Leeuwin Estate Art Series Margaret River Riesling 2004 Tasting Notes
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Leeuwin Estate Art Series Margaret River Riesling 2004 Tasting Notes

Western Australia's Margaret River is about as far from my present location (on Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire) as one can go and still be on land, and yet, given modern technology and the shrinking globe, it's as if the wine were produced in the next town. The Aussies have gotten wine-making down to a science, a fact that in the case of Leeuwin Estate does not preclude art. Leeuwin's “Art Series” wines each reproduce a work of contemporary Australian art. Leeuwin now has more than 100 pieces of original art in its collection. The distinctive “Frogs in Riesling” painting has been featured on Leeuwin's Riesling since the early 1980's. The light, cheerful representation of a frog bounding through trellis-trained grapevines complements an equally cheerful and yet serious Riesling wine.

The first note on the nose and through to the palate is minerality. We all interpret mineral notes differently. My note is one that I must stress I find extremely pleasant: the abiding smell of those pink rubber balls we would play with as kids. Made by the Spaulding company, in New York at least they were referred to as “Spaldines.” Perhaps the lasting appeal of this smell is that it was at once sensual and yet pre-pubescent. My subconscious may be projecting here, but more objectively, the minerality is mainstream Riesling, even if others liken it to petrol or a variety of rock. Riesling without minerality is like one of these balls that has lost its air and fails to bounce.

The $14 wine (at 12% alcohol) is a lemon-colored straw with medium body and a slight spritz. It is dry and a little puckering at times, but other elements balance the acidity as they do the minerality. The finish is long and lip-smacking. The wine has a frothy viscous quality, almost as if the fruit inside has left some of its pulp.

Although the wine really takes off in the mouth, the nose gives a good preamble. The minerality is followed quickly by a general citrus note and a floral element. The ripe fruit expands on the palate into grapefruit, lemon and lime for the citrus, peach, and to a lesser extent a basket of tropical fruits including mango, pineapple and melon. The generic floral note from the nose identifies itself on the palate as orange blossom and rose.

Perhaps the winning feature of this wine, however, is what I perceive to be a complex of refreshing bitter notes of the highest level. My notes posit three possibilities: orange rind, ginseng root, or quinine. If you take the fruit ripeness, the well-developed floral element, the minerality and these fine bitter notes and combine them with the frothy mouth feel and even that impish spritz, you arrive at one fine package. As an admirable wine, the Leeuwin then earns the right to some attention to its label.

Verdict: Riesling Rules
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Thirty years ago, the great Robert Mondavi himself identified the Leeuwin Estate property as a site capable of producing world-class wines.

food writer Elliot Essman James Beard Foundation Journalism Award
James Beard Award Nominee Elliot Essman

food writer Elliot Essman James Beard Foundation Journalism Award


Frogs in Riesling label
Leeuwin Estate's distinctive Frogs in Riesling.

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