Session 2: Riesling
Landmark Australia Tutorial 


The first detailed session of the Tutorial focused on Riesling, a grape that has a long history in Australia. I've often admired Australian Rieslings without ever really falling in love with them. Traditionally made in a dry style, they can tend toward austerity, without the sort of richness of texture and innate complexity that I so love in the best German and Austrian wines. In fact, some Australian winemakers have been experimenting of late with off-dry styles. However, this session focused on the classic dry style. [We'll look at some of the off-dry styles later - a few were included in the dinner tastings.] 

Who else should chair this session other than Jeffrey Grossett (below)? In addition to some of the comments made by Jeffrey, I've blended into this write-up some material from Michael Hill-Smith’s introductory session. We begin with some context.

Australia has the second largest area of Riesling planted, after Germany. In 1988 Australia harvested 30 000 tons of Riesling and 20 000 tons of Chardonnay. Today, 50 000 tons of Riesling are harvested each year, so it is still an important variety, although this is dwarfed by the 400 000 or so tons of Chardonnay processed. 

Australia has some pre-phylloxera material and good clones. Most vineyards are planted on their own roots. Riesling works with food, and dry Riesling is understood as a style in Australia; the mis-use of the name for other varieties made in a Riesling style has now stopped. There is a better appreciation of the variety by consumers and winemakers than there used to be, and greater acknowledgement of the places where it is grown.

Riesling doesn’t tolerate stress well early in the season, although it does like to suffer a bit. It doesn’t do well in the more fertile sites, but prefers low fertility and lots of stone.

The Eden Valley and Clare Valley are the undisputed classic sites. The Eden is cooler than the Clare and so acids can be higher, and it can have a greater fruit vibrancy, although not in the mid-palate. Clare has more lime and citrus, while the Eden Valley tends to have more floral (rose petal) notes.


'The history of Riesling in South Australia is really the history of winemakers learning how to make fresh, delicate wines in a warmer, and often challenging climate,’ says Hill-Smith. His summary:

  • In the 1930s Rudi Kronberger of Yalumba imported Geisenheim cultivars, cultured yeasts and bottled early.

  • In the 1950s Günter Prass and Colin Gramp (Orlando) imported the first pressure tanks from Germany which allowed for slower ferments. The 1953 Orlando Barossa Riesling was a classic new wine made using this technology.

  • Through the 1970s great wines were made by John Vickery (Leo Buring), Peter Lehman and Peter Wall (Yalumba)

  • Brian Croser also made a big impression with his 1972 and 1973 Siegersdorf Rieslings at Hardy, with 6–7 g residual sugar.

  • Today, Jeffrey Grossett, Louisa Rose, Kerri Thompson and Andrew Wigan are some of the names to watch, continuing the tradition of fine Australian Rieslings.

If the Mosel is at one climatic extreme, then the Clare is at the other. In January it has 9 hours of sunshine a day, and it’s too warm for Pinot Noir, although it can do Shiraz. In 1994 James Halliday said of the Clare, ‘For reasons unknown, its moderately warm climate produces Australia’s finest Riesling.’

Grossett explained that the Clare isn’t as warm as people think it is, and that there’s actually a big variation in temperatures across the region. The meteorology station is in the wrong place: in the main street in Clare behind the post office. ‘Be a little wary about climatic data,’ warns Grossett. ‘The vine is the best indicator.’

Eden Valley has a slightly cooler climate than the Clare. Interestingly, the acidity seems to behave differently. At the stage where winegrowers start to analyse fruit for harvest, Eden fruit has higher acidity, but this then drops faster than the acidity in the Clare. Typically, harvest will be slightly later in the Eden Valley. Eden shows lemon rather than lime quality in many cases, and sometimes has a chalky character. 

