Summer of Riesling man of the moment… Ben Glover
Some South Island winemakers make a statement with their big buttery Chardonnays, their whole bunch ferment Pinot Noirs or their loud shirts.
Ben Glover struts a more subtle style.
It’s not just his mint condition, mint green 1965 Zephyr – “The old man found it in Timaru a couple of years ago”, pictured here in February 2018 – it’s the subtle style of his dry Rieslings, his full bodied Gewürztraminers and his sensational Sauvignon Blancs.
“It’s always been about aromatics at Zephyr Wines,” says the Marlborough man, who was on a mission last month to highlight the diversity and deliciousness of DRY Marlborough Riesling last month at his informal Summer of Riesling Sunday. Excuse the caps lock, but, really, why do so many people struggle so hard to understand that Riesling is NOT just one style of wine?
It can be sweet, yes, but truth be told, it rarely is. Most of the world’s great Rieslings err on the dry side and those rarities that are intensely sweet are made in such minuscule quantities that they hardly define the world of Riesling due to the sheer fact that they are such a small percentage of production.
So, back to Marlborough and February this year and this blog, which is all about the Glover family’s 2018 Summer of Riesling, one of the most relaxed, low key wine gigs I’ve been to.
So, what is Summer of Riesling when it’s at home?
Summer of Riesling is sometimes called SOR, which has always seemed a tad ironic to me because it did become something of a sore point, for some, since not all wine drinkers worship at the foot of Riesling with its intensely aromatic, highly acidic attributes.
Both of these factors – the full on fruity flavours (sometimes actually sweet but often misinterpreted as ‘sweet’) and the grape’s naturally high acidity (sometimes too tart, other times incredibly refreshing) can and do polarise many.
Not so the Glover family.
So, last month they placed their old garden bath tub smack in the centre of their still and sunny lawn, filled it with ice and bottles of Riesling that were the entry fee to an amazing Sunday filled with Riesling and the love of it and the great outdoors. Thanks to Ben and Susie Glover (husband-wife team) and Jack Glover (brother of Ben), I was invited to taste every Zephyr Riesling ever made.
This month, I am writing about it and today I spoke on RNZ National radio with Jesse Mulligan about the love of Riesling.
The Glover family Summer of Riesling this year also saw most of us who went asking the same old question: why do so many wine drinkers struggle with Riesling?
It’s a tricky one. And it’s an urban myth that New York restaurateur Paul Greco wanted to bust when he began the Summer of Riesling movement in 2008. He controversially removed all white wines from his wine list that year and made Riesling the only white served all summer long. The staff didn’t take too kindly to the idea, until they realised he was serious and had to get on board with it.
When well travelled Central Otago winemaker Duncan Forsyth of Mount Edward Wines got wind of Greco’s idea, he collaborated with Angela Clifford of The Food Farm in North Canterbury and the duo launched Summer of Riesling in New Zealand.
Forsyth, Mat Donaldson of Pegasus Bay (this country’s King of Spatlese) and others have since made a range of Riesling t-shirts – “Jesus drank Riesling”, “Betty drank it…”, “Voice of Riesling”… “I like my men like I like my Riesling…” – to name but a few of the t’s that have been worn during many long, Riesling inspired events.
I wear the t-shirts, I’ve been to the events and I drink the Rieslings that inspire them; dry, off dry, medium dry, medium sweet, luscious. I love these wines, but I can (reluctantly) understand why they are so massively misunderstood by the vast majority of wine drinkers.
So, why do many wine lovers struggle with the concept Riesling?
It’s the billion dollar question that winemaker Ben Glover and his brother Jack (who co-own Zephyr Wines) answer by making dry Rieslings. Definitively dry. No holds barred dry. Dry.
Their first Zephyr Riesling was made in 2009 and the latest is the 2017, which will soon trickle onto wine store shelves. Every Zephyr Riesling made has been dry, which is no mean feat in a variable maritime wine growing region, such as Marlborough’s.
That variability can be handled better by hand picking the grapes to ensure only the healthiest fruit makes the cut. Drinkability may sound subjective, but where good quality winemaking is concerned, there are some objective factors to look at too, especially for such a transparent grape as Riesling, which may taste fruity, but is not necessarily sweet just because of its out-there fruity flavours. While most Rieslings are not sweet, many of them beg to be balanced by a little residual sugar in the grapes in order to balance their naturally high acidity. Otherwise they can taste too austere.
Riesling’s key hallmark is the high acidity, which can not only balance the fruity flavours but can also act as a preservative, ensuring many Rieslings can last and taste fresh after a decade or more.
I love the consistency in all nine Zephyr Rieslings, and it was a privilege to taste the entire line up.
I can’t wait to see what the 2018 vintage turns up; it’s been a crazy summer. In the meantime, try this sensational wine of the week.
