Riesling is even better entrenched in the prettily pastoral Clare Valley than in the Eden Valley. Clare lies well north of the northernmost limit of Barossa, isolated and rural but multi-talented. It has the unique distinction оf making world-class Shiraz and Cabernet as well as one of Riesling’s great archetypes.
Clare Valley is, in fact, a series of narrow, mainly north-south valleys on an elevated plateau with very different soil types in each. In the southern heartland of the region between Water vale and Auburn, considered classic Riesling country, is some of the famous limestone-based terra rossa, which yields perfumed, highly expressive Rieslings. A few miles north around Polish Hill River, notably at Jeffrey Cresset’s revered Polish Hill vineyard, vines struggle in the hard slate soils and the wines are more austere. The northern, more open part of the Clare Valley feels warm westerlies blowing in from the Spencer Gulf, whereas the southern part, from Watervale south, enjoys cooler breezes from the Gulf St Vincent. Clare is Only about a third of the size of Harossa Valley, but with its higher alLiludc has a more extreme climate. The cool nights help to preserve acidity; in many vintages routine acid addition is unnecessary.
Clare feels remote. Its producers arc proud to be distant from the influence of fashion and big company politics. Only Knappstein and Petaluma, part of Lion Nathan, and Annie’s Lane and Leo Bluing, owned by Treasury Wine Rstales, have any connection with large corporations. This is farming country in the hands of small farmers in the main, who form an unusually cohesive group. They were the first in Australia to agree to move lo screw caps to preserve the steely purity of their Rieslings.
In the hands of literally dozens of Riesling producers as capable as Grosset, Kilikanoon, Jim Barry, and Petaluma, Glare Riesling has established itself as Australia’s most distinctive: firm and dry, sometimes eye-watering in youth, but usually with a rich undertow of lime that can mature to loneliness after years in bottle. These are the wines for which Australia’s famous fusion food has surely been designed. More recently, a trickle of slightly sweeter styles of Riesling has emerged to please those of less masochistic tendencies.
Great, plummy reds with excellent acidity and structure are also made, provoking discussion as to whether Shiraz or Cabernet is Clare’s most eloquent dark expression. Particularly smooth-talking Cabernets anti Shirazes come from Jim Barry. Kilikanoon, Taylors, and SkiIlogalee. From the region’s highest vineyard (at 1.870ft/570m), Grosset’s perfumed Gaia Bordeaux blend is a little more elegant than most, while the reds of pioneer Wendouree continue to be positively and distinctively chewable.
NORTHERN AND CENTRAL CLARE VALLEY
Given its latitude, this, strip shouldn’t make some of the world’s more trifling Riesling – but it does. Altitude helos. as vineyards area: 1.300- 1.87Cft (400 570ml, but so do breezes oi the gulfs to the south.