Australian Riesling: plenty of strings to its bow. My 45 Landmark Riesling highlights
Last week (here) I wrote up quite the most amazing aged Australian Riesling – Jim Barry Watervale Rhine Riesling 1977 – 36 years old and in dazzling form. A suitable finale to a week of tasting fine Australian Rieslings following on, as it did, from Wine Australia’s Landmark Riesling tasting which I presented. Australia’s new generation of Chardonnays hog the limelight at the moment, so it was refreshing (literally and metaphorically) to taste and talk about Australian Riesling.
It has much to commend it. When young, Australia’s classic driza-bone Rieslings are scintillatingly razor sharp and bell clear in flavour. Among Australia’s white wines, (with Hunter Semillon) they have an unparalleled track record for ageing, morphing into richer, mellower fellows, which take on honeyed or toasty characters without sacrificing vibrancy or structure. And like its German and Alsace counterparts, Australian Riesling has a post code. Expressive of regionality and site, there is no better example than Jeff Grosset’s Springvale Watervale and Polish Hill Rieslings.
What’s more, as the preceding free pour tasting demonstrated, Australia’s Rieslings can now be differentiated not just by region, but also by style. Alongside the classic bone dry protectively made wines were sweeter Rieslings ranging from off dry (10-16g/l) to fully sweet cordon cut and botrytised styles. More hands off textural examples too, such as the naturally fermented and (old, large) barrel aged Shobbrook & Jamsheed Garden Gully Rieslings.
I suspect that these ‘new wave’ departures from the classic style would have resonated most with the grape’s original Australian champions – the Rheingau German vinedressers who, with cuttings from home, were recruited to propagate and cultivate Riesling at William Macarthur’s pioneering colonial estate at Camden Park in New South Wales in 1838. While Ken Helm, a fourth generation descendant of German vinedressers, is best known for his tensile, uber-mineral Canberra District Rieslings, he remains in touch with his roots making a ‘Half Dry’ Riesling too.
Here’s my pick of the bunch from the freepour followed by my notes on the vertical flights.
Free pour tasting
Josef Chromy Pepik Riesling Sekt NV (Tasmania)
A cheeky take on the German fizz, off dry, vivacious, applely, floral with a crisp finish.
Josef Chromy Delikat SGR Riesling 2012 (Tasmania)
A lovely weight of honeyed citrus fruit and floral lift to this spatlese style (60g/l residual sugar), well teased out by a slatey, mineral undertow of acidity.
Derwent Estate Riesling 2011 (Tasmania)
From Derwent Valley in Tasmania’s drier south (Chromy is located in the cooler, wetter Tamar Valley in the north of the island) this bone dry Riesling is firm and focused – tensile even – its structure leaving a greater impression than its subtle wash of lime and minerals.
Frogmore Creek Riesling 2011 (Tasmania)
Another punchier dry style, again from the south, but this one from the Coal River Valley due east. Plenty of limey, pithy drive to this. Long and focused.
Helm Premium Riesling 2012 (Canberra District, NSW)
Taut ‘n tensile, this dry Riesling shows tightly coiled steely grapefruit and minerals; lovely lick and lift of lavender too.
Helm Premium Riesling 2010 (Canberra District, NSW)
Though still tight and firmly, if finely wrought, with a couple of years under its belt the 2010 vintage is more expressive on the nose. Kaffir lime really leaps out the glass; in the mouth, its all steely grapefruit with plenty of (dry extract?) palate presence.
De Bortoli Estate Grown Off Dry Riesling 2011 (Yarra Valley, VIC)
Sarah Fagan worked vintage with Johannes Leitz in the Rheingau, whose textural Rheingau Rieslings are a delight (check out the 2011 Kabinett for £11.95 at The Wine Society). Taking a leaf out of his book this is a textural, off dry Riesling, floral too, with talc and powder puff notes, yellow tangy fruits (mirabelle plums?) and minerals.
