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Clare Rieslings both soft and austere


Whitey heads north into old Jesuit territory to emerge with two tantalising Rieslings made by a Barossadeutscher from an Anglican family.

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It’s nuts that a place like Clare grows some of the world’s greatest Riesling.

Those North Mount Lofty Ranges, where the greener south peters out into Australia’s dry red centre, seem galaxies away from the snows of the Rhine and Mosel, even the Pfalz. But Clare is higher in altitude, with a greater diurnal temperature range, giving quite chill evenings to temper its typical Australian summer and, while some of its base geology is three times the age of the winelands of Germany, many of its vineyards grow in ferruginous, calcified or slaty grounds similar to those of Germany.

The Sevenhill Inigo Clare Valley Riesling 2015 ($22; 13% alcohol; screw cap) is a blend of wines made from the four distinct Sevenhill Riesling sites. The opulent, more honeyed wines from the richer ferruginous loams give the wine viscosity and a pleasing, comforting gentility, towards the sort of softness you can find in, dare I say, Chardonnay.

On the other hand, the much older, slaty grounds give the same grape a bony austerity which can deter all but the hardcore, triple-X Rizza fiends. Here we get stiffer, more brittle acidity, and those drier phenolic tannins that leave the tongue feeling like it just licked a bowl of ground-up bone china.

This wine gives plenty of both of these extremes in a clever, harmonious mixture. It has the classic softer Riesling lime, but with other more austere citrus, towards blood orange, pink grapefruit and pithy lemon.

Given their lack of solid promotional dollars in a tricky market, there’s a temptation for Clare Riesling makers to avoid these latter, leaner styles. In this Inigo, winemaker Liz Heidenreich has made an unapologising, skilfully-blended admixture of the extremes: a beauty which provides the curious Riesling newcomer with a solid introduction to the best of Clare Riesling.

Speaking of which, her Sevenhill Clare Valley St Francis Xavier Single-Vineyard Riesling 2015 ($35; 13% alcohol; screw cap) is paramount. It comes from the richer ferruginous loam, from a 1978 planting of a Geisenheim clone, leading me to expect a softer, more lush Riesling than the austere, slaty models I tend to prefer.

While it certainly does provide this softness in the first part of its palate – even a comforting whiff of bacon fat – it finishes with extremely fine drying tannin, nowhere near as bony and brittle as the slaty grounds provide, but sufficient to give that genteel opening a brilliantly-focussed, bone-dry, appetising finish.

So. What to eat with these? The Inigo makes me dream of the fattier seafoods; the St Frank the bigger flavours you’ll find in dishes like the Twin Pepper Pork Hotpot at T-Chow.

To risk blaspheming, these hotter days bring the opportunity, or excuse, to drop a big ice block in either of these wines; even a splash of soda with a squashed cumquat. But there’s fun in risk.

Having grown up in a militant non-conformist Protestant family, I find naughty pleasure in the fact that while she runs this most Jesuit of Australia’s old (1851) wine estates, winemaker Liz comes from a tribe of Barossa Anglicans. Now there’s a minority group, if ever there was one. Ka-chink!

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