Earlier this summer our roving contributing editor and Michelin star chef, Roger Jones, found time to catch up with two people that, for him, make the best Australian Riesling. In fact, Roger argues that it is because of them that he first started falling in love with Australian wine per se; Louisa Rose is the chief winemaker at Yalumba which includes the Pewsey Vale Vineyards while Jeff Grosset owns and runs Grosset Wines.
Apart from the many treats, both from new and old vintages, Roger tries the inaugural wine from Pewsey Vale Vineyard’s new 1961 Block brand, as well as a very special spirit made from Riesling that Jeff Grosset has been distilling.
My passion for Australian wine is in some way the responsibility of two winemakers that excel in making wine with the noble Riesling grape. Therefore it was a great privilege and pleasure to catch up with both these Australian royalty earlier this summer.
Louisa Rose is the chief winemaker at Yalumba, which includes the historic Pewsey Vale Vineyard. Louisa started at Yalumba as a cellar hand back in 1992 and over 25 years has gained invaluable knowledge and guidance prior to taking over the mantle herself in 2006. The Pewsey Vale Vineyard is based in Eden Valley, and was first planted by Captain Joseph Gilbert in 1847. Purchased by the Robert Hill Smith family in the 1960s with the vision of making one variety from one vineyard.
Jeff Grosset established Grosset in 1981, his ‘Springvale’ and ‘Polish Hill’ Rieslings need no introduction, production is a mere 11,000 cases annually.
The winery is based in Auburn at the entrance of The Clare Valley.
Both utilise a screw cap philosophy with Pewsey Vale being first bottled in screw cap in 1977 while Jeff has been a huge supporter since he started at Grosset.
Tasting a range of Pewsey Vale vintages
Up until this year there were three Rieslings in the Pewsey Vale repertoire, but it has now launched a new label – the Pewsey Vale Vineyard 1961 Block Riesling.
Pewsey Vale Vineyard Prima Riesling, 2016
Luscious full flavoured with white cherries and lychees, perfumed fruits, mango, mandarin, summer flowers, ages well with a toasty character evolving. Residual Sugar 23.7 Alcohol: 9.5 %
Pewsey Vale Vineyard Eden Valley Riesling, 2017
The 2017 Pewsey Vale Vineyard Riesling is a classic example of dry Eden Valley Riesling, showing the generous flavours that are consistent every year. Pale straw in colour with green hues. Lovely aromas gentle herbs, white flowers, lemon and lime. Grapefruit and lime, fresh rosemary, white pepper and a hint of tropical fruit on the palate. There is a lovely fresh minerality to the finish. Residual Sugar 0.9 Alcohol 12.5%
Pewsey Vale Vineyard The Contours Museum Release, 2012
Produced from old vines farmed on the coolest slope. Bottle ageing for five years before release transforms fresh lemon and floral aromatics into a complex wine of limes and brioche. Further richness and complexity will accumulate over future decades.
Lemon oil and white flowers on the nose, toasty and lemongrass evolve on the nose, deep flavours with layers of texture; whilst it is a concentrated wine the fresh zesty lime gives it a perfect balance, brioche and lime marmalade with some sage oil in the background – these wines age for years. Residual Sugar 1.8 Alcohol 12.5%
Pewsey Vale Vineyard 1961 Block, 2017 (inaugural release)
Louisa Rose states that “the 1961 Block Riesling, is a new interpretation of Riesling from this historic vineyard. The 1961 Block comes from the oldest vines at Pewsey Vale. Located in the centre of the amphitheatre on a gentle slope that faces due north and embraces the sun from its first to its last rays, this block is the ‘dress circle’ of Pewsey Vale.”
“The contours that the vineyard is planted on form natural terraces that maximise the effectiveness of the precious rain when it falls and helps to stop any erosion of the ancient gravel soil. This wine is proof that a healthy biodiverse vineyard needs little winemaking intervention as the grapes and yeast from the vineyard combine perfectly to make this wine.”
This wine has an incredible purity to it: focused, steely, lime, citrus, hints of yuzu, vibrant, it was shining out of the glass with a glow that brings a smile to your face. This is a very special wine that delivers another excellence in the Pewsey Vale camp. Residual Sugar: 0.6 Alcohol: 12.5%
And then there were the Pewsey Vale back vintages
For years I have collected Australian Rieslings and allowed them to mature gracefully in our cellars and there are two main benefits to this, first and foremost I believe that these wines evolve to a different level after a decade, a level that puts them on a par with the very best from the Rhine and Alsace, up there with the Clos St Hunes, Zind Humbrecht, Von Buhl and Donnhoff.