Mac Forbes RS14 Riesling 2012 (Strathbogie Ranges, VIC)
RS stands for residual sugar. Oxidative handling, skin contact, solids, a natural ferment and ageing in large old oak 1200l foudres has done nothing to detract from the Pfalz-like peach and guava fruit or the volcanic minerality of this intriguing Riesling. Highly individual and very good indeed.
Best’s Great Western Riesling 2011 (Great Western, VIC)
Incredibly pretty, this off dry, wonderfully perfumed number shimmies it way over the palate, revealing lime blossom, juicy bell clear lime – lovely life, line, lift and length. Gorgeous!
Jamsheed Garden Gully Riesling 2011 (Great Western, VIC)
A pretty, perfumed nose and palate shows lime blossom and spicier kaffir lime notes; aged in barrel and naturally fermented it’s rounder than the Best’s Riesling, with a warm, stony minerality. An expansive as in rolling (length-wise, not width-wise) wine, with lovely freshness and purity.
Plantagenet Riesling 2011 (Mount Barker, Western Australia)
41 year old vines strut their stuff, flaunting top notes of flowers, a mineral bass line and a charge of lime juice and peel, which makes for a long, involving finish.
Larry Cherubino Ad Hoc Riesling 2009 (Great Southern, Western Australia)
Lime blossom, talc and sweet apple (think apple sauce) notes on the nose which follow through on a glistening palate awash with floral, mineral and bright, sweet, ripe citrus notes. Animated by lively juicy acidity, this is very persistent.
Larry Cherubino The Yard Pannoo Riesling 2010 (Porungurup, WA)
With press fractions and lees stirring, Cherubino has also taken a leaf out of Germany’s book. This is a textured, backfoot style with exotic, perfumed lily notes and an undertow of minerality. Young and intriguing, with lots yet to be revealed.
Forest Hill Vineyard Block 1 Riesling 2009 (Mount Barker, WA)
From WA’s oldest cool climate vineyard this is a multi-layered, textural Riesling with bosky forest grove notes, gravelly minerality, juicy grapefruit and lime fruit. Long and rolling; in no hurry.
Dandelion Wonderland of Eden Valley Riesling 2011 (Eden Valley, South Australia)
A bone dry, mineral Riesling, talcy, chalky, a little muskily floral too, with steely grapefruity acidity.
Eden Springs High Eden Riesling 2008 (Eden Valley, South Australia)
Sweet lime and rose petal lift on nose and palate with good limey, juicy drive to the palate and an undertow of mineral acidity.
Mesh Riesling 2011 (Eden Valley, South Australia)
A powerful, muscular Riesling, even in 2011, its vivid lemon and lime fruit shot through with quinine minerality. Very long, uber-mineral finish. Very good.
Shobbrook Riesling 2011 (Eden Valley, South Australia)
A funky, textural Riesling which was fermented with natural yeast in old 600l barrels. With sherbert/lemon pip bite to its layers of lavender, sweet talc and candied angelica, it has no shortage of complexity or interest.
Grosset Alea Off Dry Riesling 2012 (Clare Valley, SA)
Ripe, round and Pfalzily stone-fruited with juicy, sweet talc-edged yellow plum; concentrated and long, with plenty of push to the finish.
Tim Adams Riesling 2012 (Clare Valley, SA)
For around a tenner, this is a solid Clare Riesling with classic lime juice, powder puff, musk and rose petal. Ticks all the boxes.
Leasingham Bin 7 Riesling 2008 (Clare Valley, SA)
Showcasing mostly Watervale fruit this has plenty of swagger, with its kaffir lime, Roses lime cordial and whetstone palate. The kaffir notes really build on the finish. A great example of how even modestly priced Rieslings from its hot (cool) spots reward time in bottle.
