Friday, July 16, 2010

Riesling in Australia

A new book published by Winetitles came across my desk yesterday. Riesling in Australia, by Ken Helm and Trish Burgess, looks at the history, the regions, the legends and the producers of riesling, and is billed as the first in 222 years. (Obviously, no one has got around to writing a book on riesling previously.)

I am (accurately) quoted as saying ‘Rhine Riesling – most versatile grape of them all’. It comes from an article I wrote for the National Times on October 5, 1980, when ‘Rhine’ was used to denote the variety, ‘Riesling’ simply an amorphous style. I have to admit I was slightly curious about the precise context of my statement, but the immaculate footnotes throughout the book took me back to the article in question. The quote comes from the header to the article, and I expanded it slightly with the following observations, ‘It’s an extremely versatile grape. Wines made from it cover the range from bone-dry through to the slightly sweet moselle style, thence to spatlese and finally the fully sweet auslese.’ Here I was referring to the thoroughly incorrect use of those terms in Australia, albeit rare, even if Thomas Hardy subsequently sold and marketed a beerenauslese.

In between 1980 and the mid-1990s rieslings with modest levels of residual sugar (akin to the kabinett wines of the Mosel Valley) largely disappeared, leaving the extremes of dry on the one hand, and extremely rich and sweet on the other (an obvious example being Brown Brother Patricia Noble Riesling). But with the move of riesling to seriously cool parts of Australia, wines made in the Mosel style have gained real traction. Here the wheel has turned full circle.

More recently still, another dimension has been added with rieslings given skin contact and/or fermentation of cloudy juice with subsequent extended lees contact. Two examples I have tasted recently that are quite outstanding are the O’Leary Walker 2008 Drs’ Cut Riesling and the 2009 Delatite Riesling, the former with skin and lees contact, the latter simply wild yeast fermentation of cloudy juice and eight months lees contact. An even more extreme example has been Mac Forbes Tradition Riesling, an example of natural winemaking with its roots in bygone centuries.

Riesling in Australia has been handsomely produced in full colour and can be purchased through www.winebiz.com.au; or email orders@winetitles.com.au

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