Howard Park, Great Southern - Western Australia, Riesling 2007 (Blue Water Wine, $25): When I visited Western Australia a year ago, a highlight of my trip was a vertical tasting of Howard Park Riesling going back to the 1988 vintage. The wines were terrific, and showed impressive longevity. I understood then that Howard Park winery is a Riesling power.
The 2007 is the current release of Howard Park Riesling. At the vertical tasting, one of the winemakers explained to me that his Riesling, packaged under screwcap, can go through a dumb phase at one year to 18 months of age--but this wine, now, seems to be exempt from that rule. It is flavorful, complex and concentrated, and has great depth and length.
When Jeff and Amy Burch founded Howard Park more than twenty years ago, their first wines were a Cabernet/Merlot blend and a Riesling. The original winery is in the area of Denmark in the Great Southern wine region, about a three-hour drive from the Margaret River region on Australia's western coast, where a newer, showcase Howard Park winery now exists. Today, Howard Park produces three white and five red wines under its primary brand, as well as several wines under the lower-priced Mad Fish brand.
The 2007 is the 21st vintage of Howard Park Riesling. The fruit comes mainly from the Mt. Barker and Porongurups sub-regions of the Great Southern. These are inland regions (Denmark is a coastal town) with warm to hot days and cool to cold nights during the growing season.
Grapes from the Porongurups area in particular contribute to the wine's strong minerality. This is the first sensation you are likely to notice when you smell the wine. It immediately sets this bottling apart from simple, fruity Rieslings, and places it in the arena of Rieslings with specific terroir character. The aroma also suggests floral and citrus notes, particularly lime, and to my nose an intriguing whiff of spices that you might smell on chorizo sausage. In the mouth, it is dry and medium-plus bodied, with admirable concentration of fruit character along with high acid, medium alcohol and great length across the palate. Flavors of apple, citrus and peach are fairly pronounced; the wine is very fruity but instead of being sweet-fruity, it is very solid and well-structured. (At 4 grams/ liter of residual sugar, it is a dry Riesling.)
The particular combination of fully-developed fruit character, high acidity, and medium alcohol is a signature of the mild 2007 vintage. The growing season got off to any early start; the grapes developed their aromatics early and they were harvested at a lower degree of sugar ripeness, and higher acidity than usual. The fruit concentration is such, however, that the acidity does not particularly stand out or cause the wine to seem linear.
'Two years of age is when Howard Park Riesling is hitting it on the head,' the winemaker remarked. By this time next year, the 2007 will start developing secondary aromas and should continue to develop positively for ten years or more. Ten years its senior, the 1997 Howard Park Riesling--my favorite wine in the vertical--is still going strong, but this 2007 has the advantage of a screwcap closure, which could enable it to age even better.