Riesling is my favourite white wine – well, equal with chardonnay, perhaps. This may sound unenterprising, but I’m not alone. 

A few years back, when the scanned data for wine sales through bottle shops used to fall off a truck as it passed my home, I was able to follow the trends in grape varieties and regions. What was clear was that while the total sales volumes of both riesling and chardonnay were falling, above $20 there was a very different story. Demand for both was increasing steadily.

Now that the truck has a less obliging driver, I needed to look elsewhere for information, and so to two key retailers. Ian Cook at Five Ways Cellars in Paddington, Sydney, told me, “Our riesling sales are very strong for quality wines. The top wines are all sold out and in fact some never touched the shelves.” He added, “It’s my favourite white variety, too.” Dan Schwarz, at the City Wine Shop in Melbourne, told me that for Covid and staffing reasons, they’d merged their sales with The European restaurant, so could only describe off- and on-premise together. “It’s selling well, with sauvignon blanc falling away, but in the face of the chardonnay resurgence. Italian wines are giving some worthy competition, too.”

As the trends in bottle shops are frequently preceded by success in restaurants, I looked at the wine lists from three top examples: Bennelong, Grossi Florentino and Bert’s. All three had riesling listings comfortably ahead of sauvignon blanc and pinot gris/grigio and second only to chardonnay, at least as far as Australian and New Zealand wines were concerned. High-quality riesling has never faltered.

Lemon, stone fruits and classic structure were the hallmarks of the most highly rated rieslings.

Most rieslings selling at more than, say, $15 are regionally declared, an indication of the importance that origin has in the quality of this choosy grape – choosy as it thrives in cool, inland regions; hence our wish to look further into two typical sources. Other than in broader geographical tastings, we’ve yet to cover rieslings from Eden Valley and Great Southern, so they became a distinct preference, in no way competitive, but as an exploration of varietal style. 

Both make rieslings with taut acidity and predominantly citrus flavours, but in my experience Great Southern seems to add stone fruits more often than Eden Valley. Taking Mount Barker as an indicator, Great Southern is a little cooler in summer than Eden Valley, but the latter’s temperatures fall away more rapidly to give colder winters, a result of its higher altitude. Within Great Southern there are minor differences. Mount Barker, and within it the Porongurups, is a little cooler than Frankland thanks to altitude and a slightly greater sea breeze effect, but differences are often more dependent on the characteristics of the actual vineyard sites.

But enough of stats and so on. “What do the wines taste like?” To tell you how, the magazine enlisted writer, retailer and performer Mike Bennie, educator and writer Peter Bourne, fine wine consultant and author Andrew Caillard MW, restaurant manager and proprietor at One Penny Red David Murphy and me, winemaking consultant Nick Bulleid MW. Our sixth taster was an unfortunate last-minute withdrawal.

It was good to be together and back in the GT WINE office, if still under Covid spacing rules, rather than with the enforced and logistically challenged previous two ‘remote’ tastings. We tasted the wines blind in vintage order, young to older, with the region not revealed and, as always, in flights of 10 to give each wine a chance to shine. There was a predominance of wines from the 2021 and 2020 vintages, with a handful of older wines. As it happened, 2021 was a difficult vintage in Great Southern, while 2020 was tricky in Eden Valley. The challenges showed in a few wines, although others were excellent. 

As for those differences, look to our notes. There’s plenty of scope here for any riesling lover.

Blends afford the chance to achieve perfection in structure compared with single varietals.

Eden Valley

2021 Auld Family Wines Wilberforce Riesling, A$40 (1,500ml), is beautifully fragrant, with white floral aromas. The palate starts quite gently with stone fruit flavours, then evolves with texture and crisp acidity. Bennie thought it “an intense style”. He wrote: “Light citrus characters, a bit of pulpy grapefruity acidity, green apple, blackcurrants. It’s quite fleshy, soft, round, but holds good length and has some nice, chalky pucker to finish, too. Serious riesling with quite a lot going on. Built for cellaring.”

2020 Brothers at War The Grape Grower Riesling, A$28, impressed Murphy, who noted, “A wine full of classic hits: makrut lime and grapefruit with some soft saline and coriander notes. A splash of pine/lime and manuka complete a wonderfully fresh palate. Perky acids and a high level of fruit concentration keep this riesling singing the right song.” I liked the combination of fresh lemon aromas and underlying sweet fruits, the latter emerging further on palate.

