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.
The 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.
The 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.
Search for these wines on wine-searcher.com