Establishing the criteria for the best-value white wine producer of the year, encompassing both the new and old worlds, is not about identifying the best cheapest white wine on the market.
Rather, it is about price-quality rapport, consistency of quality, distinctiveness, synergy in the Asian market and how it compares on the world wine stage. Mitchell Watervale Riesling over-delivers in every aspect.
Having followed this winery for over two decades I can attest to their consistency of quality. A vertical tasting of 2000 to 2006 vintages reaffirms their unfailing capabilities.
It is a single varietal wine, namely the noble Riesling grape and totally expressive of the ancient soils of the Watervale vineyards, a distinctive Australian terroir that is much under-appreciated on the world wine stage. As for value, clearly it is a bargain and a wine of such provenance would no doubt be treble the price it hailed from Germany or France.
Jane and Andrew Mitchell established their winery on the Mitchell family property in 1975. The Watervale Riesling has been produced since 1977 although their largest Watervale vineyard was acquired in 1995, which was planted back in 1960 (58 year-old vines) and has always been dry-grown, without irrigation. This is a hands-on family-run property, Andrew as the viticulturist and winemaker and Jane managing the business and marketing. Australians have a tendency to downplay their successes and Andrew Mitchell tries to hide his behind a humble personality along with an eccentric aloofness.
Yet clearly he is an intellectual winemaker-farmer and a careful listener with the demeanor of an English gentleman. Jane, on the other hand, is assertive and boisterous, with an infectious jocular personality. She is a marketing dynamo and a resolute campaigner for the Clare Valley region, commanding audiences like a sergeant-major barking out orders on a parade ground yet seizing on every moment to have a good laugh.
Terroir Vintage Synopsis
It is often overlooked that the Australian continent was forged at the beginning of Earth’s formation in the Archaean period. The Australian landscape has some of the oldest rocks in the world (3.7 billion years) and special rock “windows” that tell us about the geological age of the planet and the origins of life. Much of Australia’s ancient metamorphic crust has eroded over the passage of time, with tectonic plate movements creating mountains and ranges, such as Mount Horrocks and the Clare Valley’s U-shaped ranges. Almost all the rock in the Clare Valley is of sedimentary origin, from a period between 800 and 500 million years ago, during the Neoproterozoic era.
The receding oceans and glacial movements that linked Australia with Antarctica deposited silt, sand and carbonate in a largely marine sedimentary basin, forming chalk, limestone, sandstone and shale with top-soils rich in minerals. Mitchell Watervale vineyard is unequivocally an extraordinary terroir, with red loam soils over limestone and calcareous rocks, the old vine roots reaching deep in to the subsoils and delivering an accentuated minerality in wine. It is a dry Mediterranean climate however, at 1,300 feet (396 meters) above sea level, both altitude and sea breezes off the Spencer Gulf and Great Southern Ocean temper the hot, sunny days with very cool evenings enhancing the natural acidities, vital to Riesling. Vintage conditions are detailed under tasting notes.
“Actually, we do very little, just hand-pick our dry-grown grapes and ferment with natural yeasts to make a wine with intense varietal fruit flavors and definitive regional character,” Andrew Mitchell declares. This is of course an oversimplification. In reality viticulture is a demanding science and as in any agricultural endeavor it is at the mercy of the weather.
While Riesling is a grape variety that can be left much to its own devices, being fermented in stainless tank with no adulteration from oak maturation or secondary-fermentation, it is particularly sensitive to oxidization and the condition that the grapes arrive at the winery is paramount, furthermore the manner in which the grapes are crushed. It requires scrupulous handling in the winemaking process and an intimate knowledge of one’s vineyard and grapes to achieve the transparency of the terroir.
Wine notes in vertical tastings can appear repetitious however; it is highly desirable for there to be common threads and homogenous characters than define the vineyards personality, which also indicates the winemaker’s ability to make a consistent style within the unique qualities of the vintage. The underlying chassis of Mitchell Watervale Riesling is the chalky, limestone mineral characters that are clearly evident in all the wines, enhanced by a fine phenolic that leaves a chalky dry sensation towards the finish.
There is persistent zest of limes and lemon along with fresh cut apple in both bouquet and flavor with a racy, invigorating freshness and a congruous sense of summer fields, straw and hay. All the wines showed vibrant fruit with warmer vintages displaying more exotic, tropical tones but always balanced by impressive natural acidity.
2006 Mitchell Watervale Riesling: Floral perfume of summer fields, lemon-scented and fresh cut apple among peach and apricot with chalky minerals in the background. Palate entry is juicy with mandarin flavors, tangy and mouth-watering, becoming richer with stone fruit and guava and quite viscous with a touch of creaminess to the mid-palate, suggesting a riper year. Intensity increases with concentrated lime-juice, a powerful finish and persistent length of zingy lemon-edged acidity and tingling spiciness: superb drinking now as a youthful and vibrant dry Riesling, and should age well over 10 years.
2006 vintage conditions: “Very hot January but vines coped well as the heat waves came before veraison (the stage when grapes begin to soften and gain color).We had very mild weather in the critical ripening period (February), ideal for natural balance of sugar flavor and acidity in the grapes.”
2005 Mitchell Watervale Riesling: Scents of wallflower and straw-hay barn characters, sweet lemon tart with hints of stone fruit and tropical tones, pronounced chalk and wet gravel minerals. Racy palate entry bursting with zesty lemon-lime, fleshing out to nectarine, peachy mid-plate succulence and sweetness than back flipping in to sour, crunchy green apples with edgy lemon acidity and chalky, dry finish with lingering spiciness and minerals: drinking perfectly as a young wine and integrated but appears to have the fruit weight and intensity to be very long lived.
