Australia's top 20 rieslings
Author: Max Allen
Photography: Rob Shaw
Riesling is the quintessential Australian summer wine. When the mercury's nudging 40 degrees and you're looking for a glass of cold, thirst-quenching white to wash down your plate of prawns, nothing beats the grapey perfume and lively acidity of riesling.
We're spoilt for choice here in Australia when it comes to good riesling. And spoilt for choice, too, when it comes to style: more and more adventurous winemakers across the country are moving away from the classic dry-riesling model - gently handled fruit, clean, cool fermentation in stainless-steel tanks, wine bottled early to retain freshness - and experimenting with a huge variety of techniques.
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It's now possible to find everything from sparkling riesling to luscious, late-harvested, botrytis riesling and all the imaginable permutations in between: riesling fermented in barrel or amphora; riesling aged on skins or under a layer of flor; riesling bottled with some residual sweetness or infused with botanicals; riesling sold almost as soon as it's finished fermenting or after spending a decade or more in the cellar.
Here are 20 of the best Australian rieslings you can buy, selected from tastings of new-release wines I've conducted over the past 12 months, as well as a special tasting of 60 top examples of the grape held in our offices last month.
To help you navigate your way through the selection, I've gathered the wines into five loose groupings: "classics", which are dry rieslings from Clare Valley (unquestionably Australia's most famous riesling region); "serious" rieslings with complexity and extra weight in the mouth thanks to bottle age or because that's the style they were made in; "different" rieslings made using unconventional techniques such as extended skin contact; "textural" rieslings notable for the way they sit on your tongue as you drink them; and "sweet" rieslings, ranging from wines with just a little residual sugar to those with a lot.
It's worth pointing out that, because riesling is so unfathomably undervalued in this country, many of these wines are bargains, given the quality: five of the 20 bottles listed here cost $25 or less, and only three are over $50.
1. 2016 Vickery, Watervale, SA, $23
Legendary riesling-maker John Vickery releases two superb-value wines each year and, while I like his Eden Valley riesling, I absolutely adore his Watervale: a big wallop of almost gin-like juniper and citrus aroma, followed by a moreish, mouthwateringly delicious limey flavour sloshing across the tongue. vickerywines.com.au
2. 2016 KT Peglidis Vineyard, Watervale, SA, $38
Kerri Thompson makes no fewer than five different rieslings each year, all good, but in 2016 this for me is the standout: classic Watervale lime and lemongrass - ultimate refreshment, with the pith and the zest and pulp of the green citrus all squished up together. Bloody lovely wine. winesbykt.com
3. 2016 Adelina, Watervale, SA, $23
Made with fruit grown on the same vineyard as the Koerner riesling (see no. 9 below), but quite different in style: this is pure, clean and citrusy, with a touch of fruity sweetness giving it generosity and length in the mouth. Adelina's Polish Hill River riesling is also good: dry, leaner, more focused, a bit more restrained. adelina.com.au
4. 2016 Grosset, Polish Hill, SA, $54
I'm usually seduced by the more up-front, fruitier nature of Jeffrey Grosset's Springvale riesling and find the Polish Hill to be a bit reserved when the two wines are first released, but in 2016 the Polish Hill is the more flamboyant of the two: heaps of floral perfume and lime juice flavour but still has restraint and delicacy. Stunning. grosset.com.au
Let's get serious
5. 2011 Pewsey Vale The Contours, Eden Valley, SA, $36
From one of the great South Australian riesling vineyards and from a cool, wet vintage that produced white wines with enormous potential for cellaring, this is just terrific: glints of emerald green in the glass; aromas of wet stones and buttered toast; and the beginnings of lime marmalade richness in the mouth. pewseyvale.com
6. 2004 Crawford River Reserve, Henty, Vic, $90
Twelve years old but still gloriously youthful, this is intense, endlessly complex and delicious. It will cellar forever. Look out, too, for Crawford River's other rieslings, including the seductive museum-release 2009 ($70) and the brilliant 2011 Noble Dry ($35), which tastes like a late-summer's afternoon in an English country garden.
