Pewsey Vale, Eden Valley, Australia with Louisa Rose

xLouisa Rose is the highly talented Australian winemaker behind not only the terrific Rieslings of Pewsey Vale, but also Pewsey Vale’s Cabernet Sauvignon and all white wines under the Yalumba label. I have a particular fondness for the Pewsey Vale Rieslings, every vintage since they were first imported into the UK in 1997 has made it as a Wine Pages Wine of the Week. The 1997 was my “Budget White of the Year” in 1999.

I had lunch with Louisa who was in Scotland with her UK agents, Negociants UK. We ate a really fine meal (at Peckham’s Underground Restaurant in Edinburgh), preceded by a fascinating tasting of Pewsey Vale Rieslings. The tasting was particularly interesting because it included not only some extremely rare wines from the winery’s Museum (the 1971 and ’81 vintages, both of which are down to the last half dozen bottles) but also offered the chance to compare regular cork-closed bottles with others that had been sealed with a “Stelvin” cap: a metal screw-cap which is also sealed with Cellulose as a precaution against air-exchange.

Louisa is very proud to be at the reins of Pewsey Vale, a vineyard first planted to Riesling in 1847. The company began using Stelvin caps for their Riesling in 1970. It was seen as the perfect way to seal in the pure varietal characteristics of the Riesling, and experiments proved that wines under Stelvin developed more slowly and with fewer off-aromas and flavours than cork. However, due to the Australian public’s reluctance to accept that any quality wine could be bottled in a screw-cap, the company reverted to cork in 1984 after more than a decade of persevering with the product.

Pewsey Vale remain convinced that Stelvin is the optimum closure for their Rieslings however, and each year a small proportion of their production is still bottled under Stelvin for their museum collection. Louisa says: “Pewsey Vale Rieslings are renowned for their exceptional ageing ability. While Australian wine consumers may not be quite ready to go back to Pewsey Vale in Stelvin, at least we can rest assured that the ageing potential of these (museum) wines will be maximised”. The 1995 Riesling under Stelvin which was on tasting here, will be released in limited quantities later this year – stand by for information on stockists in the UK. Louisa also told me that a group of top Clare Valley Riesling growers were bottling their premium wines under Stelvin for the next vintage: a kind of mob rule that they hope will persuade a suspicious public that this method of closing is suitable for what are generally regarded as Australia’s finest Rieslings. Another interesting side-note is that Yalumba remain convinced that the Stelvins are preferred to the newer synthetic corks for fine wines to be cellared. Their experiments show the synthetics do not retain their seal effectively over the longer term.

xLouisa, who has just turned 30, is a wonderfully refreshing character. She will happily get into the minutiae of baumé levels and vine clones if required, but she also displays a waspish sense of humour and a very plain-spoken approach to her job, and one suspects, life.

We shared a train journey back through to Glasgow and she confessed that the weekend of free time in London as part of her itinery was, for her, torture. I imagine she spent the time fretting over the 7,000 acre farm she and her partner manage, with its 1,000 head of livestock.

I took this opportunity to speak to Louisa about the Virgilius, her new premium Viognier wine bottled under the Yalumba label. I am a bit of a Viognier sceptic, finding many examples to be attractive and impressive, but ultimately rather overbearing and not terribly complex. The Virgulius is currently Louisa’s “pet project” and the one she is most excited about. Her Viognier vines are 20 years old. She uses indigenous yeasts for fermentation, matures the wine on its lees for nine months in mostly older barrels and produces wine rich in glycerol and body. I told her I’d recently tasted her 1998 and found it “forceful with rich, fat and, for me, overpowering flavours and hot alcohol”. Louisa suggested I try it again, but not in a tasting situation but with food. She is convinced my mind would be changed, as the low acidity and richness of the wine really needs food to show at its best.

Pewsey Vale Rieslings

Rhine Riesling under Stelvin 1971
1971 was not a particularly great vintage. Very deep, bronzed gold colour. Nose is nettley and herbaceous with green beans and notes of old waxed parcel-string. On the palate it is quite rich still, with full body and, though led by minerals and acidity, there are fine stone-fruit and citrus flavours. A little drying edge interupts the finish, but this still provides enjoyable drinking as well as plenty of interest.