2005 vintage conditions: “Near perfect growing season, warm spring but very mild summer. February 2C below average, one of the best years with wines that drink well young but age well, long term.”
2004 Mitchell Watervale Riesling: Subtle kerosene complexity and candle wax nuances amongst the redolence of straw fields and hay barn scents, chalky, pronounced wet limestone with a background of custard and vanilla pod with exotic tones of mango and poached guava. Tangy, bracing lemony palate entry with a chalky phenolic grip, very textural style and expressing lots of piquant lime and earthy wet gravel minerals. Plenty of vibrant acidity and seems to be still drinking very well, although palate much tighter than the bouquet suggesting it might be heading for sleep phase and best left for three or four years.
2004 vintage conditions: “Virtually no rain from October to the end of vintage, November warmer than average, December the hottest for years but January the coolest ever then a heat wave in February (16 days with max around 38C) Remarkable that the Riesling did so well but there was considerable sunburn”.
2003 Mitchell Watervale Riesling: Classic hay barn-dry straw, a noticeable extra dimension of opulence in the bouquet, custard sweetness amongst lime and poached peaches, definitely riper with nuances of clover honey, guava and tingly ground ginger spicy lift and an underlying wet chalkiness and sea salt. First impression on palate considerably more powerful in the line-up, added zing and intense lime piquancy with sour crisp Granny Smith apple and green mango flavors infused by laser acidity and spicy pickled ginger heat finishing with a marked earthiness-wet slate and chalky dryness: a stunning wine and appears to be drinking now, although shows no sign of fading and should be fine for another three to five years.
2003 vintage conditions: “Drought conditions with untimely rain in late February, Riesling performed very well with good depth and generosity but up to the standard of the great year in 2002, drought stress will mean the wine will age faster.”
2002 Mitchell Watervale Riesling: Pronounced lime bouquet amongst sweeter custard-vanilla pod, subtle toffee, straw and hay barn characters with extra complexities of fennel and lavender, chalky and cold granite background. Racy palate entry, very lemony and quite austere on the mid-palate, mouth-drying chalkiness with zingy tart acidity suggests a cooler year, long, spicy finish. Just starting to show development on the nose although the tightness and crispness of palate suggests quite a ways off before coming in to prime, leave a good five years before broaching.
2002 vintage conditions: “A very cool summer with a long dry autumn, one of the best vintages ever: high baume (a measure of sugar concentration, high acidity and glorious flavors. Will age for 20 years+”
2001 Mitchell Watervale Riesling: Characteristic straw-hay, some richness with cone honey and bees wax and just a hint of kerosene complexity, very minerally and chalky, seems slightly more developed in the line-up with toasty butterscotch aromas. Breathes out to reveal the consistent custard like sweet tones with caramelized apple, toffee with a background of lime, although fruit somewhat locked away. Zingy, apply palate entry, lean and bony, big hit of sour lemon acidity very crisp framework with chalky mouth puckering dryness and spicy length. Looks to be a year or two away from of coming out of hibernation but has all the makings of a classic.
2001 vintage conditions: “Excellent winter rains gave good canopies so the vineyard coped well with extended periods of hot weather in January and February, Riesling the highlight of the vintage.”
2000 Mitchell Watervale Riesling: Golden yellow color, perfume of a summer’s day in clover fields and heather, dried fennel seed, ripe peaches, dark-cone honey and palm sugar sweetness amongst toasty apple tarte-tatin caramel-like aromas, hint of waxy-kerosene with a lime background and chalky wet limestone and gravel. Creamy, visceral palate entry, rich and honeyed then oscillates to marmalade sweet and sours characters, orange rind, gooseberry, still zingy with intense lime and ginger spices, perky lemon-acidity keeping it fresh and lively, spiciness cumin and fennel flavors accentuated minerals – slate, granite and straw characters; incredible length and powerful farewell. Perfect development and wonderful drinking at six years in bottle and not peaking yet, suggest another three or four years for prime drinking.
2000 vintage conditions: “One of our most difficult vintages, hail in October, and cool windy weather during flowering, heat waves in February resulting in sun burnt berries. Remarkably the 2000 has drunk well for a number of years but the developing color indicates that this will never be a long lived wine.”
Serving & Food Pairing
Riesling should always be served well-chilled, around 50 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit (10 to 12 degree Celsius) and allow 30 minutes to breath out as the aromas will develop considerably. Use a Riedel Vinum Series Rheingau glass. I would suggest this is a perfect aperitif wine or suitable for drinking on any occasion. Its racy freshness and zingy powerful acidity make it a good foil for spicy Thai salads and hot curries. It would be versatile with all spicy Asian cuisines and have enough power to match stronger poultry and even red meats cooked in curries or served in salads.
Longevity & Price Point
These are wines that can be enjoyed for its the purity and zestful refreshing qualities from release up to two years, however will then go into hibernation and reward cellaring a further five to eight years, developing rich and toasty complexities. Cooler, structured years will live 20-plus years under good cellaring conditions. Even with prohibitive wine taxes in Asia, this wine represents incredible value, retailing in Hong Kong for HK$165 or S$35.50 in Singapore.
There are not many wines on the planet that can offer such quality, individuality and longevity at this price point, it fact its mind boggling how affordable it is. Purchase in multiple cases without hesitation and cellar in the optimum conditions at Crown Cellars if you live in Hong Kong, www.crownwinecellars.com, or in Singapore, Wine Bond, www.winebond.net
Hong Kong: Kedington Wines
Tel: +852 28989323
Singapore: The Cellar Door
Tel: +65 64649909
The Clare Valley is an easy 1 hour drive from Adelaide and quintessential wine touring country. There is Riesling trail that uses the disused railway line, now turned in a cycling path that runs 27 km from Auburn to Clare and passes by many wineries’ cellar doors.