Call it a signature. Perhaps a hallmark, a calling card, or imprint.
When it comes to Eden Valley Riesling, one of the key indicators is a pronounced floral character in a spectrum from delicate apple blossom through to more fragrant lemon and lime flowers.
Head out to your citrus trees and smell those white blooms – you’ll pick the nuances immediately.
With Eden Valley Rieslings there are further extravagances: jasmine, lavender, bathroom salts, rose petals. It’s not a case of fanciful imaginations leading you up the garden path – these are well regarded aromatic notes recognised worldwide by grape growers, winemakers and expert tasters and judges.
They are an accepted part of the Riesling experience in many regions, along with the fruit expressions of lemons and limes, juice and zest. In Eden Valley, however, those floral notes are next level in many cases.
Why is it so?
As is often the case in this kind of discussion, speak to five winemakers and you’ll get five different answers. Together they shed light on the mystery and magic of wine’s sensual attractions.
Some things are quite clear: Eden Valley is a region in its own right, sitting within the greater Barossa Zone. It’s more elevated than the Barossa Valley floor and therefore cooler, which provides ideal growing conditions for an aromatic white variety like Riesling.
There is another issue to cover off before we go any further: the often-raised debate over the Rieslings of Eden Valley versus those of the Clare Valley. Comparison, it’s often said, can be the thief of joy, but Eden Valley is on average higher in altitude, with average lower temperatures during the growing and ripening seasons from October to April.
These factors most likely result in a difference in aromatic profile and a more pronounced fruit acidity in Eden Valley Riesling. That doesn’t mean it’s better or worse – it simply indicates a distinctive expression of the variety.
Altitude, and its effect on cooler growing conditions, is the most agreed impact on the region’s Riesling. Simon Cowham, viticulturist partner with winemaker Cory Ryan at Sons of Eden wines, notes that the delicate, floral aromatic side of Eden Valley Riesling results from the elevation of many of the district’s best-regarded vineyards.
“The region is well-suited to the variety as it has the altitude and, from veraison (when grapes first change colour and begin their ripening phase) to harvest, it can be quite cool,” Cowham says.
“It’s far enough away from the coast to have a slight continental-type climate – very cold nights and warm days. It’s also the altitude, so with every 100m you go up, the average temperature drops about two degrees. As a general average, it’s something we note in the Barossa, from the floor up to Eden Valley.
“So, what happens is cool nights and warm, but not hot, days help to preserve those delicate characters in the fruit.”
This is even more pronounced in the hilly vineyards of the High Eden sub-district, to the west of the Eden Valley township and defined by their elevation mostly above 400m. The Sons of Eden Freya Riesling comes from three vineyards – one in High Eden and two closer to the township.
“The cooler sites generally produce those delicate characters because they are generally impacted less by the harsher, hotter conditions that can diminish the floral aromatics,” Cowham says. Sun and heat exposure can produce a phenolic character in Riesling, which can result in harsh and bitter senses in the palate, swamping the variety’s finer palate purity.
The Eden Valley township and surrounding hills is an epicentre for many of the region’s best examples of Riesling.
One of them, Dandelion Vineyard’s Wonderland of the Eden Valley Riesling, comes from a 1912 planted vineyard under the much-loved village lookout where a large cross commands respect and reverence as well as extraordinary views.
For winemaker Elena Brooks, the old, dry-grown vines, most likely from original old “Rhine Riesling” clones, are her stars.
“We adore the old Wonderland vineyard and their beautiful vines,” Brooks says. “They give us tiny little berries that have very concentrated flavour and amazing florals.”
The old Riesling plantings in the region are another of its unique assets, with many vines anywhere from 60 to more than 100-years-old. With their roots established deeply, these vines are able to access water during drier and hotter seasons, helping to balance growth and leaf canopy to help in shading and even ripening of fruit.
Help also comes from the quartz and schist soils in the area. Brooks wonders whether the minerals in the ground also provide a character in the Riesling that complements the floral notes.
“I swear I can taste those mineral notes in the wine as well, with a lot of quartz in our vineyard,” she says.
She also has noted that those characters, especially the distinctive floral aromatics, don’t dissipate as the wines age. Riesling is renowned for its capacity to develop great complexity as it matures, often remaining exciting and fresh for decades.
“We’ve seen that Eden Valley Riesling remains tight and floral for many years. It’s the signature of the region that just doesn’t go away,” she says. “The wines themselves can become more complex, but that signature stays, those florals stay. They are so recognisable.”
Adjacent to the Wonderland is another older vine site, the Burkes Hill Vineyard owned by viticulturist Rob Gibson. It was planted in the 1960s, though he reckons they have all the gnarled wisdom of 160-year-old vines.
He’s convinced the low yield and concentration of the berries from here are the key to the aromatics in his Gibson Burkes Hill Eden Valley Riesling.