Rhine Riesling under Stelvin 1981
Ten years younger, and a better vintage in general. Moderately deep golden colour. Wonderfully smoky, nutty, toasted sesame-seed and hot buttered muffin aromas. Gorgeous. There are little highlights of wax and blossom too. Palate has lovely lime and floral, confectionery flavours and still some tropical guava and melon notes. Absolutely lush with a streak of waxy lime purity to the fruit and just a hint of fruity sweetness. Nice long finish. Still well-balanced, very composed and just delightful to drink.

Riesling under Stelvin 1995, to be released later this year
Pale green, very youthful colour. Wax, nettles, herbaceous with good apple and pear fruit that is restrained and very pure. On the palate it is medium to full-bodied with a rich spiciness, spiced-apple fruit and again, ripe pear and little crisp, citrussy notes. There is good length here and very fresh lemon and lime acidity into the finish. Very good indeed.

Riesling under cork 1997
The wine that was my “Budget White of the Year” 20 months ago or so. Golden yellow colour tinged with green. Floral and mineral notes dominate, hints of pineapple and limes. Wonderfully fresh palate, loaded with citrus fruit but really luscious. Clean, not any development of nutty, buttery character of older rieslings but a definite tropical, exotic-fruit character in the mouth. Still beautifully fresh and poised.

Riesling under cork 1999
Pale green/lemon colour. shimmering, light, lemon-blossom and lime fruit on the nose. A little salty, minerally note too. Palate is very limey too with tight, focused flavours and a little sweet, ripe, luscious edge. Medium bodied. Quite straightforward at this stage, but cool, delicious, clean and elegant.

Riesling under Stelvin 1999
The same wine in the Stelvin closure. Slightly lighter, younger pale green/straw colour. Sweet lime nose, an edge of floral waxiness and a little steely, mineral core. A touch of herbaceousness. This is really tightly focused on the palate: a steely core of pure lime fruit that is very concentrated. There is plenty of fruit, plenty of ripeness, but it is more tightly-wound than the cork-closed bottle. Lots of finesse and elegance.

Riesling under cork 2000
Yields were down by almost a half in this difficult vintage. Very pale green/gold. Restrained fruit, but there is a lot of elegance. Fine weight on the palate, fine purity. Unctuous, but also quite compact with concentrated fruit that is dense and luscious. Fine length though, fruit starts to push through and an edge of spice. Nice balance here. Very good.

Riesling under Stelvin 2000
Same wine. Very, very pale green gold. Massive, sweet confectionary nose with acacia, honey, flowers and lime. Strikingly more zingy and bright. Good weight on the palate with loads of crunchy, sparky, lime and lemon fruit. Zesty. Lovely ripe pear skin nuances and fine acidity. Great length. Excellent.

With lunch we enjoyed a few glasses of other Yalumba wines available in Peckhams stores. The Janz non-vintage Sparkling Wine from Tasmania was rather nice stuff with a deep, bready, nutty nose and some nettle nuances. Beautiful fruit on the palate. Very generous and easy to drink. The Heggies Chardonnay 1997 was very distinctive; at first quite vegetal and Burgundian with cabbagey nuances then a toasty oak added depth and lots of sweet orchard fruits on the palate with a fudge-like edge. Lovely length and balance. The Heggies Botrytis Riesling 1998 was unctuous and fresh at the same time with a lovely limpid, purity of fruit. Excellent stuff.

I really enjoyed meeting Louisa and talking to her about her wines. A real star of the Australian white wine scene for sure – the legacy of Pewsey Vale Riesling appears to be in very safe hands. The Stelvin enclosures? Well, the older wines were remarkably fresh and pure, and the side-by-side tasting of the cork/Stelvin-closed young wines showed the Stelvin wines tighter and perhaps more purely fruited. Quite a convincing demonstration.