What Does a 15 Year Old Riesling Taste Like?

  • Howard Park

Ever wondered how a Riesling will evolve and taste after 15 years in the cellar? Or want to know how your cellared wines might be drinking?

Well, one of our wine club members has done the hard work for you. Allan Wilkerson has been a wine club member for many years and an avid collector of Howard Park Rieslings. Below is his very comprehensive report on a recent vertical tasting of more than 19 of our Riesling wines from 1997 onwards.

Howard Park has been making Rieslings since the company’s establishment in 1986.  Since then, it has made a remarkably consistent line of Rieslings, through 4 winemakers and changes in the vineyard composition.  All Rieslings have the Great Southern region as their source; however, there’s been a shift towards the eastern borders of the region, centred around Mount Barker.

Since 2010, Howard Park has made a separate Porongorup Riesling, however, these wines were not a part of this tasting. Although many of the “Great Southern” wines contain Porongorups fruit, there’s been a deliberate separation between the two wines, and (I feel) for the better.  The Porongorup Rieslings in my experience are leaner, tauter and will take longer to come around; whereas the Great Southern Rieslings maintain a house style that is largely consistent despite the variation of vintage (with a few exceptions).  I hope to do a vertical of the Porongorups Rieslings in the future.

The remarkable consistency shows itself in some technical ways:

  • The alcohols range between 11.5% in 2010 and 12.5% in 2007, with an average of 12.1%. This is significantly lower than most Clare Valley Rieslings, for example.
  • These are fermented dry – residual sugar levels range between 3.8 g/l (2002) and 0.3 g/l (2016), with an average 1.6 g/l – very dry.
  • The high acidity levels are typical of Riesling and facilitates long ageing. 

There’s a couple of characteristics of Riesling generally that manifest:

  • They can go through a “dumb” phase, or adolescence, where the nose especially seems muted or drops out.  For a lot of Australian Rieslings, this take place between 2 and 5 years of age.  For Great Southern Rieslings generally, and Howard Park Rieslings especially, this takes longer to kick in, when it does materialise.
  • They show kerosene characters especially on initial pour (Diesling?). Again, this seems to be more pronounced on eastern Australian Riesling, with the Howard Park Rieslings showing this to a lesser extent than expected. 

I held a similar tasting in April 2015, with wines from 2001 to 2014 inclusive.  The notes from that tasting can be found here

On that occasion, the 2005 was the Wine Of The Night, and we remarked on the consistency of the wines over 14 vintages.

This tasting included all the wines from the 2015 tasting, with the addition of the four vintages since, and the 1997. So, 19 vintages in total, with 18 being consecutive. All wines were bottled under screwcap, with the exception of the 1997.

David Stredwick from Burch Family Wines (Howard Park) joined us for the tasting, and graciously provided us with tasting notes for each of the wines, as well as more technical information including vineyard sources, winemaking and viticultural notes, acidities / PH levels and alcohol levels for all of the wines. David also answered many questions from an inquisitive audience, and I appreciate his contributions to the evening.

Howard Park Riesling Vertical Tasting 1

As usual, the tasting notes below reflect a composite of the group’s opinions, and do not necessarily reflect my personal impressions.  We tasted from youngest to oldest, and arrived at a Wine Of The Night through a voting process.  So, here are the wines:

Howard Park Mount Barker Riesling 2018 (Mount Barker 87%, Porongurup 13%) 12.1% alcohol

Very pale straw. The nose shows fresh lemons and lime, with lots of florals – violets and lemon blossom. There’s also talc and a whiff of musk.  The palate has cleansing acidity, with a touch of minerality and lemon sherbet. It is slightly restrained at this early age but perfectly balanced.  One taster described “flavoured spring water”.

Howard Park Mount Barker Riesling 2017 (Mount Barker 92.2%, Porongurup 7.8%) 12.3% alcohol

Pale straw with green tinges. A slight hint of kero on pour. There are florals, including orange blossom, and lots of zesty lime. It’s a fraction shorter than the 2018, and with a little time in the glass the limes moved towards pear.  Great supporting acid, lemon curd and white grapefruit. The middle palate was a little richer, and drew positive comments.

