(I wrote a version of this at the beginning of the year for a lifestyle print article. The tasting notes are an addition).
It’s a question that every wine writer asks themselves. Asks other wine writers, retailers, drinkers – everyone really.
Quite simply, why aren’t more people drinking Australian Riesling?
It’s not like we can’t make great Riesling here. Far from it. In fact, I’d argue that Australian dry Riesling is amongst the best in the world, with our top wines easily competing with the finest examples from Germany, Austria and France.
Regardless of how good I think it is, no one is drinking the stuff, with 2012 ABS statistics indicating that Riesling makes up less than 3% of the grape varieties planted in Australia, with the number of hectares planted declining by over 10% since 2006.
But why? Why is so little of this magical grape planted when we can do it so very well? Is it the stigma of a winegrape that was once known only as something sweet and sickly? Was it the bastardisation of the 70s and 80s, where just about any off-dry white wine was dumped into a 4 litre cask and labelled as Riesling? Or is it simply that Riesling isn’t cool?
Whatever the issue, a recent tasting of 30 years of Paulett Clare Valley Riesling reminded me what everyone was missing out on. Here was a collection of wines that were drinkable even after spending 30 years in the Paulett family shed, yet sell for just $22/bottle at the cellar door. $22, for a white wine that should still be delicious in 30 years time! That’s incredible! Remarkable! Sensational! Something to be shouted from the rooftops!
More to the point, the Paulett experience is not an isolated one. All through South Australia’s Clare and Eden Valleys the story is repeated. All through these beautiful regions we find delicious, low alcohol, food friendly Rieslings that are beautiful drinking now, will be beautiful drinking in ten years time and beautiful drinking another ten years after that. They’re cheap too, with the bulk available for under $25/bottle, often sourced from dry-grown, 30 year old plus vineyards.
Yet still Australians drink Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc like it’s water, with a Marlborough Sauv both most popular white wine and the most popular wine of any type over $10/bottle.
Again, the question is why? Why do we abuse a world renowned resource like this?
I still don’t have the complete answers, but do yourself a favour and check out the 2013 Paulett Clare Valley Riesling – it’s a beautifully floral, fresh, long and vivacious white wine, driven by both fresh acidity and wonderful fruit generosity. For $22/bottle you cannot go wrong.
These were tasted non-blind in large lineup late last year. As Neil Paulett said dryly ’30 years of procrastination led to a tasting of 31 Rieslings’. I like Neil, such a typically stoic Aussie man of the land, believing that this tasting is ‘not meant to be a scholastic exercise – just have fun’. Good words those.
– The Pauletts have not irrigated since 1999, which drops yields but increases intensity.
– Pauletts typically add a small amount of acid to juice if need. As Neil says ‘those who don’t probably get other people to add it’.
– From 2010 onwards there is a small amount of Watervale fruit in the blend – typically no more than 10%.
– Screwcap experimentation began in the late 90s and was fully adapted by 2002. If ever there was a demonstration of why you should put Riesling in screwcap it was the late 90s/early noughties cork/screwcap comparison wines. We tasted them blind and the screwcap wines were obviously superior.
Notes below are as written on the day. Background points in italics. I was very rushed for the last couple of bits.
Pauletts Riesling 2013
Vintage started mid Feb.
Peachiness of youth, quite aromatic – feels rather buxom and juicy, if dropping into firm Limey acidity quite quickly. Pretty as a youngster, drink now for maximum joy. Maybe not the most acidic wine in this line but certainly an appealing and juicy Rizza. 18.1/20, 93/100
Pauletts Riesling 2012
Heralded as a fantastic vintage. ‘Flavours developed beautifully’ according to Neil.
