think on it.)

Despite being only a year and a half old, the wine already has some depth of colour to it, emerging from the bottle a clear medium lemon, darker than many other Rieslings the same age.  It was immediately evident on the nose that this is a Serious Wine:  powerfully aromatic, it features huge yet pristine minerality that’s so sharp it’s almost prickly, bringing to mind mountain springs, bath salts and brine.  It’s clean and crisp but soft at the same time, with intense notes of poached pear, lime, maple/caramel (strange but true) and a deep-set smokiness that makes it stand out from other Canadian Rieslings I’ve tried.  Fruit predominates the front end of the palate, electric flavours of pineapple, lemon meringue and green apple, carrying with them a hint of something more exotic (papaya?).  However, as the wine sits in your mouth, its potent acidity builds to a searing crescendo, scouring away the hint of residual sweetness that this Riesling retains and clearing the way for a remarkable chalkiness on the finish.  As you swallow, the wine feels almost powdery or granular as its minerality takes over, but it’s not as if the other flavours fade; the structure of the wine just steps to the forefront and ushers in an extended finish that remains for over a minute after swallowing.  For a Riesling lover like me, this is what white wine is all about:  the delicate interplay between acid and sugar, fruit and mineral, flavour and structure.  When a bottle strikes the right balance between each of these elements, the result will make you sit up and take notice whether you’re specifically paying attention to each component or not.

I think this bottle will be even better in a couple years as it continues to integrate, and it will last for well over a decade.  I love seeing wine like this come out of my home country, especially from one of the larger volume producers:  this is distinctive wine, with character, a work of art rather than a commodity, and it delivers far more quality and intrigue than you would expect for its $25 price tag at the winery (note: this pricing is a year old, so it may have increased slightly, but it’s a bargain either way).  I hope this is the future of Canadian wine.  THIS is the top-level Riesling that Mission Hill puts out, and it more than lives up to its billing.

91+ points

$25 to $30 CDN (at the winery)

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