Mitchell Watervale Riesling 2010 (Clare Valley, SA)
A tightly drawn Watervale Riesling, almost self-contained – or perhaps it just seems so after the Leasingham’s swagger. This is pithier, drier, subtler and very mineral. A keeper.
O’Leary Walker Watervale Riesling 2012 (Clare Valley, SA)
Full of youthful vim and vigour, this razor sharp Riesling has good line and concentration of lime; nice chalky floral lift too.
Jim Barry The Lodge Hill Riesling 2012 (Clare Valley, SA)
A vivid, crisp, taut, neon bright limey, juicy palate finishes long and mineral – straight as the proverbial arrow .
Jim Barry The Florita Riesling 2010 (Clare Valley, SA)
Named The Florita vineyard because it was once planted to sherry grapes, in the 60s Riesling was planted and The Florita was the source of Leo Buring’s renowned Watervale Rieslings. The pedigree is apparent in this wine, which is intense of expression and concentrated but beautifully balanced too. Shimmering, jewel-like pink grapefruit and perfumed rose petal resonate on a long, finely wrought finish. Delicacy and detail.
Petaluma Hanlin Hill Riesling 2011 (Clare Valley, SA)
I always find the Petaluma to be one of the muskier Clare Valley Rieslings and this is no exception. Very perfumed, with orange peel and lavender hints too. Whip sharp acidity makes for a dry, focused, long finish.
Grosset Springvale Riesling 2012 (Clare Valley, SA)
Classic Watervale in its generosity and florality – a seamless arc of flavour, which builds through the long, resonating finish. Outstanding. (See here for an earlier review, over which I had more time to linger).
Heggies Vineyard Botrytis Riesling 2011 (Eden Valley SA)
With pithy grapefruit and honey, this has lovely botrytis character; for 190g/l residual sugar it has great purity and soaring lift too. Eden Valley’s undertow of minerality shines through on a long finish.
Mount Horrocks Cordon Cut Riesling 2011 (Clare Valley, SA)
Steph Toole was excited about the botrytis silver lining of this wet vintage too. Always toothsome, it makes for a more textural, silkily honeyed Cordon Cut. Very long, lingering and granular. Lovely mouthfeel, weight and finesse.
Tamar Ridge Botrytis Riesling 2006 (Tasmania)
Delicately honeyed and toothsomely sweet with a dancing, lively, fine thread of acidity and touch of butteriness – buttered apples – to the finish.
Ferngrove Cossack Riesling 2011 (Frankland River, Western Australia)
This single block flagship Riesling is planted on a site with more quartz than oxidised ironstone which, says winemaker Kim Horton “adds a minerality to the wines.” 2011 was a relatively warm year and, to preserve purity and freshness, grapes exposed on the warmer western side were removed prior to harvest. The nose is a little reduced, with a herbal edge. In the mouth it’s pretty classic Great Southern – tight, with sherbert lemon pip bite and steely, grapefruit. Youthfully austere, in my experience this region’s wines benefit from another year or two in bottle compared with South Australian counterparts.
Ferngrove Cossack Riesling 2006 (Frankland River, Western Australia)
Now we’re talking – this expressive wine from a cooler year reveals lime cordial notes on nose and palate with a cool undertow of gravelly minerality. Because Great Southern is cooler than Eden Valley and Clare Valley, it remains taut and fine of frame. Good.
Ferngrove Cossack Riesling 2002 (Frankland River, Western Australia)
From another cool year, this has been a favourite in previous verticals. It shows attractive tertiary notes of lemon butter/curd but, since I last tasted it in 2008, it seems to have run out of steam and looks a little short. To be a fair, the vines were only four years old in 2002 and it was forecast to have a drinking window of 5-8 years. It had a good run!
Mount Horrocks Watervale Riesling 2012 (Clare Valley South Australia)
In its first flush of youth, this bountiful vintage and sub-region delivers in spades. Kaffir lime leaps out of the glass, while a pure, crystalline palate shimmers with minerality – a sense of inner light – making for a long, very persistent finish.
