South Australia’s cellar-worthy Riesling 

South Australia’s cellar-worthy Riesling 

Mitchells Wines Vineyard

It may be a product of our international image, but when we talk about South Australian wines, the discussion tends to gravitate towards the Barossa Valley district and their ripe, jammy and consumer-friendly Shiraz. And I get that the Barossa shiraz has been a big player in putting our industry on the international wine map. But the South Australian industry powers-that-be probably need to do more to re-calibrate the messaging abroad, highlighting the exceptional, world standard varietals made throughout the state; like Cabernet in the Coonawarra, Chardonnay in the Adelaide Hills and Riesling in the Clare Valley. 

Riesling is a style that fell out of favour several decades ago as producers – typically German and Austrian – tended to boost the sugar content in their wines, making them sweet, flabby and not particularly food friendly. But these days, winemaking techniques have returned to allowing the acidic personality of the grape to show its dry and off-dry persona in aromatic and flavoursome wines that finish crisp and lean. While it’s still made in places around the Rhine River (think Austria, Alsace and Mosel) which are synonymous with the Riesling style, South Australia is home to some wine-producing sub-regions that make Riesling equal to anything that Europe has to offer. The Clare Valley is a large region, but within its borders are districts like Watervale, Polish Hill, Auburn and Sevenhill, which boast near-perfect climate, soils and orientation for enabling the grape to shine like the star it is. 

Here in Australia, Riesling is forced to play “second fiddle” to the more dominant varietals like chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and even pinot gris/grigio. But wine connoisseurs and enthusiasts are alert to the high quality of the Clare Valley wines; their relatively low volumes sell out to those in the know, rather than bottle-shop browsers. While I enjoy “rizza” from all over the Clare Valley, it’s those from around the Sevenhill sub-district that my palate tends to prefer. The Sevenhill township was settled by Jesuit fathers back in about 1850 and is located about 130km north of Adelaide on an elevated site that is about 400m above sea level. While there are several highly regarded wineries making Riesling locally, one of the better ones (at least in my opinion) is Mitchell Wines – an operation that sports a classy cellar door operation on Hughes Park Road, Sevenhill. 

The Mitchell Wines vineyard at Sevenhill is where the family-owned operation started back in 1982. Now in the hands of the third generation, the vineyards are planted on a stony quartzite hillside and are planted with Cabernet Sauvignon, Gruner Veltliner, Shiraz and, of course, Riesling. 

And it’s their McNicol Riesling that tickled my fancy during a recent sampling of the Mitchell range. Perhaps my experience was enhanced by the fact that I was offered the now well-aged 2012 vintage – a season that was particularly mild in the Clare Valley and ideally suited to Riesling. In the glass, the wine’s maturity is immediately apparent on swishing as a deep golden glow swirls around the edges of the glass. Take that first fateful sip and you’ll struggle not to finish the bottle as honeyed cashew and toasted brioche characters collide with flavours of cumquat jam, lime and nectarine through the middle. There’s the slightest hint of waxiness as the stone fruit dances with a crisp minerality on the finish and delivers a clean, dry and persistent conclusion. The interplay between spice, acid and fruit is breathtaking. 

It’s the collectable and cellar-worthy wines that tend to become “iconic” over time; and for the winemakers of the Clare Valley, Riesling must surely offer them a pathway to international fame and fortune as the resurgence in popularity of Riesling sees its star rise over coming years. It’s a sophisticated varietal of charisma, charm and style – highly collectable, but as our warmer months approach, also perfect for a Sunday afternoon tipple! 


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