A Taste of Australian Wine...'Rieslings'by Gavin Trott
Riesling is the grape most associated with Germany, where the best examples of it are stunning, world class wines. Here in Australia we are probably the only other country to give this fabulous grape the care and attention it deserves. Indeed, for many years it was the most popular Australian white wine, only recently succumbing to the world wide fashion trend of Chardonnay. To me it still produces more good wines, and perhaps more to the point, less bad wines, than Chardonnay.
The wine is made to capture the essence of the grape, no oak, few wine maker's tricks, just grape to wine. After picking, the grapes are crushed then generally removed from the skins either immediately, or after a brief period, while the rest of the task is to control the speed of fermentation and keep the oxygen away from those fragile flavours. The wine will ferment in stainless steel containers, chilled to control the fermentation speed, and under an inert gas blanket. When finished the wine will be stored for a short period then bottled to keep those primal fruit flavours. In fact, we have been drinking the 1996 Rieslings now for some months, and very good indeed they are.
In Australia Rieslings are grown in many regions, but only in 3 or 4 areas are the best wines produced. The regions to watch out for are, in my order of preference only, Clare/Watervale, Eden Valley, Great Southern, Western Australia and pockets of the Adelaide Hills and Tasmania. Good wines are produced elsewhere, but not with consistency or reliability.
Young Riesling will smell of freshly crushed grape, lime, citrus, tropical fruit and floral smells. A friend of mine once described a Riesling as smelling like 'orange blossom dipped in lime juice”, flowery language, but that is what the wine smelled like.
They tend to have firm acid finishes, the Clare region typically producing steely or flinty finishes with tropical overtones in the young wines. They taste of fruits, limes, lemons, and passionfruit, often with floral and even mineral edges to them, are long and zingy on the finish, and are the perfect accompaniment to a range of sea food.
Rieslings that taste so fresh and exuberant when young age surprisingly and remarkably well. As the years go by the primary fruit fades to be replaced by toast, honey, nuts and 'kerosene', that traditional yet hard to describe smell of good older Rieslings. In fact, it is often a difficult choice, drink young or cellar.
Many go through closed periods between youth and maturity, so personally I like to drink them young and fresh, or after 5 years, but they can become slightly awkward at about 1 to 4 years of age.
These wines are absolutely designed for seafood, especially freshly grilled fish. It also goes really well with lobster as long as you avoid heavy sauces, just the delicious lobster flesh, and the zesty limes and citrus of the wine, a match made in heaven.
Another worthwhile fact is that now is the time to try these wines. The currently available 2002 vintage is the best of the previous 10 or more years, most are still available, and almost all of them great wine bargains at $Aud20 or less pb (That’s about $US12 or less per bottle).
Current Tasting Notes
2002 Hewitson Eden Valley Riesling - In a stelvin closure, well done Dean! Another spanking good 2002 Riesling, but this one is from Eden Valley. This is all class, very pale colour with a very varietal nose of lemon, with almost pea like hints, plus tropical fruits and floral edged limes. The palate too is all class, powerful but tight fruits, limes lemons and grapefruit, along with hints of spice on a long and crisp finish with some lovely natural acid. Yum, and will cellar!
2002 Tin Shed Wines Wild Bunch Riesling - Wow, what a way to make Riesling, whole bunch pressing, use wild yeasts, this is not playing it safe, but what a great result, delicious Eden Valley Riesling! "hand picked from old Eden Valley vineyards, and made the old-fashioned way with whole bunch pressing and a wild yeast ferment without chemicals, this amazing Riesling's a fair-dinkum blast from the past. ... Tight pear and lime, with that beautiful mineral base tone of the best vintage in yonks, its a work of wonder."
2002 Petaluma Riesling - "Brian Croser (wine maker) has no doubts about the 2002 Riesling vintage: “It was the perfect riesling year,” he says. “Fruit quality was superb. Acid was wonderfully high. Flavour was excellent – it was a great, great riesling vintage.” His own riesling release is one of the first off the ranks, and the verdict is: it’s intense. Intensely grapey, intensely minerally, intensely lemony/powdery, with an acid structure that seems both obvious and soft – there’s clearly lots of acid here, but it has an Alsatian super-softness to it. The result of all this is that, unusually, it’s not overly attractive young – but should cellar magnificently.
Gavin is the manager of the Australian Wine Centre (a large collection of affordable, rare and cult Australian wines) and hosts the very popular Auswine Forum (An online discussion forum about Australian wine) .