Pikes Clare Valley Riesling – with fish of course

Pikes’ Clare Valley Rieslings

I have tasted Pikes’ Rieslings many times in the past, but not for a while.  Now with Enotria & Coe, the importer launched its new listing with substance(s) and style, sending out samples of the latest 2020 vintage of Pikes Hills and Valleys Riesling, along with Rick Stein’s best-selling dish – Indonesian Seafood Curry, courtesy of Steins at Home.  

I’m pleased to say that the fish connection was not pushed too far.  I am not a fan of pike the fish!  Rather, Stein’s Indonesian Seafood Curry featured sea bass, cod and prawns.  As Charlie Stein pointed out, the Riesling’s tropical citrus notes (and aromatics, noted Jamie Pike), work with the prominent lime, kaffir lime and lemongrass notes in the dish, whilst the acidity cuts through the coconut base.

Made in Polish Hill River in the Clare Valley, the Pike family have produced benchmark Riesling since the 1980s.  Enotria & Coe sent me two extra ‘classic’ dry samples.  Hills and Valleys is off-dry, Traditionale is dry and single estate Merle – the stunning Reserve – is bone dry.  For fans of Australia’s most famous Polish Hill Riesling – Jeffrey Grosset – I’d say the Pike style is more fruit centred and limey.

I also received a sample of Pikes The Plantation Grenache.  Clare Valley isn’t know for Grenache. Kilikanoon, Clos Clare and Adelina produce good examples.  Very different.  Medium-bodied with a herbal accent to the red fruits, I’d say this one sits somewhere between the Clos Clare and Adelina.

You’ll find my notes on all four Pikes’ wines below.  In this series of short videos, the sons of the founders – Jamie Pike and Charlie and Jack Stein – swap notes on Riesling, matching it with food and joining the family business.  And selling it.  According to Charlie, Riesling (from wherever) is still a hand sell but, with good training, Steins do sell quite a lot.

Enotria & Coe’s buyer Harriet Kininmonth remarked on the quality at everyday drinking price points for Hills and Valleys and Traditionale.  I could not agree more.  Classic dry Australian Riesling and Hunter Valley Semillon offer terrific value for wine lovers.  Superbly structured and stamped with their place of origin, these are whites which can age for a decade or more, unravelling layers of detail as they go.  The best – like Merle – are fine wines, still at relatively accessible prices within that pantheon.

The Great Wine Co is Enotria & Coe’s retail arm, but the wines are more widely available.

Pikes Hills and Valleys Riesling 2020 (Clare Valley)

Off-dry, Hills and Valleys was developed with ‘talk dry, drink sweet’ export markets in mind.  It is a blend of estate and growers’ fruit.  Given the style, fresh acidity to balance the residual sugar is key, so Pikes look to growers at higher altitude.  Located in Polish Hill River, Pikes’ vineyards are already at the higher, cooler end of the Clare Valley spectrum, at 400-450m (the valley floor is around 300m).  Pikes’ east/west-facing rows also play a role in fruit brightness and purity.  With the sun directly overhead, the fruit zone keeps shaded, which mitigates against grapes skins burning or thickening – a sure fire route to kerosene notes.  To attain the desired sweetness, the ferment is stopped a little earlier (via cooling).  Normally, this results in a lower alcohol too, but in 2020, the alcohol is the same as for the classic dry Traditionale Riesling from the previous vintage, reflecting a hotter, drier year. I thought it was at the sweeter end of the off dry spectrum.  Still, it retains fragrance and delicacy, with lifted talc, floral, lime and elderflower notes to nose and palate.  Marked bath salts together with apple notes follow through on the palate, whose relatively soft mouthfeel reflects the residual sugar (13.5g/l) and three months on lees.  The softness does not come at the expense of detail or freshness (TA 8.2 g/l, pH 3.15). Indeed, Hills and Valleys finishes on a crisp note. 11% £13.95 at The Great Wine Co, where it is currently on deal at £11.75; £10.58 by the case of 12.

* Here is a post-script from Pikes about finding the balance for this wine – The 2019 [discussed in the video] was threatening to ripen early, and was therefore picked early, to keep the fruit at a low baume, as possible. The plan is to have a low alcohol in this wine. The 2020 was much lower crops, and the baume was rising quickly. We didn’t get the fruit off as early as we would have liked, but still managed to keep it around 11. The 21 has been picked, and should end up being 10, which I think is spot on.”

Pikes Traditionale Riesling 2019 (Clare Valley)

Traditionale, because this is the classic dry Ozzie style, made from 100% free run juice, inoculated with neutral yeast and cool fermented and aged in stainless steel on lees for 3 months prior to bottling.  It is punchy and tight to nose and palate, with lime, smashed lemongrass and kaffir lime aromatics and undertones of Bicks cordial.  There is nice palate weight behind the fruit and a good backbone of acidity, as one would expect from Clare Valley.  Melding into the fruit, the acidity is juicy, giving a touch of give.  It’s not bone dry, like Merle.  It held up well on day three and I preferred this cuvee with the seafood curry (and moules’ starter). 11% £17.50 at The Great Wine Co and currently on deal at £14.50; £13.05 by the case of 12.

Pikes Merle Reserve Riesling 2019 (Clare Valley)

A best parcels’ estate selection produced in the same way as Traditionale.  More concentrated, more structured, Merle is relatively austere, with tightly wound, firmly clenched  lime and minerals to nose and palate.  The finish is gently pithy, with retro-nasal spicy lime oil/peel, slate and crushed oyster shell.  Powerful, persistent and linear, with time on its side.  Cries out for oysters with a squeeze of lime.  Will easily last a decade.  A palpable expression of Pikes’/Polish Hill River’s tough acidic soils overlaying ancient dark grey siltstone of the Kadlunga Slate formation.  £27.50 at The Great Wine Co and currently on deal at £22.50; £20.25 by the case of 12.

Pikes Plantation Grenache 2019 (Clare Valley)

Sourced from estate fruit and fermented with gentle cap management (using compressed air) to protect aromatics and fruit, this Grenache was aged for 5 months in old French barriques.  It is a bright but translucent ruby hue, with a pronounced herbal riff to the nose.  In McLaren Vale or in the case of Adelina, also from Clare Valley, the herbaceousness is lacy and lifted, which I prefer.  At Pikes, it seems integral to the fruit, giving it a medicinal tinge.  Think cherry lozenge (and aniseed ball) meets cherry soda (it has soft, touch creamy red cherry and strawberry fruit), with balancing spicy pomegranate pith.  Fresh acidity and smooth tannins make for a highly broachable Grenache. I imagine it would work well with Pikes’ proposed match – Tea Smoked Duck or pork bun, with star anise/five spice spiked condiments.  14%  £17.50 at The Great Wine Co and currently on deal at £14.50; £13.05 by the case of 12.


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