Wine Review: Pewsey Vale’s Regal Rieslings

16 03 2016

[These bottles were provided as samples for review purposes.]

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I believe, Eden Valley. I believe.

I’ve talked before about how valuable comparative tastings can be.  Want to understand what Malbec tastes like, or what makes California Cabernet different from the same grape grown in Bordeaux, or what oak aging does to Chardonnay?  Don’t buy one bottle and drink it in isolation; buy two or three, which belong to your target group or establish your desired contrast, and have them together.  In this case my research question was:  how does Australian Riesling age, and what happens to it when it does?  My sample set was about as perfect as you can get:  two Rieslings from a star region (Eden Valley), from the same producer (Riesling expert Pewsey Vale), even from the same VINEYARD, separated only by six years of bottle age and the winery’s Museum Reserve library release program.  The results were phenomenal.

The Pewsey Vale Vineyard in the cool and elevated (and thus strangely named) Eden Valley, located northeast of Adelaide and right beside and above the Shiraz mecca (and actual valley) Barossa Valley, is a specialized Riesling-only shrine, exactly what you would see in the textbook description of a great Riesling site:  cooler climate (brought on in this case by its 500m altitude), poor rocky soils, hilly landscape.  The vineyard is 169 years old and has the distinction of being the very first spot planted to grapes in the area; when it was first planted in 1847, those inaugural vines included a few plantings of Riesling.  After the vineyard fell into disuse and disrepair, subsequent owners recognized its potential and single-planted the whole vineyard to Riesling in the 1960s, using cuttings from those first 19th century Riesling vines to do so.  Today all of Pewsey Vale Vineyard’s plantings have been propagated from those original 1847 vines.

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Pewsey Vale (which shares my initials and thus is clearly awesome) makes three separate single-vineyard Rieslings from this remarkable vineyard, of which I am trying two.  The Eden Valley Riesling is what PV is best known for, at $21ish one of the great values in the world of wine.  It uses the bulk of the grapes from the vineyard to support its 4,000 case production.  The Contours Museum Reserve Riesling comes from the last grapes picked in the Pewsey Vale Vineyard each year, from old vines dating back to the 1960s replanting in a sloped, contoured section of the vineyard that gets less sun and so is cooler and later-ripening.  The winery makes the wine in almost exactly the same way as the base Eden Valley, except it then locks it away in the cellar for five years of bottle aging before releasing it to market.  Does that make a difference?  About as dramatic a one as you can imagine.  Let’s compare.

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2014 Pewsey Vale Eden Valley Riesling

This is a classic Riesling from a producer that clearly loves the grape.  It tells you everything you need to know about what makes Riesling special, and it barely clocks over $20, putting it in must-buy territory for me.  It’s a great introductory Riesling for first-timers because it lacks the sharpness that can sometimes be associated with this varietal without sacrificing its trademark precision.

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The Eden Valley was a clear bright straw colour with a touch of spritz in the glass.  It was soft yet aromatic on the nose, an alluring mixture of lemon, chalk, mint and white flowers.  Then it pounced, unleashing instant energy as soon as its first drop hit the tongue, a combination of electric acidity and eager key lime and green apple fruit.  Despite this tart and taut flavour set, it remained fleshy and giving, not the least bit austere, offering structure without ceding friendliness and approachability.  The wine finishes crisp and mineral, with a subtle rockiness and an ocean-spray touch of brine, lingering and lingering after you swallow.

This is priced in an entry-level category, but it could easily age for 20 years.  I’m just going to say it:  Australia (select parts of it, at least) may be the second best place in the world to grow Riesling after Germany.  Something is happening here.

90 points

$20 to $25 CDN

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Stelvin Rating:  8/10 (PV forever. Would Pewsey Vale mind if I made this my personal logo?)

2008 Pewsey Vale Contours Museum Reserve Riesling

At the risk of sounding corny, it was a profound experience tasting this wine immediately after the Eden Valley Riesling.  I would (rightly) call the 2014 PV Eden Valley a genuine, high-acid, high-mineral, serious Riesling that exhibits a clear sense of place.  Well, this is that cubed, an exponential growth into pantheon dry Riesling, with all baby fat gone, all safe softness pared away, leaving a pulsing core of power and identity that is unrivalled by most wines in the world.  I am not exaggerating.  What a difference six years makes.

You wouldn’t initially notice it in the colour of the wine, which might have been a slightly more golden shade than the 2014, but only barely.  But the nose is in a different universe.  All sense of “pretty” is gone, and the Contours has quick-maturing Aussie Riesling’s penchant for petrol in spades, along with a wall of stony minerality, like spilled diesel on wet pavement.  Astroturf, tar, rubber bands, tennis balls, river rocks and star anise round out the almost dank, eternally complex and strangely beautiful aromas, with charred lemon fruit a distant consideration.

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And the taste?  I’d like to serve this wine to everyone who scoffs at Riesling for being too sweet and lean back as their cheeks retract and their lips pucker from the utterly raging torrent of acidity coursing through the Contours’ nearly bone-dry frame (3.1 g/L of residual sugar, which is effectively undetectable).  The petrol continues on the palate, but the fruit returns, icy lime and pear, which gives perspective to the persistent petrochemical rockiness that pervades this wine.  A flash of pepper spices up the finish, after which your mouth continues to water for a good 20 to 30 seconds, a recognition of the Contours’ mighty acidic structure and a physiological salute to what you’ve just tasted.

I can’t believe this is almost exactly the same wine as the friendly, non-threatening, “entry-level” Eden Valley above.  Eden Valley Rieslings can develop mature flavour characteristics much more quickly than their Old World counterparts – which is NOT to say they are less ageworthy, as this one still has decades ahead of it – and Pewsey Vale’s Museum Reserve lineup gives consumers the chance to experience this amazing metamorphosis firsthand, which is an absolute boon, especially since this will show up on the shelf at around $35.  This is one of the very best Rieslings I have ever had, and I have had a LOT of Rieslings.  Words cannot fully describe.  I am transported.

94+ points

$30 to $35 CDN

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