During the past few years, I’ve been rather taken with the new wave of wines coming out of Australia. It’s refreshing that many of us are now viewing the country as a gathering of unique, exciting regions rather than a single entity known for oaky Chardonnay and gloopy Shiraz.
There are plenty of exceptional stories being told, whether we’re talking elegant, traditional-method sparkling wines from Tasmanian producers like Jansz; coolclimate Pinot Noirs from the likes of Soumah or Coldstream Hills in the Yarra Valley; or single-vineyard, minimal-intervention geekery from producers like BK Wines in Adelaide Hills.
There’s also a new story for fans of Aussie wine here in Vancouver, particularly the Riesling enthusiasts among us, with a fresh lineup just now hitting shelves.
There’s no messing around when it comes to the moniker of proprietor John Hughes’s nineyear-old South Australian venture.
The wines are called Rieslingfreak, a nickname Hughes had in university due to his adoration of the stuff, an adoration he gained while growing up in and around the Clare Valley vineyards his father had tended.
When one thinks of premium Australian Riesling, Clare Valley is likely the region they’ll go to first, closely followed by the neighbouring Eden Valley and Polish Hill River. Ocean breezes and chilly evenings make for prime cool-climate growing conditions in which the variety can thrive.
These are the areas to which Hughes has chosen to devote his project, with each of his Riesling labels offering a different style and take on terroir.
Tasting the five locally available wines side by side, I was impressed by how differently each vineyard expressed itself in the bottle. Although these are five Rieslings from a relatively small corner of the world, they each sang their own song. I’m particularly looking forward to organizing a get-together with pals, picking up the quintet, and ordering a pile of takeout from places like Phnom Penh, Vij’s Rangoli, Maenam, or Jang Mo Jib and playing around with them all, seeing what they do with various dishes.
These are small-batch, single-vineyard premium wines, so they don’t come cheap. If we look at Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays around the world of similar quality, though, these are a bargain (and highly cellarable).
Kitsilano Wine Cellar on West 4th Avenue has the exclusive on them, at prices I’ve listed below. Although the naming of each label is simply numeric, I’ve tweaked the logical order, preferring to list them from driest to sweetest.
RIESLINGFREAK NO. 4 2017 ($31.99) Bone-dry and almost effervescent with lemon zest and juniper, this Eden Valley product offers a chalky palate, carrying plenty of fresh lemon and lime notes all the way through the clean and zippy finish.
RIESLINGFREAK NO. 3 2017 ($31.99) The Clare Valley vineyard for this one has red-clay soils believed to allow for a more fruit-forward style. There was significant pink grapefruit and lime character in the aromatics, but I found apples and pears to tumble forward on the palate, with just a touch of orange marmalade on the finish.
RIESLINGFREAK NO. 2 2017 ($39.99) This Riesling out of Polish Hill River is built almost as dry as the two previous wines, but perhaps it’s due to the limestone-heavy soil that we see a completely different flavour profile. On the nose there’s salty sea air and river-rock character, which is reflected by briny notes in the first few sips, mingling with lemongrass and maybe even a hint of fennel on the finish. It’ll pal around with fresh oysters and other shellfish dishes, no problem.
RIESLINGFREAK NO. 5 2017 ($34.99) We’re back in the Clare Valley here, with the first of the lot to be classified off-dry. Fear not: at a smidge under 15 grams per litre of residual sugar, it’s by no means cloying; generous acidity balances things out well. While I noticed that fresh, salty sea air on the nose here as well, the palate threw me a curveball. Juicy peaches and a handful of PEZ candy sailed across the palate with ease.
RIESLINGFREAK NO. 8 2017 ($39.99) A return to Polish Hill River takes us to the “Kabinett” style, referencing the German category for lighter, off-dry Rieslings. This charmer is floral on the nose, with plenty of apple blossoms and violets, then a hearty slurp takes in waves of nectarine, Bosc pear, and some ginger and a spot of orange-blossom honey on the kinda sweet finish. This one will come in handy with any spicier dishes on the table.
Autumn rains be damned. Let’s keep things bright and get our Riesling on! -