Crisp, lively, flinty and refreshing. That and a funny shaped bottle is what comes to mind when you think of Riesling. But what happens when you lay one down for a few years? Our best answer: you need a vertical tasting!
When it comes to ageing wines, stashing them in some subterranean den to gather dust and look more expensive, it’s usually with red wine.
And that’s fair enough. Once in the bottle, most white wine doesn’t get much better or change with time. But there are a couple.
Semillon does incredible things after a few years of cellaring, developing oaky flavours that weren’t there in its youth.
But Riesling also transforms if you let it rest for a while. Those sharp flavours level out, and while there’s still an apply crunch and brightness to the wine, structure, nuttiness, honey and straw notes start to come through.
The best way to really notice these differences and changes is to have a vertical tasting.
What is a vertical wine tasting?
There are three main ways of tasting wine and each has its own purpose.
When you visit a cellar door, you’re likely to try a range of varieties from that same vineyard. This is so you get an idea of the winery’s products with a view to buying them. It’s a lot of fun.
A horizontal tasting is where you taste a range of wines from the same region and vintage, and also the same variety but from different vineyards.
We did one of these in the Hunter Valley to compare their best Shiraz from the legendary 2014 vintage against the Penfolds Grange of the same year. This was great fun.
But a vertical tasting is nothing short of fascinating.
A vertical tasting allows you to experience the effects of time on a variety of wine from the same vineyard – in fact from the same vines. You’re essentially time travelling.
And because you can only really age good quality wine, a vertical tasting will at least assure you of drinking really top level stuff.
Howard Park Wines – a quick intro
In the heart of Australia’s biggest wine region – the Great Southern – is a sub-region called Mount Barker. Howard Park Wines started off here in 1986, only growing Riesling and Cabernet grapes.
Howard Park has since spread its wings into the prestigious Margaret River Region of WA, where the cellar door is, but its soul, history and majority of its vines are still in Great Southern in the far southwest of Western Australia, about 50km north of Albany.
Howard Park Riesling and its Museum Release programme
I feel like Howard Park Wines really understands me. They know I just can’t be trusted. I really try to age as much wine as I can, but I somehow end up drinking it instead!
Howard Park’s Museum Range is saving me from myself by holding onto wine, ageing it in perfect cellaring conditions and then releasing it when it’s at least had a chance to do its thing.
Because of this, we’ve been able to compare three different vintages of Howard Park’s superb Mount Barker Rieslings in a vertical tasting without all the tantalisation of having them in our home for years.
Vertical tasting of Howard Park Wines’ Mount Barker Riesling
Howard Park Mount Barker Riesling 2019
Starting with the ‘control’ – the newest vintage of the three – this 2019 Riesling shows all the signs of a spritely young wine. Light green hues match green apple and lime aromas, and the palate is bright and citrusy.
That trademark flintiness of a top riesling is still developing here, but crisp dry notes of nashi pear and plenty of underlying structure show the promise of a wine that’s going to develop so well with the cellaring potential of 20 years.
Howard Park Mount Barker Riesling 2014 Museum Release
Those greenish tinges we saw in the 2019 have deepened and the bright apple and citrus have been replaced with a stoniness and deeper fruitiness.
The lively texture and acidity of the wine is still there, but we also found a richness and length of minerality that wasn’t there in the younger wine. There’s also a nuttiness – almost praline – in the aftertaste.
This wine will continue to evolve for another 10-15 years in the cellar.
Howard Park Mount Barker Riesling 2013 Museum Release
What a difference a year makes. Things have definitely progressed with this wine. Perhaps it was the somewhat hotter, dryer conditions of 2013, but there are clearer signs of nougat nuttiness and toffee here.
The citrus drive we noticed in the 2019 vintage has become more of a lemon curd flavour, though there’s still a solid backbone of acidity holding things together beautifully here. Flinty notes are also prevalent and the legs on this wine go on forever.
And according to Howard Park, there’s still room to manoeuvre, with a recommended 10-15 years more cellaring for the very patient among us.
But how good are Howard Park Rieslings?
Let me put it this way. When we ran our Wine of the Month series on different varietals, we had recommendations from the Wine Saints – my distinguished friends Peter, Andrew and Paul.
Howard Park’s Rieslings were in St Paul’s top-grade list.
In fact it was Paul who introduced us to the beauty of a brilliant Riesling and all its minerality, structure and vibrance. It was back in July 2013 in a Manhattan restaurant with a wine list built by Tolstoy.
Paul somehow picked a wine from that tome that we still remember today, so his recommendation of Howard Park holds weight.
I love the museum release programme Howard Park has, holding back a portion of its wines each year to help people experience the wine as the makers intended it.
Far from merely a product of vanity, this is a mission to elevate wine understanding as a whole.