The word ‘unprecedented’ has been used more than ever just recently to describe the worst the weather can throw at significant parts of north Britain, and clearly (whatever your own views on global warming) there seems to be plenty of evidence to show that the world’s climate is becoming ever more capricious in its apparent quest to undermine the ‘status quo’. The wine world, unsurprisingly, is not immune from this syndrome, witness the fact that Taittinger Champagne’s search for cooler vineyard space finds it recently buying-in to the production of sparkling wine in southern England.
The venture may sound somewhat revolutionary unless you take the occasionally held view that, historically, Champagne-style wines originated over here in the first place. Let’s face it, the chalky terrain of, say, Kent or Hampshire is not dissimilar to that of La Champagne itself. Meanwhile a part of the southern Champagne appellation, the Aube, is now regarded by local growers as becoming progressively too warm to induce the acidity required to produce a really successful Champagne, as had obtained in the region formerly.
My initial wine choice for 2016, however, seems to be a triumph of grape variety over climate. I have chosen a white wine from what many might not think was a first choice in supporting arguably the world’s most ‘cool’ patrician white grape variety, Riesling.
That Germany leads the field as the world’s most prolific producer of Riesling wines is an indisputable fact, accounting for around 60% of total market share. What is far less well realized is that Australia is runner-up in the volume stakes…and the general quality is not to be sneezed at, either.
You’d be excused for thinking that Australia, particularly South Australia, (a region which has only recently suffered an ‘unprecedented’ outbreak of damaging bush fires) offers far too sultry a climate in which to nurture a vine variety better acquainted with the damp, misty river valleys of its fatherland – but a little history is involved. Many of the earliest vine growers and winemakers of South Australia originated in Silesian Germany, bringing with them cuttings of the best vine they knew…..Riesling ….. an essentially cool-climate grape variety. Until supplanted in the volume stakes of Australian white wine by Chardonnay some dozen years ago, Riesling held an honorable place as the most planted white grape varietal in Australia as a whole. Historically (and climatically) the heartland of Australian Riesling production has been ‘down south’ in the shadow of the Mt. Lofty Ranges in the less heat-stressed Clare Valley region.
So what can I say about my recent discovery, Pikes Hills & Valleys Riesling 2014 except, perhaps, that it made its mark on me at a pre-Christmas tasting I attended at Australia House in London.
The vineyards first established by the Pike family some 130 years ago in the Polish Hills area of Clare Valley were revitalized in 1984 by the brothers Andrew and Neil Pike and are home nowadays to no fewer than sixteen different varietals, whites and reds, most of the vines being grown ungrafted. True, the summers in the region are fairly hot, but crucially both the spring and the autumn – important times in vine growth – are relatively cool. The local geology is helpful too, the soils thereabouts being relatively low in vigour potential – an encouragement for vine roots to dig deeply into their sandy clay oxide base in order to seek out nourishment. Equally beneficial perhaps, the vineyards have an easterly/south-easterly aspect that avoids the full burden of hot afternoon sun.
Although the Riesling in question, made by ‘rising star’ winemaker Steve Baraglia, is not certified as an organic wine it is certainly a minimum-intervention one, the more delicate whites, particularly Riesling and Viognier being monitored carefully to avoid any incidence of oxidation in the wines.
But to the proof on the nose and palate: the nose is pretty immediate, lemony-limey, citrusy-ripe, and the general style on the palate is just off-dry – (you certainly couldn’t confuse this with one of those aristocratic steely Rieslings from, say, the Rheingau!). The top ‘hit’ of the palate speaks of citric acidity somewhere in the lime-flavour spectrum, but beyond and behind that some complexity creeps in – a slowly-opening palette of softer, riper malic notes, apple, stone fruits, almost a lily fragrance. There’s gentle texture, too. All in all the aromatics are very subtle, and the finish is well held into the bargain. Delicious stuff in its own right as an aperitif, or to serve with a spot of cold chicken or perhaps a creamy twice-baked soufflé like the one featured below.
However you may wish to treat this wine, the recommendation comes with best wishes for 2016, and happy tastings ahead.
Country of Origin: Australia (Clare Valley)
Name of Wine: Pikes Hills & Valleys Riesling, 2014
Producer: Pikes Wines, Polish Hills, South Australia
Style: Off-dry gently aromatic white
Alcohol: 10.5% Vol.
Retailer: Oxford Wine Company
May I suggest the following as a pretty reasonable food-match?
Twice-cooked Pimento soufflé ‘Suisesse’. (Serves 4)
½ of a fresh red Pimento, finely diced
150 ml milk
½ clove garlic
25g plain flour
1 tblsp Parmesan cheese
2 eggs, separated
150 ml double cream
parsley, finely chopped
Heat the milk with the diced half pimento to scalding point, the whizz in a blender to combine.
In a pan, melt the butter and the flour together. Add the seasoning and the Parmesan cheese and cook, stirring, for a couple of minutes.
Pour on the milk/pimento mixture. Beat together well and then allow to cool slightly.
Add the separated yolks of the two eggs, and beat well to combine.
Whisk the egg whites until stiff, and then gently incorporate them into the cooled mixture.
Divide this mixture between 4 well-buttered ramekins, and cook them in a bain-marie filled with boiling water sufficient to come up to halfway up their sides at gas 7 -425F/220C – for 20 minutes.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool down sufficiently to handle, then turn each one out on to ovenproof serving dishes.
At this stage each individual soufflé can be stored prior to further cooking nearer the point of service.
Before serving them, pour over a little cream, sprinkle with a little more Parmesan, and then bake in a hot oven for 6 minutes. Serve immediately.
John Ducker – Member of the Circle of Wine Writers and Association of Wine Educators