South Australia’s Clare Valley is known around the wine world as “the heart of Australian riesling”. The region’s supremacy is due to its cool climate, fertile soils and sloping blocks.
Some quaffers go nuts over riesling. Australia’s godfather of wine writing, James Halliday, is a riesling tragic as he confesses in his 2016 book, Varietal Wines (Hardie Grant).
His preference is for wines from Germany’s Mosel-Saar-Ruwer region (now known simply as Mosel).
“They are less weighty, but have a dazzling, diamond-like purity which sets every taste receptor in my mouth (and nose) singing,” he writes.
Closer to home, South Australia’s Clare Valley is known around the wine world as “the heart of Australian riesling”.
The region’s supremacy is due to its cool climate, fertile soils and sloping blocks where vines can be planted to allow shade. Riesling likes sun, but not too much.
I recently held a riesling up to the light and it looked like a glass of water. Despite the (lack of) colour, it had a deceptive, lemon-lime “sorbet” flavour.
As riesling ages those floral flavours and aromas subside, and out jumps a wonderfully complex wine with flavours running from honey to spice, as I discovered at a recent tasting.
Clare stalwarts Andrew Mitchell and his son Angus guided us through 14 vintages of riesling and shiraz by Mitchell Wines in the plush private dining room at Persone by Gambaro in Brisbane’s CBD. Mitchell the elder, part philosopher, part winemaker, charmed us with stories of early winemaking.
“We blended 50 buckets of shiraz and two buckets of malbec and called it claret,” he said. He was a boy when he first attempted to make wine, astounding his mother by blending it in the kitchen sink.
Mitchell is proud of his rieslings and annoyed by the wine’s limitations. “You only get one chance a year. So a single life is never long enough,” he said.
Riesling should be cellared for 30 or 40 years to bring out its real magnificence, he added.
We began our tasting with a youthful Mitchell Watervale Riesling 2018 ($24), intense and mouth-watering with a clean finish.
A procession of wines followed under the McNicol label. The McNicol range is usually not released until it has a decade in bottle. The vineyard bearing its name is higher than the Watervale block. The McNicol fruit ripens three weeks after the Watervale grapes, which are naturally sweeter.
“McNicol is a family name that dates back to my great, great grandmother, Ann McNicol, who married James Mitchell in 1782,” Mitchell said.
Now all the Mitchells have McNicol as their middle name, as in Angus McNicol Mitchell, the current winemaker.
We tasted a Mitchell McNicol 2005 Riesling (with a colour of golden straw) all the way to the ’19, the current release.
The older wines were steely and honeyed – and had great length. Exotic citrus, lime and orange blossoms, crunchy apples with a healthy dose of minerals were on show.
Each had a crisp, natural acidity. We all liked the 2019 vintage with its green straw colour and fragrant, flowery bouquet.
The current release Mitchell McNicol Shiraz 2008 has a gentle power, with dark berry and spice flavours.
Mitchell Watervale Riesling 2018
Intense and mouth-watering with a clean finish
Mitchell McNicol 2005 Riesling
Steely and honeyed, with a crisp, natural acidity
Mitchell Wines McNicol Shiraz 2008
Has a gentle power, with dark berry and spice flavours