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One Brilliant Bottle

organic/biodynamic/natural wines in Vinland

Tantalus Vineyards Riesling

Canada (British Columbia)


I have a fondness for wooden masks. The one on the left is from Bali. The one pictured on the wine bottle is from the Canadian province of British Columbia.

The cultural passions of Tantalus owners Eric Savics and Eria Thomas led to labels adorned with the work of First Nations artist Dempsey Bob. His masks are also set into the the wall of bottles behind the Tantalus tasting bar. Indeed works of well-known BC artists are to be found throughout the new ultramodern winery building, making it a showcase for visual art as well as wine. The two blend very well.

The building was the first in BC’s wine-rich Okanagan Valley to receive LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification. The winery’s 19 hectares are organic and the approach beyond the vineyards is ‘non-interventionist’, allowing ‘each wine to convey the fine quality and unique character of this historic site.’

Historic, in this North American context, means back to 1927. The property was then called Pioneer Vineyards and production was of the table grape variety. Three years later, in what was the first grape contract in Canadian history, Pioneer began shipping grapes to Victoria Wineries for BC’s first grape wine production. These were not memorable wines.

The 1978 owners began planting riesling and it is these vines that today provide the grapes for the Tantalus Old Vines bottling. By 2004, with the present owners, a new style emerged, natural in its approach to winemaking, outward-looking in its limited production. Tantalus concentrates solely on riesling, pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot meunier. David Paterson, Vancouver-born but New Zealand bred, came onboard, as did Jacqueline Kemp, also from New Zealand. Between them their winemaking experience included stints in Oregon, Burgundy and Australia.

The duo has very quickly made a mark, especially with riesling, the Tantalus bottling considered by many the best in the Okanagan Valley. Fans include the much-quoted UK wine critic Jancis Robinson, who has called the Tantalus 2008 Riesling ‘awfully good’ and ‘truly outstanding.’ A rather encouraging pair of descriptors.

So let’s see what the latest Tantalus riesling has in store.

Tantalus Vineyards Riesling 2009

To the eye, muted gold. Pleasantly bold in both aroma and taste. Apple, pineapple, appetizingly rich. Altogether flavourful — citrus etched by honey, but without the loss of its mineral backbone. Holding strong with an engaging acidity. It is a riesling ready for a world-wide audience. Unmask it and enjoy.  $



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