Broad vintage generalisations anywhere are fraught with danger. They’re so problematic given just how much a harvest can vary from variety to variety and vineyard to vineyard. Like 2011 in the Barossa, which delivered loads of stunning, acid-etched Riesling AND loads of thin, occasionally botrytised Shiraz and Grenache.
As for broad vintage generalisations across a whole continent (ie Australia) – now that’s just foolish.
In spite of all that context (and call me a fool), but there is a bounty of enthusiasm across multiple Australian wine regions about the quality of the 2021 vintage. Of course, there is always enthusiasm when a new vintage drops (ooh shiny new things!), but more favourable conditions across swathes of SE Australia no doubt helped.
For example, after the smoky shitshow of 2020, it was a relief for winemakers to at least pick a few grapes in the Hunter Valley this year, let alone harvest a good, healthy crop. And after the disastrous yields in places like the Mornington Peninsula or the Adelaide Hills, 2021 seemed like a trip back to normality (whatever that means anymore #welcometoclimatechange).
If there are two varieties that manifest exactly what the 2021 vintage has delivered, it is young Semillon and Riesling. Typically untouched by oak, fermented cool with neutral yeasts, and bottled early, these two varieties are all about expressions of grape, site and vintage – so perfect barometers of harvest health.
And you need only to scan down through this collection to see a few wines in rude health…
Limefinger The Solace Polish Hill River Riesling 2021
Limefinger is Neil Pike’s retirement project, unsurprisingly focussed on Clare Valley Riesling, with this Polish Hill River wine sourced from a block planted in 1994. Sadly, last year’s 2020 releases of this wine and sister Watervale release went MIA in the post, and the first bottle of this was smashed (don’t get me started on wine couriers). So it’s a joy that this bottle made it through unscathed and unlost. It’s one moreish Riesling too. Smashable, in the best sense of the world. Green lime juice on nose and palate, the palate is compact, intense and concentrated, the acid persistent but not harsh. Long. Mouthwatering stuff. It’s so perfect in its counterbalance of fruit and acidity. Not hard either. You can’t deny the shape and the pleasure of this superb Clare white – yum.
Best drinking: now and then hold for a few years and then drink as an older wine for decades. 18.7/20, 95,100. 11%, $37.50. Limefinger website. Would I buy it? In a flash.
The Vinden Headcase Somerset Vineyard Semillon 2021
Just a few weeks back, Angus and Hannah Vinden announced that they had bought the famed Somerset Vineyard in the Hunter Valley. Owned by the Howard family for six generations, it was the late Glen Howard’s wish that the Vindens purchase the property, and so it has landed in the hands of one of the most dynamic young winemakers of the Hunter Valley. It’s a good news story. Now farmed organically, this fabled plot (replanted in ’65 and a source for such icons as the Lindemans Bin wines of the 60s to the 80s) features Semillon, Chardonnay, Shiraz and Tempranillo – although it is the Shiraz and Semillon that is most renowned. For this Semillon, the fruit is handpicked, then fermented on fine lees in a combination of tank, concrete egg and neutral oak. What a wine! Green hued, there is a fullness here that is so impressive, the palate intense, with the expectant green apple citrus and this integrated acidity that feels natural correct and complementary. Wow. It just feels so right and delicious, already. A benchmark Semillon that I want to drink – I may even be underscoring it.
Best drinking: now to thirty years. 18.7/20, 95/100. 10.5%, $35. Vinden website. Would I buy it? Also in a flash.
Castle Rock Estate Riesling 2021
I have an interview with Castle Rock winemaker Rob Diletti coming out in Gourmet Traveller Wine in the near future, and I’d highly recommend a read. If there is one scoop that I did leave out of the article it is what he likes to drink – which is Margaret River Chardonnay. Sure, Great Southern Chardonnay is good, but he rather prefers to swap Riesling for Marg’s finest. Meanwhile, there are now a whole smorgasbord of Riesling in the Castle Rock stable, and this is my favourite one. All free-run juice for the ‘Estate’ Riesling, it’s a water clear, delicate and pure style of grapefruit and acid-shaped wine with a certain natural vitality to it that is unwavering. Like a life force. It’s most pronounced when compared to the more phenolic Skywalk, which has so much of the same DNA but not the X factor. Pure, unforced and moreish – it feels like the ultimate summer drink.
Best drinking: right now. Sure, you can keep it, but I love the youthful energy this gives. 18.5/20, 94/100. 11%, $26. Castle Rock Estate website. Would I buy it? Yes.
Gundog Estate Hunter’s Semillon 2021
In contrast to the laser-sharp The Chase, this is intended to be a more approachable style of Semillon – but that is largely a vineyard decision as the winemaking is the same between the two (technical numbers of this wine for the anoraks – TA 7.2g/L pH 3.23). From the Tinkler School Block and the volcanic soils of the Mount Bright vineyard, it’s a lovely citrusy Semillon too. A little talc, the mouthfeel softer in the context of The Chase but still with tangy acidity. Freshness and approachability without losing shape. Bang on and delicious, this is a walking advertisement for how to make Semillon great now and well into the future.
Best drinking: now and then whenever you please really. But why wait? 18/20, 93/100. 11.3%, $30. Gundog Estate website. Would I buy it? Yes.
