By Rose Murray Brown MW Published in The Scotsman 17 July 2021
The discovery of South Australia’s top Riesling vineyard site in the Clare Valley happened purely by accident.
Jeffrey Grosset, one of Clare Valley’s leading producers, revealed at a Wine Australia seminar recently that it was just a chance encounter that led him to his best vineyard in Clare’s Polish Hill district - an area he has now put on the world wine map with its distinctive long-lived Riesling style.
“Forty years ago, when I started the winery, a colleague had bought an old run-down cottage in Polish Hill with neglected Riesling vines”, says Grosset. “The mix of silt, shale and gravel over blue slate looked unpromising, but I regenerated the vineyard and results were astonishing”, he says.
“Smaller berried bunches produced very limey steely fruits with a palate so persistent and long”, explained Grosset of Grosset Wines (pictured). “It was quite a different shape in the mouth to the fruitier styles found in other areas of Clare like Watervale”.
Grosset was one of six winemakers at the seminar discussing the diversity of Clare Valley Riesling styles – alongside his wife Stephanie Toole of Mount Horrocks with Steve Baraglia of Pikes, Hilary Mitchell of Mitchell Wines, Matt Paulett of Paulett Wines and Adam Eggins of Wakefield Wines.
“Clare Valley region is basically a series of hills which run north to south - and is unique in Australia with such high altitude (300m-600m) and variety of aspects, which influence microclimates greatly”, explained Steve Baraglia of Pikes.
On the face of it, Clare Valley seems an odd place to find fine delicate Riesling. This remote pastoral region, north of Adelaide and Barossa Valley, also makes big weighty Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon in neighbouring vineyards. Yet Clare’s Riesling is sleek and diverse – from perfumed zesty fruity styles from Auburn and Watervale in the south – to Polish Hill’s distinctly austere minerally long-lived styles.
Clare’s climate is highly continental, explained the seminar’s moderator, Australian expert Justin Knock MW. “It has a greater diurnal shift in temperature than the world’s other great Riesling regions, but is significantly warmer and much drier than France’s Alsace - with milder winters than in Europe - and drought is an ongoing issue here in Clare”.
First planted back in 1840, it was not until 2000 that Clare Valley was catapulted into the limelight, when thirteen Riesling producers championed the screwcap closure. “Screwcap was the best thing that happened to us”, says Matt Paulett. “It keeps our wine pristine with minimum oxygen and you can store your wines upright”.
Most Clare Valley Rieslings are bone dry and versatile with food - with seafood to lightly spiced Asian cuisine the classic matches - but the winemakers revealed other interesting combinations.
Toole recommended ham, leek and gruyere cheese tart or a rolled shoulder of pork roasted with granny smith apples and served with apple cider sauce with her Watervale Riesling. Matt Paulett recommended unshucked oysters injected with Riesling with his Polish Hill Riesling - or beef sirloin steak to go with aged Riesling.
Personally I am not so sure about Riesling and beef steak, my own preference is for spicy Thai crabcakes – but I would agree that Clare Riesling can age beautifully developing honeyed character after 10 to 20 years.
Winemaker Adam Eggins explained: “What we love about aged Clare Riesling is the sublime balance between sweetness and tartness, similar to what you find in preserved lemons – so light stews, chicken tagine or bouillabaisse work well”.
Sweeter Riesling styles are also highly sought after here. Stephanie Toole makes exquisite Cordon Cut dessert wine from a two hectare vineyard 460m altitude, high in Clare’s north east corner – and she says she cannot make enough to satisfy demand : “With all the heartache that goes into making this dessert wine, it is worthwhile as people really appreciate it”, says Toole.
TASTE TEST: DRY CLARE RIESLING
PIKES TRADITIONALE RIESLING 2020
£16.99 Fine Wine Musselburgh; Lea & Sandeman
Mainly Polish Hill fruit: pure limey, lemony flavours, good intensity, vibrant acid, good length.
MOUNT HORROCKS WATERVALE RIESLING 2020 ***STAR BUY***
£21.90 Luvians, Noel Young Wines; Vinvm, Liberty Wines
Lovely fragrance, lemon meringue flavours with a zesty grapefruit twist, a touch flinty, bone dry long finish. Very good.
MITCHELL WATERVALE RIESLING 2020
£14 Tanners Wines (2018)
Easy drinking more commercial style, soft rounded citrus fruit palate, short finish.
GROSSET WINES POLISH HILL RIESLING 2020 ***STAR BUY***
£39.99 Luvians, Philglass & Swiggot, Bottle Apostle; Butlers Wine Cellar, Liberty Wines
Exceptional purity and finesse here: still tight steely and flinty with limey fruit core and a long precise length – will age beautifully developing honeyed notes.
PAULETT WINES POLISH HILLS RIVER RIESLING 2018
£16.95 Ellis Wines (£11.50 for 2020 at The Wine Society)
Hints of lime, zesty, tinned grapefruit flavours initially, moving to honeyed richer notes and lively acidity to finish.
WAKEFIELD ST ANDREWS RIESLING 2015
£22.95-£24.99 House of Townend, Bordeaux Index, Fareham Wine, Shenfield Wine, Il Vino, Luvians
Soft rounded honeyed mature Riesling with creamy texture, minerally undertones and lime flavours to finish.
Join Rose’s Discover Georgian virtual wine tasting on Friday 3 September www.rosemurraybrown.com