Wine of the week
2016 Zephyr Riesling $25-ish
Dry is the buzzword when it comes to Zephyr Riesling made by Ben Glover and this wine cruises in beautifully with 9 grams per litre of residual sugar, putting it exactly into the German definition of ‘trocken’, which means dry. It’s fully dry in taste and flavour from the first, flavoursome fresh green apple and lime sip to the last, lingering, succulent drop.
Available from Glengarry’s stores, Regional Wines in Wellington and other specialist stores or www.zephyrwines.com
A decade of Zephyr Riesling
2009 Zephyr Riesling 11% ABV
Like all Zephyr Rieslings, this wine still rocks a pale lemon colour, freshness to burn, medium body, ripe intense flavours of kaffir lime, green apples, sweet peach and a dry finish. Very zesty and intense.
2010 Zephyr Riesling 12.5% ABV
One of my faves of the entire range; fuller body than many of the other vintages with dry concentrated green fruit and fresh herb flavours. A stunner of a wine. Totally dry. A beauty.
2011 Zephyr Riesling 12% ABV
Fresh, lemon zest and medium bodied in style with a long refreshing finish. Like them all, it still has plenty of time up its sleeve, if you’re into cellaring interesting wines.
2012 Zephyr Riesling 12.5% ABV
A juicy, fresh, lemony Marlborough Riesling from a cooler year. Shows how bullet proof Riesling can be. Medium bodied, medium finish. Great value for money – as they all are.
2013 Zephyr Riesling 12.5% ABV
For the driest wine here (6 grams residual sugar), this wine has incredibly succulent flavours and juiciness, a medium body and long finish.
2014 Zephyr Riesling 12.5% ABV
Limes and green apples, zesty and fresh; big on flavour, medium bodied, long, delicious.
2015 Zephyr Riesling 11.5% ABV
This was the most difficult of years for Zephyr Riesling, thanks (or no thanks, really) to a high level of botrytis, which makes the wine seem more full bodied and lower in acid than other years. It tastes fresh but broader in style. An interesting and tasty Riesling from an interesting, slightly challenging year.
2016 Zephyr Riesling 11.5% ABV
Medium bodied and packed with flavour of lime, lemon and green apple, this wine has slightly lower alcohol and slightly higher residual sugar than the other Rieslings here, but it firmly remains in the dry camp. This is a drink-me-now Riesling. It can and will age, but is ideally a wine to drink in the next five years.
2017 Zephyr Riesling 11.5% ABV
Brand new and yet to be released at the time of writing on 9 March 2018, this wine is from a cool summer and is still youthful with its pale colour, noticeably high acidity and refreshing green flavours; think: kaffir lime, green apples, lemon and lime zest and you’re on the nail. It’s a tasty white with fresh seafood… and has outstanding potential to age, as they all do,
The stylistic aim
Ben Glover: “Dry Riesling is our aim. We’re inspired by the Rheingau style of 8 to 10 grams of residual sugar at the most. We’re looking for moderate to lower alcohols and are achieving them through hand tending the vines, hand harvesting and consistency in style.”
Zephyr facts and figures
The Zephyr wine brand is co owned by brothers Ben and Jack Glover in Marlborough
Sauvignon Blanc currently dominates their vineyard area and production, making up about 6000 of the brand’s 10,000 cases
They also produce 1000 cases of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir as well as Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris and Riesling and also MK111 – a Sauvignon Blanc which is fermented entirely in old oak with wild yeasts and then oak aged and left in contact with lees (decomposing yeasts after fermentation). MKIII has been made three times and highlights the diversity possible with hand picked grapes used to make high quality Sauvignon Blanc.
The Zephyr Chardonnay vines are in transition to organic certification
Ben and Susie Glover (husband-wife) own 13 hectares of Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc vines, which they are currently transitioning to organic certification with Bio-Gro New Zealand. They also use grapes from an adjoining 11 hectare block of Sauvignon Blanc, which Owen Glover (Ben’s father) farms, using conventional growing methods.
Big wine regions often get a bad rap but where would we be without them?
I’ve lost count of how many visits I made to Marlborough last year, often with others who work with wine, and each time we were staggered by the region’s heavy reliance on Sauvignon Blanc. Even when you do expect it, the number of eggs that Marlborough winemakers have in the Sauvignon Blanc basket is daunting, to say the least.
Great Chardonnays from Marlborough are growing in number but even at the largest wineries, it often makes up less than 5% of their overall production. And that doesn’t even touch on the potential greatness of Marlborough Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Chenin Blanc (listed in diminishing order of their numerical importance in the region). Such is the importance of the wine we call ‘Savvy’. And you’d be anything but that, if you chose not to put most of your energy into producing the most profitable wine. Still, it’s great to taste a slow but steady divergence amongst Marlborough Sauvignons, which is why Kevin Judd’s Wild Sauvignon hits the sweet spot with so many wine commentators and drinkers alike, not only in New Zealand but around the world. Read on.