Secondly, and just as important, the cost of holding these are minute compared to collecting top German Rieslings and the rewards are equal both in quality and financially.
Louisa very kindly showcased some of her back vintages, which saved me opening any of my own personal stock.
Pewsey Vale Riesling, 1982
Stunning, the purity texture and depth of this wine is awesome, there is a freshness that defies the age, gentle perfume of apricots, there is lime marmalade, brioche and toast dripping in warm honey. Above all is the clean freshness on the finish that entices you back into the fold. The winemaker was Alan Hoey and closure was by stelvin. Residual Sugar 6.1 Alcohol: 11.5%
Pewsey Vale The Contours Riesling, 2005
Clean fresh elegant, lime marmalade, clove oil, still youthful but evolving perfectly. Residual Sugar: 6.2 Alcohol: 12.5%
Understanding Grosset from a clone perspective
Jeff is very focused in his pursuit of excellence, his Rieslings are sourced from three vineyards – Polish Hills, Springvale and Rockwood (Alea) – Rieslings that express the dramatic differences between soft and hard rock sites.
Jeff says “our challenge is to make the most of this unpolluted environment. We work organically and are not afraid to use different approaches to show grape variety and vineyard at their best. I also see an opportunity with the global change in weather to make even better wines.”
Jeff led a masterclass showcasing three different tank samples of the 2018 Springvale vintage, highlighting the three different Riesling clones he uses and what each clone brings to his wines.
The three clones:
Clone GM110 – tight bunches, floral, Germanic and spiced
Clone 156 – rare clone from Jesuit inspiration, loose bunch, mellow, spiced, limes, steely
Clone GM198 – most common used in Australia – spiced, luscious, generous
‘Alea’ Clare Valley Riesling 2017
First vintage was 2012, Jeff describes these vines are more typical in style to the European dry Riesling. Bright, clean nose, vibrant, fresh, focused, full flavour and carries it well. Lemongrass and lime, perfect balance between the natural acidity and fruit sweetness. Certainly his best ‘Alea’ to date. Residual Sugar: 10.7 Alcohol: 12%
Springvale Clare Valley Riesling, 2017 (from magnum)
Lime and Lemon blossom, layers of spiced fresh lime juice, purity is sublime with that lovely wet stone background, vibrant pure and delivers perfect from magnum. Residual Sugar: 2.1 Alcohol: 12.5%
Polish Hill Clare Valley Riesling, 2017 (from magnum)
The eight-hectare Polish Hill vineyard, according to Jeff, “has infertile, shaley soil, slightly acidic and its topsoil has a clay and shale crust forcing the vines to work much harder.” Not a glowing report! but the small, distinctly flavoured, concentrated berries produce exquisite wines.
The 2017 Polish Hill was harvested significantly later than the norm, producing (in Jeff’s words) “an extraordinary wine.” The wine has a floral nose with aromatics of talc and lavender, fresh and youthful on the palate, quite excitable, lashings of juicy lime, intense and beautiful ultra-dry finish. A wine to age, come back to in 2027 to retry. Acidity: 7.1 Alcohol: 12.7%
Tasting Grosset with age – with and without food
Like with the Pewsey Vale wines these evolve with age and become masterpieces.
Grosset Polish Hill Riesling, 2002
Recognised as one of the finest of recent years this has yet to reach its potential but already delivers a superlative wine. Slatey, lime-encrusted, lingering but focused – a superstar.
Grosset Polish Hill Riesling, 2005
I tried this a few weeks ago and clearly this is rather special, perfectly matched to a few shrimps on the barbie. The freshness and mouthwatering, lime-focused wine enthralls and oozes with juicy minerality and zestiness and vibrancy that perfectly matched the shellfish. Layers and layers of structure and flavour.
‘Grosset 45’ Spirit
Jeff’s fascination with the ancient art of distillation has led to the creation of an unique sprit from Riesling, distilled once only. There are no botanicals, colour or flavour used – a truly unique 100% pure spirit. This was perfumed, clean, delicate and balanced, silky smooth.