McWilliam's Hanwood Estate Riesling 2006
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McWilliam's Hanwood Estate Riesling 2006 Tasting Notes

I have always maintained a special little center of interest at the core of my being for Australian Rieslings, especially those associated with either the Clare Valley or Eden Valley in the big wine state of South Australia. These two valleys are not contiguous, having between them both the renowned Barossa Valley and a good stretch of land that…gasp…produces no wine at all. (Barossa, of course, produces a good deal of Riesling along with its signature Shiraz.) Generally speaking, Clare (from County Clare in Ireland) is known for the purity of its fruit while Eden offers floral contributions. But speaking “generally” is not always wise when dealing with Australian winemaking acumen; when these down-under people target a style of wine they want, they have a unique focus that allows them to go for the bull's eye.

McWilliam's Wines is no exception to the Australian “can-do” ethic as manifested by this successful $12 Riesling. Produced under the umbrella South Eastern Australia appellation, two-thirds of the wine is sourced in the irrigated Riverina region of New South Wales, about a quarter from Clare Valley, 6% from Eden, and the remainder from a swath of growing areas ranging from Barossa through Coonawarra and all the way to the Yarra Valley in Victoria. The grapes for this wine were harvested at night, the wine fermented under cool conditions, shown not a speck of oak, and bottled under the screw caps that we are coming to expect for these styles of wines.

The result—now remember the price—is a refreshing success. Several numerical specs in this Riesling relate to each other in a manner that is corroborated by the taste and feel of the wine. The alcohol level is 12%, residual sugar 6 grams per liter, acidity just over 6 grams per liter. These numbers tell me that the wine is medium-bodied and that it has some perky acidity that is nicely offset by just the right level of sweetness; a German would nod in approval at this strategy, since this configuration allows all the other aromatic elements of this Riesling to express themselves without any struggle.

With that preamble out of the way…whew…I enjoyed fine aromatic notes of lime (that's mainstream Clare), petrol, slate, peach, apricot and a fragrance of pineapple, the aroma you get when you cut into the fruit as the knife creates a spray. The palate profile is similar, though the citrus is somewhat more pronounced, adding grapefruit; I also enjoyed some fresh floral notes. The finish shows some minerality but ultimately allows the acidity to come to the front and make the final statement.

If the winemakers had taken a wrong turn at any stage in the sourcing or the vinification of these grapes, the result might have been an adequate, summer-barbecue or picnic-on-the-beach refresher, in which case $12 might be considered $6 too much for the desired effect. McWilliam's has nailed it, of course, and has produced 26,000 cases of a wine I predict will please a good cross-section of drinkers. The wine is distributed by Gallo, which should make it a simple matter to find—and hoard, if that is your inclination.

Verdict: Personality
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Riesling seems one of the most human of grapes.

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

food writer Elliot Essman James Beard Foundation Journalism Award


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