Tasting Australian dry Riesling
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Last week three of us got together and tasted through 24 wines focused on the theme of dry Australian Riesling. The goal of the tasting was to gather wines from all over the country, focusing centrally on dry examples. Bottles were selected based primarily on professional recommendation from wine educators specializing in the United States on Australian wine, and were provided by importers. Some wines were also selected based on prior tasting experience.
The quality through the tasting as a whole was impressive, with a high proportion of good wines. It was truly a pleasure. The top, stand out wines, Pikes 2011 “The Merle” and Pewsley Vale 2007 Museum Reserve, were excellent. Other stand out wines in the tasting are marked with an * asterisk. All wines are dry unless mentioned otherwise in the tasting notes below.
In designing these tastings, I prefer to have a particular theme that serves as the center line, while also including a few appropriate outliers as a way of bringing breadth to the tasting and offering perspective. In this case, we chose to include a few examples with a touch of sweetness, and one Riesling from New Zealand.
Wines were put in flights by region, and then arranged by alcohol level. The wines were initially tasted in succession over the course of several hours, then revisited in various arrangements over the two days following. Below are notes on Australian Riesling in general, and then on the particular wines by region.
Australian Riesling carries a unique style with a central focus of clean fruit flavors.
While German Riesling is commonly known for celebrating a petrol note, the characteristic is not necessary to the grape and arises primarily out of experience in the vineyard, such as high sun exposure of the grapes themselves, or water stress of the vines. Some skin contact en route to the winery also encourages the phenomenon. Historically the distance between vineyard and winery led to 12-48 hours from harvest to winery. Older pressing techniques served more to break up the fruit, rather than squeeze its juice out, leading to a more pulpy process than newer technologies. Historical necessity in some regions, then, encouraged a particular style to be recognized as the norm.
Australia’s Riesling culture, though, finding its roots in the 1800s, remains significantly younger than its old world counterpart. With the distance between them, Australia’s winemaking and viticulture were able to develop without direct influence of style. One of the effects includes a distinctive approach to harnessing the riches of the grape. Riesling culture in Australia, then, purposefully avoids inclusion of petrol notes, instead seeking a pure fruit expression. Less commonly, however, there are also individual producers that instead wish to utilize old world influence and instill petrol development in his or her wine.
Western Australia celebrates the advantages of a genuinely cool climate, and marine proximity for generating high acid whites. One of the effects on the fruit is longer hang time for a slow and steady development of flavor. The region is recognized for offering a touch more spice, with a focus on citrus fruit, floral notes, and a lot of mineral expression.
* Rocky Gully, Frankland River, Western Australia, 2012, 11%
Offering lots of evolution in the glass, the Rocky Gully gives an ultra clean, acidity focused wine. The aromatics here are light with delicate lemon-lime and touches of toast. Through the palate the citrus acidity carries forward into an ultra long finish. This is a wine all about acidity and linear focus.
Frankland Estate, Netley Road Vineyard, 2012, 11%
Giving aromatics of white peach and peach blossom curled through with white grapefruit, Frankland Estates Netley Road Vineyard rises over flavors of stone fruit and citrus then does a flip mid-palate into soft birch bark with a short finish. This is a clean focus wine with nice juiciness.
Frankland Estate, Isolation Ridge Vineyard, 2012, 11.4%
Frankland Estate‘s Isolation Ridge Vineyard generates a more floral focused wine with textural aromatics of narcissus flower and white peach. The juicy palate is delicate carrying birch bark through the mid-palate, then opening into white peach and cracked pepper for a short finish.
Leeuwin Estate, Art Series Riesling, Margaret River, 2012, 12%
With distinctive, sweaty fruit and flower aromatics the Leeuwin Estate showcases perfume. The plush floral aromatics roll into a perfumed palate of lemon and lime blossoms. This is a textural wine with good focus, while less crisp than the other Western Australian examples. The acidity here is juicy, continuing into a long finish perfumed all the way through.
* Plantagenet, Mount Barker, 2010, 12.5%
Plantagenet gives a creamier palate of lime and peach blossom by the ocean, giving textural aspects of fleshy fruit with saline crunch. There are layers of complexity here giving hints of dried fruit, on a moderately acidic presentation, with a nice balance of texture and zip.
