Wine review — a feast of Aussie 2005 rieslings

Last year I promised to come back with an extended shopping list of 2005 vintage Australian rieslings.  As a group these present an extraordinary buying opportunity because they offer exceptional drinking and, in most cases, can be found at discounted prices in Australia’s extraordinarily competitive market.

Australia  — and especially South Australia — has an abundance of wonderful riesling vineyards that survived the chardonnay boom and continue to make some of our greatest, longest-lived white wines.

While South Australia’s Eden and Clare Valleys – on the Mount Lofty Ranges – continue to dominate both volume and quality, riesling planting is now sprinkled across many areas that provide the cool nights and mild ripening conditions necessary to bring out flavour and maintain delicacy.

Thus a recent Chateau Shanahan tasting, while far from comprehensive with only 30 2005 vintage rieslings in it – included wines from Tasmania, southern Victoria, Southern Western Australia and the Adelaide Hills as well as from the Eden and Clare Valleys.

Canberra district was conspicuously absent only because our top 2005 rieslings – notably Helm Classic Dry and Reserve and Gallagher – have already been covered. They remain on the shopping list, along with others – like Jacob’s Creek 2005, a bargain at around $8, Peter Lehmann Eden Valley (recently at Vintage Cellars for $11.69) and many others previously recommended here.

I’ve sorted the shopping list into two quality tiers – gold-medal rated (18.5 to 20 points out of 20) and silver-medal rated (17 to 18 points). That seventeen out of 30 wines made such a high grade speaks of the power of this vintage – and also of the strength of winemaking and suitability of the regions represented.

The three most highly rated wines are described below. I hasten to add that it was a close call as to which three made it.

Gold medal rated rieslings

Seppelt Drumborg Riesling 2005 $22
A steely, slow evolving style from a vineyard near Portland, Victoria.

Mr Riggs Watervale Riesling 2005 $21
Intense, minerally dry collaboration from Ben Riggs and Kerry Thompson

Mount Horrocks Watervale Riesling 2005 $28
Magnificent, delicate, texturally rich classic from Stephanie Toole.

Annie’s Lane Copper Trail Riesling 2005 $30
A big-company (Fosters) masterpiece of delicacy and restraint.

Pikes The Merle Polish Hill River Riesling 2005 $32
Delicate, pure, utterly delicious aperitif style from a great Clare sub region

Pewsey Vale Eden Valley Riesling 2005 $16.95
Seductively aromatic, intense and delicate. Neighbour to Heggie’s, featured below.

Silver medal rated rieslings

Plantagenet Great Southern Riesling 2005 $19
A tight and steely aperitif style from Western Australia

Knappstein Ackland Vineyard Watervale Riesling 2005 $26
Very fine and softly textured with lingering, refreshing finish.

Tim Gramp Watervale Riesling 2005 $17
Velvet textured with delicate, fresh citrus-like varietal flavour.

Bay of Fires Tasmania Riesling 2005 $27
Pleasantly tart, fresh and delicate – like a new season granny smith apple.

Howard Park Great Southern Riesling 2005 $25
Bright and zesty with pleasant lemon-like tartness

Pikes Clare Riesling 2005 $20
Full, tangy citrus flavours contrast with the more restrained style of the flagship, Merle.

Nepenthe Adelaide Hills Riesling 2005 $20
A light and delicate aperitif style to enjoy now.

Wolf Blass Gold Label Clare & Eden Valleys Riesling 2005 $22
Fragrant and with maturing, fresh fruit flavours. From experience this is not one to cellar.

THE TOP THREE

Heggie’s Vineyard Eden Valley Riesling 2005 $18.95
Heggie’s topped the recent Chateau Shanahan riesling tasting – just a nose ahead of Petaluma 2005 (below), itself a nose ahead of several other delightful rieslings. Like the Petaluma it’s a single vineyard wine. However, Heggie’s is a more steely style with pronounced acidity providing backbone and seeming to intensify the underlying, pristine, restrained fruit flavours. If you can’t understand why riesling fans are so excited by the variety, grab a bottle of Heggie’s. It’s made by Peter Gambetta in the Yalumba winery (both part of S. Smith & Sons) just down the hill from the vineyard. Has outstanding cellaring potential.

Petaluma Hanlin Hill Vineyard Clare Valley Riesling 2005 $18 to $23
Brian Croser’s departure from Petaluma is marked by an absolutely stunning riesling from the Hanlin Hill Vineyard in the Clare Valley. It’s made in Petaluma’s distinctive, very ripe full-bodied style. But despite the 13 per cent alcohol and generous fruit, it’s a riesling of great freshness, delicacy, softness and balance. It rated a gold medal score in Chateau Shanahan’s recent tasting, just half a point behind the magnificent Heggie’s Riesling reviewed above. As I write Petaluma 2005 is offered at $17.99 on winestar.com – an indication of just how competitive the market is and what a steal top riesling can be.

Mitchell Watervale Riesling 2005 $18
Jane and Andrew Mitchell established their Clare operation in the late seventies and now work intimately with a significant estate of mature vines. They don’t exactly let the wine make itself – riesling’s too unforgiving for that – but the wonderful flavour depth, textural richness and delicacy of the wine all point to superior fruit, painstakingly protected from vineyard to bottle. While this is at the fuller flavoured end of the riesling spectrum it has dazzlingly fresh acidity and a bracing, minerally dryness to balance the rich fruit and soft texture. It’s a bargain at $18 cellar door and should give great drinking pleasure for a decade or two if well cellared.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2006 & 2007

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