Australia’s Greatest Rieslings
*Before things get underway here, I must mention a few caveats:
1) Not all of the rieslings that we wanted to feature were available, so this leaves room for a follow up tasting.
2) If a riesling is missing, it does not mean it isn’t great, it just means it isn’t here. See point 1. The country makes a helluva lot more than 22 top rieslings.
3) The state of Australian riesling is in a truly great place, and we are finally starting to see wines priced above the traditional $50-60 ceiling. I am fully supportive of premium rieslings being priced as premium wines, but I am also constantly elated by the selection of rieslings across this great country that come in at around the $20-30 mark. So this tasting is a pretty decent selection of a broad price spectrum. From $20 retail, through to $120.
4) Wines are listed in tasting order.
5) Legend of wine writers: JJ (John Jens, Perth), JH (James Halliday), HH (Huon Hooke, Real Review), RJ (Ray Jordan, 7West), GW (Gary Walsh, Wine Front), MB (Mike Bennie, Wine Front), TS (Tyson Stelzer)
The Grape That Is Resonsible For Some Of The Greatest Wines On Earth
Riesling can be made in a full array of styles, sweet, dry and anywhere in between, still or sparkling. It can take oak, or no oak, it can be bottled within 6 months or less of picking, but it will also live for many many decades, evolving slowly and gracefully in that time. It can be powerful, soft, fragrant, full bodied, delicate, elegant, and it can take flavour to all new levels of intensity and purity. Australia is the second largest grower of the grape outside of Germany (did you know that?) and a selection of the very best rieslings are both distinctly Australian, and distinctly brilliant. Clare Valley, Eden Valley, and WA’s Great Southern are the best known regions for riesling, with the Great Southern rising fast through the ranks to occupy a position of potentially one of the strongest in the country. Jeff Grosset’s eponymous Grosset label is widely regarded as being Australia’s greatest riesling producer, this mantle never more obvious than in his latest G110 release (tasting notes below). It is an astoundingly brilliant version of Australian riesling, and on my page – the greatest riesling ever produced from Australian soil. Close on the heels is the relative newcomer from the Porongurup sub-region of the Great Southern: Dukes Vineyard. Duke Ranson and his winemaker Rob Diletti are responsible for the country’s cheapest premium riesling. At a mere $40 this wine consistently achieves some of the highest praise in the country. Classically styled and very clearly originating in the Porogurups, the Magpie Hill Reserve riesling is an excercise in purity, restraint and tightly coiled yet totally integrated acidity: it’s a marvel.
As for many of the other glorious rieslings listed below, there is wonder and joy at almost every turn. If riesling isn’t on your regular cellaring list… it should be.
O’Leary Walker Polish Hill River, Clare Valley 2018
Faintly smoky nose, dusty, spicy… we’re talking shale…slatey earth, underpinned by fine acid line and citrus. Salty, fine, great length – it unfurls and lengthens – the flavours occupy the precise space of a knife’s edge. Classically constructed, fermented in stainless to preserve fruit purity.
The Polish Hill River sub-region of the Clare is cooler than the close by Watervale. This is evident on the nose and palate. NASAA Organic Certification since 2012. Made by Nick Walker, David O’Leary. RRP $28
JJ points: 18.3
Plantagenet Wyjup, Mt Barker 2018
Round and ripe, almost sweet on the nose – modern not classical. Red apple, cool sherbet acid. Great length of flavour.
The first release of the new ‘Luxury Wyjup Collection’, the Wyjup wines are made from fruit sourced from the five pioneering vineyards “…totalling 126 hectares first planted in the Mount Barker sub region of the Great Southern, Western Australia commencing with Bouverie (1968) followed by Wyjup (1971), Crystal Brook (1988), Rocky Horror (1999) and Rosetta (2001).” Winemaking led by Luke Eckersley, Chief Winemaker and Jordan Ellis, Chief Viticulturist. RRP $45, 1300 bottles produced.
