Australian riesling can be a hard sell. German-riesling drinkers might be satisfied with Austrian and Alsatian renditions of this grape, but often turn up their noses when it comes to versions made outside Europe.
At the other end of the spectrum, many folks think all riesling is sweet — as is often the case with phenomenal wines from Germany — and shy away from it no matter what.
If the latter describes you, or you are one of the people who falls somewhere in between these two extremes, I have two words for you: Australian riesling.
I like to think of Australian riesling as its own animal. It shares the peach, nectarine, tropical fruit and floral characteristics that are typical, but has a unique minerality and, most importantly, is usually dry. If you like sauvignon blanc or viognier, then Australian riesling might be right up your alley.
German immigrants who settled in South Australia near Adelaide in the mid-1800s first brought it to Australia. Several areas became riesling hot spots and it was quite popular for a long time. Chardonnay, the ubiquitous little thing that it is, started catching on in the 1980s and today is by far the most widely planted white grape Down Under. This said, in some areas riesling still prevails and luckily there are enough people who appreciate the wines.
D’Arenberg Riesling, The Dry Dam, 2008 (McLaren Vale, Australia): D’Arenberg is one of the quirkiest wineries to be found — anywhere — but behind the idiosyncrasies are a lot of very good wines. Named after their neighbor’s jinxed dam, this is a charming wine that begs not to be taken too seriously, but with its Sweet Tart and floral aromas, juicy stone fruits and citrus finish, it has one too many layers not to be considered a contender. Suggested retail: $15.99
Pikes Riesling, 2009 (Clare Valley, Australia): Long before Andrew and Neil Pike put a stake in the ground, their great-great-grandfather Henry Pike started a well-known brewery in 1886. The family’s choice of beverage has changed, but the commitment to quality was passed down through the generations. Pikes always makes great riesling, and compared with others of similar quality, it is a bargain. Floral with kiwi and tangerine flavors, it is textbook Australian riesling. Suggested retail: $19.99
Frankland Estate Isolation Ridge Riesling, 2009 (Frankland River, Australia): In Western Australia, the Frankland River takes a back seat to the Margaret River, but this most southwestern Aussie region has a winemaking history that goes back even further. Originally founded as a sheep ranch in 1974, Frankland Estate owners Barrie Smith and Judi Cullam branched out into winemaking 14 years later. Isolation Ridge is the least precious of one of three rieslings in the lineup, yet with its green-apple skin, white-peach fruit, strong minerals currents and long, austere finish, it is in every way a treasure. Suggested retail: $22.99
Pamela S. Busch is the owner of Skrewcap.com, founder of CAV Wine Bar and a Bay Area wine consultant. Please submit your questions to Pamela@Skrewcap.com.