Americans can have misconceptions about Riesling.
Some believe that this varietal is only ever sweet. Drinkers who do not like sweetness may never try and enjoy a dry Riesling.
Reversing this misconception takes consumer education. Australian winemaker Hunter Smith was in America this week, showcasing the dry Rieslings from his family’s Frankland Estate Wines.
Founded in 1988 by Smith’s parents, Frankland Estate is in southwest Australia, four hours south of Perth. Cool summers and gravel-loam soils are at the root of wines made here with regional emphasis.
I sampled Frankland Estate during a media dinner yesterday at NYC’s Battery Gardens. Along with his Rieslings (more on these later), Smith brought Isolation Ridge Shiraz 2011 and a red blend “Olmo’s Reward.”
The Shiraz (SRP: $39.99) was more balanced than fruity. This contrasted American perceptions of boldly juicy Australian reds.
“We’ve always been known as a producer of lighter styles,” explained Smith, co-owner and co-winemaker at Frankland Estate. “People now want wines that they can drink with dinner, and that aren’t a meal in themselves.”
Frankland Estate is part of the Australian movement away from intense, sometimes-imbalanced wines.
“Australians used to make big wines, hoping for big scores in the American market,” Smith said. “Now we’re seeing a transformation of what people consider good wine. For Shiraz, this means balance, acidity and longevity”
For Riesling, Americans are just now wrapping their heads around dryness. Smith brought five bottles of it to dinner: single-vineyard wines, dry, well structured and regionally reflective.
Rocky Gully Riesling 2014 (SRP: $24.99, Residual Sugar: 1.3 g/l) led off with delicate fruits, refreshing acidity and an underlying minerality that remained a theme throughout.
Isolation Ridge Riesling 2014 ($39.99, 1.3 g/l) was bright and expansive, compared with the tighter, steely Poison Hill Vineyard Riesling 2014 ($34.99, 3.3 g/l). Isolation Ridge is comprised of north- and east-facing slopes, over which roll clouds from the Indian Ocean. Farther inland, Poison Hill receives more sunshine and ripens earlier.
Netley Road Riesling 2014 ($34.99, 1.6 g/l) was defined by soft texture and subtle complexity. Planted in 1966, it’s among the oldest of Southern Australia’s vineyards. Loamy soils and old vines lend the wine a refined richness.
The sweetest of the bunch was SmithCullan Riesling 2012 ($64.99, 9 g/l). Named after Hunter’s parents, it features fruit sourced from a Geisenheim clone planted on Isolation Ridge in 1988. Geisenheim is known for retaining high acidity, which balances the residual sweetness. A soft front palate opens into a lemony zest and spiciness that lasts throughout.
The Geisenheim clone, single-vineyard releases and structural/textural focus should all give away Frankland’s influence. Before planting their own vines, the Smith family traveled Europe and worked vintages for Old World vineyards.
Last up were the Shiraz (0.45 g/l) and Olmo’s Reward 2012 ($54.99, 0.56 g/l). The latter was named after U.S. viticulturalist Dr. Harold Olmo. In 1956, he noted that Western Australia boasted a similar climate as Bordeaux — optimal for winemaking.
The red blend that celebrates this significant moment is 70% Cabernet Franc, 19% Cabernet Sauvignon and 11% Petit Verdot. (Other vintages have contained Malbec.) It is an elegant wine with strong structure and dark-fruit flavors.
Frankland Estate is made for dinner. The Rieslings paired well with our light appetizers of goat cheese salad, crab cakes, tuna tartare and prosciutto crudo pizza. The reds were ideal matches for the main course. My filet mignon went down easy with Olmo’s Reward.
Chances are, other Americans would feel similarly. Smith hopes they will give his wines the chance, and think of Australia for more than fruit bombs and inexpensive bottles.
“There’s no more scrutinizing market than America,” Smith said. “All the wines of the world are out on the table. But there’s still not enough Australian producers exposing themselves here.”
Kyle Swartz is associate editor of Cheers Magazine. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org