A year or so ago John Haeger published a book called Riesling Rediscovered – Bold, Bright and Dry. Although this book is as dry as Clare Valley Riesling it is very informative, it is in depth and is – obviously – focused on the current worldwide trend to produce Riesling with fairly low residual sugar. Nevertheless, this overall good publication has one substantial mistake – it doesn’t include Australia, third biggest Riesling producer in the world. Not only is Australia an important player in production but when talking about dry Rieslings then Aussie Rieslings are drier than English humour or German philosophy. This major omission can be explained by the fact that John Haeger is American (a universal explanation for ignorance) but I would be inclined to a more pragmatic reason – John ran out of time or money (or both) to explore another Riesling Kingdom… sorry, a colony.
Two Giants of Australian Riesling
Two months ago, I was lucky enough to meet two of the most influential Australian Riesling growers in the last two decades – Jeffrey Grosset and Ken Helm. Hello my European friends – ever heard of them? No? Shame on you. Let´s take a brief (I promise!) look at these two MRs (Masters of Riesling).
Len Evans wrote thirty years ago: His skilful control of Riesling´s delicacy in wines of real flavour and backbone quickly established a small market and assured his status among the local winemakers, some of whom depend on his advice and help.
Looks like Jeffrey Grosset was already a star at the times when Riesling was a dirty word (and often a dirty wine) in Australia, at a time before Polish Hill set up unrivalled benchmark for South Australian Rieslings.
Polish Hill: Once a vineyard that was supposed to be doomed because of ridiculously low yields which were giving austere and lean wine. Vines planted in silt and shallow shales over a thin crust of clay and gravel overlaying a bed of blue slate struggle to get enough nutrients from the soil resulting in tiny crop of grape bunches the size of a capsicum. Jeffrey Grosset planted his eight hectares more than twenty years ago and the site is farmed organically. All the magic of Polish Hill is in concentration and structure – nutrient stress might be harmful for humans but it squeezes the best from vines. In good vintages Polish Hill gives world class distinctive Riesling that can age forever. All of this for the same price of a case of Four X (for European readers – disgusting but popular Aussie mid strength beer).
Grosset Polish Hill 2017, Clare Valley, RRP $60
One of the best wines I have tasted this year. Exceptionally rich and complex on the nose – elderflower, white flowers, green and yellow apple, aloe and peach but list of single aromas can´ t provide that mesmerising head spinning sensation. Although Riesling aromatic fireworks tame with age I think this wine is still unusually fragrant for Clare Valley Riesling. Less voluptuous on the palate but superbly elegant, balanced and still intensive. Flavours of riper citruses, peaches and apricots, bit of honey and mainly long peachy and salty finish. Grapes harvested much later (second half of March) than usual.
Alc. 12,7%, RS 1,0 g/l, TA 7,1 g/l, pH 3,09
Grosset Polish Hill 2016, Clare Valley, RRP $60
Great but rather classic compared to 2017. Very mineral nose – oyster shell, citruses, lemon grass, smoke, coal and touch of toast. Superb acidic green apple drive with fantastic long salty, oyster like steely finish. Thinner and leaner than 2017 but firm and uncompromising. Will last long.
Grosset Springvale 2017, Clare Valley, RRP $40
Jeffrey Grosset makes only two dry Rieslings – still enough to become a Riesling legend. Springvale thin topsoil is made up of red loams interspersed with shale over limestone, and the vines are deeply rooted in the slate bedrock. Yields are higher compared to Polish Hill but not significantly.
As in the case of Polish Hill the 2017 is extraordinary fragrant. Ripe green apples, yellow apples, stone fruits and touch of honey – although it lacks the extra aromatic floral layer of Polish it is still extremely appealing and broad. I love the citrusy freshness on the palate and long salty finish. There is more than ten years potential in this wine but unlike Polish Hill it´s not a blasphemy to drink it now.
Alc. 12,5%, RS 2,1 g/l, TA 7,2 g/l, pH 3,11
Grosset Springvale 2016, Clare Valley, RRP $40
Rocky, steely and sharp. Fresh citruses, lime peel, lemon grass, smoke, oyster shell and toast. There is obvious vintage variation – very cold summer in 2016 resulted in more linear texture, sharper flavours and tight, laser beam like finish. A classic Clare Riesling could be said. With 2016s the difference between Polish Hill and Springvale is more obvious, Polish Hill being more complex, focused and energetic.
There is also off-dry Riesling in Grosset portfolio – the Alea. Understandable step towards wider appreciation and food friendliness. It is a very good wine, elegant and balanced, with flavours of stone fruits and honey. While 10 grams of residual sugar makes this wine a perfect pair for spicy Asian meals it also (logically) makes its finish significantly less furious and focused in comparison to Springvale and especially Polish Hill.