JJ points: 18.9
Forest Hill Block 2, Mt Barker 2018
Tight, mineral, classic, full fruit profile – this is dense and flavoursome, almost muscular. Verging on brilliant.
Fruit from the Forest Hill Block 2 vineyard in Mt Barker, planted 1975. Dry Grown, Minimal inputs. Fermented in stainless steel, aged on ferment lees for 7-8 months before bottling. Made by Guy Lyon and Liam Carmody. RRP $36
97pts JH, 94pts JS
JJ points: 18.8
Forest Hill Block 1, Mt Barker 2018
Precise minerality and length of flavour. Pretty glorious stuff. Finesse and power marry together, an exceptional wine. Concentrated.
“Vines planted ’65. Hand-picked in the early morning, chilled further, then hand-sorted, whole-bunch pressed, free-run juice, a long ferment with some lees contact. Beautiful riesling, the flavours remaining in the mouth long after the wine has been swallowed (or spat out – the pain of bench tastings). The purity is amazing, lime and acid bound so tightly together you only taste a single thing. Only 66 dozen made – the price should be doubled.” (James Halliday, 98 pts). Made by Guy Lyon and Liam Carmody.
JJ points: 19
Cherubino Blue Label Mount Barker 2017
Fine, dense, powerful, the finish is almost sweet. No residual though. Candied toffee apple, green apple, some slate vibes, great length.
Form various vineyards around Mt Barker, picked in March, bottled in September. Hand-picked, whole bunch pressed to stainless, long, cool, wild ferment, bottled immediately after fermentation ended. Made by Larry Cherubino.
94pts JH, 94pts Ray Jordan
JJ points: 18.8
Barry Loosen Wolta Wolta Clare Valley 2017
A peculiar nose, we’re talking green capsicum, the palate has a completely different shape – the flavours avoid the front palate and go deep into the middle palate. They persist long into the finish. This is power and intensity personified. Fruit quality and winemaking pedigree undeniable in the glass, doesn’t come together like a slick new paintjob, yet. It has to be said, I really am happy that Australian rieslings are commanding a higher price than they have in the past, we have traditionally been too cheap!
The grapes for this wine are grown in an area of the Clare Valley known as Wolta Wolta, which is an Aboriginal word meaning ‘good water’. Aged in a 3000L oak ‘Fuder’ cask, wild fermented and matured for two years on full lees. This creates a wine of intense complexity and layers. Released at cellar door (almost exclusively available on the winery website, however there are some retailers around the country who got some), and a reciprocal collaboration between Peter Barry and Ernst Loosen. RRP $120
JJ points: 19.2
Zarephath Porongurup 2017
Love Porongurup – sheesh. This single vineyard riesling is intense, restrained and exciting – made in a classical style. The fruit has no hard edges whatsoever. Gorgeous – and I would say not even their best vintage.
A really interesting vineyard, it was originally established in 1995 by an educated, Benedictine Monastic Community (Brothers and Sisters of The Christ Circle) who started out in America, sailed to Australia, had their boat impounded in Albany and set up camp on the now Zarephath property. The property was converted to its own internal economy effectively: damning water, growing food, and providing services to the community who resided there. The wines are now made by Rob Diletti at the Castle Rock winery (since 2003).
JJ points: 18.5
Rieslingfreak No. 1 Grounds of Grandeur, 2017
Oak on the nose is evident at this point. The palate is typified by very tight acid – quite different to every other wine on the table. The excellent fruit quality is undeniable – it is unique. Great length. The oak makes it feel almost broad at this very early stage.
Whole bunch pressed, wild ferment and aged in a singular 1500L foudre.
“Paying respect to the individual vineyard, the grower, and the grapes, by showcasing the best of the vintage. For the 2017 vintage, we would like to acknowledge growers Richard and Anne Hughes, White Hutt, Clare Valley.”
