Wine Reviews: The Cool Truth About Riesling

There’s an elephant in the room when it comes to Riesling.

Undoubtedly, the variety is a shining star in the South Australian wine galaxy, now coming into focus every year as new releases from the current vintage make their way around the world, all fresh and zesty in their recognizably tingling ways. in mouth. All perfect for spring and summer splashes – if those seasons ever arrive!

As usual, Clare Valley and Eden Valley are leading the charge, and rightly so since Riesling is their great white wine ambassador.

There will always be an annual and ongoing desire to compare regions, given that it’s a sports Australian addiction to like two flies climbing a wall. But really, there’s no need. Everyone has their own expression.

And of course, there are generalizations around the sweeter acidity and floral top notes of Eden Valley, or whether a district has more limes than lemons in the broader spectrum of citrus flavors. But the counterpoint to all that hoo-ha is the acceptance that Riesling is about as pure as a wine can be, without too much interference from winemakers, and its nuanced variations come from specific factors. to the site, wherever the wider regional supply is – the classic example of expression of terroir.

The Riesling purveyors will tell you everything about the altitude of their vines, the composition of the soil and rock below, the orientation of the rows of vines, the rainfall – or not – and the hours of sunshine, etc. All of these are markers of how a wine reflects a particular site.

Then there are the unique growing and ripening conditions of each year. Importantly, the 2022 vintage in our main Riesling valleys was universally considered cooler, with records showing there were very few days warmer than 35C.

This has a huge impact on the style of Riesling we’ll be drinking this summer.

As mentioned earlier, acidity and citrus flavors are, in many ways, the key factors that define the joy of Riesling.

In cooler vintages like 2022, it can be difficult to strike the right balance between the two to achieve a delicious Riesling to drink now for the summer. After two recent sessions tasting new seasonal releases (and a few older ones) from the Eden and Clare valleys, I conclude that your mouth and teeth might be in for a bit of a shock.

For here comes the elephant in the room.

There are many Riesling makers who are acid hunters, and their wines can often be hot on the palate when young. Many of 2022 will test your resolve, as in cooler years the natural acids in the grapes remain high. Finding the right window to reap the rewards is key when there’s a balance between that mouth-wrinkling acidity and authentic fruit flavors.

Louisa Rose, head winemaker of Yalumba and associated brands and famous Riesling champion, witnessed it.

“It’s been quite a challenge to balance the acidity in 2022 – more than I’ve ever seen before,” Rose says.

She witnessed this in action at Pewsey Vale Vineyard in Eden Valley where a current release is made as well as a much admired Contours Museum Release Riesling matured in bottle for five years.

“I can’t remember a year where we had to wait for the acids to drop in Eden Valley. Usually we have a nice acidity that is naturally there, but if we had chosen the balm (fruit sugar ripeness) or the state of the grapes, the acidity was quite fierce,” she says.

The 2022 Riesling Pewsey Vale Vineyard Estate is one of the best examples, where all the elements come together.

“It may be typical of winemakers that Riesling is all about acidity and that’s the defining characteristic, whereas our philosophy is very different. Riesling is like all wines and it should be drinkable and balanced,” notes Rose.

“Too many winemakers think that the more acidity the better, and for the few of us who are willing to torture ourselves, we really appreciate that.

“Consumers don’t want that overall. They want something drinkable, something suitable for the occasions when people want to drink it.

“I don’t think searing acidity that makes your eyes water is the answer.”

Marie Clay, senior white and sparkling winemaker at Treasury Wine Estates, is another winemaker who oversees both the current release and the ripening release of Rieslings, in her case under the famous Leo Buring banner.

There are a range of technical analyzes that can measure the different acidity levels in Rieslings, but finding the right combination of flavor and acid is a tricky balancing act, Clay says. Leaving a small amount of residual sugar from the grapes after fermentation can help lessen the impact of high acidity.

“Even in years with high acidity, we do everything we can to protect (and balance) the purity and flavor of the vineyard,” says Clay.

Elegant, refreshing wines with an even flow on the palate as you drink them is what she seeks to achieve in Leo Buring Rieslings. Oenologists will also talk about texture and minerality, which can result from acidity, or the impact of certain terroirs or winemaking techniques.

While Clay considers the best style of this palate to be expressed in a fine chalky texture due to the acidity, in the end she just wants the wine to stay as intact as possible.

“I just want to capture the purity, finesse and line of the palate. It’s about letting the vineyard shine through in the glass.

