Last week we tasted Rieslings from Sevenhill, south-east of the township of Clare. Moving a little further to the south from those Sevenhill/Spring Farm Road vineyards, and a smidge east, we find the Paulett family’s vines in the very old rocks overlooking the weathered sediments of Polish Valley, spilling down into that bonnie vale overlooking the entire Murray Mallee.
A whole lifetime ago – in 1983 – I visited that lofty hilltop with the winemaker Stephen Hickinbotham. Neil and Alison Paulett had just moved there from the Hunter Valley: I remember thinking what a dramatic change that must have been for them. We stood there gazing out over the Mallee lands, wondering about the flavours their brave new site had to offer. I remember joking that the next hill in that direction was in the Blue Mountains, with the Hydro Majestic Hotel on the top. We waved.
There’s a beautiful winery, cafe and tasting complex on the Pauletts hilltop now: perhaps the most picturesque site in Australia. Neil and Alison’s son Matt and his wife Ali are now vital parts of the team; they have 25 hectares of vines on that hilltop and down towards the little Polish church and that intermittent trickle of a “river” that flows north toward Burra and fizzles out on the flats.
When it rains.
Pauletts Rieslings have always been classic Clare: all those lemons and limes and crunchy, austere acidity. Their opening offer, the Pauletts Polish Hill River Clare Valley Riesling 2015 ($23; 12.5% alcohol; screw cap) is typical of their consistent style: all that bright citrus but with the beginnings of the more tropical lychee and rambutan fruits found in the best of the Polish Valley vineyards. There’s also an ethereal waft of summer wheatfields in the glass, a smell I often associate with some of the finest Chardonnay of Champagne.
The wine is not so much raw lemon as some of the vineyards elsewhere in Clare: it has the complexity and fleshy softness of Polish Valley, and then that bone-dry finish typical of the Rieslings of the rest of the region. Delicious!
In special years, they release a true luxury: currently, it’s the Pauletts Antonina Premium Polish Hill River Riesling 2015 ($50; 12.5% alcohol; screw cap). This wine is made from the first free run from the heart of the Polish Hill vineyard. It has everything I love about the standard release, but with a more sultry, smoky bacon pudge atop all that citrus. It also offers a faint waft of spice, like whole fresh nutmeg, or maybe its skin, which we call mace.
The flavours are richer and softer, and they seem to move into your mouth and settle there like they own it, rather than pass through it and over it. While the standard wine is the sort that seems hardly to settle in the ice bucket and the damned thing’s empty, this is the one that makes you sit down and think and stare and ponder. It’s a profound, provocative mystery.
More frivolous, even funny, is the old-fashioned Pauletts Late Harvest Polish Hill River Riesling 2015 ($20; 11.5% alcohol; screw cap). Made after what we used to call the spætlese style, it’s been kept slightly sweet. That extra dash of unfermented grape sugar seems to trap sweet honey florals in the bouquet, and adds a slightly fluffy texture to the regular austerity of the steely Riesling foundations.
If you’re feeling traditional and maybe a touch Polish or Silesian, this baby is perfect for elevenses, with sweet white tea and apple streuselkuchen. If it’s dark and late, I’d take it straight to the local Thai, and have it chilled with a table laden with chilli, garlic, galangal, coriander, lemongrass and all those other lovely lift-me-ups. Rock AND roll.
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