Grosset Polish Hill Riesling 2013

One is momentarily tempted to trot out the usual cliches when discussing this wine – that it’s difficult when young, less accessible than the Springvale bottling, and so on. None of that’s especially helpful, and it completely misses the point of this wine, which is that it’s kind of perfect.

Pleasure can be so diverse, even within something fairly limited like wine. Some wines are sloppily delightful and others, like this, are almost inhumanly well built, expressing such precision of structure that their construction becomes a source of interest and wonder. The word that comes to mind most often while tasting this is “chiselled,” and in terms of aroma this translates to a cool, savoury presence that keeps any sense of plushness under wraps. Instead, a series of shy, hard-edged notes unfold and move from one to the next, never losing momentum, always foregrounding a sense of humid minerality.

The palate is quite approachable in that it strikes me as appropriately structured given its fruit weight and intensity. As with the nose, each flavour is placed with precision and balance. It’s quite a powerful wine, yet what I find most impressive in the mouth are beautifully managed phenolics that add a chalk-like texture to the after palate. Unlike wines that are self-consciously “about texture,” this simply presents that dimension, and it adds to the pleasure of the overall package.

This is probably the last wine to convert those sceptical of ultra-dry Clare Riesling — who cares, though? I’m just happy to taste a wine of such impeccable taste.

Price: $A45
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Castelli Porongurup Riesling 2009

This is still available by mail order from the producer – I picked up a bottle a while back when I put together a mixed dozen of Castelli’s wines. I also have more recent vintages to taste – so many Rieslings, so little liver function.

This starts well. A lot of Great Southern Riesling has a particular fizzy lime character that’s quite aggressive but also rather moreish. It’s partly a function of the acid structures these wines seem to develop in the region, but also of the powdery, high toned citrus flavours one often sees. In any case, it’s here, along with a soft landing on the mid-palate and a tauter, mineral after palate. It’s pure and driven, perhaps lacking an ounce in refinement of line and mouthfeel. There are a few suggestions of bottle age, but on the basis of this bottle there’s a way to go before it hits full flavour maturity.

After a day of being open the flavours don’t tire but the wine does lose some focus on the palate. It broadens as its acid calms and, while this creates less friction, it also increases the impression of sweetness and fleshy simplicity. Perhaps it will build complexity with a bit more time in bottle. In any case, a nice wine; it just needs an extra dimension of detail and finesse to join the upper echelons of the region’s Riesling.

Castelli Estate
Price: $A25
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Robert Stein Riesling 2012

I’ve not tasted a Robert Stein Riesling before, and this aroused my interest immediately for two reasons. Firstly, its price positions it amongst the more expensive Rieslings in the country. Secondly, its winemaker Jacob Stein has worked the vintage in Germany on several occasions, so it’s reasonable to expect some influence may have crept into the approach with this wine.

Thankfully, this isn’t Mudgee forced into the Mosel, and yet it’s far from Riesling in the classically pristine, dry Australian form too. The aromatics, firstly, are infused with a mix of high toned florals and much richer, more savoury notes that move from lime pulp to paw paw. It’s a slightly twisted version of a bath bomb, with quite piercing aromas that never settle into entirely comfortable territory.

The palate has good weight and impact, with a decent amount of acid that is offset by some apparent sweetness. There’s also a thread of textural phenolics that runs through the after palate, adding a chalky mouthfeel and contributing to the wine’s apparent structure. I particularly like the purity of the mid-palate’s fruit, where a burst of citrus shines clearly before the wine moves through its more textural dimensions. While this doesn’t strike me as an austere wine, its acid and phenolics may prove challenging for some drinkers accustomed to more straightforward expressions of this variety. Having said that, the J.J. Prüm I had the other day was vastly more acidic and less approachable than this.

For my part, I think it’s great producers are fiddling a bit with Riesling in Australia, creating wines with different profiles and characters. While the purity of our mainstream styles can be wonderful, I’ve got plenty of time for things like this too.

