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Dry trend benefits Aussie whites

WHEN we think of Australian wines we usually think weighty Shirazes, oaky Chardonnays or dry, textured Semillons. But there are some new kids in town, bracingly dry and fresh Rieslings. In realms of Aussie winemaking perhaps no white variety is receiving as much acclaim as the Rieslings from Clare Valley and Eden Valley.

The home of Riesling is, of course, Germany where some of the greatest whites are made. German Rieslings don't receive as much attention as they merit because so many of these wines from Kabinett to Auslese exude sweetness while palates around the world continue to evolve toward more dry wines. This movement to dry wines is however a fortuitous trend for Australian Rieslings.

Clare Valley

If you could pick a perfect climate to cultivate Riesling it would be a lot like the climate that Clare Valley enjoys. The region has an elevation of 400 to 500 meters with a moderate continental climate featuring warm to hot days and cool to cold evenings. The heat of the day provides the necessary ripeness while the cool evenings offset the heat of the day and allow the fruit to ripen slowly and more evenly. The dry summers mitigate the presence of fungal diseases and pests. Put all these factors together and add in some of Australia's best winemakers and the result is world-class Rieslings.

Winemaking in Clare Valley dates back to the 1840s when the valley was first settled by John Horrocks and his servant John Green. It was Green who planted the first vines. In 1848, winemaking in Clare Valley received another boost when Jesuits escaping persecution in Silesia, Poland settled in the area and planted more vines. Today the region has about 50 wineries most of whom are medium to small in size and specialize in quality wines, especially Rieslings.

The typical Clare Valley Riesling offers intense citrus flavors with good minerality and high natural acidity, making these whites some of the most stylish and clean white wines in Australia. It's also interesting to note that Clare Valley producers were among the first to switch from the traditional cork closure to the Stelvin screwcap rightfully believing the new screwcap better-preserved the fresh flavors of their wines.

As with almost every place in the wine world, choosing the right producers is critical. Some of the top producers whose wine you can find in Shanghai are Pikes, a relatively large producer with consistently delicious and distinctive wines, Knappstein, a small producer making exciting wines with typicity, and Petaluma, a highly esteemed producer that makes wines in many regions of Australia including Clare Valley.

Eden Valley

Similar to Clare Valley, the vineyards in Eden Valley are perched at elevations between 400 and 600 meters and enjoy hot days and cool evenings. Nestled between the Barossa range of mountains, this rough and hilly region has porous loamy sand soils allowing for good drainage and some clay soils that have more water retention. Sounds complicated, but in essence it allows the roots of the vines to grow deep into the soil in search of water and nutrients and these factors result in wines of greater intensity and complexity.

Samuel Smith first planted vines in Eden Valley in 1849 and within two decades the wine industry was thriving. In the late 1850s Johann Christian Henschke planted vineyards in Eden Valley, as well as in Barossa, and the family-owned Henschke winery remains one of the great names in Australian winemaking today.

The Rieslings of Eden Valley commonly offer generous lime and mineral aromas and flavors, and high natural acidity. Many wines also exhibit an intriguing zesty or spicy nature that tickles the palate. Unlike most Aussie white wines, these Rieslings age remarkably well and develop more ripe lime and marmalade flavors as they mature.

Recommended producers with wines available in Shanghai include the aforementioned Henschke and Grosset, another top Aussie producer making world-renowned wines. Grosset also has a new Eden Valley label called Mesh that's making prize-winning wines.

Natural companions

The dry and fresh nature of these wines makes them suitable for all types of seafood and light salads. The intensity and complexity of these Rieslings means they also partner well with white meat dishes. Many connoisseurs around the world think the Riesling variety is one of the best grapes to pair with Chinese cuisines. In particular, I recommend Clare Valley or Eden Valley wines with three of my favorite Shanghai dishes: Pot-stewed goose, steamed freshwater herring and drunken chicken.


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