JJ points: 18.8
Duke’s Magpie Hill Reserve Porongurup 2017
Perfect. Intense. Restrained. Bow before it. Power, restraint, length and intensity. Single vineyard. Clarity, purity, drive.
“When Hilde and Ian (Duke) Ranson sold their clothing manufacturing business in 1998, they were able to fulfil a long-held dream of establishing a vineyard in the Porongurup subregion of Great Southern with the acquisition of a 65ha farm at the foot of the Porongurup Range. They planted shiraz and cabernet sauvignon (3ha each) and riesling (4ha). Hilde, a successful artist, designed the beautiful, scalloped, glass-walled cellar door sales area, with its mountain blue cladding. Great wines at great prices.” (JH) Made by Rob Diletti.
JJ points: 19.1
Castle Rock Porongurup 2019
Floral, fine gorgeous. There is a savoury succulence here this is truly fabulous. VALUE. Love it. Tasting the Porongurup fruit is like coming home.
“An exceptionally beautifully sited vineyard (riesling, pinot noir, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, cabernet sauvignon and merlot), winery and cellar door on a 55ha property with sweeping vistas of the Porongurup Range, operated by the Diletti family. The standard of viticulture is very high, and the vineyard itself is ideally situated. The Rieslings have always been elegant and have handsomely repaid time in bottle.” (JH) 2019 was a very cool vintage in WA, with some frost in the Porogurup and late ripening. Challenging, but those who managed, managed very well.
Made by Rob Diletti
JJ points: 18.8
Cherubino Porongurup 2019
Chalky, harder, great structure and integrity. Savoury and salty, good length.
From the Pannoo vineyard in the Porongurup (planted 1989-1998). Northern aspect, Lateritic soils, irrigated, the fruit was hand-picked, de-stemmed, wild ferment, bottled Aug 2020. All stainless. 2g/l
JJ points: 18.9
Leo Buring Leonay 2019
Acid! It pops and tingles on the front of the palate, but the fruit departs quickly. I am left with the suggestion of lime sherbet. Lovely, but lacks the length.
“Between 1965 and 2000, Leo Buring was Australia’s foremost producer of rieslings, with a rich legacy left by former winemaker John Vickery. After veering away from its core business into other varietal wines, it has now refocused on riesling. Top of the range are the Leopold Derwent Valley and the Leonay Eden Valley Rieslings, under a changing DW bin no. (DWV for ’18), supported by Clare Valley and Eden Valley Rieslings at significantly lower prices, and expanding its wings to Tasmania and WA.” (JH)
“This $40 wine is the pick of the vintage and can be either Eden Valley or Clare Valley, depending on Munro’s choice. Some years there’s been one of each, but this is rare. Every Leonay bears a bin number: for example, the newest release is 2015 Eden Valley Leonay DW S17 (tasting), and it succeeds the 2013 Watervale Leonay DW Q18 (tasting). The DW stands for dry white, and the third alphabetic letter moves with the vintage, so the 2016 will be DW T-something.” (HH)
JJ points: 18.8
Cherubino Great Southern Riesling 2019
Rich, ripe, full, powerful. Plenty to touch and feel here. Very good. Lacks the finesse of the Porongurup, but what it misses in delicacy it makes up for in intensity. Faintly creamy, chalky.
Picked from a variety of vineyards across the Great Southern in March 2020, bottled immediately after fermentation (in S/S, wild yeast) in June 2020. 2g/l
JJ points: 18.7
Lowboi Porongurup 2019
Rounder, modern, plenty of power that builds. Really like what’s happening here, although I preferred the ’18 by a whisker. Punchy, interesting, textural. You can’t hide the Porongurup roots, and that’s a wonderful thing. Love the label artwork.
