Aussie 2005 rieslings looking good

After a hot, flavour-sapping 2004 vintage, the milder 2005 season seems to have produced rieslings of subtle perfume, delicious flavour and, in the better examples, the classic intensity and acid structure for long-term cellaring.

As these flow into an increasingly competitive market over the next few months, it’ll pay to stock up – provided, of course, that you like riesling.

Not everyone does. But I suspect that riesling’s relegation to a niche, albeit highly publicised, role amongst Aussie whites owes less to its flavour than it does to the lingering, sweet aftertaste of generic ‘riesling’.

Though gone forever, generic riesling — often sweet, bland and made from anything but riesling grapes — left a cloying legacy for today’s riesling makers to overcome.

As riesling lovers know, the variety offers deliciously fresh, pure, delicate fruit flavour and, in the Australian context, it’s usually dry, although any level of sweetness can be found. That’s all determined by winemaking decisions.

This potentially winning theme of purity and delicacy lies in the grape itself and in the ability of winemakers to bring that delicacy and purity all the way from vineyard to bottle.

It’s a journey fraught with peril. The fruit has to be just right to begin with. But even then, every compromise along the way, no matter how small, reduces quality. The sum of the compromises can be devastating – as we saw judging riesling classes at the recent Canberra region show.

Two wines from the same vineyard scored 55.5/60 and 40/60 respectively: the first a superb gold medal winner; the second barely drinkable thanks, it seems, to inattentive winemaking.

Because of its delicacy, riesling leaves little room for error. Every flaw stands out. But with the level of understanding we now have and ready access to refrigeration, inert gas and protective winemaking in general, there is no reason for any riesling to be faulty.

Phil Laffer, winemaking head at Orlando-Wyndham, recently showed a line up of lovely Steingarten rieslings from vintages 2005 to 1990. To make top-quality riesling, he said, fruit flavour and delicacy need to be preserved at all stages. The Orlando regime includes harvesting at night and only with the temperature below 15 degrees; processing the fruit in the winery within 30 minutes of harvest and uncompromising, protective handling through juice extraction, fermentation, storage and bottling.

Even after production and bottling, cool storage is vital. And in recent years, the arrival of the screw cap has removed cork’s many threats to delicate riesling. Seven years after its widespread adoption, we’re now seeing beautiful rieslings that show wonderful aged flavours while retaining great freshness.

With all the work that’s been done in the vineyards and wineries of Australia’s leading riesling making regions, the arrival of a good vintage like 2005, then, is reason for excitement. We see sound wines every year from the best winemakers. But a good vintage adds extra flavour to the grapes for our enjoyment.

My early impression of 2005 is that the rieslings seem slightly less aromatic than the 2004s but that they offer far greater intensity and depth of flavour.

Outstanding 2005 vintage rieslings tasted to date (apart from those in ‘top drops’), include Neagles Rock Clare Valley, Penfolds Reserve Eden Valley, Helm Premium Canberra District, Chatto Wines Canberra District and Ravensworth Wines Canberra District.

There are bound to be many more as the new releases roll in the coming months, so watch this space for outstanding summer drinking.

A FEW GOOD 2005 RIESLINGS

Grosset Watervale Riesling 2005 $33 & Polish Hill Riesling 2005 $39
Jeffrey Grosset’s Clare rieslings, from the subregions of Watervale and Polish Hill, rank consistently amongst the best of the style in Australia. The Watervale (for the first time in 2005 entirely from Grosset’s own vineyard) is almost unbelievably pure and delicate with a racy, lingering lime-like flavour and acidity. It’ll age forever. But even now one bottle’s not enough. Polish Hill starts subtly with a delicate, minerally aroma. Then on the palate there’s great weight and richness behind a steely acid backbone. From experience – refreshed by the recent Langton’s classification tasting – these are wine to enjoy for many, many years.

Mount Majura Canberra District Riesling 2005 $16
I’ve seen this at a couple of tastings now and at the Canberra Regional Show where it won a silver medal. Even against the benchmark Grosset wine it made a strong showing, suggesting the variety works well in Canberra but it takes the sort of attention to detail that Frank Van Der Loo gives to deliver the goods. The wine shows attractive floral and citrus aromas and a very delicate, fine palate built on lemony citrus flavours with hints of mineral and musk. It’s very fresh and delicious now but should mature and change in pleasing ways for many years if properly cellared.

Leo Buring Eden Valley Riesling 2005 $17.95, Clare Riesling 2005 $17.95 and Leonay DW 117 Eden Valley Riesling 2005 $32.95
In 1945 Leo Buring purchased Chateau Leonay at Tanunda, in the Barossa, and hired John Vickery as winemaker. From this winery, at first under Buring and later under Lindemans, Vickery polished the craft of riesling making and played a seminal role in establishing the dry, pure, long-lived styles we know today. Vickery now consults to Orlando and Chateau Leonay has become Richmond Grove. But the Buring and Leonay names live on as part of the Fosters group the rieslings show great quality under winemaker Matthew Pick. The Eden and Clare wines show steely intensity and citrusy zip, respectively, while the flagship Leonay is simply exceptional, especially for those prepared to wait 5-10 years.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2005 & 2007

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