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Rich and austere Clare Rieslings


Whitey’s been stopped in his tracks by the first great Rieslings of the season.

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O’Leary Walker Polish Hill River Riesling 2016
($25; 11.5% alcohol; screw cap)

Pacing from the kitchen to my desk, I snapped the lid off this and hardly was the cap away before a heady aroma of the lychees and limes of the Polish Hill River stopped me in the doorway. It overwhelmed the smell of sheep and wet pasture blowing through my windows; cast out the smell of winter. It was as if it had a pump in it or some magical compression was releasing a heady fresh essence of these fruits. Vaping. Like within a metre of pacing air it actually got right up my nose before the lid was properly off. It brought me to a halt. That’s a start.

Pour it and the dusty vintage sky of those old slopes east of Clare, their stubble and stone, seem to cover those fruits in a grainy armour.

Drink it and all that simply invades you. It makes me realise why Riesling scares some people. This type of wine is very authoritative. Rare examples like this can be surly organoleptic bullies unless you can handle it right out here on the front.

By Bacchus this a beautiful, tight, severe drink. It will last decades under the screwcap. This is as good as it gets.

O’Leary Walker Watervale Riesling 2016
($20; 11% alcohol; screw cap)

More broad and relaxed, the Watervale Vineyard wine has buttered toast and lime marmalade and just strolls right down your broadcast section like the person who owned the joint before … hints of cosy comfort aside, it’s a stone-dry piece of beautiful Clare Riesling austerity … remembers: advising somebody in Clare 30 years back to declare an appellation the opposite of auslese: austérité … “Which does not mean brittle”, I half-recall adding or hoping I did. Anyway, I’m teasing.

This Watervale will not be on the streets for a few weeks. You’ll see it go past when they let it out. Which takes me straight back to the Polish Hill River wine which should be everywhere by now.

After an hour on the windowsill it’s become an enormous rich thing, with whispers of spice market piquance beginning to stir way below. I was thinking, likely for the swillionth time, of which red variety best shadows Riesling. Nothing. 

No red grape demands such forebearing to drink easily, or maybe thoughtlessly when young, nor such patience while you wait for it to stop being young. Like Riesling is the little sister you carry on your back down the railroad track to school and then you turn around one day and she’s the empress, sharpening her trident.

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