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The Care and Aging of Local Riesling

By Stephen Eliot

It is no secret among its dyed-in-the-wool devotees that well-made Riesling is capable of great things with age. Its high acidity and lower pH afford it wonderful vibrancy and brightness when young but also guarantee tremendous staying power as well. The point and purpose, however, of aging any wine is not simply that it will last but that it will grow and gain in complexity over time, and, in that regard, the case can be made that no other white wines age quite as well or for so long than those made from Riesling.

Over the years we have enjoyed German Rieslings that were well into their four, fifth and even sixth decades, and most were on the sweet side, but the occasional dry bottling, especially those from Australia have also worn their years quite well. California versions, of which we wish there were far more, have generally been made in a softer, sweeter style with an eye to early consumption, but a scattered few have shown that the local version, too, can be deserving of patience.

Although such noteworthy examples as the Grosse Gewachs bottlings of Germany and the Grand Cru Alsatians are proof enough that dry Riesling can be truly great, the truth is that dry Riesling can be a bit tricky. When unbuffered by a bit of balancing sweetness, Riesling’s soaring acidity can make for overly austere, sometimes painfully tart wines, but the good ones can be splendid partners to all sorts of delicate seafood recipes when young and downright compelling in their old age.

One of those, and arguably California’s most consistently successful dry-finished Riesling, is Pey-Marin’s “The Shell Mound” from Marin County. We recently tasted our ways through a succession of Pey-Marin Rieslings going back to 2005, and, while hardly proving the grape’s ability to make wines that last for generations, the wines give lie to the notion that delicacy and duration are incompatible virtues.

Of the notes that follow, those for the 2011, 2012 and 2013 editions are newly published in the current issue of CGCW, while those for older wines have been amended to reflect the changes that have occurred over time. All prices listed are retail at time of release.

89 PEY- MARIN The Shell Mound Marin County 2013
Still on the tight side and charged with the energy of extreme youth yet very clearly speaking to Riesling, the newest member of the Pey-Marin clan is a dry, impeccably well-balanced wine of great potential and promise. Its inklings of fresh flowers, green apples and white peaches come with subtle accents of minerals, and it finishing length is striking. Allow for a least a few years of age here, and we would not be at all surprised if it improves for another half-dozen or more. $27.00

87 PEY-MARIN The Shell Mound Marin County 2012
If very much made in the somewhat firm and withdrawn winery style, the 2012 is, at least at this point, a bit simple and lacking quite the reach of its mates. It is fresh and fairly straight-spined, and its acidity sticks out in a way that brings a slight grapefruity aspect to its narrow, young fruit. Aging is required if it is to grow into beauty, but given the track record of Pey-Marin Rieslings, we would not bet against it. $24.00

89 PEY-MARIN The Shell Mound Marin County 2011
Pey-Marin has consistently produced balanced and eminently age-worthy, dry Rieslings, and, this lively, slightly floral, ever-so-slightly citrusy effort gets the nod for its keen focus and youthful vigor. It is a cleansing, briskly balanced bottling with a minerally twist to its sleek and long-lasting flavors, and its seamlessly fit acidity firms without stiffening. There is plenty to like now, but it has room for growth, and we anticipate additional complexity in the coming three or four years. $29.00

87 PEY-MARIN The Shell Mound Riesling Marin County 2010
When first tasted and reviewed a couple of years back, we found the 2010 to be both fresh and slightly more rounded without quite the keen edge of acidity that marked some of its older mates, and, in fact, the wine has opened up nicely with an attractive mix of peaches, honey and stones running its length. It will clearly keep well for several years, but, in this case, we see no reason to wait. $26.00

88 PEY-MARIN The Shell Mound Riesling Marin County 2007
It has been six years since we last tasted this offering, and, in the interim, it has blossomed quite nicely. It has filled out and found added fullness with more richness than its younger self suggested, and it has begun to develop a bit of the petrol-like complexity that mature Riesling will. Its impressions of layering and depth prove the wait to have been worthwhile, and it has the structure and balance to age famously for years to come. $24.00

90 PEY-MARIN The Shell Mound Riesling Marin County 2006
The eye-opening 2006 has grown into a decidedly complex and wonderfully rich Riesling and shows fine tactile presence and length. It has gained a good deal of polish while having lost the severity of its acidy youth, yet it is still wonderfully buoyant and lively with a good future before it. Simply put, it is a solid example of why Riesling is worth aging, and it will make marvelous drinking with any number of flavorful shellfish recipes. $22.00

86 PEY-MARIN The Shell Mound Riesling Marin County 2005
Those who fancy older Rieslings should find the slightly petrol-like aspects of its nose to their liking, but this fully developed bottling may strike others as being a bit sideways to fruity varietal expectations. It is quite dry and has gone as far as it will, and it is beginning to fray at the edges. It has a year or two of useful life left, but it needs drinking sooner than later. $20.00

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