This month the #WorldWineTravel group is discussing South Australian Whites. During an AdVINEture to Adelaide in 2019, we tasted numerous Rieslings and were blown away by the level of quality we discovered.
What?? South Australia and Riesling in the same sentence? How can that be, you are probably thinking, when Riesling is the ultimate cool climate wine and Australia is the ultimate hot climate terroir? If you can put your pre-conceptions away, as we had to, you will find that there are actually many terrific Rieslings coming out of South Australia that are delicious wines showing varietal character and often at very fair prices.
Riesling is the white wine grape that grows so well in cool climates. It is naturally high in acid and a longer, cool growing season will allow its apple and citrus flavours to develop while retaining that mouth-watering and refreshing acidity that is the grape’s signature.
When most of us think of Riesling, our thoughts first go to the Mosel Valley in Germany, and rightly so. Mosel Rieslings are delicious and to many they are the standard bearer for this grape. The other region often associated with this grape is just over the border in the French region of Alsace. Both of theses regions are marked by deep river valleys with cool and often damp climates where the grapes struggle to ripen. In fact, both these regions are so cool that very little red wine is produced at all, as the reds thicker skins require more degree days to properly ripen.
One really cannot talk about Riesling without talking about acidity.
Acidity is fundamental to all wine, along with tannin, alcohol and sweetness, but with the Riesling grape the level of acidity is at a pronounced level which makes it a signature characteristic of the grape. Sometimes, in cool years or very cool regions, that acidity can be too much creating a wine that is too tart for many palates. This has been the case in the Mosel and vintners there often stopped the fermentation process before all of the sugars had been converted to alcohol as a way of counteracting the acidity with leaving residual sugar in the wine. The result were Rieslings that were not fully dry; in fact, there is a spectrum of Riesling wines made in Europe that goes from fully dry (no residual sugar) to off-dry to semi-sweet to very sweet.
At lower end of the price spectrum, many off-dry to sweet versions of Riesling were produced. This has given rise to a general perception among many consumers that Rieslings are cheap, sweet wines with little redeeming qualities. In fact, that perception could not be more wrong! Riesling might very well be the white wine of Sommeliers as good quality versions that span the dryness spectrum are very often lauded by those who make a living in the wine trade.
Make no mistake, Riesling does require a cooler climate to show its best attributes.
While regions like the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale evoke images of a hot climate in South Australia, it needs to be recognized there are some cooler regions as well. The two best known cooler regions would be the Clare Valley and the Eden Valley. And both these regions are capable producing some outstanding Riesling.
Australian Riesling, whether from the Clare or the Eden Valley, will have its own unique signature, one that is true to the varietal form but one that is also unique and distinct from its European counterparts.
Cool climate is a relative term and Australian cool is warmer than either Mosel or Alsace cool. The grapes high acid is found in Australia but the struggle to achieve full ripeness is much less of a problem here. Consequently, with fully ripe grapes there is less incentive to not fully ferment the grapes to full dryness. Leaving residual sugar is seldom required in Australia and so it is much less common than in Europe.
The flavour profile of South Australia Riesling generally can be distinguished from Mosel or Alsace Riesling. Australian Riesling will show some stone fruit characteristics such as apricot, peach nectarine and apple whereas European Riesling will lean more to the citrus fruit end of the spectrum with perhaps note of green apple and sometimes pineapple. Another feature of South Australian Riesling is texture. While still a cool climate, it is a bit warmer than Alsace or the Mosel which results in riper grapes that ferment to slightly higher levels of alcohol. This higher alcohol is often perceived by tasters as more body, more texture.
South Australia takes its Riesling very seriously and produces many top quality wines. Consumers are increasingly becoming aware of this fact. Australia now has the second most acres planted to this variety at 10,300 acres. Ahead of the United States, France, Austria and New Zealand, only Germany has more acres planted to the grape.
Some producers to keep an eye out for if you are serious about tasting the best of what South Australia has to offer in terms of Riesling are: Wakefiled, Penfolds, Jim Barry, Kilikanoon, Grosset, and Henschke, among others. Our favourite producer from the region would be Pewsey Vale, from the Eden Valley. For this article we treated ourselves to their tete du cuvee, their 10 Year Museum Release The Contours Riesling 2010. This very rare, limited production wine is held back in their cellars for a full decade before being released into the market. The extra ageing results in greater complexity and balance that allows this wine to stand tall among the best wines coming out of Europe or anywhere else in the world. This is a crowning achievement for South Australia Riesling and a true testament to this region’s capability with this grape.
2010 Pewsey Vale The Contours Museum Reserve Riesling
In the glass the wine shows its beautiful pale yellow colour with a green hue; the depth and tone of the colour reveals something about its age. The wine is held back in the winery to age after bottling to allow more maturation and complexity to develop. Even though we drank this wine 12 years after the vintage, it was fresh and vibrant, signifying that another decade of ageing could be possible, if only you could keep your hands off it! The nose initially presents classic Riesling characteristics of lime, Meyer lemon and green apple. Initially, the classic Riesling “petrol” notes were minor and in the background. As the wine saw more air (and perhaps because the temperature came up as well) those petrol hints became more pronounced. The palate presented a bit differently than the nose. While citrus notes were there, they were joined by plenty of apple and apricot flavours as well. There was also a slightly honey-like note, not as in sweet, but as in the flavour of honey without the accompanying sweetness. This wine was bone dry with beautiful acidity that gave the wine cut and a wonderful freshness. The finish was long and mineral-tinged. A world class example of Riesling; if truth be told, a world class wine. Hard to find but well worth the search.
To read the other articles related to this month’s topic, please refer to the links below:
- Lynn Gowdy of Savor the Harvest is hosting this month and discusses “Paxton Wines – Biodynamic Pioneer in South Australia”
- Robin Bell Renken of Crushed Grape Chronicles tells us about ‘Jim Barry Wines – 3 Generations making Clare Valley Riesling’
- Martin Redmond of Enofylz Wine Blogdigs into ‘Pewsey Vale – Eden Valley’s Original Riesling Monopole’
- Camilla Mann of Culinary Adventures with Cam pairs ‘Asparagus-Leek Velouté with the 2020 Naturalis Sauvignon Blanc’
- Wendy Klik of A Day in the Life on a Farm pairs ‘South Australian Chardonnay with Pesto Bruschetta Chicken’
- Linda Whipple at My Full Wine Glass discusses “Eden Valley Dry Riesling? Cool!”
- Gwendolyn Alley at Wine Predator shares “Eight at the Gate: Sustainable Chardonnay In Wrattonbully, South Australia”
- Jeff Burrows of Food Wine Click! shows us how “Eden Valley Shines among South Australia Whites’