“I work very hard not to leave my fingerprints on the wine.”

David O’Leary (right) with Nick Walker thinks the intense flavors of the 2022 vintage more than offset the acid levels. Picture provided

In the Clare Valley, David O’Leary of O’Leary Walker Wines has been crafting brilliant Rieslings for decades. He and his colleagues Nick and Jack Walker work on wines from the most recognized Watervale and Polish Hill River districts.

His summary of Clare’s 2022 vintage is that Rieslings have great intensity.

“Maybe the acidity is a bit high – I don’t think so, maybe some people think so,” says O’Leary.

“I think the flavor is so intense that it more than offsets that acidity.”

He does agree, however, that there is a danger both in the style of the wine and in consumer reaction to the acid bombs that could result from a cooler vintage.

“A lot of winemakers love their acid, but I think a lot of winemakers overdo it,” he says. You have to have taste, otherwise people won’t come back to wine.

One of the flavor charms he likes to see in Riesling is what he describes as a “bath powder” character, something akin to a musk stick lollipop. Also, he sees a fennel seed aroma/flavor as another indicator of a worthwhile wine. Those flavors are evident in several Polish Hill River Rieslings this year, O’Leary says.

Although acidity can be a short-term challenge, O’Leary points out that it’s critical to Riesling’s ability to age. This week, a celebration of current and mature Clare Valley Rieslings from 2022, 2012 and 2002 beautifully showcased how these wines can mature into deeply complex styles, richer in color and flavor. Citrus notes evolved into kaffir lime, lime oil, brown lime cordial, and lemony butter and toast characters. Often the acidity has mellowed over time; the wines are a very special treat.

Maturation releases may be the most convenient way to see this unique varietal expression, although clearly current releases will do much the same if you have the ability to cellar them and the patience to grow them. allow time.

And in a year like 2022, where the natural acidity of many Rieslings might be a little confronting, take the plunge. Buy or share a dozen and hide them. The investment will pay you back over five, 10 or even up to 20 years.

WINE REVIEWS

Leo Buring Dry Riesling 2022

Eden Valley / 11.5% / $20

Considered the “standard” version of Leo Buring each year, selected from a range of Eden Valley vineyards, there is a lovely aromatic note of citrus zest, with the spectrum of fruit flavors leaning a bit towards lemon and yellow grapefruit – in a good way. Lots of liveliness in the mouth with a well-worked balance. A separate maturation release wine of the same vintage will not be available for five years. Although it’s obviously quite mineral with high acidity at the moment, its bath powder and floral notes suggest it will be a cracker.

Pewsey Vale Vineyard Estate Riesling 2022

Eden Valley / 12.5% ​​/ $28

From a magnificent and ancient vineyard, this wine has asserted its own identity over the years. (This year marks 175 years since the vineyard was established, and there are exactly 1,847 bottles of this wine released under a special heritage label.) The wine itself reveals a lovely fragrance to begin with, floral and a herbaceous touch, with a sense of just squeezed lemons. To drink, the fruity flavor leans towards grapefruit, which is not uncommon in the region. The acidity is pithy and comfortable, the texture slightly mineral and long. This Current Release wine is known to age very well, but if you want to see this style in all its glory, look for the Pewsey Vale Contours Museum Release.

O’Leary Walker Watervale Riesling 2022

Clare Valley-Watervale / 11.5% / $25

One of the regular pairings of Clare Valley Rieslings from this enduring duo of winemakers, David O’Leary and Nick Walker, now joined by Nicks’ son Jack. The other Riesling comes from the Polish Hill River district on slate soil in the east of the region. This wine is all about purity, with pristine aromas giving off a lovely apple/lemon note followed by a pleasantly obvious taste ride as you sip. The acidity is present and fortunately correct in its balance for a pleasant and homogeneous style. Recent tastings of the 2012 and 2002 vintages of this wine show that it has excellent aging potential.

Paulett Polish Hill River Riesling 2022

Clare Valley-Polish Hill River / 12% / $38

Given its regional origin, this wine is recognized as a more linear and tight style of Riesling and the 2022 absolutely is. It’s all about limes, with aromas followed by tantalizing flavors of apple and lime juice combined with a tangy mouthfeel energy with well-balanced acidity considering the overall intensity. Also from a recent museum vintage tasting, this wine evolves into deeper notes of kaffir lime with spicy richness, its acidity perfectly balanced and tangy. Refreshing now and for a decade to come.

Elisha A. Tilghman