Before we all get overwhelmed (or even underwhelmed?) by the latest set of en primeur releases from Bordeaux and as the weather starts to improve, I am pleased to offer a brilliant example of one of the world’s truly great white wines.
South Australia’s Clare Valley has come to be synonymous with exceptional, world renowned, bone dry Riesling. I was certainly smitten when I toured the region eighteen years ago and tasted widely, including brilliant wines from the 1970s (even back then under screwcap). At that point the best known wines in the UK were probably those of Jeffrey Grosset and Mount Horrocks, the former most notably for his Polish River bottling which successfully and perhaps controversially, turned the sub-region into something of a brand.
But there were numerous other producers making exemplary wines from fruit grown in Polish Hill River, an eastern part of the Clare Valley with an evident affinity for the production of fine, bone-dry Riesling, the variety flourishing on sloping vineyards and slatey subsoils.
Pikes is an extensive estate, covering 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 Pike 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 Pike 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. Production is limited, amounting to a mere 250-500 cases per annum, depending on the vintage.
It is worth reiterating that while there is great enjoyment to be had comparatively early on with wines such as ‘The Merle’, the considerable complexity that emerges with bottle age is really quite spell-binding. The wines turn more honeyed, becoming richer with tangy marmalade like notes and sometimes capturing hints of a nutty, caramel-like quality. Even the great Australian critic James Halliday is conflicted over when to drink it.
96 points, James Halliday, Australian Wine Companion:
Sourced entirely from Pikes' Polish Hill River vineyard. It may well be, as Neil Pike says, made for the 8 to 10-year long haul, but I'd be very happy to have a glass tonight. It's beautifully balanced and spacious - not a word that I use often - thus allowing the complexity and texture to build with grace.
These are undoubtedly world-class wines. Beautiful and ageworthy. And the value here is absolutely astonishing for a recognised world class wine of such tiny production volume that could age as long as many a top Bordeaux.