Oh Fair Lady ‘Rizza’
Riesling is on the rise as versatility adds to her attraction.
Move over Fonz, after years of being courted by sauvignon blanc, there’s a new cool kid in town and her name is Riesling! It seems that what started out as just a small group of friends and family lip-syncing the chorus, has become a vocal and enthusiastic cheer squad loudly proclaiming the virtues of a once under-rated style. And I confess to being a card carrying and flag-waving member of her newly formed fan club!
If there’s one key reason for the rise of riesling’s star, it must be her versatility. It’s a grape that can be made in a wide range of styles from the crisp acidic zesty type that suck in your cheeks and leave a trail of lemon zest on your tongue, to the off-dry and even semi-sweet styles with a higher degree of residual sweetness. No matter what the cuisine, there’s generally going to be a “rizza” to suit.
Historically, it has been regions like Mosel and Rheingau in Germany that have been the big hitters of Riesling production, though Alsace and the Rhone have also earned their fair share of accolades over the years. In Australia, the Clare Valley in South Australia has arguably been the local leader for many decades but if my palate is any judge, the Sandgropers in the West are laying down the gauntlet as they challenge for pole position in the Riesling rankings.
And it’s the bespoke offerings of the Great Southern producers who are doubling down on the style with differing permutations of Riesling from each of five sub-regions, Albany, Denmark, Frankland River, Mount Barker and Porongurup. Each district has its own quirks and nuances, but I suspect that it’s the Porongurup area that seems to be the real hope of the side. It boasts picturesque geomorphic granite ranges but with a unique nocturnal thermal zone which produces “air drainage”. Thanks to cool air settling on the valley floor, the climatic idiosyncrasies result in ideal fruit ripening conditions for Riesling.
The Castle Rock Porongurup Riesling 2017
One of the astute Porongurup vignerons who decided long ago to place emphasis on the style was the Diletti family at their local winery, Castle Rock Estate. Established in 1983 by Angelo and Wendy Diletti, their cool climate vineyards are perched on a north facing site on the eastern slopes of Porongurup Mountain. These days, its Rob and Donna Diletti who run the show and offer everything from Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc to Riesling and Shiraz, but it’s the latter varietals that really give credibility to the brand. The Castle Rock Porongurup Riesling 2017 was awarded 97 points by James Halliday and made his top 100 Australian Wines list. And for good reason. The 2018 Porongurup is the current vintage and earned 96 points from Halliday and is every bit the icon in waiting.
But rather than the stable star, it was a sample of their Skywalk Riesling 2018 ($20) which recently landed in on my desk for tasting. Perhaps not as austere or tangy as it’s more highly acclaimed and acidic big sister, the Skywalk is still crisply aromatic but somewhat softer on the palate. There are kaffir lime and citrus blossom characters on the nose and lively lemon zest and rounded citric flavours through the middle. The beauty of the Skywalk is the freshness of the natural acids and the tightrope it tiptoes through a fresh but fruit focussed conclusion. I reckon that there’s just enough residual sugar to allow it to partner well with Asian seafood dishes; or even on its own as a pre-dinner aperitif on a hot summer afternoon.
The impressive Castle Rock cellar list includes 4 different Rieslings with asking prices between $15 and $30. All are rich, succulent and mildly tingling and there’s no doubt that all Castle Rock Rieslings will titillate and tease the taste buds. It’s irresistible value for a chic style that is suddenly en vogue with the hipsters and funky folk, yet a wine with some upside for those patient enough to allow it time for the tautness to subside and a more rounded mouth feel to develop.