Polish Hill, which is produced in Clare Valley in South Australia, is considered by many as Australia’s best Riesling. Among those who subscribe to this view we find the auction company Langton’s, which in the 2010 version of their Classification of Australian wines elevated Polish Hill to the highest level of four, “Exceptional”, where there now are 17 wines, of which 14 red (nine Shiraz or Shiraz blends; a certain Grange is always listed first and the rest in alphabetical order) and three white. The other two whites are both Chardonnays, Leeuwin Estate Art Series and Giaconda. On the second highest level, “Outstanding”, we also find another Riesling: Grosset Springvale. The Langton classification is based on interest and price in the auction market, but Polish Hill must be the “Exceptional” level that retails at the cheapest price.
Jeffrey Grosset (here in an interview from 2010) is not only known as something of Australia’s “Riesling king” (despite the fact that he also produces many other wines), but also for being a screw cap pioneer. There were those who bottled certain wines under screw cap long before him, or experimented by bottling part of their production in this way, but the real breakthrough for quality Australian wines under screw cap was in 1999/2000 when a number of Claire Valley Riesling producers, including Grosset, together decided to changing to screw caps for most of their production, including their best wines. Here is a contemporary Wine Spectator article on this subject.
Jeffrey is also known as the origin of one of the best replies to the claim that there is something more “romantic” about cork (you know, those pieces of bark that impart a cork defect in some 5% of the wines and oxidation defects and leakage in additional wines, in particular if they are stored for an extended period of time):
When Jeff was being interviewed on the radio, a caller called in and said, ‘You can say what you like about your Stelvins, but I love the romance of cork!’ Jeffrey paused a moment, then retorted: ‘If that’s your idea of romance, I think you’d better get out a bit more!’
Another of Grosset’s Riesling wines probably calls for a comment regarding its name, since I incuded one vintage of it as comparison. The label used to say Watervale, which is the name of a sub-region within Clare Valley. This was the case with the 2006, which featured in this tasting. From the 2005 vintage, the grapes have come entirely from the vineyard Springvale, within Watervale. From the 2007 vintage, the name was therefore changed to Springvale. On the homepage it is called ‘Springvale’ Watervale. Clare Valley Riesling with the vineyard names Polish Hill and Springvale are produced only by Grosset, but Watervale Riesling is produced also by several others, since it is the name of a sub-region.
And now the wines!
Grosset Polish Hill Riesling 2008
Light yellow colour. In the nose citrus, peach, tropical fruit, “sweet herbs”, a hint of petrol, rather sweetish, young nose. Medium bodied on the palate, (grapefruit), green apple, high acidity, bitterness, acidic aftertaste. Nice in the nose, a bit young on the palate, difficult to judge. I believe it should be cellared some time further before drinking. 87-89 p?
Grosset Polish Hill Riesling 2006
Light to clear yellow colour, slightly more yellow than the 2008 and the Watervale 2006. In the nose citrus (lime), some green apple, petrol, mineral, wax. Slightly more than medium bodied, yellow and green apple, citrus, high acidity, somewhat spicy, slightly oily, waxed impression, slight bitterness. 88-89 p.
Grosset Watervale Riesling 2006
Light yellow colour. In the nose citrus, pear, some peach, melon, some petrol. Medium bodied, green apple, citrus, high acidity, mineral, crisp impression. 87-88 p.
Fruitier in the nose than Polish Hill 2006, but somewhat thinner on the palate than Polish Hill, so for me it stays at a slightly lower rating.
Grosset Polish Hill Riesling 2004
Light to clear yellow colour. In the nose citrus, petrol, honey, flowery, mineral, slightly herbal, almost some botrytis impression. On the palate slightly more than medium bodied, yellow apple, citrus (lime), high acidity, slightly spicy and oily, aftertaste with green apple andcrispness. 88-89 p.
Grosset Polish Hill Riesling 2002
Light yellow colour (lighter than the 2004). In the nose citrus, herbal, clearly flowery and aromatic, some aromatic oils?, some petrol, slight smoky notes, mineral. The nose developed in the glass. On the palate slightly more than medium bodied, yellow apple, citrus, zest, slightly spicy and oily. In the aftertaste zest, green apple and acidity. Some zesty bitterness. 90-91 p.