LIght green straw. The primary peachiness has settled here, the palate just a little longer. There is still a warm year ripeness to this wine that comes through as a stone fruit edge to the lime juice palate. Will be a classic, and certainly outshines the 2013 in terms of length. Needs several more years to be wonderful though. Gold medal length carries this forward. 18.5/20, 94/100
Pauletts Riesling 2011
Acid. Colour looks very backwards but the acidity is not shy in coming forward. Furious acidity, but not quite the fruit to match? Unapproachable now, but may become a classic in time. 17.5/20, 91/100+
Pauletts Riesling 2010
Just a little more yellow in the colour here and the secondary characters have started to flesh out the palate, giving a very faint marmalade hint. In a transitional phase, but already the fullness of the year suggests this will be a tasty wine in years to come. Good wine, if not quite ‘great’ – maybe a little shorter than you’d like. 17.8/20, 92/100+
Pauletts Riesling 2009
Green yellow straw. For a warm year wine this has plenty of acidity, though seems a little creamy and fleshy through the middle. Approachable now but perhaps not a standout year. 17.5/20, 91/100
Pauletts Riesling 2008
Yellow straw, less green now. Quite forward and with a little terpene petrol. I don’t quite love this, even though the winery claim it as classic – the terpenes are distracting. Certainly open and toasty with good length though. Definitely drier. 17/20, 90/100
Pauletts Riesling 2007
Fleshed out with no sharp edges – this feels almost Watervale like in its toasty freshness. I like the open character of this wine – softly buttered lime in a softer mode. 17.7/20, 92/100
Pauletts Riesling 2006
Odd corky character, More green than either the 2007 or 08, Terpene character has gone right over into turps on the nose of this, which I struggle with, although I think the palate has one of the best, most natural shapes of any in this line. This is a classic Riesling on the palate, with powerful green fruit and long Limey acidity. If the turps drops off the nose this will be wonderful. Hard to score. 18 for structure, 17.5 for terpene distraction. Split the difference. 17.7/20, 92/100
Pauletts Riesling 2006
This looked much fresher on the nose, and this palate looks rather fresher too. Classic and less obvious terpene. Classic lime buzz through the finish. I think this is the best of the middle aged wines – certainly best integration of acidity and flavour, with that lime and lemon freshness underpinning extra richness. 18.6/20, 95/100
Pauletts Riesling 2005
Green yellow straw, still quite green. There is a Hunter Sem like toastiness on the nose of this with that 05 hunter Sem flesh too. Terpene on the front palate, but more of that buttered length to carry things through. Still looks quite primary. Again a pretty classic wine, if not quite the acid of the 06. Lovely generosity though and that’s what carries through the flavours. 18.5/20, 94/100
Pauletts Riesling 2004
Golden yellow in colour, yellow buttercup nose that looks quite secondary and marmaladey, the acidity is still there, but that fruit has a mothball edge that marks it as a lesser year. A surprise given the vintage reputation for other Clare makers. 16.8/20, 89/100+
Pauletts Riesling 2003
Honey lime and quite yellow in colour, this looked a little broad and flat compared to the wines around it. Soapy even. Honey gold and sweet flavours but not quite the length. When tasted next to the 04 this seems more forward but has energy. 17.7/20, 92/100
Pauletts Riesling 2002
Yellow straw. Delicious. Has a Creme caramel nose that defies the terpenes to have carry and flavour. Long and even palate has power and a long creamy finish. Excellent structure but I’d wait for the front palate terpene character to integrate more. Lemon lime tart through the finish is lovely. 18.2/20, 93/100+
Pauletts Riesling 2002
Colour lacks the vibrance of the Screwcap version and components look less integrated. Interestingly terpene has been replaced by a corkiness, so at I least that terpene has been whisked away. Still pretty tidy, but not quite as great. 17.7/20, 92/100
Pauletts Riesling 2001
Full yellow. Quite broad and a little dusty after the 2002 but fresh to finish. A little toffee on the end suggests warm year, but in an attractive golden syrup mode with lemon yellow fruit underneath. Good but maybe not great. 17.5/20, 91/100
Pauletts Riesling 2001
Definite tawny hue and darker even than the cork sealed 2000. Madeirised palate has a big mouthful of fullness and a filip of acidity, but not enough vibrance. Flat 16/20, 87/100
