Generic white wine, flavours, aroma, bouquet pic.
Reverse order: Young wine is made for immediate appeal, but quality needs patience. Photo: Jennifer Soo

Having enjoyed many of last year's vintage Australian rieslings, and concluded it's one of the better vintages of recent times, I got a shock reading the recent Sydney Royal Wine Show results.

Of the 115 dry 2012 rieslings entered in the show, only four won gold medals, 10 took silver and 25 bronze. This is a poor result for what has been widely seen as an excellent vintage.

Perhaps I'm lucky enough to taste the cream, because, of the 182 samples my database shows I've tasted so far, I rated 24 gold medal or above, and 44 silver-medal quality. And another 29 high bronze medal (88/100 to 89/100 points). That's 97 wines on high bronze and above.

But no: it's not that I'm tasting only the best, or only the top-priced wines. There were many I've rated highly that didn't score even a bronze medal at Sydney Royal. Leo Buring (all three wines including Leonay), Petaluma, Paulett Antonina, Jim Barry Watervale, Pewsey Vale, Leconfield, Castle Rock Estate, Knappstein and others all scored well with me - but at the Sydney Show? Not a sausage.

Grosset never enters shows. Jim Barry Florita and Lodge Hill got mere bronzes, as did Steingarten, Richmond Grove and Leasingham Classic Clare.

But I'm not going to carp about it. I think 2012 is an excellent vintage, especially in the Clare Valley, and deserving of more high medals than the Sydney judges awarded.

There is a syndrome with wine shows and delicate newly minted white wines such as the current-vintage riesling. Often the cheapie wine of a given winery will outperform the reserve wine. For example, this year we saw Paulett's entry-level riesling win a gold medal, while its $50 reserve wine, Antonina (which is clearly better), won nothing. Leasingham's Bin 7 often outscores its big brother, Leasingham Classic Clare, and so on. Another example from the Sydney show: Howard Park's $20 Mad Fish won a silver medal, while its ultra-fine $30 Porongurup riesling only managed a bronze.

High-quality riesling needs time. It's often closed and unready if judged within a year of vintage. On the other hand, the same winery's entry-level wine is designed to show its maximum appeal immediately: it's designed to drink young, not to age. So the $12-$15 wine often gets a gold or silver, and the $35 reserve gets a bronze or nothing. If they were judged again a few years later, the order might be reversed. It's a failing of the system. And no one pretends the system is perfect.

The 2012 vintage

Clare winemakers regard last year's riesling vintage as one of the best of our time. When the first of these wines were being released, they went around the country holding tastings, comparing their 2012s with their 2002s - a great ageing vintage and one of the first vintages when a large number of wineries began using screw caps. Most of the wines had aged well, but comparing the '12s with the '02s may have been drawing a long bow. The 2002 season was a record cool growing year, whereas 2012 was much warmer. Cool seasons tend to produce more ageworthy white wines.

Eden Valley had a highly successful 2012 vintage, as did Tasmania - albeit making more ripe-tasting rieslings with slightly lower acidity than in a classic year. And Western Australia's Great Southern had an excellent vintage. In other words, all of the major riesling regions had a superb year.

If we sneak the southern half of Victoria in, the prospects look even better, as regions from the Goulburn Valley and Strathbogie Ranges down to the Yarra Valley, Geelong and Mornington had a blinder of a vintage.

So what are the best wines? And how are we to list them? There are simply too many to review even a representative sample of the top wines. So I've elected to simply list my favourites in three groups by price - up to $20, $20 to $30, and more than $30, and score each out of 100.

Up to $20

● The Wilson Vineyard Watervale, $19, 95/100.

● Jim Barry Watervale, $18, 94.

● The Willows, $16.50, 93.

● Jim Barry The Lodge Hill, $20, 93.

● Knappstein Hand Picked, $20, 93.

● Neagles Rock, $20, 93.

● Penna Lane Watervale, $20, 93.

● Gaelic Cemetery Celtic Farm, $20, 93.

● D'Arenberg Dry Dam, $15, 92.

● Thorn Clarke Sandpiper, $16, 92.

● Peter Lehmann Portrait Dry, $18, 92 (see Wine of the Week).

● Wirra Wirra The Lost Watch, $20, 92.

● Pacha Mama, Central Victoria, $20, 92.

● O'Leary Walker Polish Hill River, $20, 90.

● Charles Sturt University, $20, 90.

Between $20 and $30

● Bream Creek, $27, 96.

● Harewood Estate Frankland River, $22, 95.

● The Bend, Tasmania, $24, 95.

● The Wilson Vineyard DJW, $24, 95.

● Penfolds Bin 51, $30, 95.

● Petaluma Hanlin Hill, $25, 95.

● Wilson Vineyard Polish Hill River, $28, 95.

● Craigow, $28, 95.

● Pressing Matters R9, $29, 95.

● Harewood Estate Mt Barker, $22, 94.

● Castle Rock Estate, $25, 94.

● Nocton Park, $25, 94.

● Pooley Coal River, $27, 93.

● Brangayne of Orange, $22, 92.

● Pewsey Vale, $23, 92.

● Freycinet, $24, 92.

● Tamar Ridge Kayena Vineyard, $24, 92.

● Leconfield Old Vines, $25, 92.

● Derwent Estate, $25, 92.

● Dandelion Vineyards Wonderland of the Eden Valley, $27.50, 92.

● Pressing Matters R0, $29, 92.

● Mesh Grosset Hill Smith, $30, 92.

● Mount Horrocks Watervale, $30, 92.

● Kilikanoon Mort's Block, $22, 91.

● Tim Adams, $22, 91.

● Penna Lane Skilly Valley, $23, 91.

● Mitchell Watervale, $22, 90.

● Wines by KT 5452, $22, 90.

● Pikes Traditional, $23, 90.

● Clos Clare, $25, 90.

● The Yard Riversdale Vineyard, $25, 90.

● Poonawatta The Eden, $26, 90.

● 3 Drops, $26, 90.

● Howard Park Porongurup, $30, 90.

More than $30

● Grosset Springvale, $37, 97.

● Grosset Alea Off-Dry, $33, 97.

● Grosset Polish Hill, $50, 96.

● Gaelic Cemetery, $35, 95.

● Pikes The Merle, $45, 95.

● Robert Stein, $40, 95.

● Mac Forbes RS 14, $32, 94.

● Paulett Antonina, $50, 94.

● Leo Buring Leonay Watervale, $40, 93.

● Jim Barry The Florita, $45, 93.

● Henschke Julius, $33, 93.

● Frankland Estate Smith Cullam, $45, 93.

● Wines by KT Churinga Vineyard, $35, 92.

● Frankland Estate Isolation Ridge, $32, 92.

● Bay of Fires, $32, 91.

● Wines by KT Melva, $31, 91.

● Cherubino Great Southern, $35, 90.

 

 

**For more on riesling, or to buy wine, visit: goodfood.com.au/drink.