Had a bit more weight than the other, so to me this was the best one. Approachable, but should develop further for a number of years.
Grosset Polish Hill Riesling 2001
Clear yellow colour. The deepest colour of the flight. In the nose yellow apple, petrol, lineoleum carpet?, some herbs, a hint of marzipan, mineral. Slightly more than medium bodied, yellow and green apple, citrus, slightly oily, light spice. 89-90 p.
Clearly the most developed of the flight, both in the nose and on the palate.
In summary the wines were ascetic in style, very dry and with high acidity. The come across as considerably drier and with less rich fruit than dry German Rieslings. It would be possible to say that they are built more like a traditional Chablis, but they definitely show typical Riesling aromas, and elegance. Polish Hill was stricter, while the single vintage of Watervale was somewhat more fruity. Perhaps paradoxically the wines initially appear leaner than what is typically encountered in the cooler parts of Germany, although you could perhaps expect a lot of fruit in a top Australian wine, in similarity with most reds and Chardonnays. To some extent this is just as it seems, due to the dryness and high acidity of these wines, because they worked quite well with food, so the concentration of the aromas are definitely there.
In my description of the aromas above I have focussed on the differences between the wines, but it should be mentioned that they where relatively similar, with the exception of differing degrees of development. Many aromas could be found in all wines; petrol and a lot of citrus, in particular lime.
One of the reasons I wanted to arrange this tasting was that I was curious to see how a vertical tasting of good wines under screw cap would play out. In case there are still people who doubt, we could conclude that these wines without doubt develop also under screw cap. Of the Polish Hill vintages, I found 2008 very young, 2002-2006 approachable but young, and 2001 the most developed by a good margin. That 2002 still comes across as so young is probably due to the fact that it is a really good vintage. Possibly, they had developed slower than could have been expected, but on the other hand it is wines with a high acidity level, and such wines usually take their time.
I would really like to see try these wines at more than 10 years, say 15-20. Unfortunately, my oldest bottle is now a 2003, so patience is required.
Although the tasting was interesting (OK, I’m not entirely objective….) and the wines definitely showed elegance, I must say that I prefer the German style of Riesling. I don’t mind a dry wine, but it doesn’t have to be as bone dry (lutheran?) as Polish Hill. Good German producers usually manage to have elegance and good acidity – to give balance and to make the wine food friendly and suitable for cellaring – in their dry wines together with a more rich fruit than I found here.
Continuation next day
Since I did he tasting with only six bottles due to the number of participants, no German reference wine was included. I had a little left of one of the wines, and the day after curiosity got the better of me, so I uncorked a good German Riesling to compare.
Grosset Polish Hill Riesling 2002
Retasted after one day in the fridge, around 20 cl under screw cap.
Bright yellow colour. In the nose obvious petrol, some aromatic oils, citrus, mineral. Medium bodied on the palate, citrus, green and yellow apple, high acidity, spicy, slight grapefruit bitterness, long aftertaste. Lean and elegant, some development but still rather young, could take more time in the cellar. 89-90 p.
Heymann-Löwenstein Röttgen Riesling 2002
Mosel, the vineyard is classified “Erste Lage”. Freshly opened.
Deep yellow/light golden colour. In the nose citrus peel, ripe yellow fruit, smoky notes together with some sulphuric or dunghill aromas, powerful. Full bodied on the palate, impressive concentration of fruits with yellow fruit and impression of ripe, sweet fruit, citrus peel, good acidity, some spice, rather obvious bitterness that lingers in the aftertaste. 90-91 p.
A completely different style, a totally different fruitiness in the taste with concentration and impression of sweetness. The bitterness reduces the score somewhat, otherwise it had been truly great.
The comparison between these two wines had probably puzzled those who are not familiar with the producer, because the wines come across as very different. The vineyard wines of Heymann-Löwenstein are always very powerful and concentrated, and can sometimes show a hint of botrytis also in the dry wines. (He probably claims that he only harvests mature, healthy grapes to these wines, because that’s the “party line”, but I still notice botrytis in some of them…) This is perhaps not what most people expect from a Mosel Riesling if they have only tasted the entry level wines.
The Swedish version of this post can be found here.