Some consider Riesling among the greatest of all noble grapes. Yet Riesling is one of the most underappreciated grape varieties. On the current swing of the pendulum, rich red wines have the attention. But those reds are just one band in the wide spectrum of wine.
There are those that say that a taste for Riesling must be acquired. A long time ago I tasted my first Riesling, a totally dry version with no RS (residual sugar) and I thought it approached the austere in character. Quite a bit of time passed before I tasted another by chance and found it quite different, fuller in flavor, body, texture, and fleshier. There are many styles of Riesling.
I wonder how many wine fans know the full range of styles of Riesling, that enigma of a grape, can assume. Riesling wine can be dry, off dry, sweet, with a range of Botrytized Riesling including super-sweet. The dry styles can vary, including rigorous, crisp and refreshing, and fuller with fruit notes in the taste. So, take heart, I wager there is more than one style of Riesling out there just waiting for you! And it’s likely Australian.
Let’s look into a tutorial by Mark Davidson, Head of Education Development, Americas, Wine Australia, with guest Paul Greico, Terroir Tribeca Wine Bar, New York City. They will look at Riesling wine areas, wine styles, trends, and more Down Under.
I want to thank Mark and Paul for adding to my knowledge about Australian Riesling. I picked up some useful and interesting things from them, and I trust you will too.
First, a few facts about Riesling. The vine is of hard dark wood and resists most disease and weather too. At least 50-clones of Riesling exist, and yield has improved by a factor of four in the past 90 years. Over-cropping is not desirable, but in a 90-year span improving the yield has assisted certain aspects of the grape. The high acid of Riesling contributes to its great aging potential.
Mark begins the tutorial. Currently, Riesling is produced in several areas in Australia. Clare Valley and Eden Valley are the standards for Riesling there with Tasmania and Great Southern noteworthy also.
Clare Valley in South Australia about 60 miles north of Adelaide is an area with both red and white grapes planted, although not adjacently. Riesling likes the cool nights there and altitude is a big factor. Prevalent note in the wine is lemon-lime.
There are eleven recognized soil types in Clare, including Terra Rossa topsoil over limestone (Watervale), and classic broken ancient slate (Polish Hill River). In northern Clare deep alluvial fertile soils are found, and in west Clare there are sandy loam soils with showing bits of fragmented quartz.
Eden Valley is a cool climate neighbor of Barossa Valley with a strong winemaking tradition and a reputation for producing high quality wines. Riesling is made along with a few other varietals.
Mesoclimates are found over Eden’s altitude range of 310-540 meters (1,017-1,772 feet), with some vineyards exceeding the altitude of Clare’s highest vines. The soil in Eden Valley is grey to brown clay-loam and sandy loam. Eden’s Riesling tends to show notes of citrus and mineral.
Tasmania, is an island south of Australia. It is known for its natural beauty, and having a climate cooler than Australia’s. Tasmania produces Riesling in a soft style primarily with apple and citrus notes. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are also grown and produced there.
Great Southern, in Western Australia, produces highly acclaimed Riesling from the Franklin River region that gives a full flavors of orange and Mandarin citrus.
At this point, Paul Greico joined Mark to add his knowledge of Australian Riesling. Paul is the General Manager of the Terroir Tribeca Wine Bar in New York City. Mark began by asking Paul what attracted his interest to Riesling in the first instance. Paul responded that he doesn’t hesitate to support the cause of something that is not receiving sufficient respect. If anything fits that description it is the Riesling grape. Paul made Riesling a personal cause in 2008 when he acted as evangelist for the grape at the Terroir Tribeca Wine Bar. For white wine he serving only Riesling for the entire 94-day “Summer of Riesling” 2008! Paul emphasized, “If I am going to say, Riesling is “one of the best, then I have to show it to my guests.” He repeated the same event in the coming summers. Paul emphasized that to make a difference you must take action where the rubber meets the road! The job of Paul and his staff’s is “to try and convince guests that Riesling, the wine, can “meet all of your tasting needs and desires.” Paul confided that Aussie Riesling immediately quenches thirst on a hot New York summer day!
When Mark said “You have been doing this for 12 to 13 years. Have you had success?” Paul answered that he doesn’t measure his career on success. He simply wants to rise daily and have his cup coffee. I can think of more than one MD life-style expert appearing in the media cautioning, If you push too hard for a successful career, you will pay, one way or another!
In the spirit of assisting the underappreciated, Paul said that he would like to spend time and effort to demonstrate that the Australian Steingarten Vineyard receives recognition as the greatest vineyard in the Southern Hemisphere. Initiated in the 1960s by Riesling practitioner Colin Gramp, the vineyard of nearly nine acres is situated on a wind-blown site at 450m elevation in the Barossa ranges.
Mark asked Paul about his favorite Australian wine regions. Paul responded mentioning Franklin River in western Tasmania, Clare Valley delivering lime aromatics, and the purity of Eden Valley.
Mark mentioned Riesling from Crawford River Wines in Victoria as being unique and worth a taste.
Three of my Riesling reviews follow which I tasted at Wine Australia’s 2019 Winter Trade Tasting. These three Rieslings represent high quality wine that almost any wine fan should find enjoyable. Two are of a fuller style while Pikes Traditionale Clare Valley is leaner, but in an inviting, mouthwatering way. Note the exotic hints of petrol and toffee in the Wakefield Wines Estate Clare Valley Riesling. Heathcote is located in central Victoria, and is lauded for wine production.
91, Riesling Wakefield Wines Estate Clare Valley 2017
This pale gold Wakefield Riesling displays a note of petrol on the nose at its youthful age, along with a hint of toffee. Intense with complexity on the tangy palate and a faint note of sweetness leading to a lengthy finish. About $19.
91, Riesling, Jasper Hill ‘Georgia’s Paddock’ Heathcote 2014
This straw-colored medium-light-weight Riesling from Heathcote demonstrates a good representative of the varietal showing complexity and good balance. The aromas of green apple, nectarine, and hints of lime, with mineral and ripe fruit on the palate extend through the lengthy finish. About $35.
90, Riesling Pikes Traditionale Clare Valley 2017
This “Traditionale” Riesling does a good job conveying Riesling attributes at a high level of purity. Very pale in appearance, nearly limpid, unveiling subtle notes of miniature lime, Meyer lemon, and green apple. Very dry and crisp in character. About $26.
- Credit all photos to Wine Australia.
Minor light and contrast edits made.