If you think Australian wine is all shiraz, you’re missing lots of great Riesling

By Michael Austin

Seen any Wes movies lately? If you have, and maybe even if you haven’t, you probably know that Wes movies offer quite a range of styles. No one is going to confuse the campy horror of Wes Craven (“A Nightmare on Elm Street”) with the quirky dramedy of Wes Anderson (“The Grand Budapest Hotel”). Because of the clear distinction between these two cinema legends, no film buff will ever say that all Wes movies are this or that.

The legendary riesling grape variety also has a range of expressions. At this point it seems apropos to remind ourselves of the wine style’s familiar-to-some disclaimer — “Not all riesling is sweet” — and it will continue to bear repeating until everyone finally understands this notion as real and true.

There are oceans of dry riesling out there, and some great versions of it come from the faraway land that touches the Southern Ocean: Australia. It is believed that riesling was among the first grape varieties planted in Australia, way back in the 1830s, in New South Wales. Today South Australia is the country’s unofficial capital state of wine — both for volume and quality. Shiraz, cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay capture most consumers’ attention, but Australian riesling should not be overlooked by anyone interested in wine.

These rieslings are generally light- to medium-bodied, with bursts of lime and minerality, plus floral notes and zingy acidity. They’re dry, crisp, citrusy, even tangy at times, and refreshing, with moderate alcohol often landing at or close to 12 percent. Many of them make great aperitifs, and they also pair well with a wide range of seafood, salads, other lighter dishes and Asian foods with some spice and heat. They are great when drunk young and fresh, but many of them, especially those from the country’s most prestigious riesling regions, Clare Valley and Eden Valley, also have the potential to age and develop in the bottle for many years.

The long and narrow Clare Valley wine region runs north and south starting from the northern reaches of the Mount Lofty Ranges, about an hour’s drive north of the city of Adelaide in South Australia. Most of its vineyards are planted in elevations of 1,000 to 1,600 feet. This is a warm wine region, able to produce cabernet sauvignon, but cool afternoon and nighttime breezes help riesling, a cool-climate grape, thrive. Daily temperature shifts of 60 degrees are not unheard of during the growing season in Clare Valley. Though this is a predominantly red-grape region, it produces about a fifth of all Australian riesling.

Closer in (to the city of Adelaide), the Eden Valley wine region sits within the larger Barossa Zone, which also includes the Barossa Valley wine region. Elevations can reach up to about 1,650 feet in the south of the Eden Valley, and they slope down to about 1,250 feet in the northern reaches. Once again, red grapes thrive there, but average temperatures make for an overall cool climate, which is what riesling loves. Other notable Australian riesling regions include Tasmania and Great Southern.

OK, yes, some Australian riesling is sweet. Some. The vast majority of it, though, is dry, refreshing and satisfying in many ways. Almost all of it — even the high-end stuff — is sealed under screw caps, an initiative that traces its beginnings in Australia to the 1970s.

Recommended

Below are notes from a recent tasting of Australian riesling. They are listed in ascending order, according to price. More than half of them ring up at $25 or less.

2015 Yalumba The Y Series Barossa Riesling. This fresh, budget-friendly wine was full of satisfying citrus, minerality and a hint of tropical fruit. $13

2016 Wakefield Wines Clare Valley Riesling. Lime and lemon stood out, along with floral notes and a clean finish with a touch of balancing minerality. $17

2016 Jim Barry Wines The Lodge Hill Dry Riesling. From one of Clare Valley’s highest vineyards, this one had vibrant citrus with notes of lemon, lime and orange zest. $19

2016 Pewsey Vale Vineyard Eden Valley Dry Riesling. Fennel, floral notes, lime, tropical fruit and a touch of spice. $19

2015 Kilikanoon Wines Killerman’s Run Clare Valley Riesling. Lime, green apple, minerality and a whisper of sweet tropical fruit led to a lip-smacking finish. $20

2016 Hentley Farm Eden Valley Riesling. Lemon, lime, green apple, melon, herbs and orange zest co-existed in this clean and zippy wine. $21

2015 Pikes Vintners Traditionale Clare Valley Dry Riesling. Herbal with wet granite, lime, lemon and citrus followed by stone-fruit roundness and zingy acidity. $24

2016 Alkoomi Wines Frankland River Riesling. From Western Australia, this one had green apple, lime, minerality, lemon and bright, refreshing acidity. $25

2015 Pressing Matters R9 Riesling. This Tasmanian wine had notes of hay, passion fruit, herbs and lime, lush and rich with balancing citrus. $30

2015 Best’s Great Western Foudre Ferment Riesling. Candied lime, floral notes, hay and honey led to a supple mouthfeel and a zesty finish. $35

2015 Frankland Estate Poison Hill Vineyard Riesling. This Western Australia wine offered lemon-lime notes along with ripe citrus, stone fruit, chalky minerality and a spicy finish. $35

2015 Grosset Alea Clare Valley Riesling. Floral and earthy notes mingled with orange zest, pear, bright juicy stone fruits and minerality in this beauty. $38

2016 Penfolds Bin 51 Eden Valley Riesling. Floral and herbal, bursting with fresh lime and chalky minerality that led to a layered finish. $40

2016 Henschke Julius Riesling. Bright, fresh lime, green apple and spice mingled with lively citrus and a hint of fennel in this Eden Valley stunner. $45

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