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Wine of the Week for week ending 19th January 2003
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Corbans Johannisberg Riesling 1991
Marlborough, New Zealand

I pour the wine from the concealed bottle and the colour is revealed as old gold. My friends think they have a chardonnay in their glass. That is until they bring to wine to their nose and take a sniff to find it is nothing like chardonnay at all. It's a beautifully scented riesling without any obnoxious kero or petrol-like characters, just the scent of really delicate orange scented honey and old apricot jam with a nuance of a smidgen of cardamom spice or something of that ilk.

We play wine games and no-one guesses the wine's age, most went for the safe middle ground option of a vintage between 1994 to 1998. There are cries of amazement when it is revealed as a 1991.

As the flavour evolves in the mouth, I think about the wonderful propensity to age that some New Zealand Rieslings have, although it is not often appreciated until a good bottle like this comes out of the cellar.

Winemakers didn't stuff around with the wines too much in those days, especially with the cheaper wines such as this low-level label. They just crushed the grapes, threw in some fermentation yeast and let the quality of the grapes speak for themselves. And in 1991, the grapes were of exceptional quality in Marlborough.

I think about the cork, about how well it has preserved this bottle. If only all corks were this good. For a moment I wonder how good the wine would have been if it had a screwcap, but not for long as my attention is grabbed again by the wine in the glass.

The flavour is exquisite - lots of citrus still, quite zingy in fact and it makes the tongue tingle. The surge of orange, honey and old apricot jam flavours come again and with the zinginess of acidity it could even be sweet orange marmalade.

It's definitely a ripe citrus and I can taste mandarins too and perhaps a touch of apple. And honeyed golden peaches or perhaps it is those apricots again.

Here's a wine that is 12 and two-thirds years old and yet it is still so fruity. And the balance is exquisite.

It's a wine that can't be compared to any foreign region - it's not an Alsace style, it's not a Germanic style and it's not a Clare Valley style. It's totally Marlborough.

If I recall correctly this wine was in the dryish mould when released. How I wish the producers would put the residual sugar on the bottles. Would anyone know if I rang up now to ask? Probably not. Alan McCorkindale, the Corbans Marlborough winemaker in 1991, left a long time ago to start his own label. Besides, Corbans has since been sold to Montana.

Reading the back label and find it is a 'medium dry white wine', so there you go. Well it doesn't taste medium now, just balanced. I find the alcohol level. It is stated as 12% by volume. I nod my head in agreement when I read the cellarmaster's comments - "Delightful now, the wine has very good cellaring potential".

There is some debate about how much more potential this wine actually has. I remember a bottle opened a couple of years earlier and considering the similarity I feel the wine is on a plateau and is not going to develop any further. So long as the seal holds out, the wine will stay on the plateau for a few years yet before it starts its inevitable downhill slide.

Corbans were definitely the leaders in mass Riesling production circa 1991. As well as this cheapy white label issue, which cost me about $5.95 a bottle, there was the benchmark multi-award winning Stoneleigh Marlborough Riesling and the legendary Robard and Butler Amberley Rhine Riesling from Waipara (later renamed the Corbans Private Bin Amberley Riesling).

What good advice I got from whoever it was who told me "If you are going to cellar any wine, cellar Riesling". The advice still holds. Even today there is no other cellar worthy wine that is affordable as Riesling. It might be hard to find a cellaring proposition with a $5.95 price tag, however.

© Sue Courtney
12 January 2003

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