By: Our Correspondent

riesling_nb_nd  

Establishing the
criteria for the best-value white wine producer of the year,
encompassing both the new and old worlds, is not about identifying
the best cheapest white wine on the market. Rather, it is about
price-quality rapport, consistency of quality, distinctiveness,
synergy in the Asian market and how it compares on the world wine
stage. Mitchell Watervale Riesling over-delivers in every aspect.

Having followed this
winery for over two decades I can attest to their consistency of
quality. A vertical tasting of 2000 to 2006 vintages reaffirms their
unfailing capabilities. It is a single varietal wine, namely the
noble Riesling grape and totally expressive of the ancient soils of
the Watervale vineyards, a distinctive Australian terroir that is
much under-appreciated on the world wine stage. As for value, clearly
it is a bargain and a wine of such provenance would no doubt be
treble the price it hailed from Germany or France.

Winery Profile

Jane and Andrew
Mitchell established their winery on the Mitchell family property in
1975. The Watervale Riesling has been produced since 1977 although
their largest Watervale vineyard was acquired in 1995, which was
planted back in 1960 (58 year-old vines) and has always been
dry-grown, without irrigation. This is a hands-on family-run
property, Andrew as the viticulturist and winemaker and Jane managing
the business and marketing. Australians have a tendency to downplay
their successes and Andrew Mitchell tries to hide his behind a humble
personality along with an eccentric aloofness. Yet clearly he is an
intellectual winemaker-farmer and a careful listener with the
demeanor of an English gentleman. Jane, on the other hand, is
assertive and boisterous, with an infectious jocular personality. She
is a marketing dynamo and a resolute campaigner for the Clare Valley
region, commanding audiences like a sergeant-major barking out orders
on a parade ground yet seizing on every moment to have a good laugh.

Terroir &
Vintage Synopsis

It is often overlooked
that the Australian continent was forged at the beginning of Earth's
formation in the Archaean period. The Australian landscape has some
of the oldest rocks in the world (3.7 billion years) and special rock
"windows" that tell us about the geological age of the
planet and the origins of life. Much of Australia's ancient
metamorphic crust has eroded over the passage of time, with tectonic
plate movements creating mountains and ranges, such as Mount Horrocks
and the Clare Valley's U-shaped ranges. Almost all the rock in the Clare Valley is of sedimentary origin, from a period between 800 and
500 million years ago, during the Neoproterozoic era. The receding
oceans and glacial movements that linked Australia with Antarctica
deposited silt, sand and carbonate in a largely marine sedimentary
basin, forming chalk, limestone, sandstone and shale with top-soils
rich in minerals.

Mitchell Watervale
vineyard is unequivocally an extraordinary terroir, with red loam
soils over limestone and calcareous rocks, the old vine roots
reaching deep in to the subsoils and delivering an accentuated
minerality in wine. It is a dry Mediterranean climate however, at
1,300 feet (396 meters) above sea level, both altitude and sea
breezes off the Spencer Gulf and Great Southern Ocean temper the hot,
sunny days with very cool evenings enhancing the natural acidities,
vital to Riesling. Vintage conditions are detailed under tasting
notes.

Winemaking

“Actually, we do
very little, just hand-pick our dry-grown grapes and ferment with
natural yeasts to make a wine with intense varietal fruit flavors and
definitive regional character,” Andrew Mitchell declares. This
is of course an oversimplification. In reality viticulture is a
demanding science and as in any agricultural endeavor it is at the
mercy of the weather.

While Riesling is a
grape variety that can be left much to its own devices, being
fermented in stainless tank with no adulteration from oak maturation
or secondary-fermentation, it is particularly sensitive to
oxidization and the condition that the grapes arrive at the winery is
paramount, furthermore the manner in which the grapes are crushed. It
requires scrupulous handling in the winemaking process and an
intimate knowledge of one’s vineyard and grapes to achieve the
transparency of the terroir.

