Riesling jumps out of the box

IT has been a long time coming but finally someone in Perth has taken the big step and presented a world-class line up of riesling wines.

Held for the first time last month, Must Wine Bar’s International Riesling Tasting is now firmly on the agenda and is to become an annual event.

This year’s tasting focused on the 2002 vintage and there’s no doubt those fortunate to have been invited were treated to one of the most impressive recent presentations of rieslings in Western Australia, if not Australia.

Those of us prone to bouts of nostalgia – and who remember when the current Post Newspaper office was a wine bar – are certainly old enough to remember the last time riesling was a fashionable drink.

Well, times change, and Russell Blaikie and his team at Must have brought riesling back into fashion; a fashion alternative, of course, but nevertheless in fashion.

Riesling has endured an identity crisis for many years. It has fallen foul of impostors, among them wines that allege to be native riesling, such as the Hunter Valley rieslings, which were in fact semillon.

And most of us will at some stage have enjoyed the delights of cask wines with the words ‘riesling’ on the label, although many of these were more likely a blend of sultanas posing as riesling.

For many consumers riesling was, and to a certain extent still is, the mass-produced sweet style of the Abba decade in the wine industry.

In reality, this is not so.

It takes a good imagination to make a connection with the wines of the 1500s. It was a time when the Germans were drinking more than 120 litres of wine per head per year.

The concept of abstinence for health or ‘everything in moderation’ obviously hadn’t taken hold back then.

Those who declared themselves teetotallers did so knowing they harmed their chances of entering the priesthood, if that was a career goal, and hospital patients were allocated a daily wine ration of seven litres. 

In History of Wine, Hugh Johnson writes of a tasting in which he was involved where a bottle of riesling circa 1500s was the star attraction.

Despite the fact that wine making in those days was a little more primitive than today’s high-tech standards, Johnson explained that the 1961 tasting of a 1540 Steinwein showed the riesling to have among the most extraordinary ageing potential of all wines. The first mouthfuls indicated the wine’s amazing ability to ‘live’, although this was quickly killed off on meeting the environment outside the bottle.

Riesling got a kick-start in Australia in the early 1950s when Orlando purchased a stainless steel pressure fermentation tank that almost single-handedly revolutionised white wine making in this country.

Wine makers were now able to control fermentation. Orlando’s Barossa Special Riesling, produced in 1953, was the forerunner to the way riesling was to be made.

In 1955 Leo Buring made the next important mark on Australian riesling when he purchased a vine-yard, which after much renovation was renamed Chateau Leonay. He also employed ‘Mr Riesling’ – John Vickery.

To this day John Vickery remains dedicated to riesling and has been one of the leaders in the direction riesling has taken over the past 30 years.

Anyone fortunate enough to taste some of the early Leo Buring DRW wines will experience the John Vickery magic.

When Leo Buring died in 1961 and Lindemans purchased the winery, John Vickery had access to more high-quality fruit and state-of-the-art equipment, which allowed him to further refine his skills in the making of riesling.

He left oxidative riesling behind and, in doing so, introduced Australians to new style of riesling that has become the benchmark for today’s Australian producers of this noble variety. It is hard to believe that up until 1990 riesling was the most widely planted variety in Australia.

So, which direction now for this marvellous grape variety?

Sales of riesling are starting to rise and consumer acceptance of screw cap closures, in preference to natural cork, has led many wine drinkers back to the variety.

Yalumba, which first trialled screw cap closures with its Pewsey Vale Riesling in the 1970s nearly financially collapsed as the public shunned the closure. How times have changed.

The interest and stunning examples on offer at the Must Wine Bar International Riesling tasting are firm evidence that riesling is on the brink of moving up the ladder and challenging those that have sat at the top for so long.

Mesh Eden Valley SA 2002 Riesling 17.5/20

This wine shows quite distinctive mineral notes that combine with lime citrus aromas. The palate is dominated with citrus lime and a minerality that combines an oyster likeness. It’s quite a layered wine with intensity although perhaps a little tight and drying on the finish.

Grosset Polish Hill Clare Valley SA 2002 Riesling 18.5/20

One of the wines of the tasting, this one showed structured yet intense lime citrus, steely mineral aromas. The complex palate had dynamic integration of citrus, some spice and mineral notes. The wave of flavours continued long after the glass was empty.

Pikes Clare Valley SA 2002 Riesling 17.75/20

Enticing aromas, lime rind with a slight blossom perfume and a mineral oyster note. Delicious and intense flavours flow through the wine, ripe lime and lemon fruits are surrounded by lively acidity. It is a powerful wine with persistence and length that stood out in the line up as distinctively Australian

Dr Loosen Bernkasteler Lay Kabinette (Mosel-Saar-Ruwer) 2002 Riesling 17.5/20

A pretty wine. Bath salt perfume with herbal tea charm. Intense lime citrus fruit and expressive acidity combine with sweetness across the palate. There are some chalky notes flowing in the wine, which is powerful, and shows length and persistence.

Orlando Steingarten Clare Valley SA 2002 Riesling 18/20

The aromatics of this wine leap out of the glass. It’s perfumed talcum, bath salt mineral with lemon rind and a sherbet pastel suggestion. Although there is an Aussie inference the palate shows lime citrus with a cumquat and spice note. The wine shows length persistence and plenty of flavour.

Prager Wiessen-kirchen Federspiel Steinriegl (Wachau) Austria 2002 Riesling 18.5/20

Green apple aromas with delightful lime zest and grassy notes and some spice. Powerful fruit and acidity combine on the plate of this ripper, with lemon and lime fruits and floral notes. This one has length and persistence and certainly shows elegance.

JL Wolf Wachenheimer (Pfalz) Germany 2002 Riesling 19/20

Simply delicious all around. Cheery aromas that showed hints of musk, apples, lime and minerals. This wine showed mouth tingling acidity, with lime zest, green apples and mineral characters through the palate. Still tight with a lively intensity.

Petaluma Clare Valley 2002 Riesling 18.5/20

All class and one of the best Petaluma rieslings that I have tasted. Features lime citrus with mineral talcum. The palate shows powerful rounded fruit with citrus, green apple and plenty of intensity. Raspy tannins are found before the dynamic length and persistence. Well worth seeking out.

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