Robert Stein
Price: $A40
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Cherubino Porongurup Riesling 2012

I had an interesting conversation with a friend today about regional styles and things that might be considered “traditional” or “typical” of a region. At the very least, such ideas are problematic and mutable, and perhaps not very useful, yet they are tenacious. I think regional stereotypes appeal to our need to create taxonomies and to contain things within easily understood boxes, and it’s true that stylistic threads which run through wine regions aren’t always without foundation. Yet with as many exceptions as there are examples, are we better advised to discuss stylistic typicité with some caution?

For example, Great Southern Rieslings have a reputation for austerity, and it’s true that some show both a finer countenance and more pronounced acid than some Clare and Eden Valley wines, for example. For me, though, this doesn’t automatically translate to a forbidding character; indeed, I find the particular aromas and flavours expressed by many wines of this region to have a deliciousness that encourages generous drinking, even as young wines. The regional stereotype of searingly acidic wines that demand cellar time might have been earned by a few bottles over time, but it does a disservice to many beautiful wines too.

This wine demonstrates my point. It’s completely dry, with nice acid (pH of 2.97 and TA of 7.8 g/L) and a flavour profile that’s more about florals and lime oil than anything pulpy or juicy. Yet in the mouth in particular it’s a wine that flows with ease, spreading fine flavour across the tongue even as it maintains good movement. The mid-palate is almost weighty but kept on track thanks to some attractive texture through the after palate. The wine rested on lees for several months post-fermentation, and this accounts for some savoury, reductive notes that lightly brush across the nose and palate. If anything, I’m wishing for a slightly more vivacious, etched experience here, and the wine borders on relaxation at times.

As with many Cherubino wines I’ve tasted of late, this isn’t structured to prevent immediate enjoyment, even as it suggests some medium term cellaring.

Update: day two and the wine’s singing even more clearly. If anything, its balance has improved after being open a while.

Cherubino Wines
Price: $35
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Willi Schaefer Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese 2009

It’s fun travelling through the vineyards in this part of the world because, despite a recent consolidation of holdings, parcels can still be quite small. Each is discretely but clearly signposted with the name of the vineyard owner, so to walk around Wehlener Sonnenuhr, for example, is to see a roll call of famous names: J.J. Prüm, S.A. Prüm, Willi Schafer, and so on. Joy for the wine geek.

From a vintage that yielded fuller wines comes this rather buxom Spätlese from Graach-based producer Willi Schaefer. Despite a striking richness of fruit, this has more than a whiff of Wehlener Sonnenuhr minerality, chiselling both nose and palate with angles of slate and savouriness. Fruit is very much in a tropical spectrum, with mango and paw paw alongside tauter notes of citrus and orange blossom. This requires a good deal of balancing acid in the mouth, and this wine’s particular trick is that it constantly threatens to spill out of its dress while never quite doing so. Mineral flavours are key — shapewear to the fruit’s love handles — consistently pulling the wine back into some semblance of line.

This is rather rich for a Spätlese and I wouldn’t be surprised if the fruit that went into it could have been classified riper. While I can certainly appreciate the flavours and generosity on offer, my personal tastes lean towards a tauter line with, perhaps, a bit more acid and texture. Still, undeniably sophisticated and delicious.

Willi Schaefer
Price: N/A
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Joh. Jos. Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Spätlese 2012

There’s an exuberance to some Riesling styles of which one should quickly take advantage. Then there’s this sort of Riesling, one that screams to be left alone for a while and, if forced out of its bottle now, will kick and scream its way into your mouth. In fact, the bottle I had last night was pretty much all arms and legs, gangly to the point of awkwardness. Yet the components are there and, even during the course of our all-too-brief encounter, it improved considerably.

As I suggested at some length in my note on the 2008 edition, this is a wine style that succeeds or fails on its fine balance, as well as on the tension between lusciousness of fruit and taut minerality. While the 2012 is a bit awkward on entry, clumsy on its mid-palate transition and strident through its after palate, it’s clearly a wine of inherent balance and exciting contrasts. There’s an impactful thrust of almost tropical fruit at the front of the palate, enlivened by a hint of CO2 spritz. This fullness is abruptly whisked away from the mid-palate onwards by a searing cut of finely textured acid. This end of the wine fascinates me most. A streak of savoury minerality (accompanied for now by a noticeable whiff of sulfur) is inseparable from fine phenolics and even, bubbly acid. Granted, this textural component isn’t yet fully integrated with the wine’s fruit and residual sugar swell, but I’m sure it will come together with some time.