2021 Chaffey Bros Tripelpunkt Riesling, A$25, gained wide support. I liked its intense lemon aromas and stone fruit flavours. Bennie found the wine tighter, reporting: “A tart, tense web of crackling acidity, there’s juiciness and a sense of very high drinkability. Sourdough, ginger and preserved lemon scents. Quite rich and forward in perfume but wholly appealing. Green apple and ripe citrus fruit characters with nutty savouriness in tow. Seriously appealing, savoury style.”

2015 Chaffey Bros Tripelpunkt Museum, A$25, has developed a golden colour that matches its bottle-aged characters. These include lemon curd on the nose that is nonetheless still fresh. Slightly tropical flavours emerge on the palate, with sweet fruit flavours and a light grip. Caillard noted: “Waxy honey, caramel, toasty aromas with underlying baked lemon pastry notes. Generous, supple wine with developed biscuity lemon curd flavours, fine chalky textures and lovely mineral soft saline acidity.”

2021 Chaffey Bros Zeitpunkt Redux Riesling, A$35, appealed to Bennie, who thought it, “A cool and reserved style with heaps of energy, tension, a mix of nutty savoury characters and saline acidity. A sprinkle of white balsamic lift and tart grapefruit juice a feature. Very intense, refreshing, mouth-watering and complex. An edgier style, leaning into more natural feels, but with structure, energy and freshness.” I found the palate a bit unsettled, with estery tropical notes and a little sweetness, although the flavours are impressive, with acidity and texture providing balance. 

2021 Dandelion Vineyards Wonderland of the Eden Valley Riesling, A$60, had Bennie speaking up. “Quite out there as a style,” he wrote. “Lime-lemon and light stone fruit-orientated with a spine of zingy acidity and chalky flesh around it. The saline minerality aspects are appealing here, almost dusted in talc and crushed granite and the like. The understatement is likewise pleasing. Complex expression.” I had identical descriptors to the above. I was less enthusiastic about the palate, finding the dry, taut drive of acidity unbalanced. Food would be good.

2021 Eden Hall Reserve Riesling, A$35, has a full nose, already showing toasty development and complex lemon curd characters. Hints of lemon marmalade flavours add more interest accompanied by subtle sweetness and texture. Bennie noted: “Mature scents of kerosene, honey, toast, brown lime and ripe apple. Similar flavours, toasty and honeyed, butter, lime curd. Lots of prickly acidity under this, a mature, sweeter-ish riesling of charisma and great drinking with a load of gentle development in place. In a delightful zone.”

2021 Flaxman Riesling, A$30, had widespread approval and was Murphy’s top wine. “Aromas of ripe white stone fruits, musk and sapo melon,” he began. “These deliver great energy in the glass. A mineral core then matched with lime, quinine and a dash of orange bitters, all working together to produce a wine with excellent length and texture.” I loved its combination of preserved lemon and stone fruit aromas. It’s full-flavoured and round in the mouth with light texture and there’s very good length. Caillard thought it “a glorious example”.

2018 Head H-Series Riesling, A$27, has fresh, lime cordial and lemon zest aromas with few hints of its age. The flavours are equally fresh, with sweeter fruit appearing and there’s excellent line through the palate. Bennie described it as: “Juicy, savoury, toasty and with lick of lemon and honey. Crisp acidity helps things along nicely. Toasty, chewy feel to palate delivers bell-clear green apple and brown lime notes. That firm, dry finish is a ripper.”

Demand for rieslings over $20 is on the up even as cheaper wines decline.

2020 Heggies Vineyard Estate Riesling, A$26, impressed Murphy. “An exotic wine from start to finish. Green mango, custard apple, ruby grapefruit and chervil are all aromas expected of a big style of riesling, but there’s a softness on the palate here, coupled with perhaps a little late picked fruit. Super acids, too, all equalling excellent drinkability.” I noted fresh verbena and citrus plus intense flavours and some texture. That acidity really helps the wine zing.

