Every year Australia's Jacob's Creek (owned by Pernod-Ricard) makes 4 million cases of extremely drinkable, hugely popular, everyday wine. But 3,000 of these cases (only 0.075 percent) are the Steingarten Riesling, the 2006 vintage of which is this week's Wine of the Week. It is, however, the best Oz Riesling I have ever tasted, and I recently had the pleasure of sharing a bottle over dinner with Jacob's Creek's chief winemaker, Bernard Hickin.
The wine comes from the Eden Valley, a part of the larger Barossa appellation. Now the Barossa is generally too warm to make good Riesling—it's ideal Shiraz country. But the Eden, a little further east and a little higher, is cool enough for Riesling.
The vineyards are scattered among a series of lumpy hills, and it was here in 1962 that then-owner Colin Gramp, seeking an ever cooler climate for his Riesling, planted the Steingarten vineyard on the top of one of these hills.
I visited the vineyard a couple of years ago, and it's easy to see the appeal the spot held for Gramp. The peak commands a breathtaking view of the valley below, with the vines planted on the cooler east-facing slope that drops away at an alarming 30-degree angle.
Hickin told me that "Gramp had visited the Riesling vineyards of the Rheingau and Mosel Valley and had a vision of making a vineyard that was similar in terms of being a very stony site on a steely slope, and cool. Facing east, it gets only morning sun. It's a very cold site with a rocky terrain similar to the Mosel, and he thought he could make a Riesling that would emulate that classic Germanic style."
This he certainly did. The wine is astounding. Lean, crisp, and blessed with that complex depth of slate-like minerality that marks great Riesling. And it's long-lived, too—15, 20, even 25 years in a good vintage. The 2006, which retails for around $30, is only just beginning to show those toasty notes of honey and stone that will become more prominent with time.
Jacob's Creek doesn't even make the wine every year—rather like Champagne and Port, Steingarten is bottled only in the best years.
At 3,000 cases, the label is insignificant financially, but it serves as an effective showcase wine, a brand enhancer for Jacob's Creek, so it's in Hicken's interest to set the bar pretty high when it comes to quality.
"Steingarten is about having an experience with Riesling," Hickin tells me—"something very special. So it's important to make a very strong quality statement. Because it's the best we do with Riesling, we really want the consumer to have an experience [he or she] will remember and say 'Wow, that wine was absolutely fabulous.' It's the best of the best."
To find this wine near you, try Wine Searcher.
When to Drink: Now and for the next 30 years
Breathing/Decanting: Half-an-hour's breathing really helps
Food Pairing: Seafood, especially shellfish, and pork
Region: South Australia