Riesling stretches the boundaries of international exploration
THE fifth biennial Frankland Estate international riesling tasting covered every conceivable aspect of the wine in two action-packed days. A blind tasting of 29 dry rieslings featured wines from the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Nahe, Rheingau, Rheinhessen, Pfalz and Franken regions of Germany; Alsace, France; Kremstal, Kamptal and Wachau, Austria; Washington state and Michigan, the US; Marlborough, New Zealand; Clare and Eden valleys and Adelaide Hills, South Australia; Henty, Victoria; Frankland River, Western Australia; and Tasmania.
So well chosen were the wines that the only disappointment was due to the vagaries of cork, the only question concerning two wines from the Mosel made by two winemakers (Heymann-Lowenstein and Clemens Busch) who have a fundamentalist view of the importance of terroir, resulting in a hands-off winemaking regime come hell or high water.
The high points from Germany were: 2005 Donnhoff Niederhauser Hermannshohle GG (Nahe), 2005 Gunderloch Nackenheim Rothenberg (Rheinhessen), 2006 Breuer Rudesheim Berg Schlossberg (Rheingau), 2005 Horst Sauer Escherndorfer Lump GG (Franken) and 2005 Tesch St Remigiusberg Spatlese Trocken (Nahe). From Austria: 2006 Hirtzberger Spitzer Singerriedel Smaragd (Wachau), 2006 Prager Weissenkirchener Klaus Smaragd (Wachau) and 2005 Salomon Kogl Reserve (Kremstal). From New Zealand: 2006 Forrest Estate Wairau Valley Dry Riesling (Marlborough). And from Australia: 2005 Freycinet (Tasmania), 2005 Pewsey Vale The Contours (Eden Valley), 2006 Frankland Estate Isolation Ridge Vineyard (Frankland River), 2005 Henschke Lenswood Green’s Hill (Adelaide Hills) and 2006 Grosset Polish Hill (Clare Valley). The most challenging and interesting were nine rieslings searched out by Germany-based Stuart Pigott for the Outer Limits workshop.
This year he first came up with wines from Switzerland, Slovakia and Italy, then wines made in thoroughly unconventional ways from conventional regions. The most surprising wine was the 2006 Kastiel Bela from the Danube Valley, Slovakia. The Danube suggested all should be well, particularly given that this was a joint venture with Egon Muller, who makes celestial wines at his Scharzhofberger estate in the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer.
It is aldehydic (brown apple and dandelion were among the many disapproving comments from the room) and was refermenting in bottle or had a vastly excessive amount of carbon dioxide. Almost as surprising (on the plus side) was the 2006 Tesch Five Miles Out, fermented on skins and which carried the normally over-the-top phenolics with aplomb.
Sheer pleasure followed the hard work of Outer Limits when master of wine Bob Campbell of NZ teamed with outstanding chef Andrew McConnell (of Three, One, Two restaurant) to match five wines with a five-course degustation lunch. (McConnell had delayed the opening of his new bar-restaurant until the following night so he could devise and present the menu.)
They agreed that in trying to match wine with food, the flavour, texture, weight and acidity or sweetness of the palate is one side of the equation. The question then is whether you seek to contrast or complement the flavour and texture of the food with the wine.
Campbell used a show of hands to determine the consensus of opinion for each course. First up came smoked eel on a bed of warm lentil salad, with slivers of beetroot and bacon, the wine a pristine 2004 Frankland Estate Isolation Ridge Vineyard. This was an exercise in contrast, strongly supported (notwithstanding debate on the beetroot), given a Campbell-adjudicated rating of eight out of 10.
Next up was 2007 Dr Loosen Wehlener Sonnenuhr Kabinett (the only Loosen wine to that point), with spiced crispy mussels, cucumber, mustard and herbs. A very classy dish but it didn’t really work, rating a (harsh, perhaps) four out of 10.
Salted Western Plains pork with Jerusalem artichoke puree was accompanied by 2007 Muddy Water James Hardwick from Waipara, NZ. The McConnell pork was as perfect and succulent as ever, the gentle sweetness of the apple flavours of the wine a perfect complement to the pork. Rating 8.5 out of 10.
Another highly successful match was a thin slice of Tomme D’Abondance cheese with 2004 Pikes The Merle Reserve, proving once again that, with few exceptions, white wine is a far better accompaniment for cheese than red wine. Rating: eight out of 10.