Riesling has begun to carve a real niche for itself Down Under. At a recent seminar, Chris Losh joined a team of eager sommeliers as they got to grips with the regional styles of Clare and Eden Valleys – and marvelled at the grape’s ability to provide wines that represent astonishing value for money
Perhaps one of the most surprising success stories in the Australian wine trade of recent years has been the rise of Riesling. This, after all, is a grape variety that has as its homeland some of the coolest areas of Europe; it’s a long way from the Barossa to Bernkastel in more ways than one.
But despite this there are a good (and growing) number of producers Down Under who are creating exciting expressions of the grape, which are undeniably regional, yet still unmistakeably typical for the variety.
Imbibe teamed up with Wine Australia to conduct a varietal workshop, that aimed to showcase some of the key regions and styles of Riesling coming out of the country. It was a chance for our assembled sommeliers to get their heads round not just Australian Riesling in general, but also (given the expressive nature of the grape) the country’s terroir.
Chez Bruce’s Terry Threlfall led the sommeliers through the regions, selecting a handful of wines that he felt best illustrated the various styles.
First planted in the 1840s, The Clare Valley – located roughly a two-hour drive north of Adelaide – has heritage to burn. ‘We tend to think of Australia as a young country, but grapes have been grown here for a very long time,’ said Threlfall.
Set around the Mount Lofty Ranges, it’s a beautiful part of the world, with a central north-south running valley giving birth to a series of east-west river valleys that allow for myriad exposures.
The Clare Valley is a fairly warm area, but things cool off rapidly at night, thanks to a combination of afternoon breezes and 400-500m of altitude. Central heating, as Threlfall pointed out, tends to be on for eight months of the year, which is probably more than in the UK.
There are three key soil types, with the two most sought after for Riesling being the Limestone Terra Rossa of Watervale and the hard rock shale/gravel found in Polish Hill. The north of the valley is
more alluvial and tends to be mostly planted with reds.
It is this combination of full-bodied red wines alongside delicate minerally Rieslings that outsiders tend to struggle with. ‘It’s a bit like having Hermitage in the Mosel,’ reflected Threlfall. The key being to plant Rieslings on higher land and west-facing slopes.
Stylistically, Threlfall commented that Rieslings from Watervale tended to be more generous and accessible earlier than those from Polish Hill, which are more taut and mineral, particularly in their youth – something that was backed up by the sommeliers when they tried them.
‘I loved the flinty stoniness of [the O’Leary],’ commented the Boxwood Cafe’s Charlotte Jonasson. ‘It was my favourite wine of the three.’
‘Some of them are still quite tight,’ mused Threlfall. ‘I’d consider decanting them for a bit first.’
In fact, each of the wines tasted had its champions, with the sommeliers marvelling both at the combination of delicacy and punch and the incredibly reasonable prices.
The Eden Valley has a long history, too. South of the Clare Valley, it’s just outside the Barossa.
Riesling is the third most-planted grape variety here after Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon, and again altitude (at 380-550m above sea level) is a factor. But so, too, is wind. In fact, so severe can the latter be that vineyards tend to be planted behind windbreaks of trees, particularly on the higher, more exposed lands that tend to form the Riesling vineyards.
Altitude, again, explains why this same region can be home to one of the country’s most famous Cabernets, Henschke Hill of Grace, and also to minerally, elegant Rieslings. With temperatures a couple of degrees cooler than the Barossa, the longer hang time of Eden Valley Rieslings results in a character that is more floral than fruity, and also lower in alcohol.
‘They’re wines meant for ageing, and can be tough in their youth, especially if they’re from a rocky site,’ said Threlfall.
‘You do get slightly riper wines from the Eden Valley, but the balance is still really good. I don’t know many wines with the character and balance of [Pewsey Vale Riesling] for £7.’ Simon Howland, Wine By Simon
‘I thought that as a group the three Rieslings from the Clare Valley showed more variation and complexity – probably due to the differences in terroir.’
‘I loved the Grosset Watervale Riesling. I found it really complex, with mineral and citrus notes, and on the palate it was just perfect – so well integrated.’
Having been exposed to the theory of the various regions, our sommeliers were let loose with a free-pour of 13 Australian Rieslings. Tasted blind, we asked the sommeliers to score the wines out of 20 and also to select any that they thought were particularly good food matches with the dishes that had been prepared by Brett Graham from The Ledbury restaurant in London.
These were ceviche of hand-dived scallops with seaweed and herb oil, kohlrabi and frozen horseradish, and flame grilled mackerel with cured mackerel, avocado and shiso.
91 Pikes Traditionale Riesling 2008, Clare Valley
Precise, delicate and fresh, with pure acidity and good concentration, this was loved across the board by our tasters. ‘Concentration, depth and some nervosité,’ said Olivier Gasselin. ‘It matches the scallops really well.’
£8.60, Seckford’s, 01206 231188
78 Petaluma Hanlin Hill Riesling 2008, Clare Valley
Concentrated and powerful, yet also floral and elegant, with good weight and a creamy texture. A fine balance of fruit, texture and oiliness. ‘This would be good with sashimi,’ said Sue Jones. ‘It copes with the spice.’