Fruit from the Springview vineyard, made by Guy Lyon. Tiny production, the 2019 making a mockery of the now seemingly huge 2018 yield. This is the first vintage that Guy played with lees contact in the wine, explained in a little more detail from a tasting I did with Guy back in November 2019: “While I was visiting the winery, I asked Guy about the challenges of the 2019 vintage in relation to rieslings at both Forest Hill and Lowboi, given that it was so dry, and these are dry-grown vineyards. Yields were right down, meaning (sigh) that there is only 70 dozen of 2019 riesling – most of it is sold to the on-premise venues. We looked at it straight from tank, and the irrepressible Porongurup aromatics leapt out of the glass – white florals and bath salts. The 2019 wine features some time on lees (8 weeks over November and December), which really brings some softness, texture and complexity to the wine. The 2018 (excellent vintage) riesling is sold out, and we’ll have to wait until early December 2019 for a run at the limited 2019 riesling.” (EL) RRP $35
JJ points: 18.7
Jim Barry Florita 2019
So clear in the glass it is almost like water. Salty green apple, green melon. Asphalt. Incredible intensity of flavour. Powerful yet delicate as well. Wonderful wine. Very different to Wolta Wolta. RRP $50
‘Florita’ is Spanish for ‘Little Flower’. Estate grown Clare Valley fruit, made by Peter Barry and Tom Barry. Individual row selection, hand-picked in batches, gently destemmed, membrane press at night (taking advantage of cooler night-time temps). Cellar release Florita’s available at the cellar door and online for $60.
JJ points: 18.7
Duke’s Magpie Hill Reserve, Porongurup 2019
Powerful, chalk, white flowers, juniper, the palate… f*** – it is a wall of flavour. Unbelievable. Length. Fine. Subdued.
JH scores over the past decade for context:
2020 Just released
JJ points: 19
Grosset Polish Hill, Clare Valley 2019
The most golden on the table with the exception of the Walhalla. Ripe intense and concentrated, this packs in flavour like you wouldn’t believe. Astounding. Beautiful. Length. Full bodied and concentrated, this has a familiarity in the palate that comes from drinking it over the years and becoming familiar with the vineyard DNA. This shows an overlaid warmth though. Quite rich.
JJ Points: 18.9/19
Grosset G110, Clare Valley 2019
Purity. Drive. Perfection. This is perfect, I think. Very delicate, very fine, very long. The greatest Australian riesling ever produced.
If the Grosset Polish Hill riesling is like being on the back of a handsome boat, in a secluded bay with the warm sun on your shoulders and a gentle breeze lazily moving about, the ocean teeming with fish and life and colour, then the G110 is like being on that same boat, in that same bay on that same warm day… but instead of looking through the water from above, you are looking down through the clear glass bottom of the boat… it’s like a portal into another world. And once you’re through, you can’t go back.
(Tasting note from Feb 2020) It’s mouth-watering from the very first sniff. In fact, I can smell it from a foot away, as I type this. The nose gives up fingerprint fine talc, crushed limestone, lime blossom, hints of flint and mist, brine, green apple and white pepper. Crystalline, hints of clove. The palate has bracing acidity, it races over the palate like a white Ferrari going at full clip. The finish is unbelievably long. Perhaps a minute, maybe more. There is an evocatively lush suggestion of white stone fruit nestled into the core of this powerful wine. It is astounding. It is mellow, yet precise and all about focus. It is like a laser beam on the palate. Spices like white pepper, hints of clove, star anise, brine, almost liquorice root, even. Ginger? Juniper?
Rich but very focused and high-tensile. Not an ounce of fat or flab on this wine, from any angle, no matter how sharp the light. Expressive. There is poise and delicacy alongside the direction and line. I am most impacted by the impressively long palate.
There is a grass character through the finish… some kind of alpine grass field with pure atmosphere, snow-capped mountains and brisk air. Little mountain daisies grow in that field. I feel cleansed and purer just for tasting it.
