Tasting Pikes Rieslings with Neil Pike
Chuck Hayward organized a small party vertical tasting of Pikes Clare Valley Rieslings with Neil Pike a few weeks ago. Around 10 of us got together to learn more about Pikes history, Riesling vintages from the region, and Neil Pikes own family history.
Understanding Clare Valley
Clare Valley produces some of the top Rieslings of Australia, showing nice aging potential, with distinctive aromatics from the variety compared to other locations around the world. Growing conditions are unique in the region, but Australian wine culture also carries its own view of appropriate style for the grape (partially due to how fruit does grow there). As Pike explained, petrol notes are seen as a fault in Australian Riesling as the country tends to look instead to pristine fruit expression as the ideal. In his view, canopy management plays into how the flavor and aroma profile arises, with too much sun exposure the skins toughen generating bitter phenolics.
One of the cooler zones of South Australia, Clare Valley offers a cool and wet winter, followed by a very dry spring. The combination gives vines a good dormant period followed by healthy growing conditions that allow for generally no need for humidity intervention (little to no mold or mildew). Clare Valley is one of the latest harvesting regions on the continent.
Pikes sits around 500 meters/1640 feet elevation, with 650 m/2132 f at its highest point. Clare Valley is a small region producing only 2% of the wine in Australia, but 15% of the country’s premium wine. The Valley’s Mediterranean climate carry cooling breezes of the Spencer Gulf, balancing the warmer day time temperatures with cooling breezes and a diurnal shift that keep acid levels up.
Pikes Riesling “Traditionale”
click on drawing to enlarge
Pikes Riesling “Traditionale” comes in as the labels annual, more accessible style wine. The fruit is sourced from two locations with 75-80% brought from their Polish Hill Vineyards on the Easter side of the Valley. There is always some Watervale fruit as well, as it lends a softer and more opulent presentation to the wine. The Polish Hill Vineyard, on the other hand, grows in blue slate giving a needle tension. When coupled with the Watervale, the pair dance with long juicy lines and a friendly lightness of flavor.
Pike explains that the region offers high acidity. The house focuses on picking to preserve that juiciness. He also recognizes, however, that the type of acidity impacts the mouth experience with tartaric acid, in his view, giving a softer overall feel when compared to higher malic acid numbers, which he views as sharper and harder to drink (this will be explored more directly in a post tomorrow looking specifically at acids found in wine). As such, Pikes likes to maintain high TA with a lower focus on MA.
Pikes Riesling Reserve “The Merle”
click on drawing to enlarge – (each vintage came in at 12%)
Only in the best years, Pikes also produces a reserve style Riesling that is meant to age and offer greater intensity in its youth. The wine is held back slightly longer by the winery too as a result. Named for Pike’s mother, “The Merle” offers a pure Polish Hill expression, the vineyard growing in blue slate with some iron stone spotted throughout generating a light ferris element mixed into all that tension. In Pike’s view, the Merle is their more challenging and austere Riesling, as it is meant to drink after some time in bottle and is more loved by Riesling devotees.
Both flights offered lovely aging characteristics with the older vintages giving a nice combination of fruit-flower expression and secondary deepening. The middle years tended to be pretty while light in comparison to either the seering acidity of the new wines or the thickening plushness of the older. The line drive intensity of the Merle was impressive giving too a rich textural experience. It had a lot of energetic focus while being a wine to slow down with. The Traditionale, on the other hand, came in all about pep, verve, dance and lift with tons of energy certain it was meant to wake the palate up.
Thank you to Neil Pike.
Thank you to Chuck Hayward, Peter Bentley and Kat Luna.
To read Blake Gray’s write-up of this same tasting: http://www.winereviewonline.com/Blake_Gray_on_Aussie_Riesling.cfm
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