2021 Henschke Peggy’s Hill Riesling, A$56, gained top points from Bourne. He reported: “A delicate wine with bright floral perfumes of apple blossom and lemon myrtle. Up-front and buoyant. Intriguing fresh ginger and lemongrass flavours and minerally acid-etched finish”. If “buoyant” meant “expansive”, I completely agreed. The wine’s subtle lime aroma barely suggests the rounder palate and light texture to follow. There’s a suggestion of sweet fruit, perhaps sweetness, before finishing with good length.

2021 Henschke Julius Riesling, A$47, opened simply brilliantly, I thought. Wonderful intensity in its lemon aromas and these carry, expanding to wider citrus flavours. There’s great drive through the palate with good length and balanced acidity. Caillard also loved it, writing, “Intense lemon, slatey aromas with tonic water notes. Supple and flavourful with lemon curd, grapefruit, yeasty flavours, fine, lacy al dente textures, attractive mid-palate volume and crisp acidity. Good vinosity and torque.” I’ve enjoyed excellent examples of this wine at 10 years and over in bottle and I have no doubt this will also age well.

2019 Massena Stonegarden Riesling, A$35, showed strong appeal, with Murphy saying, “Everything in the right place. Some lovely aged notes here, fennel marmalade, nectarine and soft herbal edges leading the way. There’s a lime-scented lift adding freshness to the palate while the acidity, which is still vibrant and perky, is softly accentuated. Plenty of road to travel.” I agreed, liking the toasty and lemon curd complexity that the wine achieves while retaining freshness. The acidity plays a central role.

2021 Max and Me Mirooloo Road Riesling, A$30, opened quite reserved on the nose and yet the flavours built beautifully, matching the wine’s fuller, round style. Distinct texture and acidity maintain the balance beautifully. Bourne told us, “The fresh lemon thyme, grapefruit aromas pivot to a surprisingly rich texture with spiced lemon flavours and a gently persistent finish.”

Often younger, the blanc de blancs were among our top-rated wines.

2021 Mesh Riesling, A$35, was one of Caillard’s top wines. “Attractive musky pear, apple, lemon curd, flinty violet aromas,” he started. “Supple, fruity and minerally with plentiful musky pear, grapefruit flavours. Loose-knit, fine lacy textures and fresh, long mineral acidity. Has very good density and freshness.” There’s certainly considerable flavour and the wine’s quite full in the mouth, with an interplay of phenolics and acidity to finish.

2020 Mountadam Vineyards Riesling, A$28, is beginning to show lemon curd and toast complexity from development, but still shows freshness, assisted by crisp acidity. Bourne recorded: “Perfumes of fresh apple, white nectarine and guava morph to a harmonious palate with a spicy lemon myrtle aftertaste.” Murphy added “oat biscuits”. This is a full-flavoured riesling with a light grip to the finish, that’s fully within style.

2021 Orlando Steingarten Riesling, A$50, also appealed to Bourne, who wrote, “Lifted perfumes of lemon blossom and fresh talc. Zesty citrus-bright flavours. A taut, piercing acidity drives the finish to a seemingly endless finale.” The fragrant lime aroma is quite subtle but with the steely line of acidity, is typical of the traditional Eden Valley style. This will repay many years in bottle. 

2021 Penfolds Bin 51 Riesling, A$40, continues to cement the line as a ‘new classic’ for Eden Valley. Murphy thought it, “A refreshingly richer style with elements of nectarine, pineapple and lime. The effortless balance on the palate is fresh and light, with a welcome savoury edge. The finish comes with a splash of chalky acids for good measure. This is seriously good riesling.” The grapes grew on the Woodbury Vineyard, for many years a source of good riesling.

Crisp acidity was a winner when it came to rating the wines.

2021 Pewsey Vale Riesling, A$35, starts with an intense citrus nose. Caillard also noted: “Beautiful lemon, musky pear, violet, verbena aromas. Pure-fruited and delicious to drink with lovely lemon, grapefruit flavours. Fine chalky textures, very good density and integrated, persistent acidity. Very good mineral length. A standout wine.” The wine is fine and tautly structured, but with the flavour to be enjoyed right now. It will age beautifully.

2019 Pewsey Vale 1961 Block Riesling, A$26, split the panel. Bourne had no doubts, writing, “Lemon essence and wild honey perfumes mingle with exotic herbs and spices – lemongrass, verbena and thyme. Good depth and structure, combining to extend the finish.” Murphy and Bennie were also supporters, while I thought the phenolics were unbalanced and Caillard commented “dry, metallic”. The wine’s fresh lime aromas are remarkably fresh and undeveloped, so the wine may respond to bottle age.

