Is Australia out on a limb with its love of acidity in Riesling and Semillon?
According to some sources, the two most acid-loving nations on earth are the Germans and the Australians, helping distinguish all their wines, especially Rieslings from both countries. I am beginning to wonder about this proposition.
I was recently invited to a Zoom tasting organised by Brian Olson … which had a few unique features, Rieslings back to 2007 from Clare, Eden Valley and Porongurup in Western Australia, in 60ml plastic bottles and hosted by three competing winemakers.
To start, I learned a new word "co-operation" as family wine representatives Justine Henschke, (Henschke), Mitchell Taylor (Taylors) and Richard Burch Howard Park. Co-operation is “next-gen “ and symptomatic of the good side of our wine industry, it notionally replaces the mateship that bound the Australian wine industry during its formative exporting years.
All tastings have a definite sense of theatre and any event is magnified by the inclusion of rare older vintages such as 2007, 2010 & 2012 in the tasting. Typically, with these sorts of tastings, each taster opens 6 glorious bottles, which they can’t possibly drink, leading to a waste of wines, often rare wines which should never be wasted.
Hence, I was initially shocked and then doubly impressed in the way the wines were preserved after decanting from winery supplied glass bottles into 60ml pet plastic (think airline plastic bottles) packaged by Adelaide based "Trust in taste." I have not seen any data on long term storage in these bottles, but I imagine it's months not years however for the purposes of this tasting they were as ideal as they are for airlines.
Zoom overcomes the tyranny of distance and the annoyance of airports so this was a very pleasant experience hearing three polished presenters and taste their wines in the comfort of my own home. What could go wrong? Well, my new computer meant I could never work out how to handle the audio part of zoom.
The Chemistry of riesling acidity is well understood. As German Helmut Becker Professor of Geisenheim, said, "riesling without acid is nothing; with the right acid it shines," this means that it is a variety with the capacity for long ageing, and hence the wineries' confidence to provide wines up to 15 years of age for this tasting knowing that will survive the rebottling and transport process.
The local riesling tasting was framed for me by 4 days tasting International Sauvignon Blanc at the Concours Mondial Bruxelles Sauvignon Blanc session, held in Lisbon. As Sauvignon Blanc is also an aromatic and can be a high acid variety it was interesting to speculate about what want consumers prefer in terms of acidity and to use the competition wine styles as a comparison point.
Acidity among those entries is more an almost mineral undertone aside from Australia and New Zealand where acidity is much more prominent. The more acidic regions are focusing on lowering their acidity and many were using oak to bulk up the fruit weight on the palate. I couldn't help notice that the Australian wines have palates with a higher level of acid attack that is unique in the world, giving credence to Oz and Germany being the most acid-loving nations.
I mused over the different acid profiles, intensity, and mouthfeel for a few days and decided that while our rieslings are in the Australian "dry spaetlese" style, as originally enunciated by Brian Croser the acid needs to be less searing. Whether its added or natural acidity Australia has developed a style where prominent acidity is accepted.
If you get into the technical details, Germany, which is the home of riesling sweet or dry spaetlese styles, rarely add acid and when acid is added, they do not add as much acid as many Australians do to create the local style. The acid mouth feel in Germany is quite different. Acid makes riesling but when we taste we find a need for more integrated acidity in Australian riesling.
Sugar as in residual sugar, is common to balance acidity, at subtle levels in Australian "dry" wines, as Richard Burch from Howard Park explained at approximately 6 gm per litre, where it is prized for giving "the fruit a chance to show its juiciness." He is spot on.
As fate would have after the Taylor's, Howard Park and Henschke, across the tasting bench came a number of Rieslings in the range of 10.4% to 11.5%. When I enquired of the Jaeschke family, owners of the Polish Hill River vineyard planted by Penfolds in 1980, about their process, they said. "We pick our grapes according to our style".
They have the local and international trophies or gold medals to show that their style decisions are spot on and many of the wine industry's key judges agree. As Rob Jaeschke, who grows the grapes said, "our wines balance themselves in the vineyard." They do this, through early picking based on the fruit flavour in the vineyard and the natural acidity in the grapes and produce wines with less of the searing acidity that has become the hallmark of Australian riesling.
The results are intense aromas, and the flavour possesses benchmark regional Polish Hill River purity of ripe lime into kaffir lime intensity. The initial youthful austerity has a stern sense of dryness as they have no residual sugar, but with age, they balance themselves in fragrant, delicate yet flavoursome wines.
