Ries­ling re­born

Ries­ling is get­ting a makeover by some Aussie pro­duc­ers pur­su­ing a range of styles through non-tra­di­tional tech­niques. The re­sults are as di­verse as the meth­ods.

Halliday - - Inside - words Jeni Port

Hear from wine­mak­ers around the coun­try who are mak­ing ries­ling with a twist.

DUR­ING THE 2011 vin­tage, Tas­ma­nian wine­maker Jeremy Di­neen gave the green light to young vis­it­ing Czech wine­maker On­drej Ve­se­lev to try his luck with a batch of ries­ling fruit. “Have a crack,” Jeremy told him, as the grapes started ar­riv­ing at the Josef Chromy win­ery out­side Launce­s­ton. And so he did. Tra­di­tion­ally, ries­ling in this coun­try is treated pretty sim­ply: press, neu­tral yeast to start fer­men­ta­tion and then stain­less steel all the way. But this was not the case for On­drej. With his Czech back­ground, he crushed the grapes (Jeremy has last­ing im­ages in his head of the young man “throw­ing” sul­phur wildly at the fruit in the crusher) and left the re­sult­ing mess of skins and juice to soak for two hours. With fer­men­ta­tion un­der­way, he pumped 15 per cent of the juice into old oak bar­rels and the re­main­der into stain­less steel where it fin­ished its mat­u­ra­tion.

On­drej’s aim was to cre­ate a wine of tex­ture and breadth, and pos­si­bly re­ceive a lit­tle ku­dos from his fel­low wine­mak­ers. Or at least those not ques­tion­ing his san­ity.

The wine was good, Jeremy re­mem­bers, but dif­fer­ent. Edgier. It was re­leased as the 2011 OV Ries­ling and be­came a favourite of the win­ery’s founder, Czech-born Josef Chromy. “He of­ten asks if we can make an­other,” says Jeremy, who al­ready makes five ries­lings.

On the new ries­ling front­line, borders are few. Czech mak­ers work vin­tage here, as do Ger­mans, Aus­tri­ans and Al­sa­tians too. Aus­tralian wine­mak­ers re­cip­ro­cate the ges­ture, spend­ing time over­seas, and in the fever­ish cross-pol­li­na­tion that re­sults the imag­i­na­tion of the Aus­tralian ries­ling maker takes flight.

That ‘What if?’ ques­tion starts to get real. What if we pur­sue a dif­fer­ent ries­ling per­son­al­ity to the usual cool, pure, lin­ear beauty of Aus­tralian tra­di­tion? What if we in­tro­duce skin con­tact to re­lease pow­er­ful phe­no­lic com­pounds, a group of flavour chem­i­cals gen­er­ally con­sid­ered su­per im­por­tant in red wines, but less so in whites? Or what if we fer­ment in oak bar­rels? Or, what the heck, let go of ev­ery­thing learnt and em­brace a touch of wild­ness?

In the hands of a younger gen­er­a­tion of wine­mak­ers, tra­di­tional ries­ling has be­come funky. A bunch of rad­i­cal ries­lings are even mak­ing it onto wine lists and re­tail shelves, in­clud­ing the sur­prise packet of Best’s Foudre Fer­ment Ries­ling, with its un­usual nut­ti­ness, or Nick Glaet­zer’s stun­ningly in­di­vid­ual Uberblanc, or the re­bel­lious and savoury Das Sakri­leg Ries­ling from La Vi­o­letta. Som­me­lier Leanne Alt­mann, bev­er­age di­rec­tor for the An­drew McCon­nell group of restau­rants in Mel­bourne, feels these rad­i­cal styles are open­ing the mar­ket to new drinkers. “I cer­tainly think this wave of ries­ling ex­per­i­men­ta­tion, and the eye-catch­ing la­bels that of­ten come along with the bot­tles, has drawn the at­ten­tion of the next gen­er­a­tion of wine lovers,” she says.

We think we know ries­ling – acid and sugar/sugar and acid – but it’s much more com­pli­cated. For one thing, there are lots of phe­no­lics and tan­nins to be found in the grape’s skin, which some new adopters have em­braced. “The Aus­tralian Wine and Re­search In­sti­tute did a re­ally in­ter­est­ing study years ago look­ing at chardon­nay, viog­nier and ries­ling,” says Tas­ma­nian maker Saman­tha Con­new, who is evolv­ing a tex­tu­ral, stylish ries­ling un­der her Stargazer la­bel. “Out of them, ries­ling has the high­est amount of nat­u­ral phe­no­lics. When you look at the Ger­man styles, that’s ob­vi­ously what they are all about, but we have talked our­selves into think­ing that it was about acid and sugar.”

“As the rest of Aus­tralia gets warmer and warmer, and the cli­mate be­comes dif­fi­cult in the Clare and the Eden, I think you will see more pro­duc­ers look­ing to places like Tassie.”

