Australian Riesling – Can it age? – Grosset, Steingarten and Leo Buring

One question that led me to Australia is whether Australian Riesling can age. The wine is almost always released within a year of harvest so the tendency is to drink it young when it can be very refreshing. Riesling from Australia tends to be dry and is almost always bottled under screwcap now.

The youngest Riesling I’ve tasted was a tank sample of the 2009 Jacob’s Creek Steingarten Riesling. The Steingarten vineyard was originally about 1000 vines planted in the 1960s at the top of Trial Hill, a windy spot on the edge of the Eden Valley. At the outset, it was a single vineyard wine of tiny production. But now although most of the vines come from an altitude of 500 meters, it makes no claim to be site specific; the Steingarten name is a brand. The tank sample was brimming with citrus intensity but not yet really formed as a wine. The 2005, by contrast, was in a very nice spot, exhibiting more muted lime and floral character. The 1998 was oddly phenolic and, while quite solid, not as rewarding today as the 2005.

jeffrey_grossetThe Riesling of the trip for me was the 1984 Grosset Polish Hill. The fourth vintage of Polish Hill, it was bottled under cork (they switched to screwcap around 2000) and had mid-shoulder fill (if the bottle had shoulders, that is) and came directly from the cellar of Jeffrey Grosset (pictured right), one of only a few bottles remaining. The aromatics were muted but on the palate, the wine was terrific with a great weight and kind of oily character, great integration. The finish was spectacular and went on and on. (On a related note, his current release 2008 Polish Hill had excellent citrus character akin to the white of a pink grapefruit. The grapes were hand-picked, only free-run juice used, and the resulting wine has integrated acidity and minerality.)

Also of note was the 1973 Leo Buring DWC15 Riesling Clare Valley. Golden in color, it exhibited some of those toasty notes that mature Aussie Riesling is known to have on the aroma and still had layered complexity. It’s still in a good place now but reaching the end of maturity–good thing these were among the last bottles remaining.

leo_buring_1973The 2002 Peter Lehmann reserve Riesling Eden Valley had toasty, lightly honeyed nose with a strong attack, limey midpalate and expansive, rewarding, and lingering finish. The 1999 Pewsey Vale The Contours Riesling Eden Valley, so called because the rows of vines follow the contours of the hillside, was originally released with five years of age on it. Today it showed more maturity but still had a freshness from good acidity. The 1980 Pewsey Vale Rhine Riesling Eden, golden in color, was interesting but definitely in the “drink now” part of its bottle evolution.

Finally, 1996 Crawford River Riesling Henty was picked late, in May, and has “essentially no botrytis” according to the producer. But to me it had a lovely honeyed note that perhaps had a hint of the noble rot. Quite delicious. I also enjoyed one of the current releases from this producer. But I’ll save that along with some other young, fresh Rieslings for a future post.

As a summary comment here, Australian Rieslings are worthwhile with age and can show bottle evolution even under screwcap. The hardest part is probably not drinking them while they are young. But tasting that magical transformation from lime-fresh minerality of youth to the gently honeyed, toasty quality of mature bottles can be worth the wait.

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Related: “Philip Laffer of Jacob’s Creek on Riesling, petrol, and screwcaps

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8 Responses to “Australian Riesling – Can it age? – Grosset, Steingarten and Leo Buring”

  1. Thanks for the post re the Aussie Riesling tasting. We’re following the LAT09 from CA and I was curious to hear how some of those historic Rieslings are showing. We’ll be showing a comparison of the ’08 Pewsey Vale Riesling and the ’98 Pewsey Vale Riesling at the SWE in Sac this July.

  2. Tyler, I noticed your name tag behind those glasses. Does that designate all of those pictured for yourself?

  3. […] particpant, Tyler Colman, yesterday posted this interesting article on his renowned wine blog,, about one of his objectives while out in Austrlaia – to find out if Australian Reisling can age or […]

  4. Tyler:

    What is the soil composition where they are growing Riesling? Have they made an attempt to match soil to the variety? Which clonal selections are they using?

  5. Indeed,Tyler, the line up of Rieslings tasted certainly looked impressive and, without doubt, there would have been some stunning examples of just how well Rieslings do age, particularly those under screw cap!
    I’m also delighted to think that you were able to taste the 2002 Peter Lehmann Reserve Eden Valley Riesling, which currently has 22 Trophies and 21 Gold Medals under its belt, and I would suggest that there are more than just a few Wine Judges who believe in its quality.
    I feel that I should also point out, since 1991 at PLW we have been awarded ‘Best Riesling in the World’ at the International Wine & Spirit Competition in London on no less than 6 occasions with our ‘Wigan’ Eden Valley Riesling, formerly known as our Reserve Riesling. Released as a 5 year old, we believe that this wine is just emerging into superb maturity prior to its release, and if cellared carefully will have many, many years of further cellaring potential to come.
    Since 2001, when we made the decision to move away from corks and across to screw caps, this label has accumulated 45 Trophies, 60 Gold Medals, 26 Silver, 33 Bronze and 2 Blue Gold Medals along the way.
    I think that it’s fair to say that, at PLW, our commitment to our growers, and our belief that the Eden Valley of South Australia is the finest area to grow and produce this noble variety, has been spectacularly rewarded!
    My advice, for lovers of aged Rieslings, is not only to watch this space ….. but to invest in a bottle or three and continue to enjoy drinking these magnificent older Rieslings for years to come….!

  6. I have a few Steingarden 2001 in my cellar that I open once in a while. I love those wines. I find too often that I am the only one liking them though…

  7. […] Dr Vino had a good post on his blog about Riesling ageability. Even though 99% of folks don’t age their wines a few of us do. Myself probably more because I forget about the wines in my cellar rather than by design. Nevertheless, it is always a pleasure to taste an older Riesling regardless of its residual sugar (that would be my “gee, I did not remember I had that bottle here” moment). My rule of thumb is usually that Rieslings with a greater residual sugar have a tendency to age better, but that can be debated. The problem is not to argue if Riesling can age as it is one of the most ageworthy whites; but it is to find friends that share an interest in tasting older bottles of wine. Very often aged Rieslings taste different than younger, fresher Rieslings as they lose their fruit forwardness to gain more honey and petroleum notes. That might turn many folks away. The appreciation of an older wine taste profile brings my old philosophical dilemna; do people do not like a given wine (old or not) because it does not meet their frame of reference (It is not sweet as it should be, it is not oaky as white wine should be, etc…) OR do people do not like a given wine because hedonically it is unpleasant (ie it truly taste like hell to them). My guess is that the earlier reason is often true and that people do not truly enjoy the wine as it is but they always try to apply a frame of reference to it (either past experiences or what they have been told by others) and compare that reference to their present experience. If the reference (or expected) taste matches the current taste, they like the wine; if not, they dislike it. Well, sorry to get that deep here, but that’s what happens when you think about older Rieslings… […]

  8. For a school marketing research project I need some avid wine drinkers to participate in a survery. If anyone would care to do this please take it here
    It is only 10 questions thanks.


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