Wakefield Promised Land, Estate, and Jaraman Riesling 2005
With over 2000 acres planted, South Australia's Clare Valley is the largest Riesling area in
Australia, producing nearly as much of the grape as the entire state of California, though here
too Riesling is on the rise. What is going on? Are we talking about the next great grape on
the American market? We might be. We will only truly know when recycling day arrives and
we see those fluted Riesling bottles poking out from their bins, edging aside the …well let's
just call it the “C” wine.
Riesling has suffered two great deficiencies in this country, and they both have to do with residual sugar. Of course we had that cheap Liebfraumilch/Blue Nun beverage that was so often confused with Riesling. Made from commodity grapes (usually not Riesling at all), it used gobs of sweetness to mask every sort of vinous deficiency. At the other extreme, we had true German Rieslings with indecipherable labels, most of which by necessity retained some sweetness in order to balance their inspiring acidity.
Yet Riesling is one of the “international” grape varieties for a reason: it can express the character of the land on which it is grown to an extraordinary degree. The Germans experience this among vineyards just paces apart, while Australians are beginning to understand the possibilities of the grape within and between their various growing regions (Barossa and its neighbor Eden Valley are the next largest producers after Clare).
Clare's Wakefield Estate is launching three Rieslings on the American market. The wines differ not just in price, but in style, though all three are 100% Riesling and are secured with the characteristic Wakefield screw cap. The lowest end “Promised Land” Riesling, is priced at $13, a level I consider a basic threshold on our market (though I keep a few of my own $8 and $10 secrets). The 2005 Promised Land is off-dry, bringing tangible but not cloying sweetness. The wine balances the sweetness with some excellent citrus acidity (lemon and grapefruit), warm floral notes (rose and apple blossom), some good peach and apple pulp, a touch of spice and slate minerality. Wakefield is positioning the wine to appeal to Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc drinkers who want a little more feel and substance in their wines; Riesling, after all, beats these other grapes hands down in the aromatic department. The Promised Land is marketed under the “South Australia” appellation, since it contains grapes from both Clare and Eden Valley.
Wakefield's core offering is their $17 Clare Valley “Estate” Riesling. The wine is decidedly dry, bringing the region's characteristic lime, a musky, fully-ripe melon, lemon, peach, orange, slate, and orange blossom to the nose, all of it held in the consciousness by a complex perfume. Riesling is supposed to do this kind of thing. The wine is firmly refreshing on the palate, adding delightful apricot with further peach, citrus and green apple. The finish is balanced, spurred on by acidity but ultimately a matter of flowers, spice, slate and fruit.
Wakefield's top of the line offering for the American market is its $30 Jaraman Riesling,
sourced 60% Clare Valley and 40% Eden Valley; Clare is known for the purity of its fruit,
Eden for its floral contribution. “Jaraman” is the word for seahorse in one of the aboriginal
languages, a reference to the fossilized seahorses found on Wakefield's estates (the company
uses seahorse motifs on all its labeling). The operative word for the Jaraman is superb fruit.
The nose brings concentrated lemon, lime, pineapple, kiwi and a hint of mango with tropical
floral backup. Though the wine is a bit dryer than the Estate, the citrus nevertheless takes on
almost a candied fruit aspect in the mouth, as if it is telling you to go directly to the essence
of the fruit, without bothering with pulp or pith. The minerality is tangible, with touches of
petrol, but keeps its place as a member of the chorus. One of the aspects I like best about the
wine is its balance, a quality I attribute to its broad floral layering; in a dry wine something
has to provide an alternative to all that fruit and acidity. The finish is clean and dry, with an
unexpected touch of perfume at the end. It all gives you something to think about between
Verdict: Once again, Riesling has spoken
Riesling has the brilliance to pick up, process, and reflect back the individuality of its land.
James Beard Award Nominee Elliot Essman
Jaraman's label shows the seahorse motif.