Mouth watering, cool climate Tasmanian riesling

For the summer of rieling and throughout the year....

Graeme Phillips
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Views over vineyards on the East Coast of Tasmania

Views over vineyards on the East Coast of Tasmania [©Winepros/VisitVineyards.com]

Moores Hill Vineyard in Northern Tasmania
View over vineyards in Tasmania
Views over rows of vines in a Tasmanian vineyard
Cellar door at Freycinet Vineyard on the east coast of Tasmania

 

From being the country’s biggest selling white wine up to the early 1980s, riesling’s popularity has since inexplicably declined to become first the bridesmaid to chardonnay and, now an also ran to the booming plantings and sales of sauvignon blanc.

Jancis Robinson MW has hailed riesling as “arguably the finest white grape variety in the world”.  Australian wine writers have periodically predicted its resurgence.  And yet, today its represents only 6 per cent of Australia’s total white wine grape plantings.

In Tasmania, it does a little better with 9 percent of the state’s total red and white plantings.

And, from recent Bellingham and Pipers Brook rieslings from the north-east, Goaty Hill and Moores Hill from the Tamar, Josef Chromy rieslings from Relbia, the East Coast’s Freycinets, the wines from Craigow, Pooley and Morningside in the Coal River Valley and those of Moorilla, Derwent Estate and Lubiana in the Derwent Valley, it seems Tasmania, despite the regional diversity in its micro-climates, topography and soils, is capable of producing top, long-lived Rieslings from all over.

Many are superb wines that have, or will continue to provide quite scintillating drinking over 10, 15 or 20 years.

Then, of course, there are the ‘05, ’06 and ’07 Wine Society’s Tasmanian Rieslings.  Made under contract by Julian Alcorso and his team at Winemaking Tasmania from a blending of fruit from Craigow, Derwent Estate and Laurel Bank vineyards, the wines between them having collected six trophies and seven gold medals from recent shows in Tasmania, Sydney and Perth.

Given that sort of track record, one wonders why many Tasmanian producers find riesling difficult to sell and why some are grubbing their riesling vines out.

However, a few other winemakers are taking a different tack using Tasmania’s natural, tangy, cool-climate acids to balance and refresh slightly sweeter, lower alcohol wines like Lubiana’s wonderfully young and fresh, moscato-style Alfresco, and Frogmore Creek’s and Meadowbank’s FGRs which respectively have 40 and 50 grams residual sugar and 10% alcohol, their acid balance providing exceptional length and making the fruit sugars less obvious.

They are wines perfectly suited to today’s more relaxed, stand-up-drinking lifestyles and have proved enormously successful with the Alfresco selling out within months of release and the ’06 Frogmore Creek FGR beating the drier ’07 Wine Society’s Tasmanian Riesling to take out the trophy for the best white wine at this year’s Tasmanian Wine Show.

Now Greg Melick has gone a step further and is producing four Rieslings from the 3ha planted to the variety at his Pressing Matters Vineyard at Tea Tree in the Coal River Valley, each one labelled according to its level of residual sugar.  They are the bone dry R (for riesling) 0, R9 (9 grams residual), R59 and R139, all from fully ripened and flavoured fruit with their high acid levels retained and alcohol levels between 8 and 10 percent.  They are due for release later this year.

“I’m after full fruit flavours at low alcohol with good refreshing acidity to cut and balance the sweetness”, Melick says.

Purposely modelled on German rieslings classified in ascending degrees of sweetness as kabinet, spaetlese and auslese, they are the styles that are driving the current resurgence of rielsing sales in the United States.

Then, of course, there are the Tasmania’s late-picked and botrytis dessert rieslings where again mouth-watering cool-climate acid provides essential definition, focus and a refreshing crispness to the wines’ finish.  They’re a heavenly partner to a bowl of fresh summer berries and James Halliday has previously recommended Waterton and Pooley late-harvest wines, and  Craigow and Tamar Estate's Botrytis Riesling.

Those Tasmanian producers who have replaced their riesling vines might come to regret it.

Regions

  • Coal River Valley (TAS)
  • Derwent Valley (TAS)
  • East Coast (TAS)
  • East Coast and Tasman Peninsula (TAS)
  • North East Tas (TAS)
  • Pipers River (TAS)
  • Tamar Valley (TAS)

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