Tasmania also carries a genuinely cool climate with maritime influence, generating intensely juicy whites with closely focused flavors and lots of linearity. With so much structure, the wines evolve significantly with time and love to age in the bottle.
* Uberblanc, Glaetzer-Dixon Family Winemakers, Tasmania, 2012, 11.3%
Intensely juicy, with an ultra long finish, the Uberblanc emphasizes the gifts of Tasmania’s cool climate. The complexity of the nose includes toast with lots of perfume, including rose potpourri. The palate carries floral touches forward through long acidic lines of citrus blossom and touches of toast. Uberblanc has pulled off complexity with an ultra long mouth watering focused finish.
Plantings of Riesling in Victoria are disperse. However, the state also features what may be the oldest vines in the country planted at the end of the 1800s, start of the 1900s at the Garden Gully Vineyard in the Grampions district of Great Western.
* Jamsheed, Garden Gully Vineyard, Great Western, 2012, 12.7%
A distinctive wine in the overall line up, the Jamsheed Riesling carries multiple stages of interest. Opening with a touch of sweetness, the flavors are rich and creamy, rolling into a cascade of juicy acidity and saline that wash and stimulate the palate, then carry forward into a moderate long finish of snap clean flavors. This wine is distinctly textural.
Clare Valley hosts a high concentration of quality Rieslings, known as one of the smallest overall production zones of the country, but one of the highest production areas of quality wine. The area is known to generate intensely flavored wines with great longevity. The region is also quite varied, however, and as a result creates varied presentations as well. The wines of Polish Hill, for example, are recognized as more austere and subtle in their presentation, while those of Watervale offer great concentration and tension.
Some Young Punks, Monsters, Monsters Attack!, 2013, 10.5%
Meant as a good value wine with interest and a focus on fun, Some Young Punks give an off dry presentation of Riesling with light alcohol, good acidity, and a nicely achieved balance with sweetness. The flavors come in as lime juice, lime zest and touches of cracked pepper that waters the palate.
* Pikes, Clare Valley, “Traditionale,” 2012, 12%
Giving a crisp, clean fruit focus, Pikes Traditionale stands as their gateway to Riesling wine. White peach, is followed by white grapefruit with faint almond flower and touches of cracked pepper. This is a well made wine, with good value. It’s a Riesling that’s all about the fruit, and its smooth, easy long finish.
* Jim Barry, The Lodge Hill, 2012, 12.8%
Giving the most earth focused, though also one of the most delicate wines of the tasting, Jim Barry‘s The Lodge Hill showcased slate with touches of saline showing both in clean aromatics and palate. There are delicate hints of lychee in the pretty while light aromatics, and the well made, fine boned palate.
* Petaluma, Hanlin Hill Vineyard, 2012, 13%
With clean aromatics, the Petaluma turns into rich flavor with a broader palate. There is a lot of complexity here with good breadth of flavor including saline with faint hints of cracked pepper, guava, and a citrus mélange tumbling through a long, full mouthwatering finish.
** Pikes, “The Merle,” Clare Valley, 2011, 12%
With a textural nose and palate, Pikes “The Merle” focuses on fruit from the Polish Hill section of the region, offering greater tension and complexity, plus tons of juiciness. The wine gives green almond fruit with peach pit from the aromatics through the nervy mid-palate, full of action and length. I am a fan of this wine–a prize fighter with no need to show off.
Kilakanoon, Mort’s Block, 2011, 12.5%
The Kilakanoon Mort’s Block offers a clean, well made wine that, while a bit non-descript, offers nice fruit, and just a hint of toast. What the wine lacks in sophistication it makes up for in reliability and value. This is worth drinking.
Kilakanoon, Mort’s Reserve, 2012, 12.5%
Kilakanoon‘s Mort’s Reserve keeps it’s clean focus with a subtle expression. White flowers hint at narcissus and almond blossom carried through with lime and white grapefruit. The wine is clean, well made, and focused on delicacy.
Also known for its high concentration of quality Rieslings, Eden Valley competes with Clare Valley for its aging potential. By contrast, however, the region tends to generate lighter bodied wines with more subtle aromatics that focus on floral notes and orchard fruit.
