Today is a bit of special in that I’ve pulled some bottles out of the cellar and am curious how they’re doing. They’re three Rieslings from South Australia, and they’re all from 1987-1989. I only picked them up a few years ago at auction, and they were rather old at that point. I have opened up similarly aged South Australian Rieslings with disappointing results, but I have high hopes for these. However, they were not hugely expensive, and I do have more of them in the cellar in case they’re very good.
The three wines are:
- Heggies Vineyard Rhine Riesling 1989
- Stanley Mick Knappstein Clare Valley Rhine Riesling 1987
- Pewsey Vale Rhine Riesling 1989
There are some things worth noting right away about these bottles. First, they’re all under cork. Today I think you’d be hard pressed to find any South Australian winemaker who puts Riesling under cork. Pewsey Vale, producer of the third wine, was the first winery to use Stelvin screwcaps in 1977, though they discontinued their use in 1984 due to consumer backlash, only to return to Stelvin in 2003.
Second, all the wines list their varietal as Rhine Riesling. There are a number of “Riesling” named grapes, such as Welschriesling which is unrelated to RIesling, or Wales for that matter. Then there’s Cape Riesling, at one point in Australia known as Clare Riesling, which is actually Crouchen, a French grape. Further confusing the issue, the name “Riesling” was used in a somewhat generic fashion in Australia to refer to white wine, often off-dry and blended from a number of grapes. Australia used to play pretty fast and loose with variety and region names before their export market caused them to toe the line, as evidenced by things like “Grange Hermitage” or “Sparkling Burgundy”. The term Rhine Riesling was to indicate that a variety was in fact the same Riesling grown famously along the Rhine. These days pretty much all Riesling in Australia is the genuine article, and is just labelled Riesling.
Finally, the regions as described on the labels is not what you would see today. The Mick Knappstein Riesling, like its namesake, is proudly from Clare Valley. However, the origin of the other two wines is only made slightly more clear upon closer inspection of the labels. The Heggies back label lists it as being from the ““high country” in the Adelaide Hills”. The Pewsey Vale back front label says the “vineyard was established in the Barossa Ranges”. People do in fact make fine Riesling in both the Adelaide Hills and in the Barossa. However, both Heggies and Pewsey Vale are in Eden Valley, the next regions over from Barossa to the southeast, between it and the Adelaide Hills. Eden Valley isn’t a new thing, but perhaps it wasn’t a region that one put on a label in the late 1980? I honestly don’t know, but would like to.
At this point I should write about Clare Valley and Eden Valley, the complete history of Mick Knappstein, and tell you everything I can about the three producers. However, that’s for another post, because the point of this is to tell you what these wines are like after 20+ years in bottle. One word: excellent.
Getting them out of their respective bottles was a slight challenge. I started with a waiter’s friend on the first, but alas the bottom quarter of the cork wasn’t as keen on coming out of the bottle as the top three quarters. The next two were a bit easier through the use of an Ah-So cork puller. All three corks were getting a bit mushy at the wet end, but were absolutely sound on the dry end. However, there did end up being some cork fragments in the first few pours of the wines.
All wines were a lovely amber colour, but clear and bright with no signs of cloudiness or fault. All had very good acidity, which has allowed them to retain their freshness. Likewise they all had petrol notes that gave a savory element to balance out the citrus fruit.
The Heggies has some lemon/lime curd notes that I didn’t pick up on the others, on top of the lovely petrol with a dash of honey. It has a medium body, with medium plus acidity. The finish is honeyed but without particularly long length.
The Stanley Mick Knappstein has the classic petrol nose, but with hints of fresh lime. The most acidic of the three, it was deliciously crisp, with more length and complexity than the other two, with a grilled pineapple finish.
The Pewsey Vale is the most savoury of the three, with a honeycomb element not present in the others. It shares some elements with aged Chenin Blancs I’ve had, in that rather than citrus the fruit has shifted toward quince. Still, very refreshing, but heavier, more savoury flavours.
I’m embarrassed this post isn’t more of a cornerstone for this blog – there is so much more that can be written about the regions and producers, but honesty I wasn’t expecting to write more than another morality tale about leaving wine in the cellar for too long. However, it turns out that these three have been quite happily maturing and are tasting brilliant. Fortunately, I have more in the cellar, and I look forward to digging a bit deeper into each the next time I open them.