Howard Park Mount Barker Riesling 2016 (Mount Barker 100%) 12.0% alcohol

Pale straw in colour, only marginally darker than the previous wines. This was more lemon than lime, with ginger, musk and dried oregano. There was also a hint of kero initially. The palate shows lemon sherbet, pronounced acid, juiciness, and a little limestone or minerality leading to a long-ish finish.

Howard Park Mount Barker Riesling 2015 (Mount Barker 97.7&, Porongurup 2.3%) 12.2% alcohol

Straw in colour. Like the 2016, more lemon than lime, with lemon zest also heading towards grapefruit, peach and nectarine.  There’s a flint character as well.  The palate shows slightly softer acid (this is relative, given that these are all high acid wines) and there’s the faintest hint of development – lemon is slightly cordial-like, and the palate weight and texture have built up slightly.

Howard Park Mount Barker Riesling 2014 (Mount Barker 92.83%, Porongurup 7.1%) 12.1% alcohol

Straw in colour. The usual lemon / lime with lanolin and a slight herbal tinge, but slightly muted (is this the dumb phase referred to earlier?). Lemon cordial and lime marmalade with good supporting acid, leading to a long chalky finish.

Howard Park Great Southern Riesling 2013 (Mount Barker 90.5%, Porongurup 9.5%) 11.8% alcohol

Straw in colour, very slightly darker than previous wines. The nose shows lemon meringue, lemon zest, some burnt toast, ginger and glazed fig. The palate was mouth filling, with lemon sherbet, lemon cordial and high acidity lending freshness. This wine was highly regarded by the group.

Howard Park Great Southern Riesling 2012 (Mount Barker 80.2%, Porongurup 19.8%) 12.0% alcohol

Straw colour, tending towards yellow. Lots of kero on the nose initially, but it disappeared quickly. Lemon meringue, peach, nectarine, and preserved lemons along with slate and mineral salts. The palate has zesty limes and lemon, and green apple juiciness and tartness. Good acid.

Howard Park Great Southern Riesling 2011 (69.5% Mount Barker, 30.5% Porongurup) 12.4% alcohol

Pale yellow. Sweatiness or garden hose (?) – otherwise quite a muted nose. The palate was quite flat and broad, with key limes being the dominant flavour. A hint of pears also. This wine divided the group, as the wine seemed out of step with the surrounding vintages. Accelerated maturity perhaps?

Howard Park Great Southern Riesling 2010 (85.9% Mount Barker, 14.1% Porongurup) 11.5% alcohol

Pale yellow. Slight kero on pour.  There were lots of floral characters, some peach and Fruit Tingles (the lollies). The palate was delightful – fresh limes (almost zingy) and lime cordial. A touch of iodine (?) and pear.  Superb acid and very long finish. This was the first vintage that showed clear signs of development and it remained very balanced. Highly regarded.

Howard Park Riesling Vertical Tasting 2

Howard Park Great Southern Riesling 2009 (Great Southern 100%) 12.3% alcohol

Yellow in colour. Developed nose with lanolin, caramel, marshmallow, fairy floss, crème brulee and toffee apple. The palate shows lemon curd and cordial, and very high acid “like sucking a lemon”. It was another wine that seemed a little out of step in its development.

Howard Park Great Southern Riesling 2008 (41.0% Mount Barker, 37.25% Frankland River, 21.75% Porongurup) 12.2% alcohol

Pale yellow, heading back to straw. Noticeably paler than 2009 or 2007. The nose shows florals and hay, with one taster likening it to a summery paddock. There’s also peaches and stone fruits. The palate has zingy acid, with kiwi fruit, citrus, stone fruits and lemon meringue pie. There’s minerals and flinty elements as well.  This was more delicate than some other wines but also shows a lot of intensity as well.

Howard Park Great Southern Riesling 2007 (Great Southern 100%) 12.5% alcohol

Yellow with gold tinges. One taster identified Pea Beu fly spray (a good thing, apparently), with intense, almost sour limes.  Fruit Tingles made a reappearance as well. The palate is full and mouth filling with lime cordial, grapefruit and tropical fruits, and good supporting acid. It’s even and balanced with a long finish.

