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Spring means Clare Riesling: here's a new quartet


Philip White has been playing Brahms and The Ramones with the Pikes.

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Pikes Traditionale Clare Valley Riesling 2018
($28; 11.5% alcohol; screw cap)

It’s hard to believe it’s 34 years since this proud label first appeared on a Clare Riesling. When I lived in Peter Doyle’s convict quarters on Sydney’s South Head he’d buy this by the pallet for his highly absorbent Watson’s Bay fish restaurant. Where’d those years go?

Neil Pike blends fruit from the family’s home vineyards in the Polish Hill River valley with selections from Watervale, Penwortham and Sevenhill for this Clare classic.

Clare, just to be clear, is not a single valley. It’s a web of upland valleys, gullies and depressions in the North Mount Lofty Ranges. Which somehow grows remarkable Riesling.

Beneath this one’s typical regional waft of dry summer meadow lies a basket of fresh lemons. How simple and honest is that? The bouquet’s as straight down the line as gingham, freckles and a dimple. If it don’t giggle I shall.

Similarly typical of the region is the palate: it’s much more austere than that open-faced fragrance: linear, clean and polished like chrome. It’s as if it suddenly feels a rush of embarrassment at how truthful it first appears, and then withdraws a little. But garfish or whiting, please, on a slab of crunchy, crusty bread with real butter; that’ll sort it out true blue if you haven’t got a decade to wait for it to grow some toast. Damn thing makes me feel like a picnic on some sunny springtime sward.

Pikes The Merle Clare Valley Riesling 2018
($47; 12% alcohol; screw cap)

From pure Polish Hill River fruit, this wine is immediately more complex and a little more threatening than disarmingly open-hearted. Without getting too overt, it has more tropical fruits and pears with its citrus pith, and there’s a sense of muscle and sinew beneath its smooth, clean flesh. Pretty clear from the start: this one demands polished linen brocade more than picnic gingham.

But that extra might and complexity also brings some soul and comfort to the flavours: this is altogether a more calming and luxurious night out. I see fleeting insinuations of starfruit, cherimoya, tamarillo and persimmon sliding by with the buttery pears in the lime syrup … this one calls for scallops on the half-shell, grilled with mandarin peel and dressed with fresh spring onion shreds … a bit of candlelight would suit. Brahms.

Gaelic Cemetery Vineyard Clare Valley Riesling 2018
($25; 11% alcohol; screw cap)

Neil Pike makes these two Gaelic Cemetery Rieslings from Grant Arnold’s Celtic Farm, north of Clare at White Hut. This opener is a cheeky, frivolous titillation. Regard it a little like a dry moscato d’Asti: it’s the picnic wine you have when there’s no bread, butter or gingham – maybe not even a glass.

It’s the sort of drink I kept in a wet footy sock in my panniers in the old touring motorbike days … pull over on the hilltop above Cape Jarvis and take a schluck as your eyes fill with the sight of the ocean and the island and your nose adds that bracing vista of aroma to these pretty Riesling exhalations. Ramones in the cans. Or dammit, take it to restaurant. T-Chow chicken.

Gaelic Cemetery Vineyard Clare Valley Premium Riesling 2018
($38; 11.5% alcohol; screw cap)

Something about the aromatic of this wine reminded me immediately of my old Shetland gran, Sarah, cooking smoked kippers. Butter the opened side, and put that face down in the pan so the skin keeps the aroma in … but then as a kid I asked her once whether she spoke Gaelic and she gave me a warning grandmotherly whack around the ear as she thought Gaelic was a Roman Catholic tongue … a love pat she repeated only when she caught me playing “The Flowers of the Forest” on my twelve-string, inside the house. You can tune a twellie so it has lots of drone notes, like bagpipes. But being a dirge to dead men and boy warriors, a lament of such weight could only be played outside, preferably over the graves, where the women never ventured.

Not to be morbid nor introduce grandma-vi. Let’s just say this summer dust-and-citrus rizza pulls my strings. If I were formal enough to line this Clare quartet up logically, I’d go Gaelic Cemetery (standard), Pike’s Traditionale, Gaelic Cemetery (premium) and then The Merle. Take the trip.

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