2018 Poonawatta The Eden Reserve Riesling, A$44, has a mid green-gold colour and a beautiful combination of development and freshness, showing preserved lemon and toast. The flavours are highly complex and the balance tight. Caillard noted, “Alum, grapefruit aromas with herb notes. Well-concentrated flinty, oil skin, lemony flavours. Fine, flinty, slatey electric notes and long refreshing acidity. Conversation wine,”

2021 RieslingFreak No.4 Riesling, A$27, had all round support. Murphy noted: “Bristling in the glass, with Granny Smith apple, mandarin and tonic notes, softened by hints of fruit sweetness. The palate is rich with makrut, honeydew and Geraldton wax with perfectly focused acidity. Finishes with a dusting of chalky and mineral texture.” The wine’s beautiful lime aromas and flavours and overall finesse are striking. An excellent wine from this riesling specialist.

The production of sparklings has gradually moved to the cooler south of the island.

2021 Sons of Eden Freya Riesling, A$25, started a bit reserved, I thought, but opened up with citrus aromas and flavours, the palate with a little roundness and full flavour. Bennie thought it, “A juicy, straight-up citrus and light tropical fruit-laced riesling with a fine dusting of crushed rock-like minerality and a sweet lime blast to finish. Lovely drink, lots of freshness and tart, refreshing acidity. A very lively yet relatively straightforward style. ‘Delicious’, is the message.”

2021 Vickery Riesling, A$23, had an admirer in Caillard. “Intense lemon, lime bitters, chamomile aromas,” he began. “Classic sweet lemon-lime flavours, fine chalky textures, lovely mid-palate and fresh indelible acidity. Finishes long. Very minerally with lovely weight and texture.” Murphy and I found it a riper style, my notes adding, “Soft, round mid-palate, adding white nectarine to florals and citrus.”

2021 Z Wine Mae Riesling, A$28, appealed with its citrus intensity. The flavours build through the mouth, adding sweet fruits and finishing with good length. Bennie thought it:
“Pretty. Citrus perfume, lemon-lime, a touch of pineapple, fennel. Faint talc-mineral notes. Juicy in the palate, sweeter citrus fruit profile, a squirt of mandarin-like acidity with excellent persistence of flavour and mouth-watering, rolling tang. In the zone, very varietal/regional.”

Different flavour profiles appealed to some in the panel, making agreement hard.

Great Southern

2020 3drops Wragg Road Vineyard Riesling, A$26, starts quite demurely, with light lime aromas, but intensity builds through the mouth, accompanied by a crisp line of acidity. Murphy thought it, “A fresh wine, displaying hints of green mango, makrut, yuzu and chervil. A little lees/saline combo adds weight yet the palate is fresh and in check. It bursts with lemon curd, finishing with a minerality supported by a fine dusting of chalky acids.”

2020 Alkoomi Black Label Riesling, A$26, appealed strongly to Bourne, who was concise, writing, “Generous lemon-lime bouquet with a juicy palate and slinky texture energised by a zest of acid lifting the finish.” The lime aroma is quite perfumed, even floral, with its intensity shared by the palate. The wine’s fresh, well-balanced and has excellent line through the mouth.

2021 Castelli Estate Riesling, A$24, also found an admirer in Bourne. “Aromas of almond blossom and freshly squeezed lime juice,” he started. “Potent flavours with lots of energy, the finish shaped by a gentle phenolic grip, adding both depth and length.” This is a very fine, crisp style of riesling, quite classic and crying out for bottle-age. Its intense lemon-lime flavours will give pleasure now, all the same. 

2021 Duke’s Vineyard Magpie Hill Reserve Riesling, A$42, found the panel divided, but Caillard had no doubts. “Fresh pear, lemon, lime glacé aromas. Well concentrated with attractive yellow citrus fruits, fine loose-knit chalky textures. Very good volume and persistent, fresh cutting acidity.” Bennie and I thought that acidity too taut, but Caillard thought it had a “very good presence”.

2021 Fervor Dokta Nova Riesling, A$30, was, frankly, a curious wine. I found it full of tropical fruits, with suggestions of botrytis, and there’s no doubting its full flavour. Bourne wrote: “Lemon sorbet and gala apple aromas mingle with pickled cumquats and ginger root. Generous flavours recalling a basket full of citrus fruits, with a mouth-watering finish.” 

