Riesling sizzles at the National Wine Show

The sheer delicious pleasure of drinking riesling, young or old, and the efficacy of screw caps for both early drinking and cellaring wines came through at the recent National Wine Show exhibitors’ tasting.

Faced with 1400 wines and just four hours’ tasting time, quick forays into chardonnay, cabernet and shiraz turned to a dedicated look at the 119 rieslings entered across seven classes. Better a leisurely taste of one variety than snippets of everything – especially with such rich pickings on offer.

While the older wines, which we’ll get to later, tell us a lot about the future direction of many younger wines, the current release 2005’s present the best buying opportunities. It was a great vintage.

But very young rieslings are notoriously difficult to judge. Almost invariably at wine shows simpler commercial wines outscore the long-lived classics. Then, as the years roll by, the best wines blossom – providing huge drinking pleasure and raking in gold medals.

In the National’s premium 2005 riesling class, for example, Yalumba’s inexpensive ‘Y’ riesling with 52/60 points outscored its cellar mates – the slightly more expensive Pewsey Vale (51) and the company flagships, Heggies (46.5) and The Contours (44).

Similarly, Leo Buring’s flagship, Leo Buring Leonay DW 117 – a glorious, if austere drop, at 45.5 points languished behind its cellar mates, Buring Clare Valley on 46.5 and Buring Eden Valley on 49.5.

So if the judges reward the second best wines, what are we to make of it? My interpretation is that it’s partly human fallibility – especially when faced with a long line up of delicate, high acid wines; and, partly as a consequence of this, wines of greater fragrance and upfront fruitiness tend to win the day.

And in great years like 2005 a silver medal winning Yalumba Y at $9 to $12 provides really delicious drinking. But you only have to taste older vintages of Heggies and The Contours where, ultimately, quality lies. Indeed, the 2003 Heggies won a gold medal and trophy at the National while The Contours won gold medals for the 2001 and 1999 vintages.

By the way, the top two rieslings in the 2005 premium class are the exceptions that prove the rule: Peter Lehmann Reserve Riesling 2005 (55.5 points, gold medal) is a stayer but struck me as much fuller and richer than normal. The 2003 and 2001 also won gold in another classes.

And Jacob’s Creek Steingarten 2005 (56 points, gold and trophy) is stylistically different from earlier vintages. Normally austere and slow evolving, the 2005, says winemaker Bernard Hickin, was intentionally made to be fuller and riper with an eye on the American market.

In the museum class Steingarten 1997 won gold. But at the exhibitors’ tasting all three of the cork-sealed bottles available tasted different while the screw-capped gold medallists – Pewsey Vale The Contours 1999, Richmond Grove Watervale 1999 and Richmond Grove Watervale 1998 – showed a beautiful combination of maturity and freshness.

Those Richmond Groves, by the way, are perhaps the white bargain of Australian wine. They’re delicious when young, age beautifully and sell for as little $12.90. Unfortunately the lovely gold-medal winning 2005 (small volume commercial classes) won’t be released until September next year. But it’s worth noting as a must-buy.

While the Clare and Eden Valleys almost monopolised the gold medal spots, Houghtons staked a claim for Frankland River, Western Australia, with its minerally and dry 2002 vintage.


Yalumba ‘Y’ Series South Australia Riesling 2005 $9 to $12
Despite the humble price, ‘Y’ comes from the Barossa and the Eden Valley, key riesling areas. And in the hands of the Yalumba team, you can always count on the flavour and freshness being there. With 52 points out of 60 and a silver medal at the National Show, it outscored many much higher priced 2005 vintage wines. Over time, those wines may overtake ‘Y’. But for current drinking when you want tonnes of fruity aroma and flavour combined with zippy freshness, this is where the value lies. It should continue to drink well over the next two or three years.

Helm Canberra District Premium Riesling $ $33
Ken Helm’s been talking the riesling talk for decades. Now, deservedly, he’s walking the walk with this stunningly good wine. It’s the product of years of incremental adjustments to a winemaking regime applied to the very best grapes from Al Lustenberger’s fastidiously managed Murrumbateman vineyard. All it took was thirty years’ hard work, fuelled by vision, and a benign 2005 growing season that seems to have brought out the best in the variety. This is a wine with a seriously long future: it has the classic citrus and mineral aromatics and taut, intense, steely-yet-delicate palate of classic riesling. This is a great achievement for Ken and a very significant wine for the Canberra district, too. Cellar door phone number is 6227 5953.

Peter Lehmann Eden Valley Riesling 2005 $13 to $16
More often than not the very best rieslings reveal more as they age. This was reflected in the recent Barossa wine show results and at the National in Canberra. Amongst the 2005 vintage contenders, the flagship rieslings generally rated behind cheaper commercial releases. But, over time, we are sure to see those delicate, steely flagships surge ahead. Meanwhile, as these mature, there’s huge drinking pleasure in the more revealing, slightly cheaper rieslings like this triple-gold-medal winner from Peter Lehmann. With lovely aromatics, delicious fruit and taut, ultra-fresh, dry finish, it’s a stunning summer drink. Sensational at the price and has good cellaring potential.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2005 & 2007