Once upon a time, the Rhine Riesling was Australia‘s premier white wine grape. Then the Aussie wine makers discovered Chardonnay and there was a mass planting of vines for that white wine grape with the production of Riesling declining as a consequence. However, in recent times there has been resurgence in popularity for Riesling and recognition that the Australian version of this German grape produces some very fine white wines indeed.
Australian Rieslings are recognisably different from the Rieslings produced in Germany. There is still plenty of crisp acidity and the most obvious characteristic of taste is still citrus fruit but it is generally riper and less austere with more than a hint of lime.
Younger Australian Rieslings taste fresh and full of citrus fruit and often have a steely quality. Like their German counterparts, Australian Rieslings age wonderfully with that crisp, steely edge softening and a more honeyed and toasty taste coming through. The citrus taste becomes chewier and a properly aged. Australian Riesling also has a hint of petrol. A mature Australian Riesling has a rich yellow colour compared with the paler, brighter yellow of a young Riesling.
There are plenty of Australian Rieslings available in the UK whether on the supermarket or off licence white wine shelf or from wine clubs or online mail order sites. However, for the uninitiated in can be difficult to identify which are likely to be the star examples of this white wine grape and which may end up being disappointingly bland.
Firstly, there are a handful of Australian wine-producing regions which are renowned for producing excellent Rieslings. If the label on a bottle says the Riesling grapes have come from one of these regions the white wine inside is likely to be of a good quality.
The Clare Valley and Eden Valley in South Australia are probably the best known Riesling producing regions. Silesian settlers were responsible for bringing the Rhine Riesling to South Australia. Many of them settled in the Barossa Valley and the Clare Valley and planted the white wine grape with great success.
The white wine grape did well in the Barossa Valley but the growers found that the quality of the white wine produced improved as they moved higher into the hills in the east, towards the neighbouring Eden Valley. In the 1960s major Barossa wine producers Yalumba and Orlando (now part of the Jacob’s Creek business) moved their Riesling production to the Eden Valley and the region has never looked back.
The Clare Valley is the northernmost wine producing region in South Australia and its high altitude gives it a more extreme climate than those regions further south. The Clare Valley is divided into a number of sub-regions of which Watervale and Polish Hill are acknowledged as producing the finest Rieslings.
Other Australian wine regions known for producing quality Rieslings are Mount Barker, part of Western Australia’s Great Southern region and Henty in Victoria’s Western Victoria Zone. Mount Barker is relatively cool and wet and has many small producers making excellent Rieslings. Henty is also relatively cool and produces Rieslings which age particularly well.
So which are the producers to look out for? Arguably the most iconic Aussie Riesling and the hardest to get hold of is Grosset Polish Hill from the Clare Valley. Wine maker Jeffrey Grosset has done as much as anyone in Australia to prove that this white wine grape can produce high quality wines. The Grosset Watervale Riesling is also excellent. Other Clare Valley Riesling producers to look out for are Pikes, Kilikanoon, Annie’s Lane, Kirrihill and Mitchell.
Wine producers and experts will often argue over the relative merits of Clare Valley and Eden Valley Rieslings but in truth both are excellent, although one region may edge it over another in individual vintages. Eden Valley Riesling producers to seek out include Orlando, Leo Buring, Pewsey Vale, Hewitson and Yalumba. Major Barossa Valley wine producers Penfolds, Wolf Blass and St Hallett also make excellent Eden Valley Rieslings. Also look out for Mesh Eden Valley Riesling, which is a collaboration between the leading Riesling wineries of Grosset and Yalumba.
Other South Australian wineries producing good quality Riesling are Petaluma and Geoff Weaver, both based in the Adelaide Hills.
Mount Barker Riesling producers include Plantagenet Wines, the winery which first cultivated the area and is still the region’s leading winery. Also look out for Capel Vale, Goundrey and Howard Park.
Crawford River is the winery which arguably showed the potential of the Henty area to produce great Rieslings. Seppelt is the largest wine producer in the area and makes good Rieslings. Other producers worth investigating include Massoni and look out for Best’s, a winery based in the neighbouring Grampians region.
Image by stefano lubiana wines.