While some of the wines needed bottle age, others were best drunk now.

2021 Forest Hill Vineyard Riesling, A$30, pleased us all. Caillard recorded: “Pear, barley water, lime aromas. Fresh, linear and tight with good volume of yellow citrus fruits, mouth-watering bitter-sweet notes and persistent crisp acidity.” I noted hints of development, perhaps related to the tricky vintage, with preserved lemon and lemon curd overtones. The wine has considerable flavour and the crisp acid line helps maintain its freshness well. It’s likely not suited to long bottle-age.

2021 Forest Hill Block 1 Riesling, A$55, showed similar flavours to the standard Forest Hill, with preserved lemon and suggestions of development showing on the nose. The palate’s again full-flavoured, with plenty of citrus present. It’s quite broad in the mouth, but with sympathetically taut acidity. It would support flavoursome dishes and is suited to early drinking.

2021 Forest Hill Block 2 Riesling, A$38, is somewhat different, showing finer, fresh fruit characters, good line and elegance, and crisp acidity. It’s very much in the classic mould. Bennie noted, “Strong lemon-lime characters, almost essence-like, with sweet floral lift and light spice notes. Juicy in the palate, a little crispness and lots of freshness in tow. Vibrant, mouth-watering, tense and, though stacked with flavour, curiously delicate. A wonderful, taut and refreshing style.”

2020 Frankland Estate Isolation Ridge, A$45, highlights the success of this excellent vintage, with its intense, yet fine lime cordial aromas. The palate is finely structured, with abundant citrus and sweet fruit flavours. Light texture from a small barrel-fermented component and acidity complete the wine’s balance. Bourne noted, “Complex aromatics of spice, dried herbs and the usual array of citrus fruits – lemon, lime and ruby grapefruit. The flavours are intense with a compelling texture. Some (old) oak influences add complexity. Time is on its side.”

2020 Frankland Estate Poison Hill, A$45, pleased Murphy greatly. “A soft yellow hue speaks of exotic tropical fruits, honeydew and lime yet with a density and marzipan-like richness. Honey wax, melon and nectarine fill the palate with energy, reeled in by perfectly taut and true acids. Looking good!” I thought phenolics brought more breadth to the palate and agreed the flavours were a distinct contrast to Isolation Ridge.

While some of the wines needed bottle age, others were best drunk now.

2021 Harewood Estate Mt Barker Riesling, A$23, also appealed to Murphy, who noted, “A broader aromatic edge, with chamomile, nashi pear and stone fruit taking centre stage. Subtle notes of green mango and wax complete a rich and full palate. The tension and texture of the generous fruit elements are kept in check by some firm acids that keep this wine finishing in the right direction.” I loved the richness of its sweet fruits, rounded by a touch of sweetness and balanced by acidity.

2021 Harewood Estate Porongurup Riesling, A$28, has similar fullness on the nose, with citrus and a little stone fruit, but its structure is altogether tighter, with a strong drive of acidity. The fruit carries it, nonetheless. Caillard reported, “Intense lemon curd, a hint of marzipan aromas with herb garden notes. Hint of SO2. Well-concentrated and minerally with lemon curd, marzipan notes and pure, refreshing acidity.”

2020 La Violetta Das Sakrileg Riesling, A$39, starts with preserved lemon, funky reduction and hints of vinaigrette on the nose. It’s full flavoured, savoury and highly complex, with distinct texture. Bennie thought it, “Fleshy textured. Lime-lemon characters, bruised apple, saline mineral notes and some almond, nutty savouriness. A lick of white balsamic making that saline character lift. An expressive, crisp and refreshing style with a fascinating personality and level of quiet complexity. Quixotic.”

2020 Mount Trio Riesling, A$23, pleased Caillard, who reported: “Developed oil skin, lime pastille, honey, nectarine aromas. Generous and developed stone fruit flavours. Some toasty marzipan notes, fine lacy textures and indelible long acidity. Finishes minerally with flinty notes.” I noted expressive sweet, somewhat tropical fruits like lychee, plus white flowers. There’s a light grip, too, with acidity holding all in balance. It has a very distinctive, attractive style.

