Grab those 2012 Clare rieslings

A couple of times each decade a very special riesling vintage comes along. And for me that means, eye on the retailer discounts, grabbing a couple of bottles here, half a dozen there and even a few dozen when the best opportunities arise.

For riesling remains Australia’s great bargain cellaring wine. The best offer delicious fruity freshness on release and over time develop deeper, richer flavours while retaining great freshness. Stock up on the great vintages and even modestly priced wines provide wonderful drinking for a decade, while the very best might give pleasure for 20 years or more – especially with the protection of a screw cap.

Right now I’m literally sniffing excitement in the 2012 vintage Clare Valley rieslings, revelling in the beautiful, pure fruit flavours, fresh, dry palates and moderate alcohol levels, demonstrated in all the wines reviewed here today, and peaking with the sensational Wilson Polish Hill and perhaps even loftier Leo Buring Leonay.

I’ve included a few winemaker comments as the wines support their palpable excitement about a Clare vintage that provided ideal ripening conditions – in sharp contrast to the cold, disease-ravaged 2011 season.

The 2012s are just beginning to arrive in restaurants and retail shelves now; and from what I’ve seen present that rare buying opportunity. Chateau Shanahan stocked up liberally on the wonderful 2002s and we’ll do the same with the 2012s.

I’ll review more of the wines as they come to market, highlighting those that offer best value and cellarability.

Winemakers Federation of Australia vintage report
“Most winemakers have described the vintage as one of the strongest on record. Yields were slightly lower than an average year, but this was offset by the higher levels of flavour intensity, fruit purity and natural acidity levels in the whites”.

Daniel Wilson, The Wilson Vineyard, Clare Valley
“2012 was a fantastic vintage, nice warm ripening conditions with the occasional shower to keep things hydrated.

I’m trying to remain objective as there’s probably a danger of overstating the quality of this vintage after the terrible year we had in 2011, but really, I couldn’t be more happy with the 2012 vintage.

To put it into perspective, I didn’t make our Polish Hill River Riesling in 2011, the first vintage missed since The Wilson Vineyard started making wine in 1980. I think that says it all”.

The Wilson Vineyard Watervale Riesling 2012 $18.95
Watervale, Clare Valley, South Australia
Watervale riesling lean towards a beautiful purity of fruit flavour, tending towards the lime-like end of riesling’s flavour spectrum ­– with the volume turned up a little in the 2012 vintage. The palate’s rich but delicate with a lingering, fresh, dry finish.

The Wilson Vineyard Polish Hill River Riesling 2012 $27.95
Polish Hill River, Clare Valley, South Australia
In 2012 Wilson’s flagship white reveals the unique power and delicacy of great riesling. It comes from low yielding vines and the winemaking aims at maximising and protecting the fruit flavour: hand picking and gentle pressing to avoid extraction of phenolics from the skins, prolonged, cool fermentation flavour and aromatics, then bottling under screw caps as soon as possible after fermentation. The aroma features floral and citrus characters and even at this early stage the palate reveals great intensity and power of flavour, held in check by its tight acid structure. Should age very well.

The Wilson Vineyard DJW Riesling 2012 $23.95
DJW vineyard, Polish Hill River, Clare Valley, South Australia
This comes from a 2.2-hectare vineyard planted by Daniel Wilson in 1997 on a fertile section of his father’s vineyard. The fertile site produced large vines, large bunches and bigger flavours than other parts of the vineyard, prompting the decision to bottle it separately. In 2012 the citrus and tropical fruit aroma gush from the glass and flood the palate deliciously. While big and juicy it retains a fine structure, zingy acidity and a modest alcohol content of 12.5 per cent.

Tim Adams, Tim Adams Wines, Clare Valley
“Our yields were down a bit on average, but flavour intensity and condition of fruit were outstanding. Vintages of intense flavour sometimes produce huge, blockbuster-type wines but that wasn’t the case in 2012”.

Tim Adams Riesling 2012 $18–$22
Irelands, Rogers and Bayes vineyards, Clare Valley, South Australia
Tim Adams generally makes low-alcohol, dry, austere rieslings requiring a few years to fill out and soften. But in 2012 the aroma and flavour’s already there, bursting like a genie from the bottle – while the alcohol level remains at a modest 11.5 per cent. The beautiful aroma and juicy, intense, lemony varietal flavour comes with a load of refreshing natural acidity and not a sign of the fatness that can accompany forward young rieslings. 2012 looks to be a great riesling vintage in the Clare Valley. This one is sensational at the price.

Peter Munro, Leo Buring Wines (owned by Treasury Wine Estates)
“Much will be said about the ‘amazing’, ‘powerful’ and ‘classic’ 2012 vintage; it’s all true and well deserved”.

Leo Buring Dry Riesling 2012 $14–$20
Watervale (50:50 company and grower vineyards), Clare Valley, South Australia
Buring’s bread and butter riesling generally does the discount rounds. But even though the price varies widely, it provides excellent value even at $20. The 2012 delivers Watervale’s purity and mouth-watering lime and lemon varietal flavours. It’s richer, fruitier and more deeply structured than we’d normally see in a riesling at this tender age, but not at the expense of delicacy or freshness. Watch for the bargains and grab a case or two for medium-term cellaring.

Leo Buring DW P18 Riesling 2012 $32–$40
Watervale, Clare Valley, South Australia
It takes only a mouthful of Leonay to understand winemaker Peter Munro’s excitement. This is an amazing dry riesling – gentle, delicate and caressing on the palate, yet with an extraordinary intensity of pure, thrilling, lime-like flavour. It’s unusual for a young Leonay to reveal itself at this age (typically the show medals come some years after vintage). But like other rieslings of the vintage tasted to date, there’s liveliness and finesse accompanying the upfront fruitiness. This one should cellar for decades in the right conditions.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2012
First published 15 August 2012 in The Canberra Times