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Australian Rieslings - Another look

Grape Varieties

The Riesling is one of the great white grapes. Today's fashions may have pushed it a little to one side in favour of the Chardonnay, but its inherent nobility is unquestioned. When you think about it, all the very greatest German wines are made from the Riesling and the very finest wines from Alsace are as well. So much for the Old World, but the Riesling found pastures new in the Antipodes as well. It's hard to believe looking through the Australian section of an off-license today where Chardonnay rules that before 1970 Australia's white wine production was based on the Riesling, which arrived in Australia with the large influx of German settlers in the 1840s.

The Riesling is one of the great white grapes. Today's fashions may have pushed it a little to one side in favour of the Chardonnay, but its inherent nobility is unquestioned. When you think about it, all the very greatest German wines are made from the Riesling and the very finest wines from Alsace are as well. So much for the Old World, but the Riesling found pastures new in the Antipodes as well. It's hard to believe looking through the Australian section of an off-license today where Chardonnay rules that before 1970 Australia's white wine production was based on the Riesling, which arrived in Australia with the large influx of German settlers in the 1840s.

For the last twenty years Australian wine buffs have been wondering if the Riesling had been terminally KO'd by the upstart Chardonnay, but in recent years the Riesling - battered and bruised - has been making a slow come-back. With the wisdom of hindsight it's clear that the Chardonnay's arrival wasn't a passing fad - it's here to stay - but there does appear to be room for both varietals in the market place. What is remarkable is that now the demand for goof Rieslings is almost outstripping supply, since so many growers grubbed up their Riesling vines to plant Chardonnay at the height of its popularity.

If we were to talk in gross generalisations, the main difference between a German and an Australian Riesling is that the Australian wine tends to be drier. It still exhibits the characteristics of the grape that we expect: the perfume, the complexity and the zest, but its dryness will make it a better match to food. And right at this moment in time, when Australian Rieslings are still on the road back to rehabilitation, they represent great value for money. Prices are still reasonable and costs can be kept down, since Rieslings don't need expensive new oak barrels to age in. As a by-note on labelling, until recently Australian producers used the word 'riesling' pretty much as they pleased. Semillon was often called 'Hunter Riesling' and bad sweet wines were also called 'riesling'. However, from 2001 all wine called riesling has to be made from the riesling grape.

Because the riesling has been around in Australia for so long and has been planted in so many different area, there's now a fairly clear hierarchy of quality. The best examples probably come from South Australia, in particular the Eden and Clare valley, but great rieslings can be found in the Barossa Valley and in Coonawarra. Parts of western and central Victoria are becoming well-known for their rieslings, as is Tasmania. What they all have in common is long cool autumns, which suit the grape well.

Suggested wine

Riesling 2001, Rosemount Estate

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