I FELT my age when I arrived at the Australian national wine-tasting the other day. More than 200 different wineries were showing more than 600 wines. One reads of a glut of wine Down Under: was this an attempt to offload it on to the poor Poms?
At one end of the market, you have the marketing men who believe that an outrageous name and vibrant packaging will make a wine walk off the shelf; at the other, you have wineries experimenting with grape varieties from around the world.
There were at least three wines made from the Tempranillo grape, and I saw a Lagrein from the Alto Adige in Italy, and a Malbec from Argentina. Australian wines have come of age.
To make some sense of it, I decided to taste only Rieslings. This is one of the world’s under-recognised grape varieties, its reputation tarnished over the years by low-quality wine from Germany, and what I would call pseudo-Rieslings: Laski Riesling from the former Yugoslavia, Clare Riesling from Australia, Welsch-riesling from Eastern Europe.
Riesling has come to mean either sweet and nasty, or it is a generic term for a white wine in a tall bottle. As evidence for this, I recently ordered a case of Assorted German Rieslings from the leading mail-order wine company. In the case, when it arrived, were three bottles of a wine made from the Scheurebe grape. Two weeks later, the same company offered a case of German Rieslings, which, if one is to believe the picture beside the offer, included three bottles of wine made from the Kerner grape.
This is all very sad, because your typical Australian is clean, with good fruit flavours, and dry, although traditionally on the Australian domestic market a small proportion of Gewürztraminer grapes has been added to give extra flavour and a touch of sweetness.
Jacob’s Creek has reacted to the anti-German sentiment by appearing in a clear “Bordeaux” bottle. This wine is widely available (Tesco, Sainsburys, Asda, Somerfield, Co-op — all at about £5.99) and is clean and refreshing.
The same family has two higher-quality Rieslings — a Reserve 2006 (Asda, £7.99), which I have noted as “dry and with mineral flavours”, and its Steingarten 2006, from a stony, high-altitude vineyard in South Australia (Waitrose, £14.99). This I described as “restrained and complex”.
From the same Eden Valley came my favourite wine of the day, the Pewsey Vale the Contours Museum Release 2000. This is a wine you have to seek out, but, if you find it, it’s a snip at under £15. This is a classic mature Riesling with a love-it-or-loathe-it kerosene flavour.
The other great Australian region for Riesling is the Clare Valley. I defy you to find a better value-for-money wine than the local grower Tim Adams’s 2006 Clare Valley Riesling (Tesco, £7.99), which is a complex mouthful of fruit. Regional wine merchants such as Harrogate Fine Wines, and the Vineyard, of Dorking, stock another great Clare wine, Pikes Riesling 2005.
Please give them a chance. Many of the great Rieslings in the world now come from Australia.