Wine Australia's showcasing of some of its key varietals and winemaking skills continued last week with an event dedicated to advances made in Riesling.
The Riesling Landmark Tasting was the third in an ongoing series, following similar sessions for Shiraz in December and Cabernet Sauvignon in February. It included a free pouring of innovative and classic Riesling styles and a masterclass led by Sarah Anhmed, aka The Wine Detective.
"The idea behind this was to tell the Australian fine wine story through looking at some of Australia's iconic varieties and wines," said Emma Harrison, events and education manager at Wine Australia. "Tasting each wine over three vintages gives the chance to explore vintage variation and ageing ability through museum stock."
The 35 free-pour wines on show, of which Ahmed had chosen 12, were presented regionally and were mostly drawn from recent vintages (2012, 2011 and 2010 with some exceptions). If anything, they showed what stylistic variety now exists in Australian Riesling: the days where this automatically meant bone-dry are definitely over.
There were eight off-dry wines, clocking up residual sugar levels of between 11g/l and 36g/l. This excludes Joseph Chromy's very deliberately Alsace styled "Delikat SGR Riesling" which comes in at around 60g/l residual sugar.
The off-dry wines came in numerous styles but there were two Rieslings, at 14/15g/l RS, showing two winemakers who clearly are not afraid of heights, who enjoy and master the tightrope walk between electric acidity and just enough sugar to amplify fruit and cushion that malic thrill: Mac Forbes with his RS14 Riesling and Gary Mills of Jamsheed with his Garden Gully Riesling.
Both these wines are an expression of the purity that Riesling that can express and, of course, drinkability. Mere sweetness in itself is not notable, but all the flavour it carries, the possibilities it opens for that true weight of fruit, certainly are. But both those wines are remarkable also for their texture and their departure from an almost clinical focus.
There are layers here that owe something to indigenous ferments, these wines are no less pure, but they seem to have an added dimension.
Tom Shobbrook in Eden Valley is working in the same vein but in a drier register, also showing aromatic, layered intensity with an intriguingly moreish texture. Best's Justin Purser with his Great Western Riesling (also at 14 g/l RS) is snapping at their heels with his Great Western Riesling.
However, there also were more mainstream expressions of that off-dry style, and they work well: Peter Lehman's Art'n'Soul Riesling comes in at a light-footed 11.8g/l RS and great value at £9.99 and Grosset's Alea Off-Dry Riesling at £19.99 showed a pleasant herbal, almost mossy edge with lots of florality, finishing dry.
Addressing this stylistic shift later Ahmed said in her masterclass that "medium-sweet wine is now a category in Australia" which "has brought a younger generation into the Riesling-drinking fold."
Ahmed's presentation showed her encyclopaedic knowledge of the continent's wines, winemakers and viticulture. She began by outlining Riesling's long history in Australia but concluded that it has long since "been leapfrogged by Chardonnay".
About the classic dry styles shown in the masterclass, Ahmed said: "Australia's signature dryness for me makes perfect sense since there is no need to offset that much acidity - if anything in Australia, the problem is sunburn."
This of course means that dappled shade from the canopy and absolutely phenolic-free juice is of the utmost importance as are reductive (i.e. ultra-protective) winemaking, neutral yeast and bottling under screw-cap.
Five flights of three vintages each were poured: Ferngove Cossack Riesling 2011, 2006 and 2002; Mount Horrocks Watervale Riesling from 2012, 2011 and 2002, Grosset Polish Hill Riesling 2012, 2009 and 2005; the immensely underrated Jacob's Creek Steingarten Riesling 2012, 2005 and 2002 and Pewsey Vale The Countours Riesling 2006, 2003 and 1997.
For each flight, Ahmed commented on soils, vineyard history, viticulture and vintage data. The 2005s and 2002s were uniformly beautiful, the weakness of the 2011 vintage showed but was redeemed by the pleasure of the full-fruited 2012s. The 1997 was like balm.
The point of the exercise was of course to show ageability. As is usual with Riesling, these wines represent exceptional value and they are always true to themselves, or in Ahmed's words: "Like its German and Alsace counterparts, Australian Riesling has a postcode: it is expressive of regionality and site."
In the coming months Wine Australia will also hold Landmark Tastings for Grenache, Chardonnay and Cabernet blends.