£10.05, Bibendum, 020 7722 5577
74 Skillogalee Single Vineyard Riesling 2008, Clare Valley
Quite light and citrusy: smoky mandarin and grapefruit. ‘Bitter oranges, blossom and racy acidity,’ said Emily Pearl Campbell. ‘Polished, intense and very complex,’ praised Olivier Gasselin.
£7.69, Enotria, 020 8961 4411
73 Tamar Ridge Kayena Vineyard Riesling 2006, Tasmania
Grassy green fruit, with crunchy acidity. Floral, herbal and quite intense. ‘Flinty, clean and very pure,’ said Katie Exton. ‘Musky nose, with lime, honey blossom and a classic Riesling oiliness over the top,’ said Louise Gordon.
£8.48, ABS, 01372 274065
73 Pewsey Vale Prima Riesling 2008, Eden Valley
Chalk, petrol and toast, with lemon/lime flavours, lean acidity and just a little residual. ‘This would really work with seared scallops or goats cheese,’ said Robert Toszer. ‘Restrained tropical fruit and lovely acidity,’ said Nicola Thomson.
£8.02, Negociants, 01582 462 859
72 Howard Park Riesling 2008, Great Southern
Mineral and grapefruit characters with plenty of trademark acidity and a gentleness in the mouth. ‘Restrained on the nose, but elegant in the mouth with good minerality,’ said Joris Beijn.
£9.92, Bibendum, 020 7722 5577
71 Pirie Estate Riesling 2005, Tasmania
Dry, zingy and minerally, but backed up with toast and honey characters. ‘Developing and delicious,’ said Miriam McLachlan. ‘Lovely nose with a dry finish and softer delivery – classic New World Riesling,’ commented James Hopkins.
£11.46, Stratford’s, 01628 643519
71 Knappstein Hand Picked Riesling 2008, Clare Valley
Acacia and honeysuckle, along with fresh grapefruit and a flinty, shale character. ‘The integrated acidity balances the palate,’ said Louise Gordon.
£7.40, Bibendum, 020 7722 5577
69 Annie’s Lane Riesling 2006, Clare Valley
This wine had pretty classic Australian Riesling characters, with oily lemon and lime fruit characteristics, white peach behind, and the first suggestions of kerosene. ‘Good concentration
of fruit,’ said Nicola Thomson.
£ POA, Fosters EMEA, 020 8843 8418
67 Plantagenet Riesling 2008, Great Southern
‘Typical Riesling nose. Refreshing, floral and food-friendly,’ said Miguel Leal. Luigi Buonanno praised its ‘piercing, rapier-like, zesty acidity.’
£7.38, Liberty Wines, 020 7819 0333
67 Wakefield Estate Riesling 2008, Clare Valley
Talcum powder, with vibrant tangerine, citrus and green apple fruit. Fresh, steely and mineral. ‘Nice
and floral,’ commented Robert Toszer. ‘Excellent with the scallops,’ agreed Sue Jones.
£6.90, Stratford’s, 01628 643519
64 Jim Barry The Lodge Hill Riesling 2008, Clare Valley
With its lemons, limes, grapefruit and apple flavours, this was a quite Germanic style. Quite tight and austere still, though it worked well with the scallop ceviche.
£7.13, Negociants, 01582 462859
64 Mount Horrocks Watervale Riesling 2008, Clare Valley
Stone fruits, citrus zest and a chalky minerality. A wine of real potential, but still very young and tart. Would probably score better in a couple of years, though Olivier Marie, for one, praised its ‘raciness’ – and it scored very highly for its food-matching potential. ‘Great Clare Riesling,’ said Jules Watson.
£6.80, Liberty Wines, 020 7819 0333
BEST FOOD WINES
Mount Horrocks Watervale Riesling 2008, Clare Valley
BEST VALUE WINE
FOOD AND WINE MATCHING TIPS
from Ledbury chef Brett Graham
‘There’s stylistic similarity with Clare Rieslings. They all have a lot of freshness and minerality. And they were fantastic with the scallops.’
‘The food provided and prepared by Brett Graham was outstanding and delicious. It showed off both his creativity and the versatile food-friendliness of the wines.’
‘I’m a big fan of Clare Valley Rieslings. They’re really crisp, fresh and lemony. The higher alcohol levels compared to Eden Valley make them really food-friendly, too. I’d drink Eden Valley more as an aperitif.’
‘There were definitely regional styles in the tasting. My top match was quite edgy on its own but worked brilliantly with the scallops. There were a lot of really taut wines here – it’s interesting to think that they’re like that, yet still obviously New World.’
‘I was blown away by the quality of the Rieslings. There were a lot of wines with really punchy acidity, but even those with less fruit always had enough to balance. That’s important because it’s hard to sell off-dry wines.’
‘I really liked the driving minerality in the Rieslings. They had fantastic balance for the most part, with lovely aromatics, and the value for money is fantastic. The Clare wines would really work with food that has a citrus vinaigrette.’
‘Both Clare and Eden Valley show that very Australian petroleum character quite early – it counters the other elements of high acidity and primary fruit. The difference between the two is the toastiness, which you get more in Eden Valley wines.’
‘I’m a huge fan of Aussie Riesling, and I thought the Clare wines were generally showing really well. They’re great with the likes of turkey and goose.’
‘My favourite Rieslings had a good honeyed character, but were still dry. They would work well with grilled goat’s cheese, for instance.’