The smart money has long known that world class riesling is not confined to Germany and Alsace. Australia, too, has earned a place at the table.
Perhaps the Clare Valley and Eden Valley are the best known locations in the vast subcontinent but the country’s largest state, Western Australia, is a riesling center too. The vast Great Southern wine region within Western Australia is the coolest wine growing region in the country. The name and nature of the region may not ricochet off most people’s consciences but here the climate transforms from Mediterranean to continental, soil is mainly red sandy loam or gravelly loam, and at the northwestern corner is the subregion of Frankland River where Frankland River Estate has made wine since 1988. While remote in that the nearest large city — the state capital of Perth — is nearly a four hour journey, winemaking is an established part of the region’s agriculture.
Barrie Smith and Judi Cullum founded Frankland Estate in 1988. They were wool farmers who made a trip to France in 1985 and were smitten by the vineyards. They worked two vintages at Château Senejac and the rest is history. After 17 vintages their son and daughter have now taken over the lion’s share of the work.
The winery follows sustainable farming practices and a prime commitment to terroir as the determinant of what grows where. This accounts for a third of their wines being riesling. Given their attention to this grape, I was pleased when the U.S. importer of Frankland Estate, Quintessential Wines, tasted me on three of those available in the U.S. market. All the wines below are appellate with the Frankland River sub-region. Prices are those current in the U.S. market and denominated in U.S. dollars.
2014 ‘Poison Hill Vineyard,' Riesling, $35
Named after a species of clover that was poisonous to non-indigenous animals. The light petrol notes in the nose nonetheless have great clarity, unmistakably signing this off as a riesling. Dry. Its mineral base is not as pronounced as would be an Alsacian at, for example, the Grand Cru level. The tart apples in the nose come through on the palate as well. Medium plus acid makes this a formidable match with many white meats and fish. Veal might be a particularly well-paired choice.
2012 SmithCullam Riesling, $64
Fruit from the ‘Isolation Ridge’ vineyard. Whole-bunch fermented in 1000 litre French oak foudre. When desired fruit and acid levels are achieved the fermentation is chilled to arrest it.
Hallmark riesling light petrolly nose accompanied by Meyer lemon notes and peaches. Off dry. Peach notes dominate the flavor facet in the mouth. Medium acid. Hard to distinguish from some German rieslings in style.
2013 Isolation Ridge Vineyard, Riesling, $40
Grown organically. Fermented in French oak barrels with wild yeast. Some batonnage. Aged for nine months. Intense petrolly nose supported by limes, white peach and peach pit, hints of mango. Dry. Medium plus acid keeps it lively. Tellingly long finish.