7. 2016 Glaetzer-Dixon Family Winemakers Überblanc, Tas, $24
Winemaker Nick Glaetzer describes this as "delicate, fresh, and juicy", and he's right - it's all those things, but I think he's underselling it a bit: lurking among the delicacy and freshness is also the most extraordinary, intense flavour of mandarin marmalade. Powerful and racy, I'd say. Just gorgeous. gdfwinemakers.com
8. 2015 Domaine Simha Rani, Tas, $70
Thanks to wild fermentation, nine months' maturation on lees before bottling and no fining or filtration, this beautiful riesling has the most beguiling and satisfying texture and tension - there's both leanness and richness in here, grapefruit pith and zest. Very impressive, indeed, and a great follow-up to the lovely 2014. domainesimha.com
Something a bit different
9. 2016 Koerner, Watervale, SA , $27
One of the best new rieslings to have come out of the Clare Valley in recent years. A little skin contact, wild ferment in both ceramic eggs and stainless steel tanks, five months on fine lees, and no fining or filtration result in a cavalcade of complex textures and flavours, and a lingering finish of moreish Watervale lime. koernerwine.com.au
10. 2015 The Wine Farm, South Gippsland, Vic, $45
A very different style of riesling: ever so slightly cloudy, with some yeasty aromas and dry sake-like floral characters - tangy, savoury, mineral. And, for the wine geeks, unlike most rieslings, this one has been through malolactic fermentation, which gives it a lovely, silty, rice water-like texture. thewinefarm.com.au
11. 2013 Stefano Lubiana Amphora, Tas, $38
This is only available direct from cellar door, but is worth tracking down if you want to taste how good riesling can be fermented and aged on skins in ceramic amphora. It's a clear, pale amber colour, with a punchy perfume of spiced apple and pear, and an intense, long, tangy intensity in the mouth. Very good; very different. slw.com.au
12. 2016 Brave New Wine Wonderland, Denmark, WA, $35
It is indeed rather brave to infuse a dry riesling with "local native bush herbs and spices", but it's been done well and it works: the botanical aromatics sit in the background, echoes of vanilla and woody leaf behind the juicy citrus of the grapes. It's so good I hope it inspires others to be brave and experiment more. bravenewwine.com.au
13. 2016 La Violetta Das Sakrileg, Great Southern, WA, $35
The techniques are unconventional for an Australian riesling maker - oxidative juice handling, wild ferment in barrel, lees ageing, partial malolactic - but that great perfume and crystalline precision you expect in top examples of riesling in Great Southern still come sailing through. Very youthful; should cellar well. laviolettawines.com.au
Texture and length, then something sweeter
Numbered l-r. Texture and
length from 14-17, sweeter rieslings from 18-20.
14. 2016 Jasper Hill Georgia's Paddock, Heathcote, Vic, $41
Riesling is known as an aromatic grape variety, and most of the wines reviewed here demonstrate that beautifully. But it can also be a grape that produces white wines full of intense minerality - as though you've just licked a piece of slate or sprinkled chalk dust on your tongue. This is such a wine. Oysters, please. jasperhill.com.au
15. 2016 Hochkirch, Henty, Vic, $35
Previous vintages of this Demeter-certified biodynamic riesling have often displayed particularly delicious ripe fruit flavours, but the 2016 dials those characters up to 11: it's bursting with soft ripe pear and peach, and has an almost honeyed richness while all the time retaining crucial fresh, balancing acidity. (03) 5573 5200
16. 2016 Ravensworth, Murrumbateman, ACT, $25
"Crunchy" is one of those words that sounds a bit odd when describing a liquid, but this fine, nervy, very pretty riesling is definitely crunchy: think of biting into a crisp, crunchy Granny Smith and you'll get an idea of how this wine makes you feel when you drink it. ravensworthwines.com.au
17. 2016 Smallfry, Eden Valley, SA, $25
From a biodynamically farmed vineyard high in the Eden Valley above the Barossa, this riesling has the citrus and floral perfume, and delicate dryness you'd expect to find in rieslings from the region, but there's also a spicy rosewater complexity to it, and a touch of very pleasant, slightly oily, delicate viscosity. smallfrywines.com.au
18. 2016 Josef Chromy Delikat SGR, Tas, $28
There are quite a few medium-sweet rieslings out there and I tasted many of them for this feature, but few are as good as this: it's spritely and pretty and dances across the tongue on tiptoe. It has 60 grams per litre of residual sugar, but you don't notice because it's so light and lovely. josefchromy.com.au
19. 2016 Rieslingfreak No 8 Schatskammer, Clare Valley, SA, $35
I like all of Rieslingfreak's wines, from the dry, seafood-friendly No 9 sparkling Sekt ($42) to the great-value No 3 Clare Valley Riesling ($24), but the wine that stood out most in the tasting was this medium-sweet, low-alcohol (seven per cent) stunner, with its entrancing aromas of orange-blossom honey and spring-orchard freshness. rieslingfreak.com
20. 2016 Joseph Botrytis Riesling Traminer La Magia, McLaren Vale, SA, $35 (375ml)
Joe Grilli has been making wine from botrytis-affected riesling grapes for more than 35 years, so it's no surprise this is superbly poised and stunningly complex. The wine is balanced by the added spice of 15 per cent gewürztraminer and the tangy juiciness of shrivelled riesling grapes. primoestate.com.au