Awkward for now. Still, a delicious wine and one that promises so much down the track.

J.J. Prüm
Price: $96
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Joh. Jos. Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Spätlese 2008

A tale of three Rieslings, several digressions and a good deal of tension.

Palate memory, for those of us not blessed with fantastically good recall to start with, can be frustratingly unreliable. For me, writing about wine functions primarily as a sort of personal aide-mémoire, a way to record previous experiences and subsequently recall, as much as possible, the experience of a particular wine. Words, though, are only so rich a medium, which perhaps explains why we sometimes overreach with increasingly obscure descriptors to differentiate one wine from another. Point scoring, too, can be another way of adding semantic richness to a note. Indeed, one’s perhaps feeble attempts to capture something as abstract as wine starts to make sense of, for example, Proust’s extreme longueurs in describing flowers, social behaviours and the experience of jealousy.

Given all that, it’s gratifying to encounter a wine and have it taste so familiar. Such was my experience of this Joh. Jos. Prüm Spätlese from the racy, high-acid 2008 Mosel vintage. As Mosel Riesling goes, this is right in the zone, showing the striking minerality and structural finesse I associate with a good Wehlener Sonnenuhr. Flavours are light yet rich, moving between high toned florals and richer cumquat notes. Naturally, this lacks the impact and weight of some auslese-level wines but is utterly correct and delicious nonetheless.

I tasted this wine, and those discussed below, with wine writer Jeremy Pringle. As ever when we taste together, the semiotics of wine appreciation became a topic of conversation, in this case idea of balance versus tension. I feel the J.J. Prüm shows great balance, even if tilted towards a firmer-than-usual line of acid. Jeremy chimed in with the word tension and, while I agree with his assessment of the wine, it does call into question the relationship between these two dimensions.

In a recent post on his site, Jeremy drew a distinction between the two, suggesting balance doesn’t necessarily connote the excitement that some wines generate through the interplay of their elements. Whether he is suggesting that tension, by definition, requires a subversion of balance I’m not sure. My own view is they can coexist; tension can be generated entirely within the context of a perfectly balanced wine, as with the J.J. Prüm, whose gorgeously proportioned acid structure acts as an ongoing counterpoint to the wine’s other elements. This interplay is thrilling and full of tension, as in a freeze-frame whose compositional elements are dynamic yet perfectly placed with respect to one another. It’s the character of each component, and indeed the countenance struck between them, that builds tension. This, within a wine whose balance and proportion are classically formed, whose sense of placement and symmetry are quite pristine. In this, ideas of tension in wine aren’t unrelated to those in the visual and plastic arts.

Two wines tasted alongside the J.J. Prüm amply illustrate this. A conceptual counterpoint, if nothing else, the 2012 Timo Mayer “Dr Mayer” Remstal Riesling Kabinett trocken is, unsurprisingly, of a drier persuasion than the J.J. Prüm. It’s also, structurally, quite different. Phenolics play a big role here, creating textural waves through the after palate and finish, tightening the wine’s moderately relaxed structure. Its relative lack of acid sits in stark contrast to the J.J. Prüm and, tasting them side by side, I couldn’t help but feel the Mosel wine’s even line was in all respects preferable to the Mayer’s undulating palate structure. This is an example of a wine with contrasting elements — acid and phenolics — whose lack of balance robs the wine of tension. Because there’s no unifying proportion at work, one half of the wine simply exists with respect to the other half, without sufficient connection.

Similarly the 2010 Mac Forbes Tasmanian RS20 Riesling. If the Mosel wine’s acid is high even by its own region’s standards, then this takes it several steps further, placing an even but searingly firm line at the centre of the wine and tilting its balance too far in one direction. Unlike the J.J. Prüm, this wine’s uneven proportions drain it of tension, because one element dominates all others. If a sense of precariousness can, at times, build excitement in a wine, this disqualifies itself because there’s never any question acid will end, as it starts, in first place.

