If you’ve missed out, here are some shortcuts to Nirvana
Old Rieslings are among my all-time favourite wines, and I’d argue that they represent a unique Australian wine style. New Zealand comes close with its outstanding Rieslings but we don’t see many of them on this side of the Tasman. Alsace is another option for full-bodied, dry Rieslings that age well, but the best of Alsace is expensive. German Rieslings are different on the whole, more delicate, less ripe, less dry, and less affordable.
The great thing about Aussie Rieslings is that they’re cheap. In recent months I’ve bought Jim Barry’s Watervale Riesling 2011 for less than $11, Leo Buring’s Clare Riesling 2011 for less than $12 and Pewsey Vale 2011 for less than $13. These are commercial Rieslings of terrific quality, they’re absolute bargains and they’ll all improve for many years.
Watch them grow
In the first 12 months of their lives, good Aussie Rieslings are mouthfuls of lime juice and searing acid. By 18 months to 3 years of age, they fill out on the palate and the acid softens. Over the years that follow, they develop bottle-age characters that make us think of buttered toast and honey in their ultimate expression. The fruit is still there but changes in character – from limes more to oranges to apricots – and intensity. It mellows.
Young Rieslings make great aperitifs, and are a perfect match with roast chicken. Older ones go well with all kinds of poultry including duck. Dry young Rieslings also cut through Chinese food with great effect, much the way Italian dry whites cut the oiliness in some of their dishes. Others have different ideas, and that’s fine. Old Rieslings even go well with aged hard cheeses like old Gouda or Parmesan. I like drinking them on their own.
What to look for
The Clare and Eden Valleys are the places where our best Rieslings have long come from. Yes, there are great Riesling made in Tasmania, southern Victoria and the Great Southern over west, but the top wines of this style are still made by Grosset, Paulett, Jim Barry, Yalumba and Leo Buring in the Clare and Eden Valleys.
With young Rieslings, I look for high alcohol: 12.5 -13.5% is optimal for the full-bodied Aussie style. Good Rieslings retain their acid when fully ripe, in contrast to Hunter Semillons which do not (that’s why they’re always picked long before they’re ripe, at 10.5 – 11% alcohol). Like German Rieslings from an ordinary year, Hunter Semillons carry those unripe flavours of green apples and sour milk until old age obscures them. They’re no fun to drink young, but ripe Rieslings are.
You don’t have to wait a decade
Let’s say you develop a liking for this unique Aussie style, and you wish you’d laid down plenty of them years ago. 7 or 10 years is a good start, but some Rieslings take 12 to 15 years to show their full potential. Lindemans used to hold some of their Leo Buring Rieslings back in the days before Fosters screwed them up, and release them at various stages. These days, Dan Murphy’s Cellar Release Program is the only source of older Rieslings I know of. Here’s are the aged Rieslings currently on offer:
Skillogalee Riesling 2006 - $25
St Helga Riesling 2006 - $19
Mitchell Watervale Riesling 2006 - $22
Tim Adams Riesling 2006 - $20
Leo Buring Clare Valley Riesling 2006 - $19
Leo Buring Eden Valley Riesling 2006 - $20
Pewsey Vale Eden Valley Riesling 2006 - $19
Heggies Riesling 2006 - $23
Petaluma Riesling 2006 - $33
Leo Buring DW J17 Leonay Riesling 2006 - $37
They’re all from the great 2006 vintage and, best of all, most of them fall within our $25 limit. I have tasted (and bought) the two cheaper Leos Buring, the Pewsey Vale and the Mitchell. They’re all great drinking now but have years to go yet. The rest of them are known quantities from wineries that know how to make the best of this style.
So you don’t have to wait a decade; just a few more years will show you what I mean, but be quick: Dan M is about to roll out the 2007 cellar release, and these wonderful wines from 2006 will soon disappear.