Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Like Dry Riesling? Look Down Under

Riesling is the world’s greatest white grape. I’m sorry if you don’t agree, but that’s just the way it is. Chardonnay, with its endless regional interpretations, is a close second in my mind. And Chenin Blancs from France’s Loire Valley are also up there with the best white wines in the world. But Riesling rules.

In my mind, there’s a hierarchy of regions where Riesling achieves its greatest heights. The slate slopes of Germany’s Mosel Valley are filled with old Riesling vines that produce some of the most focused and complex Rieslings in the world. Germany’s Nahe, Pfalz and Rheingau regions also produce rich yet balanced Rieslings in a range of styles. If I’m not drinking German juice, I’m probably drinking one from Austria, where producers like Rudi Pichler and F.X. Pichler turn out Rieslings that defy description.

But what about Rieslings made outside of Europe?

That’s when it gets a bit trickier. Canada? Maybe, although they’re hard to come by. New York’s Finger Lakes region? Sometimes they deliver. Califoria? Not so much.

After Germany and Austria, there’s one place to go for Riesling: Down Under.

Known more for warm-weather varieties like Shiraz and Grenache, Australia boasts several unique regions that are ideal for Riesling. One such region is the Eden Valley, a sub-appellation of the famous Barossa Valley. The mix of sunshine, soil composition and higher elevation allows Riesling grapes to ripen wonderfully while still maintaining fresh acid. I drank an Eden Valley Riesling recently, the 2010 Pewsey Vale Dry Riesling, which reminded me once again of the quality Riesling coming out of Australia. The Pewsey Vale vineyard, which sits at about 1,640 feet, was first planted to Riesling in 1847! The property changed hands various times over the years, but Pewsey Vale is a source of consistently delicious Riesling.

Here are my notes on the 2010 Pewsey Vale Dry Riesling: Pretty lemon color, and it shows a bit of a spritz upon unscrewing the cap and pouring a glass. The aromas on this wine are sharp, like a medley of freshly cut citrus fruit. The palate starts off with a kick of acid and a burst of Granny smith apple flavor. The 12.5% alcohol adds a bit of thickness to the mouthfeel. This is a very intense and focused Riesling that has a brisk sense of minerality. Margarita salt and key lime flavors dominate the palate, with hints of petrol and green tea. This wine is so big and bright now, and I actually think it would be better after a few years. There’s a flavor on the finish that reminds me of lime zest along with some fresh mountain spring water.

I scored this wine 88+ points for now, but I think it will improve for at least the next two-to-three years. But at $14 from MacArthur's Beverages, this is a serious bargain. Anyone who likes acid and fruit in their Rieslings, but not the sweetness, this baby's for you. This was a fun diversion from my usual German Rieslings, whose varying amounts of residual sugar add a sense of balance to the searing acidity. My only warning to you before you try some Eden Valley Riesling is this: you must enjoy acid. If you do, and if you're one of those sugar haters, look for Eden Valley Rieslings, and this bottle in particular.


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