Tasting Notes

Wine notes in vertical
tastings can appear repetitious however; it is highly desirable for
there to be common threads and homogenous characters than define the
vineyards personality, which also indicates the winemaker’s
ability to make a consistent style within the unique qualities of the
vintage. The underlying chassis of Mitchell Watervale Riesling is the
chalky, limestone mineral characters that are clearly evident in all
the wines, enhanced by a fine phenolic that leaves a chalky dry
sensation towards the finish. There is persistent zest of limes and
lemon along with fresh cut apple in both bouquet and flavor with a
racy, invigorating freshness and a congruous sense of summer fields,
straw and hay. All the wines showed vibrant fruit with warmer
vintages displaying more exotic, tropical tones but always balanced
by impressive natural acidity.

2006 Mitchell Watervale
Riesling:
Floral perfume of summer fields, lemon-scented and fresh
cut apple among peach and apricot with chalky minerals in the
background. Palate entry is juicy with mandarin flavors, tangy and
mouth-watering, becoming richer with stone fruit and guava and quite
viscous with a touch of creaminess to the mid-palate, suggesting a
riper year. Intensity increases with concentrated lime-juice, a
powerful finish and persistent length of zingy lemon-edged acidity
and tingling spiciness: superb drinking now as a youthful and vibrant
dry Riesling, and should age well over 10 years.

2006 vintage
conditions: “Very hot January but vines coped well as the heat
waves came before veraison (the stage when grapes begin to soften and
gain color).We had very mild weather in the critical ripening period
(February), ideal for natural balance of sugar flavor and acidity in
the grapes.”


2005 Mitchell
Watervale Riesling:
Scents of wallflower and straw-hay barn
characters, sweet lemon tart with hints of stone fruit and tropical
tones, pronounced chalk and wet gravel minerals. Racy palate entry
bursting with zesty lemon-lime, fleshing out to nectarine, peachy
mid-plate succulence and sweetness than back flipping in to sour,
crunchy green apples with edgy lemon acidity and chalky, dry finish
with lingering spiciness and minerals: drinking perfectly as a young
wine and integrated but appears to have the fruit weight and
intensity to be very long lived.

2005 vintage
conditions: “Near perfect growing season, warm spring but very
mild summer. February 2C below average, one of the best years with
wines that drink well young but age well, long term.”

2004 Mitchell Watervale
Riesling:
Subtle kerosene complexity and candle wax nuances
amongst the redolence of straw fields and hay barn scents, chalky,
pronounced wet limestone with a background of custard and vanilla pod
with exotic tones of mango and poached guava. Tangy, bracing lemony
palate entry with a chalky phenolic grip, very textural style and
expressing lots of piquant lime and earthy wet gravel minerals.
Plenty of vibrant acidity and seems to be still drinking very well,
although palate much tighter than the bouquet suggesting it might be
heading for sleep phase and best left for three or four years.

2004 vintage
conditions: “Virtually no rain from October to the end of
vintage, November warmer than average, December the hottest for years
but January the coolest ever then a heat wave in February (16 days
with max around 38C) Remarkable that the Riesling did so well but
there was considerable sunburn”.

2003 Mitchell Watervale
Riesling:
Classic hay barn-dry straw, a noticeable extra dimension
of opulence in the bouquet, custard sweetness amongst lime and
poached peaches, definitely riper with nuances of clover honey, guava
and tingly ground ginger spicy lift and an underlying wet chalkiness
and sea salt. First impression on palate considerably more powerful
in the line-up, added zing and intense lime piquancy with sour crisp
Granny Smith apple and green mango flavors infused by laser acidity
and spicy pickled ginger heat finishing with a marked earthiness-wet
slate and chalky dryness: a stunning wine and appears to be drinking
now, although shows no sign of fading and should be fine for another
three to five years.

2003 vintage
conditions: “Drought conditions with untimely rain in late
February, Riesling performed very well with good depth and generosity
but up to the standard of the great year in 2002, drought stress will
mean the wine will age faster.”


2002 Mitchell
Watervale Riesling:
Pronounced lime bouquet amongst sweeter
custard-vanilla pod, subtle toffee, straw and hay barn characters
with extra complexities of fennel and lavender, chalky and cold
granite background. Racy palate entry, very lemony and quite austere
on the mid-palate, mouth-drying chalkiness with zingy tart acidity
suggests a cooler year, long, spicy finish. Just starting to show
development on the nose although the tightness and crispness of
palate suggests quite a ways off before coming in to prime,
leave a good five years before broaching.

