David 1 December 2016
Riesling Freak… There’s not a winemaker in Australia as singleminded or tireless in his devotion to Riesling as John Hughes. Recently he’s received some extraordinary recognition for Rieslingfreak’s 2016 wines, one of which has made it into the Australian Financial Review's Top 20 Wines of 2016. Incredible for a wine that sells for $22, so I’d like to take this opportunity to say 'I told you so.'
Between growing up in the family vineyard, in South Australia’s iconic Clare Valley, and his father's cellar stocked with aged Rieslings, John was always going to have a fondness for the variety. But by the time I met him in the early 90s, at Roseworthy in Adelaide, he was a fully-fledged Riesling nut. I remember several trips to the Clare with John, talking and tasting nothing but Riesling. John spent 10 years at the Australian Wine Research Institute being a serious wine geek, after which he travelled through Europe, making a pilgrimage to the home of Riesling - Alsace. He then headed back to the Barossa, where he worked for Peter Lehman and Chris Ringland (of Three Rivers fame) for several years, before striking out on his own - his sole focus (you guessed it) - Riesling.
I admire John. He’s followed his passion, and with hard work and great skill, he’s made the transition from new kid to respected producer in a relatively short period of time. It’s been quite a trajectory, with well deserved success.
John’s first vintage was 2010 and just 3 years later in 2013, he won the Encouragement Award for Up and Coming Australian Riesling Winemakers at the Canberra International Riesling Challenge, a massive achievement at such a globally respected forum. The following year he was invited to be an associate judge at the same event! In 2015 John participated in an annual collaboration between Riesling associations in Australia, the United States and Germany. The event known as Riesling Downunder was held in Melbourne and he was involved in several masterclasses, a highlight of which was speaking alongside international Riesling guru Egon Müller. Then in August of this year, John was asked to join a tasting panel and show his wines at the Riesling Rendezvous in Seattle. This 3 day Riesling extravaganza featured 70 invited producers, one of which was Rieslingfreak, and was attended by winemakers, trade and media. Oh, and Rieslingfreak is now also a James Halliday 5 star rated winery.
John showcases the style spectrum of Riesling. Starting with just two wines, John now makes 10, covering dry, off-dry, sweet, fortified and for the first time this year, a sparkling Riesling. And he doesn’t seem to be running out of ideas or enthusiasm, with more wines in the pipeline.
I say it every year… Rieslingfreak has without doubt some of the best value Rieslings in the country. John’s wines are pure, sharp and aromatic, and I love them.
The fruit for this dry style of Riesling comes from John’s family vineyard in the north of the Clare; a sub-region known locally as White Hut. John gives credit to the heavy red clay soil here for the generous, fruit driven style - typical of Clare Riesling.
The wine is a pale gold and crystal clear. True to form, it’s a generous mouthful, packed with ripe flavours of melon, kiwi, lime, citrus and baked pineapple, interwoven with hints of musk. On the palate this lush fruit is balanced by good clean acid and subtle notes of elderflower and fresh grass. Dry, delicious and refreshing - like all of John’s wines, it’ll cellar if you can keep your hands off it.
“Pale straw in colour, floral and citrus notes on the nose, with a generous palate of lemon, limes, marmalade and white peach. The wine has great acid and length. Drinking exceptionally well now, but will reward with long term cellaring.” John Hughes, Winemaker.
- Gold Medal Adelaide Wine Show 2016
- Gold Medal Canberra International Riesling Challenge 2016
I can offer it for $22 a bottle. Order online
This is the wine that made it into the AFR's Top 20 Wines of 2016 and like the No.3, is a dry style. Its fruit is from two vineyards in another Australian Riesling hotspot, the Eden Valley. Eden generally produces lighter and more delicate floral Rieslings than the Clare.
Clear green-gold, this is a much more subtle affair than No.3. Fine honeysuckle, gooseberry and musk aromatics on the nose become beautiful musky, coconut and white peach on the palate, finishing with a zing of lemon and savoury vegetal cucumber notes. A different balance of flavours to the No.3, it’s much finer and more delicate, but great crisp acid, and a lovely dry finish.
"Gently floral with aromas of apple, pear and lemon, it has excellent freshness, purity and balance. That it’s so well priced is a bonus. Buy a case and enjoy it over the coming decade." Philip Rich, AFR Top 20 Wines of 2016.
“The wine is pale straw in colour, and has aromas of vibrant lemon and lime, sweet spice and almond blossom. The palate feels like it is multi layered, with generosity of brown lemons and limes, lime cordial and spice. The wine has great structure of fruit weight and acid balance, which fills out the palate. The wine drinks well now, but will reward with long term cellaring.” John Hughes, Winemaker.
- Gold Medal Adelaide Wine Show 201
- Gold Medal Melbourne Wine Show 2016
- Australian Financial Review Top 20 Wines of 2016
- Included in Adelaide Review’s ‘Hottest 100 Wines’
I can offer it for $22 a bottle. Click here to order new vintage.
