The screwcap success of Riesling

Sat, Jul 17, 2010, 01:00

WINEAustralian Riesling lost out to Chardonnay as a cool summer wine but it’s back in vogue and the current vintage is the best in a decade

THE DOYEN OF WINE writers, Hugh Johnson, was once asked what he liked to drink in his own time. Riesling, he replied, as if there could be any doubt about it. That was in 2002. Riesling was not quite the forgotten grape but it certainly was not the cool drink of choice that it is today. Since then, Germany, Austria and the Alsace have sought to reclaim the grape’s former glory. They have been aided by a resurgence in the production of Riesling in the New World, notably Australia and New Zealand.

Up to 1992, when a rampant thirst for Chardonnay pushed it into first place, Riesling was the most widely-grown white grape variety in Australia. In recent years, however, with the hard-pressed Australian wine industry struggling to hammer home the virtues of distinctive regional characteristics, Riesling has emerged from Chardonnay’s shadow.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in South Australia’s Clare Valley, home to more notable producers than any other area. These include Jeffrey Grosset, who is generally acknowledged as Australia’s greatest Riesling wine-maker, although his partner in life, Stephanie Toole, might question that, given her much-praised work at her Mount Horrock’s vineyard. While the Clare Valley boasts other outstanding producers such as Jim Barry, Petaluma and, at a more affordable price, Tim Adams, there are many other areas producing excellent Riesling, including nearby Eden Valley (Pewsey Vale and St Hallett), Western Australia (Leeuwin Estate) and Tasmania (Tamar Ridge). The current vintage and the previous 2008 are both considered to be the best of the decade.

Some say that Australian Riesling is too one-dimensional, a vivacious array of primary fruit flavours, mostly lime and grapefruit, with little complexity down the line. However, you pay for what you get and sometimes, especially on a warm summer’s evening, there is nothing better than the seductive puckish kiss of a young Aussie Riesling bursting with refreshing citrus. Other wines, such as Grosset’s Polish Hill, go on to greater things.

This most noble of grapes is at its best on its own and you rarely see blends. Nor does it appreciate oak. It is equally at home dry, semi-dry or sweet and it is generally a relatively low-alcohol wine, with anything between 8 and 13 per cent ABV.

Riesling also loves food from salads to spicy Indian dishes, seafood and chicken but performs just as well as an aperitif or simply a late evening solace. Incidentally, all Australian Rieslings uses screwcap closures; if you have a problem with that, then you do have a problem.

John Wilson is on leave


Grosset Polish Hill Riesling 2009, Clare Valley, 13%, €32.99Usually Grosset’s bone-dry wines start out austere if immaculately structured, before opening up in time with stunning intensity and length. The 2009, however, is smiling from the get-go, with rich lime-led fruit and great length and balance. Stockists:Cellar Master, Sandyford, Harvey Nichols, Martins Off Licence, Fairview; Fallon Byrne, Dublin; Red Island Wines, Skerries; Jus de Vine, Portmanock;, Donnybrook Fair, 64 Wine, Glenageary; Avoca.

Mount Horrocks Watervale Riesling 2009, Clare Valley, 13%, €22.99A classy wine with a zingy kick. Fresh, nose-tingling lime aromas with a musky, floral undertow; intense citrus flavours, fleshy mouthfeel and a long, long puckish finish. Stockists:64 Wines; Fallon Byrne,, Cellar Master.

Petaluma Hanlin Hill Riesling 2009, Clare Valley, 12.5%, €17.99Another poised for an interesting evolution but showing really well right now. In this model vintage, its appley notes are that little bit more generous without sacrificing its steely mineral backbone. Stockists:Sweeneys, Glasnevin; Fallon Byrne.

Pewsey Vale Riesling 2008, Eden Valley, 12.5%, €15.99Eden Valley boasts some serious players and none more so than this veteran. It struts its vivacious citrus stuff with some class. Stockists:McHugh’s, Kilbarrack; Shiel’s, Dorset St; Donnybrook Fair; Kelly’s Wine Vault, Clontarf; The Wicklow Arms, Delgany; Bin No 9, Goatstown; Super Valu Ashbourne; Superquinn; O’Brien’s; Londis

Two under €12

Jacob’s Creek Classic Riesling 2009, Southeastern Australia, 12%, €9.90This is lighter and softer, but still offers refreshing lime/lemon fruit and good acidity. Perfect for midweek or parties. Stockists:Tesco, Dunnes Stores, Superquinn, Super Valu Centra, Molloy’s, O’Briens.

Brecciarolo, Rosso Piceno 2006, 13.5%, €10.50Pining for a red? This Italian blend of Montepulciano and Sangiovese from the Marche region is great value. Lush cherries and light tannins. Stockists:Lord Mayors, Swords; Red Island Wines; Fahy’s Off Licence, Ballina; The Mill Wine Cellar, Maynooth; Next Door, Remington, Sundrive, Granville Hotel, Waterford and Clane; On The Grapevine, Dalkey; Hole in the Wall, Dublin