There is a danger in a generalised saying that Australian wines are too acid as higher levels of acidity are essential for long aging, compared to wines destined for current consumption. So its “horses for courses” as the Henschke wines confirm with their pristine 2007 and 2021 wines: acid can be integrated and refined, higher acid should mean cellaring wines, not sour wines. Howard Park is seemingly less acid, less acidic in mouthfeel and after taste showing high-quality riesling can be both age-worthy with less acid and express their regionality. More and more winemakers agree they want natural acid over added acid.
Next month I will share my notes from these riesling tastings:
Henschke Julius Eden Valley 2007
Henschke Julius Eden Valley 2021
Taylor’s St Andrew’s Clare Valley Riesling 2012
Taylor’s St Andrew’s Clare Valley Riesling 2019
Howard Park Museum Release Great Southern 2010
Howard Park Mount Barker Rielsing 2020
Sparkling Collaboration: Dessert Time!
We set out to take on the challenge for Champagne to be not just an aperitif but to be considered a drink for the complete meal.
We have demonstrated for each course that the right pairing of dishes can complement the sparkling, crisp mouthfeel, lightness, and length, allowing Champagne and sparkling wines to be a desirable accompaniment throughout a meal.
The desert was perhaps the most challenging, as we did not want a chocolate cake. Instead, we needed a dish that would be tart enough, not too sweet, and I think you will agree that this crumble goes exceptionally well with the selected wines.
We have come to the end of our Sparkling Collaboration series, concluding with dessert. Amanda chose a Rhubarb and Apple Crumble ……and we paired this with a very interesting Grampians Estate Classic Sparkling and the Chandon Pinot Noir Shiraz.
Rhubarb and Apple Crumble
Serves 4 Prep 10 mins Cook 15 mins
1/2 bunch rhubarb, washed, chopped
1/3 cup orange juice
385g can pie apple
80g butter, melted
1/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground cardamom
2/3 cup traditional rolled oats
1/3 cup chopped roasted hazelnuts
1. Preheat oven to 180C/160C fan-forced. Grease 4 x 11/2 cup capacity ovenproof ramekins. Place on an oven tray. Place rhubarb and juice in a medium saucepan. Bring to the boil. Reduce heat. Stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes or until just tender. Add apple. Remove from heat. Spoon into prepared dishes.
2. Combine the butter, sugar, spices, oats and hazelnuts in a bowl. Spoon over apple mixture in ramekins.
3. Bake for 15 minutes or until golden. Serve.
I hope you'd enjoying our sparkling adventure and had tried some of our easy recipes. You can access all our recipes here.
It’s spot-on for an Aussie fruit-filled easy-drinking sparkling without the razor-sharp acid of the most sophisticated Champagnes. This versatility makes for both service event flexibility as a pre or during dinner with a variety of dishes so it’s an all-around good time wine.
The wine features extended lees age in the cellar before release which gives an extra dimension to both flavour and texture, a rich creamy edge to the gentle yoghurt and subtle white stone fruit flavours, with good length of flavour. The acidity suits both the seafood and the fennel.
Click here for the Sparkling Collaboration Main course and recipe on my Youtube Channel.
Interview with Scott Collett Woodstock Wines Part 1
The Past and Present
When I was a student studying Agriculture at Roseworthy Agricultural College, I had extraordinary luck meeting a number of charismatic young winemakers who became friends. Through another stroke of luck, in my first weeks there, I attended my first blind tasting, one that coincidentally featured 10 wines, of which 5 were wines from Clare Valley served in brown paper bags.
No one was more shocked than me when at the end of the tasting, I had correctly identified the wines from Clare by producer, vintage and variety, a feat that led one of the students to put his arm around my shoulder and say, “you have got a talent don’t waste it.” Boosted by this, most nights, Scott Collett and I would meet after dinner for a drink or a game of pool, during which times he would talk about what he had learnt each day.
Living vicariously in this way, I learned the winemaking course. We were just young men but forged a lifetime friendship, so it was a delight to catch up with him in Sydney. Woodstock winery has grown from a bulk business, bottling about 10% of production, to an international business, with a contemporary wine offering, a restaurant and a wildlife park since the 1970s. Rob: I am here today, Scott Collett, who's an old friend, over 40 years and he has had quite a big impact on my life. Scott what was it like at Roseworthy when we were there how did you find that experience?
Scott: Well, it was a good Uni to be enjoying good wine, good company and wild times.
Rob: We did have some wild times, at that stage Roseworthy was turning winemaking into a science degree.
Scott: Yes, it was a degree course. We were the first-degree graduates which was too much information for me, I just wanted a recipe to make wine and get on with it.
Rob: I remember you telling me at the end of it, you said “I know all about it except how to make it” but obviously you've gone on to do quite a lot of winemaking.
