When it comes to discussing a wine region, many can’t help but talk about the region’s so-called ‘flagship’, or ‘hero variety’. Examples are Barossa Valley Shiraz, Coonawarra Cabernet, Hunter Valley Semillon and Tasmanian Pinot Noir.
When it comes to talking Orange, I actually think it’s a little ludicrous to highlight champion varieties. As Orange vineyards are planted from anywhere between 600m and 1100m, the temperatures and soil can vary greatly, therefore any number of varieties can grow with great success, but that’s an argument for another time.
Sauvignon Blanc has previously been touted as being a regional hero, which is a fair enough in a way, as I think Orange is growing some of the best Sav in Australia. However, focus is starting to shift to Chardonnay, which I think is the variety Orange is currently doing best. So, if I was to say Sav is regarded as the ‘flagship’ and Chardonnay the best wine at the moment, I would then have Riesling as the ‘dark horse’; or white horse, as this article has become very white-centric.
Riesling likes a cool growing environment, so there is no doubting that Orange has the climate. It’s really a matter of awareness.
Riesling’s have gone through a boom-and-bust period in Australia. The boom was when the sweeter Rieslings from Germany (eg, Blue Nun) were in fashion. But like a lot of things, people had too much and went from not being able to get enough to not being able to get far enough away from it. This painted a negative perception that Riesling is strictly an overwhelming sweet wine, which still sticks today. This simply isn’t true, as Riesling can be made in any number of ways, from bone dry to a sticky desert wine. If anything, it’s almost a victim of it’s own versatility.
The perception is slowly changing though and consumers are starting to give it a second go. Speaking from experience during my time working for Belgravia Wines on the festival rodeo, there were many who would ask to taste the more popular Pinot Gris, but there was also no shortage of people asking to taste the Riesling. While I still got squeamish faces at the thought, the glowing reception that followed after it passed a sceptical taster’s lips vindicated my faith in the power of the region’s potential for this powerful variety. So much so, it ended up being one of our top two selling wines on the market rodeo.
It still isn’t; and maybe never will be, a variety that sells itself, like a Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Gris, which may explain why Orange hasn’t previously focused more branding on this great variety. An Orange winemaker once said to me that you can’t make Riesling sexy. While I have nothing but respect for their opinion, I beg to differ.
While the Canberra District is producing the most famous and arguable the best Riesling in NSW, I think Orange can meet them head-on in the near future and maybe even challenge their crown. Big call? Maybe. But the more producers in Orange that get behind Riesling, the more confidence I have.
So, to talk about some of Orange’s great Rieslings, I tasted three different drops from the past three vintages. All great wines, but each a different style in it’s own right.
Starting with 2011, I’ve tasted Belgravia’s Riesling and those that know me well enough will know I greedily consume this wine. 2011 was a very wet and cold year, but I don’t believe in bad vintages, just challenging ones and having now tried a few vintages from that producer, I think it’s the best vintage they’ve had for Riesling yet. It may have something to do with the vineyard’s warmer mesoclimate, due to it sitting at a relatively low altitude (for Orange anyway) of 650m to 710m. Their style is very much dry, so lots of acidity. As for flavour, think green apple and lime cordial flavours. A super fresh wine and tailor made for summer time. If I was to pair it with any food, it would be seafood – lots and lots of seafood. Anything from fresh mussels, oysters, prawns, to char-grilled tuna. As for ageing, there is enough acidity for it to last at least ten years in bottle. If I was less-conservative, I would even go as far to say twenty-plus years.
When it comes to ageing Riesling, a good indicator for the ageing potential is the amount of acidity. If the acidity is sharp, fresh and in abundance, then it should age beautifully. Only word of warning, once it hits 24 months of age, best to let it rest for a further three years, as they often hit a flat point where the fruit flavours have dissipated. Once that passes, and the aged characters (tertiary) would have developed. I’m still new to aged Rieslings, but after five years plus in bottle, they can become richer, more luscious with toasty sort of characters and even whiffs of kerosene; depending on much sun contact the Riesling fruit had; the latter being very much an acquired taste. Personally, I like my Rieslings young and fresh.
Over to 2012, the Patina Scandalous Riesling. This is certainly more of a fruity, or ‘off-dry’ style. Those who were fans of Riesling back in the popular era of Germanic imports could relate to this. That being said, it’s not necessarily the same style. There is certainly more residual sugar in this wine, as the Germans would do. This doesn’t just bring out more of those succulent fruit flavours, but it also makes it lower in alcohol. As someone who is always DD, this is actually an advantage. As for the flavour, think gorgeous tropical fruits and lemon sherbet. But what makes this a great wine is balance. While it may sound like a buzzword, it’s a spot on way to describe how a good Riesling should be made – beautiful fruit flavours, complimented by a crisp freshness also. That’s this wine, tasty and fresh. As for food matches, I reckon pan-seared scallops and even chicken. While there isn’t as much acidity as the Belgravia 2011, winemaker Gerald Naef says he’s looking forward to trying it in five to ten years, where he believes it will evolve from fresh and fruity to become quite luscious and citrusy.
Finally, to 2013, the Orange Mountain Riesling. So far, this is my favourite for 2013. A drier style than the Patina Scandalous, but not quite as dry as the Belgravia, making the balance between fruit flavour and freshness unbelievable. Again, no shortage of citrus fruits, namely lime cordial and grapefruit. Doesn’t stop there though, as there are also some floral notes and small tiny spots of tropical fruits. How tasty does that sound? As for any great Riesling, there is also a refreshing crispness, with the acidity almost tasting citric. While this will also be a beaut with both fresh and cooked seafood, I’ll go out on a limb and say duck would also be tasty match. As for ageing, I think it will easily hold out for at least ten years.
After trying these three wines, I know that Riesling has a big future in the Orange region.
But don’t take my word for it. Go out there and taste it.