2021 Rockcliffe Single Site Riesling, A$35, starts round in the mouth, but evolves with distinct texture to finish taut and dry. Bennie found: “Stone fruit, ripe citrus scents, lemon and lime seasoning, with a sprig of green herb and some blackcurrants in the mix. Juicy in the palate, lemon ginger tea characters, a good chew of chalky pucker and a lick of crushed cashew notes, too. An edgier, textural expression, delivering a lot of character.”

2021 Singlefile Great Southern Riesling, A$25, scored well with Murphy, who noted, “A beautifully lifted nose showing pineapple, yuzu and cumquat. There’s an alluring waft of smoke, some subtle Provençal herb notes and river stone tautness through the mid palate, nicely balanced by some perfectly fine acids and a gentle saline edge.” This is a classically structured riesling with good length and overall beautiful finesse.  

2021 was a difficult vintage in Great Southern, while Eden Valley had a tough time of it in 2020.

Top Wines

★★★★★
96 2021 Flaxman Riesling, Eden Valley, A$30
95 2021 Singlefile Great Southern Riesling, Great Southern, A$25
95 2021 Henschke Peggy’s Hill Riesling Magnum, Eden Valley, A$56
95 2018 Head H-Series Riesling, Eden Valley, A$27

★★★★
94 2021 Chaffey Bros Tripelpunkt Riesling, Eden Valley, A$25
94 2020 Frankland Estate Isolation Ridge, Great Southern, A$45
93 2021 Henschke Julius Riesling, Eden Valley, A$47
93 2020 La Violetta Das Sakrileg Riesling, Great Southern, A$39
93 2021 RieslingFreak No.4 Riesling, Eden Valley, A$27
93 2021 Dandelion Vineyards Wonderland of the Eden Valley Riesling, Eden Valley, A$60
93 2020 3drops Wragg Road Vineyard Riesling, Great Southern, A$26
93 2019 Massena Stonegarden Riesling, Eden Valley, A$35
93 2015 Chaffey Bros Tripelpunkt Museum, Eden Valley, A$25
92 2021 Vickery Riesling, Eden Valley, A$23
92 2021 Pewsey Vale Riesling, Eden Valley, A$26
92 2021 Penfolds Bin 51 Riesling, Eden Valley, A$40
92 2021 Forest Hill Vineyard Riesling, Great Southern, A$30
92 2020 Heggies Vineyard Estate Riesling, Eden Valley, A$26
92 2020 Alkoomi Black Label Riesling, Great Southern, A$26
92 2021 Z Wine Mae Riesling, Eden Valley, A$28
92 2021 Forest Hill Block 2 Riesling, Great Southern, A$38
92 2020 Mountadam Vineyards Riesling, Eden Valley, A$28
91 2021 Orlando Steingarten Riesling, Eden Valley, A$50
91 2021 Max and Me Mirooloo Road Riesling, Eden Valley, A$30
91 2021 Castelli Estate Riesling, Great Southern, A$24
91 2021 Harewood Estate Mt Barker Riesling, Great Southern, A$23
91 2021 Eden Hall Reserve Riesling, Eden Valley, A$35
91 2021 Forest Hill Block 1 Riesling, Great Southern, A$55
90 2021 Rockcliffe Single Site Riesling, Great Southern, A$35
90 2020 Brothers at War The Grape Grower Riesling, Eden Valley, A$28
90 2020 Frankland Estate Poison Hill, Great Southern, A$45
90 2021 Sons of Eden Freya Riesling, Eden Valley, A$25
90 2021 Harewood Estate Porongurup Riesling, Great Southern, A$28
90 2020 Mount Trio Riesling, Great Southern, A$23
90 2019 Pewsey Vale 1961 Block Riesling, Eden Valley, A$35

★★★
89 2021 Auld Family Wines Wilberforce Riesling, Eden Valley, A$40
89 2021 Fervor Dokta Nova Riesling, Great Southern, A$30
89 2021 Mesh Riesling, Eden Valley, A$35
89 2021 Chaffey Bros Zeitpunkt Redux Riesling, Eden Valley, A$35
89 2021 Duke’s Vineyard Magpie Hill Reserve Riesling, Great Southern, A$42
89 2018 Poonawatta The Eden Reserve Riesling, Eden Valley, A$44