Article by Huon Hooke in Wine Spotlights and originally posted on The Real Review.
What were you doing 20 years ago?
In 2002, Michael Jackson alarmed the world when he dangled a baby off a balcony; the infamous Bali bombing claimed 202 lives; the first mobile phone with a built-in camera was released; the Euro became the official currency of 12 of the European Union’s members.
And the Clare Valley had one of the its best-ever vintages of riesling, so good that many 2002s are still drinking beautifully today.
It was also the first vintage that almost every winery in the Clare got behind the screwcap, ensuring that the 2002 rieslings would age long and securely.
The Clare winemakers decided to celebrate this milestone recently by holding tastings for the trade and media in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane.
The wines were showing superbly. The 2002s had all been cellared underground at Sevenhill Cellars, the Jesuit winery which is the region’s oldest.
The Clare Valley Wine & Grape Association corralled seven wineries to mount these events: Taylors, Kilikanoon, O’Leary Walker, Mitchell, Sevenhill, Pauletts, and Jim Barry Wines. Each poured three wines from the same stand-out riesling vintages: 2022, 2012 and 2002. It was both good planning and luck that these vintages were equally spaced, thus giving a brilliant illustration of riesling’s maturation trajectory.
There was inevitable variation, albeit minor—some of the oldest wines had matured more quickly than others, and one (the 2002 Sevenhill) more slowly, provoking several tasters to question whether the pourers had made a mistake! The ’02 seemed younger than the 2012!
And there were some slight differences in house style. The 2022 and 2012 Paulett Polish Hill River wines were consistently more restrained and racy. The two older Taylors St Andrews wines were very toasty. The O’Leary Walker Watervale wines richer than most, the older pair showing lots of lovely buttered toast.
The 2022s all showed superbly, backing up the claims of many producers that this is an outstanding vintage and one that should age superbly—perhaps even as well as the ‘02s.
Fourteen other 2022 rieslings were available for tasting on the side. Penna Lane’s Watervale 2022, the winner of the trophy for the best 2022 riesling at the recent Clare Valley Wine Show, was among them.
The Clare winemakers were not the first to use a screwcap on a riesling: there had been 20 years of experience before this. But they claim to have driven Australia’s screwcap revolution. I wouldn’t argue against that. Today, it’s rare to find an Australian riesling bottled under cork, they rightly point out.
Where did it all begin?
On August 11, 2000, the Clare winemakers publicly announced that they had commissioned the development of the bottle and closure, the aim being “to reflect the high quality of riesling that is produced here (in the Clare Valley) and to allow for the best examples to be aged for a long time with confidence”.
They said cork affects all wines, not only riesling, and that a percentage (5%++) of tainted bottles was the result, regardless of the price of the cork. “Riesling is an aromatic variety, and so cork taint tends to be more noticeable.”
The bottles were made by Saverglass and the caps by Pechiney (both French companies), the project co-ordinated by Classic Packaging.
The 14 wineries who confirmed their participation at the time were Mount Horrocks, Mitchell, Taylors, Olssen, Stringy Brae, Clos Clare, Knappstein, Grosset, Leasingham, Wilson, Tim Gramp, Stephen John, Kirribilly and Eldredge. More joined the movement in 2001 and 2002.
Some screwcapped 2000 and 2001 rieslings can still be found, but generally haven’t aged nearly as well as the 2002s.
The screwcap initiative was a world first and an extraordinary advance. An important point, is that it was driven by quality, not fashion or marketing.
What made it such an enduring success? There seemed good agreement at the Sydney event that it was the fact that, firstly, so many wineries got behind the screwcap, and secondly, that the one of region’s finest and highest profile wineries, Grosset, led the charge.
Well done, Clare winemakers!
Read the original article on the Real Review here