Parish Vineyard Riesling 2020
WHAT?! A 2020 vintage wine in here? There goes your narrative, Andrew! There are a few newish release Riesling wines that were too good to leave out, just like this one. Coal River Riesling, made by the Hill-Smith family (Louisa Rose’s notes are on the tasting sheet) which ties it in with Jansz/Dalrymple et al. Taut and well structured, wearing its cool origins with pride, this Riesling definitely benefited from more time in bottle. The flavours here are far from the usual mainland Riesling fare – more green apple, although not ‘I’ve been to the Mosel and all I got was too much acidity)’ teeth-rattling style. Taut, potent, all latent citrus apple power, simmering below the surface. When to drink it? There’s the question. Plenty refreshing now. With its grapefruit and currant hints and just a little grassiness still very prominent, you could go now or wait for later. Intrigue here, regardless.
Best drinking: see above. It’s pretty good now. 18/20, 93/100. 12.5%, $30. Parish Vineyard website. Would I buy it? I’d share a bottle.
Pizzini Riesling 2021
Don’t tell anyone, but this is always one of the best wines that the Pizzini family make. Sure, we can all get excited about the benchmark Sangio, Nebbiolo & Pinot Grigio, but this is often my favourite drink. Really well defined, with some musk and high toned florals, white pepper, prominent natural acidity, it’s an advertisement for the more fragrant end of King Valley wine. That grapefruit and white floral counterpoint is excellent. Simply unadulterated refreshment and purity.
Best drinking: now. 18/20, 93/100. 11%, $22. Pizzini website. Would I buy it? Yes, please.
Gundog Estate Wild Semillon 2021
Matt Burton’s blurb is ‘a fresh, modern and exotic take on a classic Hunter variety’ which is a fair take. On that point, Mr Burton does some of the most comprehensive notes with his wines, and on fancy paper too. Personal context and winemaking info too. Sure, winemakers can show off with their readable handwritten notes, and I even received a set of samples in a suitcase the other day, but nothing beats high-quality technical notes, and Matt’s are superb (on that point, tech data: pH 3.23, TA 7.4g/L, RS 10.1g/L). Anyway, some parcels for this Semillon came from traditional tank ferments, some cloudy in barrel, some with skin contact, some with residual sugar. I haven’t always seen the balance with the ‘Wild’ Semillon, and often because of the unnecessary sweetness, but this is better. Anything but classic though – especially in this lineup. Plenty going on though, with whisper of passionfruit and gooseberry, the nose a bit shy but the palate dancing along with a fizz. It’s generous and more even this vintage, the residual not out of place at all. For all that fun, it’s just a little lean, and the sugar just dulls the edges a little. Good, but not sublime.
Best drinking: nowish. 17.7/20, 92/100. 11.5%, $40. Gundog Estate website. Would I buy it? I can appreciate it (hence the strong silver medal score), but I’d prefer the Hunter’s more. A glass for me.
Limefinger The Learnings Watervale Riesling 2021
The companion piece to the Polish Hill above and it’s an affable number, although not quite in the same grandiose league. Defined, limpid fresh fruit and sprightly acidity, the palate threatening to be too firm and sharp edged, yet saved by a little late generosity – indeed it almost looks a bit chubby on the finish, despite the acidity. Ultimately very easy to like this, with a sense of openness and approachability.
Best drinking: nowish for mine. 17.7/20, 92/100. 12%, $37.50. Limefinger website. Would I buy it? Worth a few glasses.
Paisley Wines Cashmere Riesling 2021
Speaking of affability, all the new Paisley releases are going to win friends, and this Riesling is one of them. All the mid-palate generosity of 2021 Eden Riesling supported by tight lines. Lime, celery and grapefruit on the nose, the palate leans towards citrus fruits, then this slatey, lightly bitter back end,. Maybe a little greenish on the finish, but long, mouthwatering stuff of real appeal.
Best drinking: I like it now, but no question that it will Iive for decades. 17.7/20, 92/100. 12.5%, $30. Paisley Wines website. Would I buy it? I’d share a bottle.
Gundog Estate Gundaroo Riesling 2021
A brand new wine for Gundog, this time an ambitious off-dry Canberra Riesling. As ever, the challenge with off-dry styles in somewhere like Canberra is the balance, as typically the sugar just sticks out. This does a very good job of it though, with juicy citrus all the way, the palate like a cascade of succulent green appley and mandarin fruit. It’s still just a little blunt in its sweet fruit, but not unbalanced – like an apple dessert. I get the mode here and it’s really quite pleasant… but it would still be better as a dry wine, as the sweetness ultimately seems unnecessary.
Best drinking: now. 17.5/20, 91/100. 8%, $40. Gundog Estate website. Would I buy it? A glass.
Howard Park Mount Barker Riesling 2019
It feels criminal drinking this Great Southern Riesling now as it’s in an in-between stage, but it deserves inclusion in this list because the future is all mapped out (see this, for example). Yellow seeping into the straw colour, the first hint of toast on nose and palate. Yet it’s still bound up in grapefruit and lemongrass and tightness. There’s an enjoyable mid palate flashiness here which makes it, but this doesn’t feel complete yet. Excellent intensity through the finish though. Worth the wait!
Best drinking: Give it another 2-3 years. Then drink for the next ten or more. 17.5/20, 91/100+. 12% $34. Howard Park website. Would I buy it? A bottle for the cellar.
Tahbilk Riesling 2021
Tapping into that honeysuckle vibe of the old Mitchelton Print Riesling (although this is bone dry, and those wines tended to have a little residual), this is a crisp and tangy fresh white with a layer of jasmine atop the grapefruit. The chalky acidity grates a little, but no disguising the fresh appeal of what is a good, solid, well priced drink-me-now wine.
Best drinking: now is good. 17.5/20, 91/100. 12.5%, $20.30. Tahbilk website. Would I buy it? A glass or two.
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