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Australian Rieslings - Australia' re-emergent variety

Grape Varieties

It's almost a knee-jerk reaction; when you think of Australian white wines you think of Chardonnay. Until the 1980s Australian wines were almost unknown in Ireland, but it's the measure of their export success that now Australian wines outsell French and are the market leaders. What coincided with this export success was the arrival of Chardonnay varietals in Australia; until the 80s the principle white wine grape had been the Riesling.

It's almost a knee-jerk reaction; when you think of Australian white wines you think of Chardonnay. Until the 1980s Australian wines were almost unknown in Ireland, but it's the measure of their export success that now Australian wines outsell French and are the market leaders. What coincided with this export success was the arrival of Chardonnay varietals in Australia; until the 80s the principle white wine grape had been the Riesling.

There was a historical reason for this: back in the early 1800s German immigrants brought their Riesling vines and their expertise to Australia and had an enormous impact on the fledgling industry there. By the late 1900s the Riesling was the unchallenged top grape of Australian white wines. The arrival of the in-your-face, peachy and oaky Chardonnay knocked the Riesling so off its perch that it seemed doomed to oblivion. The last twenty years have proved the Chardonnay revolution no passing fad - yet there are signs that the Riesling might just be making something of a comeback.

The classic Australian Riesling has characteristics of its own; it's not an imitation of a German wine. It manages to combine the perfume and complexity of the variety with a dryness that makes it an ideal accompaniment to food. For the moment at least, while it remains the underdog of white wines, it also represents great value for money as its producers try to re-establish the variety in the markets.

Because the Riesling has been around in Australia for so long there's a well-established hierarchy of growing areas. The Clare Valley and the Eden Valley, both in South Australia, are generally regarded as the best, closely followed by the warmer Barossa Valley and Coonawarra. Victoria produces some very perfumed examples while the cooler climate of Tasmania produces some extraordinarily crisp and delicate wines.

Because the Riesling grape itself is so rich in flavours and aromas the wine-maker's best strategy for making a fine wine is to keep the vinification process simple. Most of the are made by crushing followed by cold fermentation in steel vats, so there's no added flavours such as oak. Normally it's bottled quite soon after fermentation to retain as much as possible of its freshness. If you enjoy brash, young, vibrant flavours then you should drink it as young as possible. On the other hand if you leave it for 5-8 years in the bottle it can transform into a mellow, honeyed wine.

Bright, young Australian Rieslings are a really good accompaniment to spicy foods, especially Thai foods. The combination of the Riesling aromas and say, lemongrass or chilli, is a match few other wines can make.

Suggested wine

Vine Vale Riesling 2000

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