Howard Park Great Southern Riesling 2006 (68% Mount Barker, 27% Porongurup, 5% Albany) 12.0% alcohol

From a very cool vintage, this is yellow in colour. Quite developed nose, with toast and honey, lemon / lime, candied orange peel and wattle. The palate shows similar development – its slightly buttery, with grilled peach and balsamic / vincotto.  Despite these descriptors, the wine is a little light and watery – possibly a reflection of the vintage

Howard Park Great Southern Riesling 2005 (15.5% Albany, 10.8% Frankland, 49.5% Mount Barker, 24.2% Porongurup) 12.4% alcohol

Yellow. Big nose, with preserved limes, toast, honey and the garden hose has returned. The palate is intense and fully developed with lime cordial, sticky lemon pudding, with high acid and a creamy or waxy mouthfeel.  Great length and highly regarded.

Howard Park Great Southern Riesling 2004 (68% Mt Barker, 29% Porongurup, 3% Albany) 12.4% alcohol

Yellow. Lemon pith and pink grapefruit on the nose.  Preserved lemons (slightly tart and tangy) is supported by moderate acid (it’s all relative).  There’s also a flavour or texture of river pebbles. One taster described lemon cake with burnt edges.  For me, it showed touches of older Hunter Semillons.

Howard Park Great Southern Riesling 2003 (Great Southern 100%) 12.0% alcohol

 Yellow tending to gold in colour. A somewhat muted nose with honey, preserved lemons and “Juicy Fruit” gum. The wine is light, with relatively moderate acid. Some golden syrup, lime cordial and some tartness on the back palate.  This is showing tertiary development with the citrus flavours diminishing.

Howard Park Great Southern Riesling 2002 (Great Southern 100%) 11.9% alcohol

Yellow gold. Again, citrus fading behind toast and honey. Some wax and honeycomb. The palate shows preserved lemon, candied nuts, glace` ginger and a touch of allspice. Acid is also relatively moderate.

Howard Park Great Southern Riesling 2001 (Great Southern 100%) 12.2% alcohol

Yellow gold in colour. Candied limes, toffee apple, toast, honey cashews and crème brulee. The wine still has some freshness, due to the high acid and clean limes, although it’s obviously well developed. This was complex, balanced and had great length – amazing for an 18-year-old wine. The group considered this would be good with food as well. Highly regarded.

Howard Park Great Southern Riesling 1997

Deep gold bordering on orange. Honeyed, with grilled banana and sherry. Marmalade was the dominant character, and there was some slippery viscosity.  Short finish. The wine is still sound but definitely declining, and held great interest.

Howard Park Riesling Vertical Tasting 3

This tasting highlighted the development of Howard Park Riesling over time. Apart from a couple of anomalies, there’s a recognisable style running through the line-up, and that’s a credit to the winemaking teams over the years.  It also highlighted how slowly the wines develop – noticeable development didn’t appear until the 2010 vintage, and signs of decline didn’t appear until the 2003 vintage.

It’s also probably a tasting I will never repeat – although Howard Park is to be applauded for the museum stock it maintains. I may do the later vintages again in a few years’ time, but to taste 18 consecutive vintages (and one older vintage) is a pleasure it will be difficult to duplicate.  “Later” is a relative term, of course, and I reckon I would go back to 2008 at a minimum for any future tasting.

Wine of the night (on countback) was the 2010 vintage, followed by the 2005. It’s interesting to note that the 2005 was wine of the night at the 2015 tasting (again, on countback).

Many thanks to those who attended the tasting and contributed to the tasting notes you’re reading here. Special thanks to David Stredwick from Howard Park for allowing me access to some museum stock, and for his considerable contributions on the night.

Want to try an aged wine from our cellar? Or need to replace a year from your collection?

If you are an existing Wine Club member call or email David Stredwick on mailorder@hpw.com.au or 08 9756 5200 for a full price list of available wines.

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