Henschke, Julius, 2012, 11.5%
Subtle aromatics with still distinct elements throughout, the Henschke Julius keeps its focus on blossom notes bringing in moments of peach pit, peach blossom, and white peach with Meyer lemon, lime blossom, and a mineral crunch. The flower notes verge on bath soap but the wine focuses in on a pretty and light expression overall of well integrated scents and flavors.
Mesh, 2012, 12%
A cascade of juiciness pushes through light and subtle flavors in the Mesh. Citrus melange, complete with citrus blossom, dance with hints of bread and touches of talc. The wine is well balanced, and subtle, while also a bit generic. This is worth drinking.
St Hallett, 2011, 11.5%
With a touch of floral bath soap aromatics, St Hallett pushes into lemon with saline accents, leading into an explosively flavorful, juicy mid-palate and short finish. The wine also carries hints of lily, and charcoal to accent the central rush of salty citrus.
Dandelion Vineyards, 2012, 12.5%
The Dandelion Vineyards needs time to settle down as it opens a little disjointed while fresh. There are intriguing characteristics of delicate blossom aromatics, and fresh greenery leading into narcissus and grapefruit blossom on the palate. Compared to other wines in the tasting, this one presents as a bit clumsy while not badly made. This is a wine more like a country girl, less elegant, more at home in the fields and barn.
Penfolds, Bin 51, 2012, 12.5%
Unfortunately, Penfolds offered the only unpleasant wines in the tasting. Though many consider Penfolds an easy go to for Australian Riesling, Bin 51 drank with a more commercial quality than any of the other wines. The toast and citrus combination here performed as a singular note with medium high acid and a short finish. With such a singular expression, it’s one of the few wines tasted that stood out for lacking depth.
* Pewsey Vale, 2013, 12.5%
The Pewsey Vale shows a beautifully made classic Eden Valley wine. With a super floral (touch of bath soap) aromatic, the palate spins around a long and lifting ultra clean expression showing saline accents, and hints of potpourri on a creamy mid-palate moving into toast and nut on the finish.
** Pewsey Vale, Museum Reserve, The Contours Riesling, 2007, 12.5%
Aged in bottle 5 years before release, Pewsey Vale‘s 2007 Museum Reserve is a memorably beautiful wine. The subtlety and floral expressions here read as a sort of alluring inanimate intimacy. Hazelnut skin with toasted almond and touches of toast carry over into a palate of toasted lemon, touches of potpourri, and a long saline finish. This is a beautifully balanced wine with the most memorable nose of the tasting.
While both Eden Valley and Clare Valley fall within South Australia, they are considered distinctive zones in terms of style. The grape is planted elsewhere in the state as well at smaller concentration, as other grapes remain a larger focus.
Penfolds, Thomas Hyland, 2011, 11.5%
Unfortunately, Penfolds showed poorly in this tasting with its contrast to other wines highlighting the more commercial aspects of its flavor production. The Thomas Hyland drinks as though its meant to offer greater complexity than its Bin 51 counterpart, but the effect is of a wine trying to be something its not, generating a sort of faux petrol accent over toast, red apple, and muted fruit and flower.
Yalumba, Y Series, Barossa, 2012, 12.5%
Bringing fresh and dried floral notes with accents of spiced wood and bay leaf, the Yalumba Y Series also offers hints of apple, white peach, and peach blossom. This is a nicely made, and well balanced wine with a long clean, easy finish.
New Zealand Riesling differs from its Southern Hemisphere cousins by featuring the petrol notes absent in Australia. The common style incorporates floral notes with a mix of spiced citrus, stone fruit, and petrol accents. While dry Riesling is common throughout Australia, most examples in New Zealand incorporate the acid-sweetness balance of an off dry approach.
Greywacke, Marlborough, New Zealand, 2011, 12%
A refreshing contrast to the previous wines, the Greywacke carries distinctive aromatics of light smoke, apple blossom, and juicy peach with a touch of candied sour apple and chalk. The palate performs in an off dry (slightly sweet) style that balances juicy acidity with touches of white pepper and a medium-long finish.
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