Served with Netflix on a Wednesday night isn’t your typical fine wine pairing. But, for many of us, it’s more commonplace than alongside a main of kingfish dressed with yuzu, kohlrabi and wakame at the hottest restaurant in town. After the usual too-much-choice streaming platform dilemma, we settled for Untold — The Race of the Century, a suspenseful retelling of the 1983 America’s Cup journey, with the Australia II team positioned as the inspirational, hard-grafting, have-a-go heroes, overcoming the snooty, over-confident, but ultimately wily, 132-year champions, America and the New York Yacht Club. It resonated.
My wine of choice to accompany this worthy doco is also a part of Australian folklore and hails from a vineyard first planted in 1847. Equally, this vineyard and the Australian wine industry share a story of unlikely success against an established, famously snooty Euro-centric culture. The vineyard is Pewsey Vale in the Eden Valley. Glowing reviews in the 1864 London Medical Times and 1867 Paris Exhibition attest to the early strikes against the old guard. Unfortunately, following its early successes the vineyard fell into disrepair as the market for table wines was small. Happily, in 1961 it was replanted and ultimately bought by the Hill-Smith family of Yalumba fame.
Perched high in the Eden Valley, Pewsey Vale is 66ha dedicated solely to riesling. In parts, it has distant views of its warm Barossa neighbour far below. Its exposed and elevated position results in cool nights year-round. Remarkably, it is planted almost entirely with cuttings originating from the original nineteenth century clones from Rheingau in Germany, which adds to the unique and distinct flavour profile of these wines.
Unlike most modern vineyards, instead of straight rows, large sections of the vineyard are planted in curves along the contours of the land. The original purpose was to limit water and soil run-off down the slope, but as it is managed today, with cover crops between vines and more than 10 years of organic and biodynamic protocols, this pattern is redundant, and is a reminder of the rapid and progressive evolution of Australian vineyard management.
A word on riesling for the sceptics: it remains the position of this writer that Australian dry riesling is one of the greatest wines we produce and importantly, with our warm outdoorsy conditions, is amongst the best, most thrillingly refreshing, intensely citrusy alcoholic beverage with which you can indulge yourself. Some newcomers to the riesling cult find its vibrant acidity a little overwhelming. If that is you, these wines, in particular, are a great place to learn to love riesling as they have the curious property of a very low ph but a flavour profile that doesn’t taste overly acidic. Instead, they have a certain softness and roundness to them.
In November, the Pewsey Vale Vineyard celebrates 175 years since the first plantings. As we review our history and reinvent our farming, this truly is a golden age for Australian wine. No longer a plucky also-ran, we are contenders.
International show results and widespread recognition from international critics, suggest we shouldn’t consider ourselves the underdog any longer.
Pewsey Vale 2022 Estate Riesling, Eden Valley, SA, RRP $26
Pungent lemon, lime and musky white flowers – peonies and lilies.
Packed full of citrus peel and lime zest. Dry to taste with a rounded mid-weight, texture. Bright and refreshing but not highly acidic. Supple and soft finish. 91/100
Pewsey Vale 2021 1961 Block 2021 Riesling. RRP $35
Please indulge the somewhat hackneyed metaphor … this wine has that classic ‘mountain-stream mineral freshness thing’ going on, then sprinkle in some lemon essence, kaffir lime and a smidge of sage. The mouthfeel is slightly powdery in texture cleansed with acid tension, and zesty dryness. Drinks well now, but will easily age for a decade.
Pewsey Vale 2012 (Museum Release) The Contours Riesling, Eden Valley, SA , RRP $50
Riesling with age can soar to heights of complexity and balance that few wines achieve. This is at its zenith. Limey steeliness makes way for more evolved flavours of lime marmalade, toasted almonds, dried flowers and honey.
Vigorous, zesty and fresh with a richness only cellaring brings. A beautiful, seamless and complete wine. 97/100