Scott: In hindsight it was probably the right thing for them to do that. Give us the tools with which to create our own recipes rather than a simple recipe 'cause
there's no one simple recipe that's going to work everywhere, every winery in the world is different.
Rob: Yes, that's so true, you were also a lucky man your dad was a character, an achiever, and gave you settings he gave you a place, gave you a direction
Scott: He did indeed he was a fighter pilot in the Second World War he got a taste for the vino in Italy, he was on our side, and each night he was drinking like there's no tomorrow because as a fighter pilot you never know whether there would be a tomorrow. So, he saw the scale of viticulture in Europe from the air, he saw it was a great industry, he was impressed, he enjoyed the product so he said right if I survive this War I want to become a winemaker.
He clearly did and now I followed his footsteps now 40 years later on handing over the reins to my sons, third generation now.
Rob: Has everybody got a degree in winemaking?
Scott: My father got a diploma, I got a degree and Peter, my son, has a degree but you never stop learning about wine and just 'cause you got a ticket doesn't mean you know it all.
Rob: For sure, I do remember you came back to McLaren and made the most perfectly varietal cabernet, it had both leafy characters and lovely cassis, and it was very clean and bright and smart.
Scott: Thank you we won a few gongs over the years, but the beauty of Cabernet you get that rich middle palate fruit, then chocolaty richness and also that cabernet, leafy character. A lot of people know about our shiraz, but cabernet is the big take-home message when visitors come and see us.
Rob: Yeah, big companies like Penfolds love it! It's been an evolution hasn't it, so tell us about where you come from because the story of shiraz is so much linked to place, so where is the winery?
Scott: Woodstock is on the boundary between Blewitt Springs and McLaren Flat, which has not been officially designated yet but to me Blewitt Springs is the sandy slope soils and the Flat more the flat ground with a bit more clay, which is closer to the surface.
But I really like our site as it’s got the good things of both as the Blewitt sand over clay combination works well with a friable clay just below the surface that just acts as a sponge and holds the moisture there, it works really well in the warm summers you get these beautiful aromatic floral sort of characters in sand. Whereas the clay country that is more down the bottom end of the Flat is a bit harder work with, it’s a different form of viticulture, but McLaren has all these different arrays of soil types and aspects and they reckon it’s a bit like Tuscany and it is, it's a terrific region.
We always get our grapes ripe, they say it’s the safest, premium grape growing region in Australia according to Geoff Hardy. Authors note Geoff Hardy of the hardy family has spent a lifetime in vineyards as a developer, consultant and winemaker.
Rob: There are international investors who would tell you that shiraz and grenache from Blewitt Springs is absolutely world class. You were lucky enough to have a little bit of it to play with, so you had in your lifetime grenache going from being unfashionable to being very fashionable today.
Scott: Yeah when I started out back in 1982 we were making a lot of fortified wine out of grenache, because it's an ideal variety for that. There were originally a lot of fortified varieties, whites like Doradillo and Pedro Ximenez. Grenache is high cropping not a whole lot of flavour but for fortified it was great, and we've made a lot of rose out of it too.
Now we're making some pretty good flavoursome Grenache without much oak, I don't like a lot of oak, we want to show the floral characters and the raspberry and cherry characters.
Rob: The shiraz story for you, you produce shiraz under Woodstock, you've got how many levels?
Scott: We’ve got four different levels, the lowest is called Deep Sands, 'because, again we love that sandy soil and the Blewitt Springs area and then we've got a varietal shiraz which is one level up a bit more oak, richness and middle palate. Thirdly we've got the Pilot’s View shiraz, in honour of my father, the retired air force pilot and it really has a lot of structure and character, a personality like the man himself and has lashings of oak.
We are not ashamed of that, probably unfashionably oaky, but with a name like Woodstock, you’d sort of expect that. Then the flagship is The Stocks, which is named after the set of wooden stocks from the original town of Woodstock in Oxfordshire. Woodstock means small clearing in the woods and the property was called Woodstock back when my father bought land in 1973, with a Shiraz vineyard that is now about 120 years old.
We don't have the original info on that but it's pushing 120 if not over and has the single vineyard personality from the terroir that is unmistakable.
The first three days of fermentation using the old vine grapes is unremarkable, the wine just looks like any other shiraz, but then day three bingo, there's this terroir character, this aromatic release, I can pick it in a line up of 50 wines or ferments. I have got to know it pretty well over the last 40 years. So you know when the wines young there's the fruit and then there's the oak and they are sort of tussling for dominance, again some people say you got too much oak, but that's just a building block of flavour. But it's the terroir that brings those two together, pulls the oak and the fruit together and then overpowers them all with time. That's the trick with wine.
