A quick search of the RedtoBrown Wine Review will reveal that we are fans of Riesling. Despite being the commercially dominant white wine variety of the 70s and early 80s, sales of Riesling have remained relatively static for decades as Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and even Pinot Gris/Grigio have attracted most of the commercial attention. Though Riesling is not dominating sales and wine shop shelf space, the overall quality of Australian Riesling has never been better.
Furthermore, we are increasingly seeing slight stylistic deviations from the traditional dry lemon-lime-chalky-mineral wines we know and love (personally at least). These deviations, including off dry, Riesling blended with other grapes and the use of some oak when aging the wines are now becoming a bit more common on wine shop shelves in Sydney. The risk that these new styles could muddy the waters between dry, off dry and sweet Riesling styles in the minds of consumers has been discussed in another post. However, despite this potential problem, if quality and ‘something new’ have any effect on influencing consumers, Riesling is as well placed as any grape to carve out a greater market share.
Recently, RedtoBrown were treated to a tasting of several Rieslings from Knappstein winery (Clare Valley) hosted by Knappstein winemaker Julian Langworthy. Joining us at the tasting were Andrew Graham of the Ozwinereviw, Kate Parry and a cameo from Mike Bennie. The mini vertical included a number of aged and current release Rieslings yet also some of the ‘experiments’ and small run new blends that are emerging out of Knappstein.
The highlight of the evening (unsurprisingly), was the Ackland Vineyard Watervale Rielsings – from the 2010 and 2005 vintages.
The 2010 arguably needs another few months to settle in the bottle before showing at its youthful best, though it was still an impressive wine. The first and lasting impression were the attention-grabbing florals on the nose, combined with passionfruit and even lychee scents.
On the palate the 2010 there were some melon and almost tropical fruits and a trace of passionfruit accompanying the more typical lemon flavours. Given time to settle, I can envisage it remaining a powerful, flavoursome young wine for a year or two, before continuing on for several years developing more restraint and complexity.
The 2005 Ackland was an even more powerful wine in its youth than the 2010: big boned and filled with ripe apple, lemon, and enough acidity and tannins on the finish for it to be a pleasurable wine to drink young. Tasting it with 4-5 years of bottle age, the 2005 has grown up and matured, and has not fallen in a heap (unlike me!). The nose was a more of what I would consider a 'typical' of the Clare Valley though it still gave off a lovely floral perfume (for me a common Watervale characteristic). In addition, there was a whiff of kerosene and spice to add complexity, framed by rounded lemon, fine, chalky tannins, refreshing acidity and a focused finish. Though the 2005 is not a wine to cellar for another 20 years, it was by no means on its last legs – with more air it evolved further complexity. All-in-all a pleasant surprise given it was a well respected crowd pleaser when young yet is still winning over the fans in middle age (and I think both Red and my favourite wine on the night).
Knappstein Hand Picked Riesling 1994, 2002, 2005 and 2010.
The handpicked is Knappstein's entry level Riesling. With the 2010, once again, the nose is what held my attention the most – riper lychee and passionfruit than the Ackland, mixed with the previously encountered florals and lemon. As with the Ackland, the 2010 Hand Picked probably needs a few months to settle as the acid is a bit nervy and some of the flavours more rounded and ripe.
Under Langworthy's watch, the Hand Picked is made in a ‘drink now’ style and not necessarily for contemplation or long term cellaring. It is one of an increasing number of affordable Rieslings that are in a more popularly accessible style – while not being a Sauvignon Blanc killer/competitor, I would argue fans of Sauv Blanc would also like this wine (I would argue they would love 80% of Rieslings if they bothered to try them, but that is a rant for another post). The 2010 Hand Picked is more in the more ripe apple, lemon and passionfruit flavour spectrum than the steely, taut lime and lemon style I prefer. It still has the structure and balance of flavour, acidity and tannin to make it a versatile wine to drink alone or with food.
The 2005 Hand Picked had undergone a similar development to the 2005 Ackland (more complexity, more developed flavours), though with the intensity and length turned down a fair few notches. It was not ageing with as much grace as the Ackland, though still had primary lemony fruit intermixed with some harsher kerosene complexity and decent acidity.
The 2002 Hand Picked was arguably fresher and more vibrant than the 2005 – one to hang onto a bit longer if you like your aged Riesling.
Unfortunately, the Magnum of the 1994 Hand Picked we tasted was slightly oxidised and probably not a typical example. It had a golden/green hue and had a waxy, toasty, oily texture, with toast and almost woodchip flavours over the top of gentle, soft lemon. Nevertheless, an interesting curio on the evening, with the bottle being a funky retro 'bottle green' that reminded me of the 1970s.
Finally, to round off the wines tasted, we tried the 2010 ‘Three’ – a blend of 72% Gewürztraminer, 18% Riesling and 10% Pinot Gris and the 2010 'Insider' - one of a number of experimental wines Langworthy is developing.
In regards to the Three, this is a style of wine that goes hand in hand with asian food - spicy asian food at that. Coming from Sydney, I find myself at an Asian restaurant every second weekend in summer, and the Riesling is the wine weapon of choice more often than not. However, I have purchased the odd lower alcohol Gewurtz when the chilli and spice is turned up to 11.
The alcohol level (13%) and residual sugar (4.8g/l) in the Three are both low enough to allow the sweet, spicy/lychee aromatics and clean drying acidiy on the finish to come to the fore without the harsh, short, phenolic finish and oily alcohol heat that I find with many Australian Gewurtz/Gewurtz blends.
The use of 10% of Pinot Gris adds some texture to the wine that differentiates it slightly from a straight Gewurtz or Riesling (once again, without the oily, flabbiness I find unappealing with some Pinot Gris). The Three is not a thinkers wine, it is a wine for enjoyment. I could see white blends like it replacing a Moscato or Sauvignon Blanc on the restaurant table without too much trouble.
Finally there was the 2010 'Insider' (though tasted near the start of the evening). Julian has considerable resources to experiment with at Knappstein (hectares of old vine fruit and various varieties) and the yet to be officially named or released 'Insider' is one of the end products of this ongoing experimentation. The Insider consisted of machine harvested fruit that had underwent a wild ferment and was then aged on lees.
The 'Insider' was an advanced release sample and was probably not showing at its best/most representative (exuberant youth, bottle shock, culture shock from being in Sydney :-)). Suffice to say it still had clean lemon / honey dew melon flavours and a perfumed floral aspect that would be well suited to a warm summers day in Sydney. An approachable style that aims to show another side to the Clare Valley many would not get to see and one that would win over many mainstream punters, if not the traditional Riesling drinkers.
Overall, the evening was a very informative experience. Talking to Julian it was clear that Knappstein are increasingly prepared to tinker with their previously established wine making formulae in order to seek out new approaches, styles and perspectives on Riesling. This shows promise for the future as I would argue Knappstein had previously underachieved and somewhat lost its way in the early 'noughties', despite its substantial resources. Newer Riesling/riesling-based wines like the Three and the recently released Grosset off dry might be just what Riesling needs to increase its profile and sales in the very image consicous and fickle white wine market. In saying that, the more traditional 2005 Ackland reminded me why I like Clare Valley Riesling and Riesling so much in the first place!
Thanks to Dan and Fiona for arranging the tasting, Andrew, Kate and Mike for the company and many thanks to Julian for the informative chat and run-through of the wines.
Winery Website: http://www.knappstein.com.au/