All of which brings me back to the Mosel wine. The secret of great Mosel Riesling is, I believe, the interplay of acid, fruit weight, flavour profile, minerality and structure; this is true of most wines but for Mosel Riesling the balance struck between all these elements seems unlikely, almost magically achieved. Tasting the J.J. Prüm made me think back to a moment towards the end of harvest last year. I was picking grapes in terrible weather — cold, wet, foggy — in Wehlener Sonnenuhr, just wanting it to be over. It occurred to me that all this effort simply wasn’t worth it for something as frivolous, as unnecessary as wine.

And perhaps it’s not. But if one’s going to make the effort, a good Mosel Riesling isn’t a bad place to end up.

J.J. Prüm
Price: N/A
Closure: Cork
Source: Gift

Dandelion Vineyards Wonderland of the Eden Valley Riesling 2012

Ancient vines, single vineyard, etc. Boxes ticked, for what that’s worth. But oh, this is an interesting wine. It’s very Eden Valley in a lot of ways but is anything but middle-of-the-road, stylistically.

First of all, there are all sorts of textures going on — chalky, tingly, delightful textures that pass over the tongue in waves from quite early in the wine’s line. Working back from here, a taut flavour profile sits atop this catalogue of mouthfeels, very delicate in nature with as much minerality as fruit. It’s like a talcum powder softly fragranced with green apple, pretty but fundamentally dry and savoury. I feel a tension at play, partly a texture-flavour one, but equally between flavours, and I wonder if there’s some marginal ripeness here. Certainly, some tastes strike me as edgy and green, though this never overwhelms the experience of the wine. Acid is fine and firm, and surely contributes to the wine’s impressive length.

This certainly isn’t going to convert anyone to our dry Rieslings, but it’s a really characterful example of the intellectual end of the genre.

Dandelion Vineyards
Price: $A27.50
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Best’s Great Western Icon releases

My considerable regard for the Grampians is no secret. Of all the expressions of Shiraz made in Australia, that from this region seems, at its best, an ideal balance between deep, luscious fruit and cooler climate spice. Then there’s the matter of its other wines — Riesling, Sparkling Shiraz — and its long history of wine production, including a birth centred on, by contemporary accounts, sparkling wine of exceptional quality. All this without invoking Colin Preece’s name and table wine legacy. All in all, it’s a region that has long flown near the top of the quality tree in Australia, but whose reputation seems to inhabit a space somewhere between wine nerds and ageing wine lovers with long memories of Great Western.

In amongst this, there is Best’s Great Western, the oldest of the old school. Still family owned, Best’s has existed more or less quietly since the 1860s, producing wines from its renowned Concongella Vineyard in effortlessly traditional styles. It’s a seductive story and one that embodies the sort of unadulterated history that can’t be faked. As such, it’s honey to an audience of wine lovers eager to connect with producers of genuine lineage.

I was fortunate to get a preview of Best’s new releases recently and to talk with Jonathan Mogg, General Manager of Sales and Marketing. I raised the question of how to market a brand with such heritage to an audience that can be so sensitive to notions of authenticity. From the conversation that ensued, I’m in no doubt Best’s is aware, and tremendously proud, of its history. But I also sense in its wines and its marketing a genuine fascination with the past, rather than any kind of cynical exploitation of it, and an interest in shaping a portfolio that pays homage to its heritage. In this, it reminds me strongly of the wonderful work Ridge Vineyards does with its Dry Creek Valley vineyards in Sonoma.

Here are some brief impressions of the wines I tasted.

Best’s Great Western Riesling 2013 – $25

The last few vintages have seen the winery play with residual sugar levels for this label, and the 2013 edition lands at around 9 g/L. The result is a fragrant, delicate wine that shows good clarity of aroma and a palate structure that slides down the tongue before tightening with phenolics through the back palate. It’s not especially austere, quite delicious and very drinkable.