2002 vintage
conditions: “A very cool summer with a long dry autumn, one of
the best vintages ever: high baume (a measure of sugar concentration,
high acidity and glorious flavors. Will age for 20 years+”

2001 Mitchell Watervale
Riesling:
Characteristic straw-hay, some richness with cone honey and
bees wax and just a hint of kerosene complexity, very minerally and
chalky, seems slightly more developed in the line-up with toasty
butterscotch aromas. Breathes out to reveal the consistent custard
like sweet tones with caramelized apple, toffee with a background of
lime, although fruit somewhat locked away. Zingy, apply palate entry,
lean and bony, big hit of sour lemon acidity very crisp framework
with chalky mouth puckering dryness and spicy length. Looks to be a
year or two away from of coming out of hibernation but has all the
makings of a classic.

2001 vintage
conditions: “Excellent winter rains gave good canopies so the
vineyard coped well with extended periods of hot weather in January
and February, Riesling the highlight of the vintage.”

2000 Mitchell Watervale
Riesling:
Golden yellow color, perfume of a summer’s day in
clover fields and heather, dried fennel seed, ripe peaches, dark-cone
honey and palm sugar sweetness amongst toasty apple tarte-tatin
caramel-like aromas, hint of waxy-kerosene with a lime background and
chalky wet limestone and gravel. Creamy, visceral palate entry, rich
and honeyed then oscillates to marmalade sweet and sours
characters, orange rind, gooseberry, still zingy with intense
lime and ginger spices, perky lemon-acidity keeping it fresh and
lively, spiciness cumin and fennel flavors accentuated minerals –
slate, granite and straw characters; incredible length and powerful
farewell. Perfect development and wonderful drinking at six years in
bottle and not peaking yet, suggest another three or four years for
prime drinking.

2000 vintage
conditions: “One of our most difficult vintages, hail in
October, and cool windy weather during flowering, heat waves in
February resulting in sun burnt berries. Remarkably the 2000 has
drunk well for a number of years but the developing color indicates
that this will never be a long lived wine.”

Serving & Food
Pairing

Riesling should always
be served well-chilled, around 50 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit (10 to 12
degree Celsius) and allow 30 minutes to breath out as the aromas will
develop considerably. Use a Riedel Vinum Series Rheingau glass. I
would suggest this is a perfect aperitif wine or suitable for
drinking on any occasion. Its racy freshness and zingy powerful
acidity make it a good foil for spicy Thai salads and hot curries. It
would be versatile with all spicy Asian cuisines and have enough
power to match stronger poultry and even red meats cooked in curries
or served in salads.

Longevity &
Price Point

These are wines that
can be enjoyed for its the purity and zestful refreshing qualities
from release up to two years, however will then go into hibernation
and reward cellaring a further five to eight years, developing rich
and toasty complexities. Cooler, structured years will live 20-plus
years under good cellaring conditions. Even with prohibitive wine
taxes in Asia, this wine represents incredible value, retailing in
Hong Kong for HK$165 or S$35.50 in Singapore.

There are not many
wines on the planet that can offer such quality, individuality and
longevity at this price point, it fact its mind boggling how
affordable it is. Purchase in multiple cases without hesitation and
cellar in the optimum conditions at Crown Cellars if you live in Hong
Kong, www.crownwinecellars.com,
or in Singapore, Wine Bond, www.winebond.net.


Importer/Agent

Hong
Kong: Kedington Wines, Tel: (852) 28989323, www.kedwines.com

Singapore: The Cellar
Door, Tel: (65) 64649909, www.thecellardoor.com.sg

Vineyard
website/Travel

www.mitchellwines.com


The Clare Valley is
an easy 1 hour drive from Adelaide and quintessential wine touring
country. There is Riesling trail that uses the disused railway line,
now turned in a cycling path that runs 27 km from Auburn to Clare and
passes by many wineries’ cellar doors. Visit this hyperlink for
more information
.


Also visit this
hyperlink for more information on touring the Clare Valley and South
Australia. 

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