The wines

2007 Kilikanoon Mort's Reserve Riesling, Clare Valley
This is from a warm block at the southern end of Watervale. 12.3% alcohol, 8.5 g acid (high), pH 2.9. 40 year old vines on red loam over limestone. Very precise, fine floral, limey nose is tight and minerally with a hint of talc. The palate has dense limey character with a bit of minerally hardness to it. Fresh and concentrated, but also a bit grippy and hard. High acidity. Perhaps going through a difficult adolescence. 89/100

2005 Mount Horrocks Riesling, Clare Valley
From the highest vineyard in the Watervale sub-region at 460 m; red loam over lime. Hand pruned, shoot thinned, fruit thinned and hand-picked. Quite steely mineralic nose with lovely delicacy, lemony fruit and floral, bright notes. The palate has lovely fresh lemon and herb fruit with a bit of oiliness and good acidity. Persistent finish. Sophisticated and fine. 92/100

1992 Petaluma Hanlin Hill Riesling, Clare Valley 
Further up towards the town of Clare, on the western side; red loam over hard rock, cordon pruned. Deep yellow/gold colour. Intense sweet, slightly fudgey, toasty nose with some dried citrus peel notes and a hint of marmalade. The palate is toasty, nutty and broad with rich, lime, apricot and marmalade character. This is a dry Spätlese style and it’s weird but lovely. 93/100

1984 Grosset Polish Hill Riesling, Clare Valley
First vintage was 1981; this is from an ullaged bottle. Yellow gold colour. The nose shows toast, herbs and lemons with some restraint. The palate is beautifully delicate with complex lemon, herb and toasty characters. Elegant, warm, subtle and harmonious with lovely smooth lemony fruit, together with some apricot warmth. A beautiful wine. 95/100

1973 Leo Buring DWC15 Riesling, Clare Valley
Made by John Vickery. Deep gold colour. Toasty and intense on the nose with lemony notes and some oily chacracters. Soft-textured, bold palate with lots of evolution, and oil, toast, brioche and butter notes. Long herby, lemony finish. Lovely and quite intense, but this does need to be drunk soon – a piece of liquid history. 94/100

2002 Peter Lehmann Reserve Riesling, Eden Valley
Bright lemony nose with a citrus cordial character and a hint of toast. The palate is warm with lovely fresh citrus fruits and broader, subtly toasty notes. A bit of grapefruit, too. Really focused and fresh. Harmonious and intense with great concentration and depth. 94/100

1999 Pewsey Vale The Contours Riesling, Eden Valley
Minerally, spicy lemon and herb nose. The palate is broad and pungent with some liminess and spicy toasty notes. Pure fruit dominates. This is a structured, bold wine with high acidity and a savoury personality. 92/100

1980 Pewsey Vale Rhine Riesling Riesling, Eden Valley
Picked earlier than usual. Screwcapped. Deep yellow/gold colour. Broad, smooth floral lime cordial character on the nose. The palate is fresh, pure, smooth and lemony. It has a deeper colour than the freshness of the fruit would suggest. Lovely wine. 93/100

2007 Seppelt Drumborg Riesling, Henty
This is a cool region, to the point of being marginal: potentially exciting, but not reliable. Very fresh crisp lemony nose with a bit of greenness. Grassy and lemony. The palate is bright and pure with lovely freshness and minerality. 89/100

1996 Crawford River Riesling, Henty
Deep yellow gold colour. Hint of herb and tinned pea on the nose, with some rich pineapple and peach notes, as well as a hint of toasty. The palate is bold and intense with rich lemony, peachy fruit as well as some sweet herbal notes. Unusual, and ageing a bit strangely. 87/100

2007 Frankland Estate Isolation Ridge Vineyard Riesling, Frankland River, Great Southern
Floral nose is precise and intense with lime fruit to the fore. The palate is fresh and transparently limey, with good acidity. Very pure and fresh. 91/100

2003 Craigow Riesling, Tasmania
Established in 1989, with first vintage in 1993. 10 hectare estate with 2.5 of these Riesling. Yellow/gold colour. Pungent, intense herby nose with grassy lemony notes and lifted acidity. Really intense with some richness. The palate is fresh and herby with good acidity and pungent lemony fruit. Weird but interesting. 88/100

Landmark Australia
Visiting the Australian Wine Research Institute
Session 1 - Regional Classics
Session 2 - Riesling 
Session 3 - Shiraz and Blends
Session 4 - Historical Perspective
Session 5 - Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Blends
Session 6 - Cabernet Sauvignon and Blends
Session 7 - An Alternative View
Session 8 - Chardonnay
Session 9 - Pinot Noir
Session 10 - Blending the rules
Session 11 - Sparkling
Session 12 - Fortified

Wines tasted 06/09 
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