Pauletts Riesling 2000
A little corky? Has an odd white pepper nose. Certainly quit fleshy and generous underneath. Toasty flesh and honey but with lemon acid bite. Almost smoky in its mode. Not great or much fun to drink. 15/20, 83/100
Pauletts Riesling 1999
This looks awfully classic, the nose showing a progression of layers of toast and cinnamon. Soft finish but with acidity. I like this – it has energy and acidity. Maybe a little underpowered? Still has a decade in it easily. Delicious regardless. 18.5/20, 94/100
Pauletts Riesling 1998
Slightly more golden hue. A big wine and quite developed with toast and marmalade, the palate broad and full of flavour but lacks acid definition. 17/20, 90/100
Pauletts Riesling 1997
Unsurprisingly the better looking wine of this pair. Quite honeyed but also deliciously fresh, a little flattening toast on the nose, but a very vibrant and delicious acid driven palate. Such intensity of flavour! Excellent wine. 18.5/20, 94/100
Pauletts Riesling 1997
Grand and flattering palate, looks quite advanced next to the Screwcap version, love the palate length on this but gee the Screwcap version is a better wine. 17.7/20, 92/100
Pauletts Riesling 1996
Tawny gold colour. Maderised palate though still has some toasty flavour. Drink now. 15.5/20, 86/100
Pauletts Riesling 1995
More like the 97 in flavour, though with a minty edge. the palate with very smart creamy layers. Soft acidity in context and black currant flavours. Still with loads of acidity and in fine form. 17.7/20, 92/100
Pauletts Riesling 1994
Lemon cream pie – it’s almost botrytis Creme caramel. Makes for a fully integrated and lovely old wine though, the palate a little softly spoken but also classic too. Another smart wine from this unheralded vintage. 18.3/20, 93/100
Pauletts Riesling 1993
Has 10g/l RS. When asked about the picking dates for this, Neil Paulett just said ‘Thursday’.
Lovely wine too. Tawny colour. Real pineapple splice character here, the sugar working in everything’s favour. Not a profound wine but a nice drink. 17.5/20, 91/100
Pauletts Riesling 1992
Slightly lumpy palate of marmalade and quite firm acidity. Suffers in the balance. 15.5/20, 86/100
Pauletts Riesling 1991
Full yellow but little bronzing. Has a toasty, slightly decayed easy going profile that I think you could miss. Nicely structured and full of life though – you could drink this easily. 17.5/20, 91/100
Pauletts Riesling 1990
Two bottles poured.
Woah. Given just how big and powerfully toasty this is I never expected that acidity – huge flavours and surprisingly acidic too. In full flush of life, a showpiece of a wine with everything turned up a notch. Astonishing. Great. 18.5/20, 94/100
Pauletts Riesling 1989
Bronze edge to the colour. Dull and slightly subdued with a mothball character. A bit flat. But not terrible. Rot? 15.5/20, 86/100
Pauletts Riesling 1988
Two bottles opened. Cork.
2nd bottle is quite attractive – certainly a full wine, and lacks a little subtlety, but certainly an attractive easy drinker. Buttercup butter freshness helps this no end. I really quite like this! It’s at the end of the plateau but I like that biscotti and acidity flavour. 17.7/20, 92/100
Pauletts Riesling 1987
Two bottles opened.
Pineapple and absolute freshness. Loads of acidity but maybe a little raw too. Not ready! But will it come around? 17.5/20, 91/100+
Pauletts Riesling 1986
Nice shape for this. Maybe a little towards the end of its plateau, but has layers of flavour and really complex and vibrant. Pineapple juiciness apparent here – this would have been an attractive young wine but it’s towards the back end of its tenure here. Still great length though. Deserves to be celebrated. 18.5/20, 94/100
Pauletts Riesling 1985
Odd. Black currant nose, short palate. All sorts of odd Formic and chalk going on here. Didn’t enjoy this much. 14.5/20, 80/100
Pauletts Riesling 1984
Volatile and a little fatty, this starts quite promising, the palate falling away a fraction too quickly. Plenty of acidity still but not a complete wine. 16.5/20, 88/100
Pauletts Riesling 1983
Alarming smoke taint. Woah. Undrinkable. 12/20, 60/100
Pauletts Antonina Riesling 2013
Juicy and open yet with great acidity. Maybe a little disconnected at the moment but certainly affable. 18/20, 93/100
Pauletts Antonina Riesling 2012
Retains it’s fruit while the standard wine doesn’t. We’ll integrated acidity makes this a winner for sure – soft acidity even. 18.5/20, 94/100
Pauletts Antonina Riesling 2005
A beast. Huge acidity and extract. Lots of latent power and length to burn. Gold medal Riesling. 18.7/20, 95/100