Jeremy Di­neen (above), Josef Chromy

Hav­ing fully em­braced ries­ling phe­no­lics by leav­ing grape skins in con­tact with juice, Saman­tha is now look­ing to skin-con­tact fer­men­ta­tions. “I fancy some re­ally good re­sults,” she says. “Skins have so much flavour and you want to ex­tract all of that good­ness as much as you can.”

We think we know where the ries­ling grape grows best in Aus­tralia. The Clare and Eden Val­leys have the his­tory and runs on the board, but the emer­gence of other re­gions has sig­nif­i­cantly broad­ened the grape’s Aussie reper­toire. Look to re­gions such as Can­berra, Western Aus­tralia’s Great South­ern, Or­ange in NSW, Coal River Val­ley and Ta­mar Val­ley in Tasmania, and Heath­cote in Vic­to­ria. “I don’t think we are dis­rupt­ing the tra­di­tional Aus­tralian style just yet,” says Hunter Smith of Fran­k­land Es­tate when asked if the Great South­ern wine re­gion is tak­ing it up to the South Aus­tralians. How­ever, Hunter adds that the area – which cel­e­brates 50 years of grow­ing ries­ling this year, with 150 hectares of it planted – is de­liv­er­ing tex­tu­ral, in­ter­est­ing styles that are “among the coun­try’s best”.

The ries­ling story in Tasmania is prob­a­bly a lit­tle shorter, but with 105 hectares in the ground and plant­ings grow­ing by five per cent an­nu­ally, it is a ries­ling re­gion on the rise. If Tassie wine pro­duc­ers ap­pear su­per-con­fi­dent, it’s for a rea­son. Mak­ers such as Bream Creek, Moo­rilla Es­tate, Josef Chromy, Holm Oak and Ste­fano Lu­biana proved the state’s po­ten­tial early on.

To­day, with Pooley Wines, Press­ing Mat­ters, Glaet­zer-Dixon,

Bay of Fires and Stargazer among the Ta­ma­nian pro­duc­ers tak­ing the lead, the grape moves up a notch in style – with many vari­a­tions – and class.

“It prob­a­bly won’t hap­pen in my life­time, but even­tu­ally it will be one of the great – if not the great­est – ries­ling re­gions in the coun­try,” says Jeremy of Josef Chromy. “As the rest of Aus­tralia gets warmer and warmer, and the cli­mate be­comes dif­fi­cult in the Clare and the Eden, I think you will see more pro­duc­ers look­ing to places like Tassie.” Many peo­ple may be ex­cited by the rise in ries­ling ex­per­i­men­ta­tion, but the phe­nom­e­non is not be­ing em­braced by ev­ery­one. Syd­ney som­me­lier Matt Swieboda, the cre­ative force be­hind wine bars Love, Tilly Devine and Dear Sainte Eloise, is crit­i­cal of badly made skin-con­tact ries­lings – those that are heavy-handed in wine­mak­ing and lack­ing de­tail. “I’ve cer­tainly never seen a skinsy ex­pres­sion reach the heights that ries­ling can achieve in a more tra­di­tional con­text,” he says. How­ever, one good ex­am­ple on his wine lists is the Arte­sian Lava Ries­ling 2017 from Good In­ten­tions Wine Co, off the vol­canic soils of Mount Gam­bier.

A maker of some of Western Aus­tralia’s finest ries­lings, Jeff Burch at Howard Park de­cries a fun­da­men­tal fault of ries­lings made with skin con­tact and min­i­mal in­ter­ven­tion. “A wine should show where it’s from,” he says, ar­gu­ing that some of the newer styles could be from “any­where”. “I don’t think that’s au­then­tic.”

“I cer­tainly think this wave of ries­ling ex­per­i­men­ta­tion, and the eye-catch­ing la­bels that of­ten come along with the bot­tles, has drawn the at­ten­tion of the next gen­er­a­tion of wine lovers.” Leanne Alt­mann (above), bev­er­age di­rec­tor, An­drew McCon­nell restau­rants

Ries­ling hasn’t been de­bated with this kind of pas­sion for years, and it will only con­tinue. As to whether what we are see­ing is ac­tu­ally new, it def­i­nitely is for Aus­tralia. “Ob­vi­ously a lot of the tech­niques are not new and, in most cases, are the way pro­duc­ers made ries­lings for hun­dreds of years be­fore mod­ern wine­mak­ing fa­cil­i­ties,” ex­plains Fran­k­land Es­tate's Hunter. But they are bring­ing a breath of fresh air to the way the grape has tra­di­tion­ally been made in Aus­tralia.

“Vive la dif­fer­ence, I reckon,” says one of our more ex­cit­ing ries­ling mak­ers, Phil Lehmann of the Hes­keth Wine Com­pany. He works along­side the great­est Aussie ries­ling maker of them all, John Vickery of Leo Bur­ing fame, to pro­duce a su­perb se­ries of Vickery Ries­lings. If Phil’s ex­cited, then rest as­sured there must be some­thing to this ries­ling rev­o­lu­tion.

Hunter Smith, Fran­k­land Es­tate.

Saman­tha Con­new,Stargazer.

Jeff Burch, Howard Park Wines.

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