“It’s the older plantings that produce the florals,” he says. “My experience is that the higher elevations don’t have that much impact, though it may have something to do with aspect.”
His vineyard faces east and is sheltered enough from radiation and wind to nurture sturdy old vines with low yields and enhanced concentration and fruit expression.
“It’s called living on the edge,” Gibson says. (Gibson now offers a Day with the Dirtman – his nickname – tours including tastings at the winery in Light Pass and also a visit to the Burkes Hill Vineyard. Go to www.gibsonwines.com.au for more info.)
His Riesling winemaker, Andrew Wigan, celebrated for his many years as Peter Lehmann’s right-hand master of Riesling, the most elite example of which carried the Wigan nomenclature, reckons altitude does come into play in the aromatics, but it’s just one part of the terroir and winemaking puzzle that makes Riesling so engaging.
“The higher you go the colder you get, so you expect those more delicate Rieslings to come from High Eden,” Wigan says. “It’s also a combination of climate and soils, and in Eden Valley generally speaking the soils are poorer, the vines tend to struggle, and you don’t get big yields. It all helps.”
For Phil Lehmann, son of the late Peter, the lighter sandy loam soils that have broken down from the schist rocks on a vineyard just north of the Eden Valley township are absolutely critical in the overall terroir that promote the magnificent fragrance of his Max & Me Woodcarvers Vineyard Mirooloo Road Riesling.
“I associate the characteristic floral thing with the light schist and sandy loam-coloured soils – it seems like the more jasmine-perfumed stuff comes from there,” Lehmann says.
That, and keen management of vine canopies to provide shade protection while allowing ripening without sunburn, are among his main plays in producing such an attractively floral-focused wine.
And after all that comes the winemaking. Again, there are variations and individual approaches, a lot coming down to the ripeness of fruit when harvesting. Earlier harvest is noted by some as important to promote aromatics, while others wait a tad longer for more generous flavour expression within the variety’s well-known citrus spectrum.
Given the purity and delicacy of Riesling, winemakers also keep a keen eye on neutral yeast selections and how much juice they extract at pressing, the first “free-run” juices being highly-prized in keeping fragrant aromatics to the fore.
On the other hand, Phil Lehmann and Andrew Wigan also bring into play lighter pressings once the free-run juice has subsided. For Lehmann they provide generosity, drive and length; he also tends to pick his fruit a tad riper than many.
“It turns up the flavours,” he says. “You get more intense aromatics and the wine can be a little more robust.”
For Wigan, every vintage is different, and all the elements of nature, terroir, and winemaking are on the table.
“It’s a combination of everything that makes it so interesting,” he says. “And in the end, all I want is for Riesling to be able to express itself.”
Max & Me Woodcarvers Vineyard Mirooloo Road Riesling 2021
Eden Valley / 12.5% / $30
This is all about wow on the florals to begin, heading towards bath salts exuberance. A more generous style than others from the region and vintage, the aromatics hold their attraction right through the palate. Delicious drinking and great length. Absolutely superb.
Dandelion Vineyards Wonderland of the Eden Valley Riesling 2021
Eden Valley / 10.9% / $60
Incredibly precise styling with driving acidity, yet still there’s a natural citrus orchard aromatic from start to finish – lemon flower, leaf, then juice and zest to follow. There’s an underlying power here, in a Riesling sense, and the promise of extraordinary age-worthiness. (As a sidebar, the skins of this Riesling are used to impart a unique aromatic freshness to a McLaren Vale Shiraz – the Dandelion Vineyards Lion’s Tooth of McLaren Vale Shiraz Riesling 2020, judged the best wine at this year’s McLaren Vale wine Show and awarded the Bushing Monarch Trophy.)
Gibson Burkes Hill Eden Valley Riesling 2021
Eden Valley / 10.5% / $35
With celebrated Riesling winemaker Andrew Wigan at the steering wheel of this wine, only the best can result. This wine has amazing fragrant aromatics, white lemon flowers, crushed lime leaf and a regionally distinctive bath salt-like minerally palate feel. Part of that is about natural Riesling acidity as well, driving the wine in the mouth with lemon and lime flavours in command. Keep an eye on this for the next 20 years.
Sons of Eden Freya Riesling 2021
Eden Valley / 12.5% / $25
Recently awarded top gold and trophy for best Riesling at the Winewise Small Vignerons judging, this is the full package when it comes to regional fragrances, lavender, bath salts, floral spices, even a faint note of honeysuckle. All that prettiness is then given a turbo drive of varietal citrus acidity, powerful in a Riesling sense with a fabulous finish. Amazing value.
Read more of Tony Love’s wine reviews here.
When you commit to a regular weekly, fortnightly or monthly tax-deductible donation to InReview, each scheduled donation will be matched by Creative Partnerships Australia. That means you’re supporting twice as many InReview stories to be commissioned, edited and published.Donate Here