If Simon is ever asked to highlight a world-class Australian white that warrants a long snooze in a cool cellar, he tends to turn immediately to Jeff Grosset’s Polish Hill Riesling from the Clare Valley, having enjoyed a good number of mature bottles over the years. However, a former colleague suggested that his choice should not be quite so automatic and introduced me to Pikes ‘The Merle’ Riesling…and what an introduction this has proven to be. Please see below for our offer and tasting note.
The eastern part of the Clare Valley certainly has an affinity with the production of fine, bone-dry Riesling – a variety that seems to thrive on sloping vineyard and slatey subsoils. Pikes is an extensive estate, extending over 100 hectares and planted with an almost bewildering array of different grape varieties, but it is Riesling that is their standard-bearer.
Originally from Dorset, England, the Pikes family immigrated to South Australia in 1878 and began to build their name, firstly in the brewing industry and then in soft drinks, it took them over a century to finally turn their attention fully to wine. It was in 1985 that brothers Andrew and Neil Pikes produced their first vintage of Polish Hill Riesling and opened their cellar door for the first time. The property is still very much a family affair; Andrew and Neil remain at the helm as viticulturalist and winemaker respectively.
The Merle Riesling is named after Andrew and Neil’s mother and the fruit is taken from two separate blocks, namely Gill’s Farm and Hill Block, both of which boast the oldest, ungrafted vines on the Pikes estate. Understandably production is limited to 250-500 cases per annum, depending on the vintage. The 2017 vintage is considered one of the very best vintages for Clare Valley Riesling and it is already causing a stir with several winemakers comparing it to the 2002 vintage and some even going beyond that to suggest it is the finest vintage in living memory. It also completes an impressive run of three vintages after the very successful 2015s and 2016s. One of the key factors in 2017 is the later than normal harvest which was, in fact, virtually one month late. This extended hang-time has afforded the fruit perfect maturity and even ripening.
Please see below for my full note. I would like to stress that, while there is enjoyment to be had comparatively early on with wines such as ‘The Merle’, the magic really kicks in with bottle age, when the wines take on considerable complexity, turning more honeyed, seemingly richer with tangy marmalade like notes and sometimes capturing hints of a nutty, caramel-like quality. They can be absolutely spell-binding. I have high hopes for this exceptional 2017, which offers excellent value as well as potential.
2017 Riesling Reserve, ‘The Merle’, Pikes
£115 per 6 bottle case in bond
Pale in the glass, the nose shows that classic Clare Valley Riesling aromatic of lime blossom, slightly floral note and discreet minerally, wet-stone nuances. Bone-dry on the palate, with a lightness of touch and an innate steeliness, this Riesling shows fine intensity and tremendous clarity of fruit. It possesses a mouth-watering zestiness to its citrus and juicy cox’s apple fruit characters, all underpinned by life-giving acidity. Taut, linear and so well poised, this is a joy to taste now, but give it four to five years to hit its stride and 15 years plus if you want to see that complexity of which great Clare Valley Riesling is capable (SL). Drink 2022 to 2035+.
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