“At our Rockwood vineyard (ACO certified organic), just one clone is planted on a strip of silty loam over red rock. The riesling berries and bunches are small. The clone is the one noted as exceptional. In 2019 we produced just 1100 bottles of wine from these vines. In reference to my daughter Georgie and the riesling clone, the wine is simply called G110. Powerful yet subtle, extended time on lees has enhanced the wine’s complexity, texture and distinction. – Jeffrey Grosset”
Made from a single clone of riesling, the 110 clone, in the Rockwood vineyard. The ‘G’ in the name stands for Georgie, Jeff’s daughter, who suggested the bottling. Released to the Grosset membership. RRP $100
97pts TS (“In line and length, G110 takes Australian riesling to hitherto unknown heights. And for all it represents, it’s a bargain, too. Kudos Jeff – and Georgie. Respect.” TS)
JJ Points: 19.3
Pewsey Vale Contours Museum Release, Eden Valley 2014
Rich, ripe concentrated and full. Great length. Great value. Ageing gracefully.
Made by Louisa Rose of Yalumba. Aged for five years in bottle before release, the 2014 was released in December 2019. “Pewsey Vale was a famous vineyard established in 1847 by Joseph Gilbert, and it was appropriate that when the Hill-Smith family began the renaissance of the Eden Valley plantings in 1961, it should do so by purchasing Pewsey Vale and establishing 50ha of riesling. The Riesling also finally benefited from being the first wine to be bottled with a Stelvin screwcap, in ’77. While public reaction forced the abandonment of the initiative for almost 20 years, Pewsey Vale never lost faith in the technical advantages of the closure.” (JH)
JJ points: 18.4
Xabregas Spencer Road 2011.
Toasted honey, almost watery on the palate. Very strange. Not a good representation.
92pts MB (tasted April 2012)
JJ points: Off.
Loosen Barry Walhalla, Mosel 2016
Salty. The nose here is crushed granite, green apple, lychee, the acidity is penetrating, the wine is concentration and intensity. The flavours carry for a very long time. Quite exceptional, the balance and acid stop this from being fat. But it is rich. Pure pleasure.
The other half of the reciprocal collaboration between the Loosen and Barry families, this time made from grapes grown on the Loosen property in the Mosel (The Erdener Treppchen vineyard). RRP $50
JJ Points: 18.3
Doctor Loosen Wehlener Sonnenuhr Kabinett, Mosel, 2016
Aromatic – bath salts, potpourri, scintillating acid. Touch of sweetness. Love this. Very different to Australia. Balance. Lightness. Elegance. Juicy, succulent, featherweight and I’m all about it. Pure pleasure.
“Wehlener Sonnenuhr (pronounced VAY-len-er ZON-en-ooer). With the lightest soil of all the vineyards on the long hillside from Bernkastel to Wehlen (the mineral-rich, blue Devonian slate soil gives the wine a crisp acidity that perfectly balances the pure peach and lemon fruit.), the famous “sundial” vineyard produces the quintessential Mosel Riesling: delicate and refined, with racy minerality and endless charm. The early picked Kabinett Prädikat (ripeness level) is the lightest and most delicate style of German Riesling that is possible to produce.
These are 60-year-old vines on average, grown on blue Devonian slate. It’s farmed sustainably, according to strict German environmental regulations. Cool fermentation in a combination of stainless-steel tanks and Fuder barrels, half fermented with natural yeasts, half with cultured yeasts. Alcohol 8%; residual sweetness 42.4g/L; total acidity 8.4g/L.” (Cellarhand website). RRP $45
JJ Points: 18.9
Frankland Estate Isolation Ridge 2018
Acidity, structure, integrity – this is incredible – the flavour lingers and plumes for ages. It forges a laser path. Love this. Hard. But that’s not a bad thing. It has form and shape and will live an age. The ’18 vintage produced a succulence and a cushioning to the wine that I find extremely favourable indeed.
Fermented in S/S over 8 weeks, minimal adds/input, organic fruit (cert since 2010), left on lees for 6 months, a portion is fermented and aged in neutral oak for 10 months.
95JH, 95GW, 95RJ, 96JS, 96HH
JJ Points: 18.9