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Australia explores new Riesling options

Clare Valley winemaker Jeffrey Grosset has placed the introduction of his first range addition for 17 years against the backdrop of Australia’s increasingly experimental approach to Riesling.

Jeff Grosset, owner & winemaker of Grosset Wines, at yesterday's Liberty Wines tasting in London
Jeff Grosset, owner & winemaker of Grosset Wines, at yesterday’s Liberty Wines tasting in London

2012 marked the first vintage of Alea, a wine which Grosset described as “more like Champagne” than the classic dry Australian Riesling style, citing its 12g/l residual sugar and pH below 2.9.

Alea is named after a vineyard planted by Grosset in 2000 on the hard red rock to which he attributes the less traditional style of this wine. Having initially labeled the wine as off-dry, he soon abandoned this “too honest” terminology in favour of the name Alea.

“You just don’t notice the sweetness,” he told the drinks business at Liberty Wines annual portfolio tasting in London. “It’s more honey rather than lime; the effect is like vintage Champagne.”

Having set up Grosset Wines in Clare Valley back in 1981, Grosset set this new wine within the context of a small-scale movement among a new Australian generation that is exploring alternative styles of Riesling.

“What’s happening now is that there’s a whole new young set of sommeliers and people in retail who are quite well versed in Riesling from around the world,” he told db. “They’re not put off by sweetness – they’re looking for balance. If it’s got sweetness, they don’t denigrate it automatically.”

As a result of this more open-minded outlook in the country’s shops and restaurants, Grosset pointed to the emergence of a small number of producers who are now responding with their own “alternative expressions” of Australia’s classic dry Riesling.

Emphasising that the movement accounts for “a very small percentage of production,” Grosset broadly welcomed the development. “It just needs to add interest without creating confusion,” he told db. “It’s a sign of winemakers being excited by the variety and wanting to explore. I think it’s absolutely fine.”

This evolution looks set to remain far less dramatic than the stylistic shift seen with Australian Chardonnay and Shiraz in the last decade. Not only is the current experimentation limited to a small proportion of Riesling production but, noted Grosset, “the is one bottle of Riesling made in Australia for every 12 bottles of Chardonnay.”

Comparing this balance to far more equal production levels in the late ‘80s, Grosset argued that Riesling’s “limited, quite specialised” following has enabled it to maintain more consistently high quality.

“The Riesling vineyards in Australia are generally in very good places,” he remarked. “There hasn’t been the pressure on planting like for Chardonnay and Shiraz.”

Nevertheless, Grosset noted that Australian winemakers have not always paid Riesling the same attention as its more commercially important counterparts. “There were years when Riesling tended to be got in quick and out of the way so they could concentrate on Shiraz,” he recalled.

However, Grosset pointed to signs of a steady shift away from this mentality, observing: “Lately there have been more dedicated producers, especially in Clare Valley and Eden Valley, and some new plantings in Western Australia.”

As for his own plans following this rare new launch, Grosset said he had no plans to add any further wines to his seven-strong portfolio. “In terms of our wine and recognition I guess we’ve achieved pretty much what I wanted to achieve,” he concluded.

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