My father used to say about maturing wines that it takes time and effort and money to build a personal wine cellar, but the rewards are amazing because you put a young wine in you take an older one out and the flavours have grown. As long as the temperature is right and that's very important, you cook the wine once it's cooked forever. So wine fridges are a good idea…. but they haven't designed one big enough for me.
Rob: So you started with a winery that didn’t have a tourist facility when I first went down there.
Scott: Yes, we are sort of hidden away in the sticks on Douglas Kelly Road McLaren Flat and people are doing well to find us, or trying hard. My father was a ‘greenie’ and so am I, so I didn't want to cut down any trees, so we left them there. We did build a restaurant which I wasn't sure would work as a restaurant, so we called the coterie, which means a group of people sharing a similar interest. It's a semicircular building that has worked as a restaurant since 1988. It was one of the first winery restaurants in the area… And now we've got a wildlife sanctuary as well, we've got some rescued kangaroos and emus and a sheep and wallabies, so children can hand feed them with the correct foods for them, oh and a veggie garden.
We've been building up veggies and herbs and edible garnishes and things that we put on a plate which makes a big difference and there is an orchard, so there is something for everyone. It's a real piece of Australiana, with lots of birdlife.
I have moved from Adelaide back to my old cottage at Woodstock because with COVID I was spending all my time at the winery. But nowadays we can get up and travel again just come back from Europe which was quite successful.
Rob: That’s another question, what are the Europeans thinking about Australia, they must see us as having been kicked in the shins by China? Do they see this as an advantage or is it business as normal?
Scott: Well, I don't know that the public in Europe is aware of the China situation and things always change in this industry. The problem for us is we've not been able to get out and discover other markets, you know one door closes another one opens, but we haven't been able to knock on doors, but we are now. I'm off to Southeast Asia soon but you never know with China, but it comes back or not time will tell.
Rob: You were in Ireland?
Scott: Yes, that's always part of the main event. I have to be “bottle” fit before you go to Ireland because they like to drink there….. you'd be surprised to know.
Rob: How many days can you go for and then how many days off afterwards?
Scott: I’m 5 in 2, that's fair but we can't recommend drinking in excess, it’s a byproduct of the culture of the trade, different countries have different cultures.
Rob: The modern wine industry that your sons are taking over, what's the biggest difference do you think from when we started back there in the late 70s?
Scott: The number of brands would be one of the biggest and also the route to market. Everyone's got an iPhone these days or smartphone and they can research anything and everything, so it's a matter of adapting to that. And social media, which I know nothing about and gladly stay away from it and I don’t have a television.
Rob: Neither do I, the things you learn.
Scott: Well I think we should taste some wine.
Next month I share my tasting experience of some of Scott’s great wines and he tells us about the future for the family business.
Appealing aromas of red fruits and Christmas pudding spice with very good French oak use.
This is a very elegant Shiraz, excellent line of flavour and tannins, very long blue and black fruits distinctively regional pepper and a subtle mint edge with the beautiful fine-grained tannins. Lovely elegant wine.
1878 St Ethels Vineyard
$150 - 96 Points
Drink by 2050
This is quite something!!!! Bottle number 248. A single barrel gave 360 bottles from the old vines is all there is of this deep and brooding
even as a 5-year-old with dark berry, graphite, cola, pepper into dark spices. The oak will support this wine for the long haul. The palate is a classic old vine structure subdued fruit but rich in tannins and complexity starting out with liquorice smooth blackberry and graphite with soft tannins that flow the length of the palate. Its medium bodied very long in flavour and texture yet mouth-coating in its complexity. Well handled and set for the very long haul.
Best's Great Western
$60 - 95 Points
Drink by 2031
An impressive debut from this established shiraz hero. Here is a wine that speaks of its origins, the land and soil in the vineyard and less about the hand of the maker or the cooperage. Sweet fruit and sweet oak, blackberry, confectionary, and stalky spice but no raisined fruit notes. What you can smell is what you get. It’s medium bodied ripe blackberry fruits, fresh hints of whole bunch pepper and brown spices in the middle and has fine tannins to build out the length of flavours framed all the way through by the whole bunch tannins.
Cuvee Exceptionnelle Brut Rose - Northern Tasmania Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier 2016
$75 - 95 Points
Drink by 2024
The Cuvee Exceptionnelle wines have a great deal of finesse in their composition. Delicacy stays with the colour and continues through the aromas of red fruits, particularly with intensity.
The well balanced palate is driven by the chardonnay and has a melt-in-your-mouth quality and hits the spot for structure, length and complexity with hints of raspberry red fruits in the middle and biscuity lees and an overall intensity without heaviness.