This wine is refined and typical of the Polish Hill River sub-region of the Clare. This area used to be known simply as Polish Hill but Jeffry Grosset has since trademarked the term. The fruit is sourced from a vineyard known locally as the ‘Hill River Vineyard’, which sits about 5km southeast of the town of Clare. Elevation here is around 460m. Max Schubert, creator of Penfolds Grange, planted the vineyard in 1981 and it stayed with Penfolds until its sale in 2010 to current owners Rob and Lyn Jaeschke.
The fruit for the No.2 was fermented to dryness and is a moderate 11% alcohol, which I like. The wine really showcases the Polish Hill River with its minerally profile, crisp acid and underlying fresh citrus characters. Bone dry, the flavours here are beautifully succinct. Crystal clear and light gold in the glass, on the nose it's pineapple, cream and delicate blossoms interlaced with apple, lime, lemon and musk on the palate.
“This year the wine shows generosity. Although it still has its high acid and flinty notes, the wine shows flavours of ripe citrus, kaffir lime, and green apples. The wine has good fruit and acid balance. Drinks well now and will reward with long term cellaring.”John Hughes, Winemaker.
Enjoy now, but be sure to put a few bottles away in the cellar.
This wine has not been entered into any wine shows or been reviewed by critics yet.
I can offer it for $35 a bottle. Order online
John has always wanted to produce Riesling in a similar style to German
Kabinett, and here it is. Unable to use the term ‘Kabinett' due to EU labelling laws, John went with Schatzkammer, a German word for treasure trove or a winemaker’s vault of treasured wines - apt for a wine John sees as one of his best.
The term Kabinett is one of six Prädikats (awarded distinctions) applying to German wine, that are based on ripeness. Kabinett is the lightest followed in order by Spätlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese, Eiswein and finally Trockenbeerenauslese. While Kabinett wines are fully ripe, and may be semi-sweet or even dry, they are always light.
The fruit for this wine comes from the Polish Hill region, about 5km southeast of Clare. Wow – what a wine! It’s 7.0% alcohol, with delicate but ripe flavours of citrus, tropical fruit, rose petal and honeysuckle. The secret to this wine lies in John's expert balancing of the higher sugar content (51g/L) with higher acidity, higher than in the No. 3 and No.4. The result is a clean, vibrant finish, that doesn't appear overly sweet.
In the mouth it’s viscous yet light and delicately crisp, highlighting John’s alchemic ability to balance the entire composition. Why aren’t winemakers in Australia making more wine like this?
Philip Rich, reviewer for the AFR also drew attention to this wine when awarding the No.4 its place in the AFR Top 20 Wines of 2016, noting that "At a recent new releases tasting the standouts were the gently sweet Mosel-inspired No.8 and the No.4, Rieslingfreak’s dry Eden Valley wine."
“The wine is amazingly balanced with 10.5g/L acid and 51g/L sugar. The wine has an abundance of floral and citrus aromas, followed by mineral, fresh limes and lemons and green apples. The wine drinks exceptionally well now, but will reward with long term cellaring.” John Hughes, Winemaker.
This wine has not yet been entered into wine shows or reviewed by critics.
I can offer it for $35 a bottle. Order online
This wine is unique - you have to try it! Like the No.3 and No.5, the fruit comes from the family vineyard just north of Clare. The grapes are not fermented to dryness, John leaves some residual sugar at the end of the process. The resulting wine is then fortified using 3-year-old brandy spirit, before being matured for 2-3 years in large 70-year-old oak ex-fortifying puncheons (600L casks) which John sourced from Seppeltsfield.
True to form, John has created a fortified wine with attractive Riesling aromatics - incredible! No one makes a fortified like this. It’s delicious - sweet, rich and luscious, not cloying in the slightest, its clean acidity balancing the sugar. It’s 18.5% alcohol and the quality of the fortifying brandy spirit is evident as there’s just a touch of that classic ‘rancio’ taste, the nutty-ish note you find in sherry. It’s a lingering mouthful of burnt sugar, vanilla, caramel and sweet citrus. And as it’s fortified, you can keep it it in the fridge for a few months once opened (as if that’s going to happen).
“Made in a ‘white port’ style, the No.7 is dark yellow in colour, flavours of sultanas, caramel and butterscotch, orange peel and dried fruits. The wine is a perfect match for a sweet dessert, chocolate or a plate of cheese.” John Hughes, Winemaker.
This wine highlights John’s dedication to Riesling and showcases his tremendous creativity and skill. He’s definitely a Rieslingfreak!
I also can’t believe it’s so reasonably priced.
Hosted by winemaker John Hughes
Venue: Fix Wine Bar, 111 Elizabeth Street Sydney 2000
Date: Saturday 4th March
Cost: $125 per person