Best’s Great Western Foudre Ferment Riesling 2013

This one will get sommeliers excited. Fermented in a 2500L oak foudre before being racked to stainless and bottled. The ferment stopped spontaneously, resulting in 10% ABV. As one would expect, this has greater palate weight than the standard Riesling, along with greater perceptible sweetness and caramel oak flavour. A refreshingly mineral back palate sweeps this through to a clean finish. Totally crowd pleasing, despite its unconventional style in Australian terms, and quite unforced.

Best’s Great Western Old Vine Pinot Meunier 2012 – $60

I have a rather large soft spot for this wine, and the 2012 edition is a cracker. Explosively fragrant, this showers the taster with bright red, sappy fruit, attractive leafy notes and powdery, fine spice. The palate is light in weight, with loose knit tannins and a bright acid line. The fruit character is quite sweet but in balance thanks to those fresh sap notes. This is so delicate and fragrant, it never feels like it’s going to age when it’s young, but the label’s track record in this regard speaks for itself.

Best’s Great Western Bin 1 Shiraz 2012 – $25

What’s interesting about the three Shirazes is how consistent in character they are, with each progressively stepping up in intensity, complexity and structure.

Taken on its own, though, this is quite a serious Bin 1. Dark fruit flavours predominate on the nose, which is nicely expressive. In the mouth, structured but nimble too, with plum fruit and spice the dominant notes. It doesn’t have the liquerous intensity of the Bin 0 and Thomson Family wines, but it’s emphatically regional, and tasty too.

Best’s Great Western Bin 0 Shiraz 2012 – $85

A significant step up from the Bin 1, this is immediately more expressive aromatically, oak playing a larger role but mostly communicating a sense of intensity and youth. Tannins are the highlight in the mouth, blanketing the tongue with even, ripe texture and concentrated fruit flavour. There are some savoury complexities in the flavour profile too, perhaps slightly autumnal in tone. I loved the 2010 vintage of this wine and this release feels less slick in some ways, but is no less a wine for it.

Best’s Great Western Thomson Family Shiraz 2012 – $200

This makes the Bin 0 taste light on. It’s made from a few rows of Shiraz vines planted in 1868, which in 2012 yielded about 800 kgs of fruit.

And what fruit: plum liqueur of almost painful intensity, deep layers of spice, tannins that one simply wants to bathe in. This wine is a showcase of exceptional, though not flashy, quality. Indeed, this wine’s lack of artifice — no overwhelming oak, no overly forbidding structure — means it’s quite drinkable now, though clearly it will develop over a substantial period in bottle. In any case, emphatically the top of this range of wines.

Cherubino The Yard Riversdale Vineyard Riesling 2012

While in Great Southern last year, I didn’t get to taste all that I wanted to. In particular, the entire Cherubino range remained unknown to me, mostly due to the absence of anything I could find resembling a cellar door. I’ve been curious about these wines for a while though, so I went ahead and ordered a few to taste. This, from a sub-range designed to highlight single vineyards throughout Western Australia, is the first.

One anticipates a certain austerity, combined with delicious fruit flavours, when it comes to Great Southern Riesling, and this wine is in the main line of regional style. The aroma contains as much boulder dust as it does lime blossom, which creates an immediately savoury, and slightly funky, impression. At the moment, because of the relative dominance of mineral aromas, there’s no easy way in, but it’s an impressively taut performance, and one that doesn’t sacrifice aromatic body in the service of clarity.

In the mouth, even more tight than the nose suggests, with a dashing line of acid that carries flavours, and one suspects a few particles of cheek lining, straight to the back of the palate. Despite this structure, it’s not a thin wine, and I like the flesh this carries, noting that its body consists mostly of savoury, mineral flavours rather than anything more approachably fruity. A clean jet of lemon juice through the finish is its most obvious fruit note.

This uncompromising flavour and structure makes the whole slightly hard work as a young wine, but it all points to some productive time in bottle. I’ll be retasting in about five years, I reckon.

Note: three days on and the wine is just starting to open out on the palate. Plenty of juicy, attractive fruit. Nice wine, if quite masculine in style.

Cherubino Wines
Price: $25
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail