February 2, 2023 - Originally published on ozwinereview.com

I’m late here, but I want to talk about an event from last year worth celebrating.

In October, a pack of Clare Valley Riesling producers did a mini-tour of the east coast to celebrate 21 years of Clare Riesling in screwcap (it would have been twenty years had COVID not messed with the timetable), bringing with Riesling from 2002, 2012 and 2022.

Why is this occasion important? Well, back in 2000, bottling any premium wine under screwcap was revolutionary. Monumental. I still remember the global backlash and negativity aimed at the 14 Clare Valley producers who kicked off with their 2000 vintage Riesling releases. Serious wine without a cork – sacrilege!

Three vintages, three colours

Fast forward two decades and 98% of local wine (according to Tony Battaglene from Australian Grape & Wine) is bottled in screwcap, and internationally it’s ever more important. You can argue endlessly about whether you prefer cork as a flavour, like the romance, think screwcaps aren’t sustainable, or whatever your beef. But there is no denying that twenty-year-old Clare Valley Riesling is a better, infinitely less variable prospect when sealed with screwcap.

This event ended up more like a confirmation celebration than anything else, preaching to a room of old industry types tired of cork taint and random oxidation. However, there was a younger Italian somm on my table who stood up and tried to explain why consumers wouldn’t accept premium red wines under screwcap.

Yeah, that just isn’t a thing. Not in Australia, at least…

What was interesting was the stories of that time viewed through the lens of hindsight. I’ve included winemaking comments here for context, with some fascinating tidbits among them.

The wines were seriously delicious too. Of course, it helps that 2002, 2012 and 2022 were all stellar vintages. Some of the 2000 wines can look tired now (with the odd reduction issue) by contrast, and 2001 was a warm and forward vintage. But the cold and late 2002 harvest made for some spectacular drinks (and three vintages of ironing out screwcap issues).

Oh, and the prediction from some in the room is that the 2012 wines will end up grander at the same point as the 2002 releases look now.

First a few quotes, then let’s look at the wines.

‘(On what it was like converting to screwcaps) At the time, it was seen as a gamble. We decided to go 100% as we had so many problems with cork in the 90s.’ Mitchell Taylor, Taylors.

‘(On the demand for screwcap wines) Those that bottled half under cork and half under screwcap found that they were running out of screwcaps’ Mitchell Taylor, Taylors

‘(On reduction in the early wines) We actually added more sulphur 5-10ppm because of the increased headspace and watched it carefully’ Kevin Mitchell, Kilikanoon.

‘(On early screwcap issues) In 2002, we had problems with some of the screwcap moulds and some of these wines leaked over time. I think this set back the cause a bit for a few months until we worked it out’ Kevin Mitchell, Kilikanoon.

‘(On motivation for going with screwcap over cork) TCA was fine. It was the random oxidation that was the issue. We could open 12 bottles, and 9 of them would be different’ David O’Leary, O’Leary Walker.

‘It’s such a pleasure not to receive corked wines back at the winery anymore’ David O’Leary, O’Leary Walker.

‘The thing that I remember about 02,12 and 22 was that you could choose when you wanted to pick it’ David O’Leary, O’Leary Walker.

Clare Valley slate.

The wines

My notes are as written on the day, so they’re a bit truncated. Again, the older wines were so impressive.

Taylors Wines Riesling 2022

Just a bit more generous this wine, compared to others in the tasting, but a genuine bargain. Twinges of mandarin in a field of lime. Tight and grapefruit drenched. Classic, if just more open, despite the cool vintage. Best drinking: in a good place now. You can see that this will be strong in a decade, though. A bargain! 17.7/20, 92/100.

Taylors Wines Riesling 2012

More toast than citrus, but still with endless acidity. Clear links to that 22! Lime custard and then snappy acidity. A bit broad through the middle, but still a good drink. Best drinking: nowish, will go another five years. 17.5/20, 91/100.

Taylors Wines Riesling 2002

Tiring. Mothballs and caramel, it looks quite secondary and caramelised on nose, but the palate is hanging in there. It’s more old wine than clearly Clare Riesling (and just a smidgen bitter). That palate is still alive though. Solid. Best drinking: now. 16.5/20, 88/100.

Kilikanoon Morts Block Riesling 2022

Classic. Potent buzzy acidity, really limey and super intense, almost too crisp. Lovely fresh lime tending cool-year grapefruit. Maybe a little too tight. Good stuff. Best drinking: now and likely for twenty years. 18/20, 93/100.

Kilikanoon Morts Block Riesling 2012

Toasty but backed with citrus. Still on point acidity keeps this in check. Great shape, and razor-sharp edges; it still looks primal and citrusy, but with layers of flavour. Nice. Best drinking: I like it now, don’t wait. 18/20, 93/100.

Kilikanoon Morts Block Riesling 2002

Yes. Lime custard, generous and yet with perfect acidity. This is lovely. Has the softness on the edges to be delicious. The toastiness is another calibre, and it still feels crisp and well-formed. Best drinking: at its peak. Next five years is the zenith. 18.7/20, 95/100.

O’Leary Walker Polish Hill Riesling 2022

Feels so classic Polish Hill. Soapy talc, with that green melon and green banana lime nose. Lovely! So fresh and so delicious and perfectly formed. Maybe not top gold intensity, but it’s pretty tasty. Best drinking: right now, or wait a decade. You choose! 18.5/20, 94/100.

O’Leary Walker Polish Hill Riesling 2012

This is a bit chubby and chunky. Chewy lemon lollies and a bit of turpentine. This looks in a funny spot, although, gee, it’s dense and powerful. Best drinking: come back in a few more years. 17.5/20, 91/100.

O’Leary Walker Polish Hill Riesling 2002

Honeyed and quite progressed, it’s tending honeyed with a little lanolin. You feel like it’s less classical old Clare and just old Riesling. Best drinking: now. 17.5/20, 91/100.

Mitchell Clare Valley Riesling 2022

(I didn’t take notes, but Hilary Mitchell told the story of how Brian Croser affected their push to screwcaps, as he as was a lecturer when Hilary’s father was at winemaking college and pushed everyone to bottle some wines under cork and screwcap in the 70s!)

Primal and locked up tight. You just don’t see anything beyond the tight lines and limes. Potent acidity too. Best drinking: Promise, just come back later. Five years? 18/20, 93/100.

Mitchell Clare Valley Riesling 2012

Still green. In rude health – you wouldn’t pick the vintage. Primal lime fruit the barest whisper of age and still green acidity. Might l forever. Arguably too backward but gee what power! Best drinking: from now and another decade. 18/20, 93/100.

Mitchell Clare Valley Riesling 2002

Full yellow-green. Marzipan and some lime custard. Razor sharp too. Again, it’s pre-pubescent. Just a little botrytis? Feels less pure and yet interesting. Best drinking: now, no hurry. 17.7/20, 92/100.

Sevenhill 27 Miles Riesling 2022

The acidity is just excellent here. It makes this almost chewy. Love it as a fresh, of backward drink. Cut with lemongrass and grapefruit. Very good, but tight as. Best drinking: from now and for two decades. 18/20, 93/100.

Sevenhill Riesling 2012

(It wasn’t noted what Sevenhill bottling it would be, but noted as a reserve release). Forward and with just a little turpentine. Fruit takes a backseat, and yet the acidity is very firm. Lesser. Best drinking: now. 16.8/20, 89/100.

Sevenhill Riesling 2002

(Reserve release – bottling not noted. From 4 different blocks. 600 litres a tonne extracted – a bit more phenolics compared to the younger wines which has 400 litres tonne extraction).

Much fresher than the 2012. In wonderful form. Lovely yellow and green fruit, more of that lime custard and just excellent acidity. It feels unforced and perfect. Yes. Best drinking: now and for plenty of years yet. 18.7/20, 95/100.

Paulett Wines Polish Hill River Riesling 2022

Pre-pubescent but perfectly formed. Florals and a little ginger. Just delicious if watertight. I always enjoy these wines. Best drinking: now, then come back in five and drink over two decades. 18.5/20, 94/100.

Paulett Wines Polish Hill River Riesling 2012

Lovely, again. Achingly tight. Achingly tight. But lovely and even quite delicate and backward. Lovely wine, if almost too tight. Interesting to compare to the vertical. Best drinking: now or in another decade. 18.5/20, 94/100

Paulett Wines Polish Hill River Riesling 2002

Quite advanced by contrast. Yellow gold and you don’t see the fruit. Golden toast is welcoming, the generosity makes this a lovely drink. Best drinking: Now. 17.7/20, 92/100

Jim Barry Lodge Hill Riesling 2022

Water clear, super tight and light. Feels very limey with great intensity, even if it’s perhaps too tight for immediacy – the acidity goes almost too hardcore, but gee, there is a focus. Best drinking: now or come back in five. 18/20, 93/100.

Jim Barry Lodge Hill Riesling 2012

Yellow gold straw and quite expressive – it’s an easy wine to enjoy with the contrast of golden development and prim acidity. Best drinking: now. 17.5/20, 91/100.

Jim Barry Lodge Hill Riesling 2002

Very much the essence of older Clare Riesling with a bit of TDN and grilled nut development and a big mouthful of flavour. Probably on the edge before it gets a bit too toasty and chunky. Best drinking: now. 17.5/20, 91/100.