The latest stats
85% of Marlborough’s wine production is Sauvignon Blanc
76% of New Zealand’s white grapes are Sauvignon Blanc
Sauvignon Blanc is the most planted grape overall and the dominant white wine in New Zealand, which occupies 22,085 hectares of the 37,000 hectares of grapes grown in this country
Sauvignon has had the biggest overall growth of any grape grown and wine made in New Zealand in the past 10 years
In 2008 there were 13,988 producing hectares of Sauvignon planted nationwide – today it is 22,085 (as above). Over the same period, Pinot Noir grew from 4,650 hectares in 2008 to 5,653 today; Chardonnay decreased from 3,881 to 3,203 and Pinot Gris grew from 1,383 to 2,469.
5 TOP DROPS
FOR THE CELLAR
2015 Greywacke Wild Sauvignon Marlborough $28-$30, 14% ABV
Kevin Judd first made this wine in 2009 and it is 100% barrel fermented with 100% wild yeast; about two thirds of the wine goes through malolactic fermentation to soften Sauvignon’s naturally high acidity and add roundness to this voluptuous, full bodied dry white. It ages in barrel and goes through battonage (French for stirring the lees – the decomposing yeast cells left over in the wine). It was James Healy – fellow winemaker at Cloudy Bay, who steered Judd in the direction of a wild and tank fermented Sauvignon, but that was back in 1991 when they both worked at Cloudy Bay. Judd says he was pestered by Healy to make wild yeast fermented Chardonnay and he eventually he agreed to do it, he was surprised to find himself thinking ‘This is really quite good’.
As is his Greywacke Wild Sauvignon – full bodied, succulent, juicy, savoury and long. This wine shines a new light on Sauvignon Blanc. It can age well too; for up to 10 years.
NAUGHTY AND NICE
2015 Kung Fu Girl Riesling $24.95, 12% ABV
The label’s naughty, the wine is nice. And it has a new importer in New Zealand as from this week; namely, Constellation Brands.
Kung Fu Girl Riesling is made from grapes grown on the evocatively named Evergreen Vineyard in the Ancient Lakes AVA (American Viticultural Area – 566 hectares with only 5 wineries, so not large). It’s off dry, but only just, which suits its incredibly intense fruit purity, light body and juicy flavours of ripe limes, green apples and mandarin.
Washington State is not exactly the first place you’d expect to look for Riesling but the classic light bodied, low alcohol, off dry German Rieslings were the inspiration for North American winemaker Charles Smith.
Available from specialist wine stores or email: email@example.com
ONE FOR FUN
Bisou Bisou $19.99
Bisou Bisou means kiss kiss in French and the wine is definitely a big cuddly bubbly, made entirely from Chardonnay grapes grown in the Yarra Valley, 40 minutes north of Melbourne. It’s off dry but its creamy soft complexity balances the high but refreshing acidity. It was made at De Bortoli Wines and is available exclusively only through Vinomofo online.
Available from Vinomofo.
2016 Whistling Buoy Half Acre Vineyard Pinot Noir $42
This grapes in this wine were grown in Lyttelton, which is halfway down the South Island on the east coast of New Zealand. It’s a far flung place for growing fruit, even from the nearby city of Christchurch city (whose residents look north rather than east for the best local produce), but it is a beautiful getaway and a surprisingly successful one for the small Half Acre Vineyard, on the south of Lyttelton Harbour crater. This is the source of the Pinot Noir grapes in this wine. They growing facing north where they are drenched in sun on the warm slopes of a vineyard first planted in 2000. It’s an outstanding wine; revealing the earthy, mushroomy, dark cherry character of Canterbury Pinot Noirs; its medium body and firm acidity add freshness to the beautiful ripe fruit flavours in this wine. The name comes from the original buoy that marked the entrance to this harbour.
Available direct from Whistling Buoy Wines online at http://www.whistlingbuoy.co.nz/index.php/en/
2016 Chapel Hill McLaren Vale Bush Vine Grenache $28.95 , 14.5% ABV
Grenache may be one of the most prolifically grown grapes in the world, but it’s also one of the most under rated. How often do you even see the G word on a bottle of wine? It’s one of the most planted grapes in both Spain and southern France and it was once Australia’s most planted overall grape, until a significant amount was pulled out. How times change.
Winemakers like Bryn Richards from Chapel Hill are now keen to plant more Grenache. He is also lucky enough to have access to old bush vines for this wine, which was made from grapes grown on a vineyard planted in 1952 in McLaren Vale, south Australia – a hot bed of experimentation. Richards is a massive fan of Grenache for its soft, sensual mouth feel and its intense red cherry flavours. If you love Pinot, check out this next step up. It’s full bodied but has a lightness in taste and is a wine of real beauty and instant accessibility; drinks well now, though can definitely improve with age in the bottle for 4-5 years, possibly longer.
Available from Glengarry stores.