Riesling — the Aussie buzz in 2008

There’s a buzz around the industry about the 2008 rieslings. It started during vintage and by April, many winemakers, including Chris Hatcher of the Foster’s Group (one of our leading riesling makers) rated the wines as the best since the legendary 2002 vintage.

Quantities were up, too, as nature seemingly compensated vignerons for the harsh, small-cropping 2007 season. Nationwide, riesling production jumped to 37 thousand tonnes from 31 thousand in 2007. The six thousand tonne increase equates to an additional 420 thousand dozen bottles.

But with the domestic market stagnant, this won’t be easy to sell – especially given riesling’s perennial niche status – no matter how often columns like this one talk it up. So if you’re a riesling lover – and there’s a lot to love about the 2008s – there’s delicious, good-value drinking in the wines now coming to market.

Many of the top-end wines are already available. And it shouldn’t be long before the cheaper, big-volume rieslings, like Jacobs Creek, Wolf Blass and Hardy’s Siegersdorf hit the shelves. In big-volume, high-quality years like 2008 these are probably the best-value Aussie whites on the market, quite often drinking better as young wines than their more expensive counterparts.

That’s because the finest rieslings when very young tend to be a little austere, albeit with a slurpy lump of fruit that’s easily overlooked. This is because these long-lived rieslings tend to be higher in acid and perhaps have a little extra sulphur dioxide to protect them across perhaps decades in the bottle.

These wines regularly fare worse than cheaper, earlier drinking styles in wine shows when they’re young. But the medals flow a few years later as the superior fruit shines through.

We saw an example of this at the Canberra regional show a few weeks back when Ken Helm’s $28 Classic Dry Riesling pipped his $45 Premium Riesling for the trophy. So, did we judges stuff it up? Not really. It just says that they’re both bloody good wines but the cheaper one drinks better now. Ken’s Premium will still be putting a smile on our faces ten years from now.

So how good are the 2008 rieslings? As a judge at the local show I rated Canberra’s as the best I’d ever tasted from the region. These were exciting wines and perhaps good enough, at last, to hold their own against the benchmarks from the Clare and Eden Valleys.

To gauge the hype, and glimpse where Canberra’s rieslings sit in the bigger picture, a group of us set off for a weekend of tastings down at Tuross. We served the wines in masked groups of three, with food. And after our appraisals, ripped off the covers and continued drinking and eating – to give the wines a true road test.

Two Canberra wines – Jeir Creek and Helm Premium, both gold medallists from the regional show – slotted in comfortably with some of Australia’s most revered riesling names.

It was a feast of delightful wines covering a spectrum of styles, from the taut, steely, potentially very long lived Leo Buring Leonay DWL17 High Eden and Grosset Polish Hill to the fuller, rounder, absolutely delicious (and still delicate) Petaluma Hanlin Hill 2008.

Between these two extremes were the sensationally lime-like, seductive Mount Horrocks Watervale and intense, guava-like Leo Buring Leonay DWL18 Watervale.

The only sweetie, Mount Horrocks Cordon Cut Watervale, was all plush, luscious, pure-riesling flavour – a joy to sip.

The Canberra and Tuross tastings tend to confirm the vintage hype. Riesling appears to be on the money in 2008. Watch for more reviews.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2008