Mount Horrocks Watervale Riesling 2011 (Clare Valley South Australia)
This was very perfumed in its youth but is looking quite subdued today – overshadowed by the 2012 too. Its tight grapefruity palate and firm acidity certainly reflects the cooler vintage. I reckon this is one to stash away.
Mount Horrocks Watervale Riesling 2002 (Clare Valley South Australia)
Whereas the previous two vintages hail from Stephanie Toole’s own vineyard (which she planted in 2001), this wine came from the 25 year old Peglidis vineyard. Also from a cool year, one of Clare’s best, this has developed beautifully, showing kaffir lime perfume, sweeter lime cordial notes, honey and toast. The finish is long and rolling. Lovely.
Grosset Polish Hill Riesling 2012 (Clare Valley South Australia)
By reason of its hard rock slate/shale soils (Watervale has more generous terra rossa soils) Polish Hill consistently produces a tighter, more mineral style. This very pale, tensile, tightly coiled wine builds in the mouth, impressing with the sheer velocity, concentration and purity of its delivery. Very precise, it has terrific line and mineral-chiselled length to its lime washed palate; a surprising hint of rose petals too. (Click here for an earlier tasting note).
Grosset Polish Hill Riesling 2009 (Clare Valley South Australia)
Pale yellow with green glints, the 2009 is starting to reveal a subtle edge of honey and, in the mouth, is also quite expressive already – not the precision of the 2012 or the 2005.
Grosset Polish Hill Riesling 2005 (Clare Valley South Australia)
Wow, wow! Now this is precise. Incredibly mineral, tight, pure, focused and firm – a terrific Polish Hill from a top vintage. Hard to believe it is 8 years old. A trammelled tidal wave of a Riesling, which fair bristles with power and energy.
Jacob’s Creek Steingarten Riesling 2012 (Eden Valley, South Australia)
After the more tightly wound lime-driven Clare Valley wines, the two Eden Valley flights revealed a softer acid profile and lemon as well as lime notes. The very youthful 2012 Steingarten is a textbook example with its stony, chalky minerality and gently lemony, limey palate. A hint of fresh basil adds lift to long, tapered finish with a fine spine of acidity. Very promising.
Jacob’s Creek Steingarten Riesling 2005 (Eden Valley, South Australia)
Showing delicious development, the powerfully concentrated 2005 vintage reveals lashings of lemon butter on toast and sweet lime cordial on an expressive, expansive palate. A thrust of mineral acidity lends terrific balance and length. Excellent.
Jacob’s Creek Steingarten Riesling 2002 (Eden Valley, South Australia)
From a cool vintage, this is much tauter, with a tight citric backbone tantalisingly fleshed out with a lick or two of lemon butter. Youthful precision. Outstanding.
Pewsey Vale The Contours Riesling 2006 (Eden Valley, South Australia)
One of the many great things about The Contours, is that it is released with five years bottle age so, no need to wait, the complexity of bottle age is delivered to you on a plate. Still, this is a finely-etched, tightly focused Riesling with very pure, vivid lemon and grapefruit citrus drive, dried herb notes and lemon grass. The textured finish is long and chalky. Delicious.
Pewsey Vale The Contours Riesling 2003 (Eden Valley, South Australia)
Delicate honey notes on nose and, initially, palate pick up the pace in the mouth, becoming a honeyed wave rich in its layers of lemon butter, lemon balm and toast. A stony undertow of minerality adds resonance, while seamless ripe citrusy acidity brings added momentum to the finish. Terrific.
Pewsey Vale The Contours Riesling 1997 (Eden Valley, South Australia)
Liquid gold to the eye and the palate, this intense 16 year old reveals seamlessly stitched layers of flavour – lemon butter, honey, toast, orange blossom and butter mint- as it gently rolls along its way. An exquisitely balanced, rich, sensual wine with plenty of go.