Hunter Smith is among the second generation of the Frankland Estate wine-making family working and living in the remote lands of southwest Australia. His vineyards are situated a four hour drive from Perth, a city which is already far from almost anything on the planet. But it is here that some of the most distinctive Australian Rieslings I’ve ever tasted are being made. The family has had a love affair with this grape for years, and the care with which they have cultivated different clones on different soils is evident in the glass.
Hunter was in Manhattan on January 28 to present some recent releases at a media dinner at Battery Gardens. We began with the Rocky Gully Riesling. To say it is their entry-level Riesling (selling for $24.99) is a huge disservice to this terrific wine. It has structure, minerality, good acid and length. Hunter has spent time studying the wines of Austria, and there is a restraint and elegance in all his wines that hearkens more to the old world than new.
Next we sampled his Isolation Ridge Riesling 2014. I found this wine flinty, dry, and distinctive – it is grown on northern and eastern facing slopes on ironstone gravel. You can taste the struggle the grapes felt to find sunshine in their resulting complicated development and austerity.
The grapes that are used to produce Netley Road Riesling are from 40 year old vines, one of the oldest vineyards in West Australia’s Great Southern region. This 2014 wine has more richness and has been allowed to develop in a non-interventionist style, as the wine was fermented in tanks and neutral oak at low temperatures for 12 weeks without a lot of fuss. Colorfully named Poison Hill Vineyard Riesling is a more perfumed wine, with refined palate of citrus and spice, balanced by acidity and minerality.
The flight of Rieslings was crowned by a very unique wine: Smith Cullam Riesling 2012. This is truly a different direction for Australian winemaking. It is a Kabinett Riesling, meaning that there is some residual sugar (RS) remaining. While this level of RS (9 grams per liter) is common in German Rieslings, it is rare to find an Australian winery choosing to produce a Riesling in this style. I found this wine truly perfectly balanced, with the acidity gliding on the tongue thanks to the hint of sweetness. It is complex, with citrus, minerality, and herbs.
While Frankland Estates occupies a somewhat cool corner of Australia, it is by no means as cold as Austria or Germany, which are known for their noteworthy Rieslings. So, in addition to choosing the right vineyard sights for each grape, and showing great care in the winery, Hunter has another reason why his Rieslings are so good: “It all comes down to pedantic viticulture.” The winery is fanatic about managing crop levels so that the vines are producing the best fruit. I, for one, left with a feeling that some pedantry can be a very good thing for Riesling-loving wine drinkers. Frankland Estates Rieslings are available at get wine online and in Scarsdale at Zachys.