Tantalus, Greatness in Tension

In my earliest restaurant days, already a sucker for the noble grape, I fell completely for a riesling from Tantalus Vineyards. Over the nine following vintages, despite having no investment other than selling the wines and maturing alongside them, I felt a sense of pride with every winery success. When wine hero Jancis Robinson first gushed over the wines, I was ecstatic. A few times when bringing a gift for friends in distant provinces with little access to Okanagan wine, Tantalus' Riesling was the bottle I chose. Last summer, I carried a bottle across the country to a cottage in Nova Scotia that overlooked St. George's Bay. Friends and I drank it alongside fresh seafood chowder while massive waves crashed on the beach outside and the pairing was absolutely perfect. Since my first experience, other producers have proven that riesling deserves a place in the Okanagan, but for me, Tantalus was the first.

In 2008, winemaker David Paterson joined general manager Jane Hatch and vineyard manager Warwick Shaw at Tantalus. The vineyard, which has grown to seventy-five acres, is one of the most coveted in the Okanagan. The site, in Southeast Kelowna, was first planted in 1927 and is home to existing vines from a 1978 planting of riesling, some of the oldest in the country (the fruit of which goes into the "Old Vines" bottling), and 1985 plantings of chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier. Sustainable viticulture has always been the focus of Tantalus. The grapes are farmed free of chemicals. They have reserved a ten-acre wedge of forest that divides parcels of the vineyard and serves as a habitat for native plants and wildlife.

Over the past ten years, the portfolio has grown and the wines have become better and better. David Paterson's penchant for nurturing cool climate varieties is clear. Tantalus' pinot noir has improved greatly and now shows many traits of those complex and age-worthy examples from France and Germany. The chardonnay too, has fine intensity and balance. I like that the wines aren't trying to mimic a popular style or a personality found in other parts of the Okanagan. Theirs are wines based on acidity and structure.

Vintage to vintage, Tantalus riesling has maintained a balancing act of tension: unapologetically high in acidity, a base of minerality, a little sweetness for balance, yet never cloyingly so. Having stashed many bottles away over the years, I can state from experience that these wines have the capability to age incredibly well. The 2013 Riesling is no exception. It has come out of the gate lean and refreshing with heaps of green apple and citrus character. Above all, it is a total pleasure to drink.

 

Jake Skakun is a writer and sommelier from Vancouver, currently living in Toronto. He can be found most days pulling corks and twisting caps at the Black Hoof. He Tweets and Instagrams @jakeskakun.

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