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Wine of the Week for week ending 21 December 2003
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Torlesse Canterbury Riesling 2003
Canterbury, New Zealand

Last week I suggested "Ham and Riesling" for Christmas Day. This weekend just past I tested my proclamation on our family's relatives and friends who came to my mother's house farewell party. It's been the family home for 52 years but sadly the time has come to move on.

People were asked to drop in any time during the afternoon bringing only a kind word, a smile and memories to share. I put my hand up to choose the wine and cater the food. "Something simple" I said to my sister. "Let's do make-your-own ham rolls or sandwiches". It's quite simple really. All you need is the ingredients on the table and people can help themselves as they please. Plates, paper serviettes, sliced bread or rolls, softened butter, slices of ham, mustards and spreads, salad greens and tomatoes. "After we set it up, someone will carve the ham when it's needed and we'll be able to mix and mingle."

With Christmas so close it seemed the ideal time to serve a whole leg of cooked ham. I was keen to glaze it with my favourite brown sugar, pineapple and cherry glaze (see this Foodfile recipe). The accompaniments were easy and the platter of salad greens with buttercrunch lettuce, rocket and leaves from my sister were adorned with petals of nasturtium and day lily from mother's garden.

It worked a treat. The food was perfect for the hot, humid, tropical-like Auckland December day. As for the beverages, there was more than Riesling on offer, the only criteria I had was the white wines had to be cool, as they would warm up quickly in the glass.

It was a great opportunity to bring out some treasures as well as some new vintage wines.

The Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2002 didnít last too long Ė one glance of the famous label was enough for some." I'll have that please", without even checking what else was on offer.

The bottle of Margrain Martinborough Gewurztraminer 2002, which took some coaxing to get people to try, was just wonderful. Full-bodied and pungent with lots of lemon and musk, once people knew what was behind the name it didnít last very long at all.

Just one Chardonnay was opened, the Wither Hills Marlborough Chardonnay 2001, a lovely robust wine, developing well, but perhaps a little heavy for the time of day.

Despite the continual comments that Pinot Gris is such a trendy drink, the Drylands Winemakers Reserve Pinot Gris 2003 was hardly touched. Talking to the rellies later, I found there was some confusion as to the style of wine. Was it a red or was it a white? They didnít really know. The tall dark bottle may have added to the confusion. And the Martinborough Vineyards Pinot Gris wasn't even opened!

Only one request came for a 'heavy red'. My response was "I haven't got any of those, try this, a tasty Matua Valley Wairarapa Pinot Noir 2002, perfect for this time of day". The wine drinker agreed after swallowing a mouthful declared, "that is nice", and picked up the bottle to make note of the label.

But Riesling was undoubtably the star performer. Fruity, medium style Rieslings that tasted terrific when cold and were such a fitting match to the ham. Medium style rieslings, not dry as I found in my chilled wines tasting earlier in the week, because dry Rieslings tend to pronounce the acidity too much when chilled while the off dry fruitier styles have enough sweetness to keep the acid in balance when cold.

Riesling after Riesling came out of the fridge but this was one of the stars.

Torlesse Canterbury Riesling 2003
Pale lemon, watery clear, smelling of flowers and citrus, honeysuckle and nashi pear, appealing and sweetly ripe. Mouthfilling, with its lovely honeyed texture and hot day refreshing, with its apple, orange, lemon and lime, the flavour persists quite strongly. Perfumed and clean, with a seemingly dry finish when chilled, much fruitier with more tropical fruit and melons when it has warmed up in the glass, there's some nicely textural oiliness in the mouth as it lingers. The wine blossoms out to a long and fragrant finish. At a recommended retail of $14.50, this is definitely affordable and it should be widely available. It's sealed with a screwcap too.

It carries 12.5% alcohol by volume and I like the fact that this wine states 'medium' on the back label.

For further information on Torlesse, contact the winery via e-mail at or phone 03 377-1595 within New Zealand.

© Sue Courtney
14 December 2003

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