Photo: Tantalus winemaker and general manager David Paterson
For Riesling lovers, the good news is that Tantalus Vineyard has just announced the release of both its 2013 Old Vines Riesling and its 2015 “regular” Riesling.
They are among a spring release of almost the entire portfolio from this East Kelowna producer. Other wines include two sparkling wines, two Pinot Noirs and a rosé.
My comments here focus on the Rieslings, for two reasons:
· Tantalus is arguably the leading producer of Riesling in the Okanagan (although a rising number of other wineries are hot on this winery’s tail).
· Tantalus Riesling wines can be recommended for purchase by anyone with the patience and the cellar to lay down these wines for a future vertical tasting.
In mid-February, Tantalus owner Eric Savics and David Paterson, his winemaker, hosted a 10-year vertical tasting of Tantalus Riesling wines. It spanned the vintages from 2005 to 2014. Every one of those wines, including the 2005, was alive and full of vibrant flavours and aromas.
This was a tasting of the winery’s “regular” Riesling, the one that sells for about $20 a bottle. It was not a tasting of the Old Vines Riesling, a $30 wine.
You might be hard-pressed to find another $20 Okanagan white still as lively at 10 years. The point is that this wine rewards you for cellaring it; and buying it does not break the bank.
Some definitions are in order. The Tantalus Old Vines Riesling is made from the small block of clone 21-B Riesling that was planted in the vineyard in 1978. There are perhaps just two other blocks of Riesling this old in East Kelowna.
The earlier vintages of the regular Tantalus Riesling (2005, 2006 and 2007) were made with Old Vines fruit. Eric redeveloped other parts of the vineyard after buying the property in 2003. Young Riesling plantings provided some of the fruit in 2008 and have dominated the wine ever since.
Both the regular and the Old Vines Riesling wines are dry. The regular usually has a touch more residual sugar, making the wine more accessible when it is young. The Old Vines typically is quite dry with bracing acidity. Old Vines is not released until it is two years old, just to let the acidity settle down.
In both of these wines, the acidity is what preserves the fruit and the aromas. When I tasted a 2005 Old Vines Riesling last year, it seemed to me that the wine would live to 2025. The current release, a 2013 Old Vines Riesling, also impresses me as a 20-year wine.
“There are a few other places in the world” where grapes have a comparable acidity, David says. “But the Okanagan is a beautiful place because we have this natural acidity. I have never worked at a place where you are wait for acid to drop enough so you can pick. You are accumulating flavours. Riesling does not usually pack on too much sugar. Even in the hot years, we have 12.6 alcohol rather than alcohol in the 14s. Every other place I have worked, Riesling is one of the first varieties to come in because it is too warm and the acid is dropping dramatically. Whereas Riesling is last off for us while we wait for that natural acidity to come down.”
At the vertical tasting, every vintage had lively acidity, even a hot vintage like 2009 which produced a slightly softer Riesling. The 2007 and 2008 vintages were preferred by many tasters – but none of the vintages let the side down. This underlines the collectability of these wines.
A bottle of Tantalus Riesling so impressed David Paterson – who was then working with a wine retailer in Vancouver – that he sought a job with the winery in the 2008 harvest. When Matt Holmes, the previous winemaker, left, David succeeded him in 2009.
David was born in Vancouver but grew up in New Zealand. He graduated in winemaking from Lincoln University in New Zealand and worked several vintages there, in Australia and in Oregon. Before returning to Canada, he was the production winemaker at Henschke Cellars, one of Australia’s leading family-owned wineries.
The Rieslings from Tantalus are classic examples of terroir-driven wines.
“The pedigree of the site has proven itself year after year,” owner Eric Savics has written. “The unique soils of glacial lake bed silts give our grapes, and the resulting wines, a wonderful edginess and minerality which has become the hallmark of our Rieslings, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.”
David, now the general manager of Tantalus as well as the winemaker, and Eric share an ambitious goal for the winery.
“For us, it is having a whole portfolio – sparkling wine, Pinot Noir, rosé, -- all coming off this one beautiful piece of property, rather than just Riesling,” David says. “The next 10 years is what we are really excited about. It is great to have come to where we are, but now as the vines mature past 10 years, we will see weight and maturity in the vines and the juice we get off them. We have an opportunity over the next little while to refine what we do and to produce some really world class wine, which is the only goal we have. It is good to be quite good in Canada. But our goal is to produce a full portfolio of single vineyard wines that always reflect the vintage and the terroir and stand up to anything from across the world.”
Here are notes on some of the current releases.
Tantalus Old Vines Riesling Natural Brut 2013 ($34.70 for 150 cases). This is a crisply dry sparkling wine with aromas of lemon and lime and flavours of green apple and grapefruit. 90.
Tantalus Traditional Method Blanc de Noir 2013 ($27.74). This wine’s appeal begins with the lovely and delicate pink hue in the glass, along with the lively display of bubbles. The aromas are fruity and the palate offers a rich medley of flavours ranging from apple to red licorice. This is a delicious and festive bubbly. 92.
Tantalus Rosé 2015 ($19.04). This is a blend of 60% Pinot Noir, 40% Pinot Meunier. The wine is light and refreshing with a rose petal hue with delicate aromas and flavours of strawberry and cranberry and grapefruit. The finish is crisp and almost austerely dry. 88.
Tantalus Old Vines Riesling 2013 ($30.35). The wine has begun to develop the classic petrol aroma of Riesling, along with notes of lime. On the palate, there are flavours of lime and grapefruit around a firm spine of minerality. The wine has good weight and a very long and profound finish. 93.
Tantalus Riesling 2015 ($19.91). The wine has intense aromas and flavours of citrus mingled with notes of spice and with lively acidity. 91.