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One of the World's Riesling Stars
By Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Feb 23, 2016
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Frankland Estate, Frankland River Region (Western Australia) Netley Road Vineyard Riesling 2014 (Quintessential, $35):  I always sit down to a wine-tasting with optimism, but when I sat down recently to taste through the Rieslings of Frankland Estate, it was with genuine excitement.  Ever since I tasted a Frankland Estate Riesling for the first time -- seven years ago at a Riesling Rendezvous conference sponsored by Chateau Ste. Michelle -- I understood that this winery ranks as one of the world’s Riesling stars.

Frankland Estate is a second-generation family winery situated in Western Australia.  More specifically, it is in the Frankland River sub-region of the remote Great Southern region, which stretches inland from Australia’s southern coast, about four-and-a-half hours southeast of Perth by car.  That’s truly remote.  The estate vineyards are situated only 24 miles away from the cold Southern Ocean and cool ocean breezes funneled by the Frankland River are a main factor in the vineyard terroir, along with very old soils rich in mineral matter.

The husband and wife team of Barrie Smith and Judi Cullam began growing grapes on their wool farm in 1988 after visiting wineries in France and becoming inspired.  Their flagship vineyard is Isolation Ridge, which sits high on an ironstone ridge with gravel and loam soils, and is farmed organically.

It was the 2005 Isolation Ridge Riesling that first turned me on to Frankland Estate’s remarkable wines.  In the 2014 vintage ($49), that wine is every bit as bone-dry, intense and bracing as I expect, with grapefruit and lime fruitiness, floral accents and strong mineral and spice notes that electrify the wine.  Several years from now, this purebred will probably still be going strong.

As much as I love that wine, though, my favorite of the five Frankland Estate Rieslings I tasted side by side was the winery’s 2014 Netley Road Riesling.  This wine comes from one of the oldest vineyards in the Great Southern region, planted in 1966.  It is broader on its entry than Isolation Ridge, richer and more welcoming, but its mid-palate reveals a lean core of coiled energy.  Aromas of lime zest, grapefruit, green tea and wet stone evolve into flavors of stone fruit and citrus, and finish in citrus and stony minerality.  This wine is complete and compelling.

Another single-vineyard Riesling in 2014 is Poison Hill ($35), which stylistically resembles Isolation Ridge Riesling in its tautness, its intensity of aroma and flavor and its strong mineral character, but has more to say at the moment than Isolation Ridge does.  The perfumed nose is floral and fruity (tangerine, particularly) with spicy and stony mineral notes, while the flavor contributes orange peel to that array.  As in all these wines, vibrant acidity forms the wine’s backbone, lending impressive structure to the aromatic intensity.

These three wines weigh in at 11.5 to 12.5 percent alcohol, and have very high acidity levels. They are all dry: Isolation Ridge has only 1.3 grams/liter of residual sugar, while Nutley Road has 1.6 grams and Poison Hill has 3.3 grams.  Another Frankland Estate Riesling is labelled “off-dry” and has 9 grams residual sugar -- but with almost 9 grams of acidity and 11 percent alcohol, it does not taste sweet.  That wine is the 2012 SmithCullam Riesling ($65), which hails from the Isloation Ridge vineyard.  Its aroma is marked by exotic spices, fresh herbs, flintiness, and citrus notes that range from lime to orange.  It is the most generous of the Rieslings, just a delight to drink and yet not shy in the minerally gravitas that marks the other wines.

All of these are remarkable Rieslings, made in fairly small quantities, from 1,200 cases of Isolation Ridge down to just 600 bottles of SmithCullam.  Frankland Estate’s largest production and most affordable Riesling is Rocky Gully ($25; 4,000 cases), a fine Riesling that carries the family traits of aromatic intensity (apple, lime, nectarine), persistent acidity, and strong minerality, in a drink-young version.

I’ve discovered that Frankland Estate’s Rieslings complement a surprisingly wide range of foods, from shrimp with cocktail sauce to vegetarian chili, to earthy beans-and-rice to even meatballs. They can handle salad dressed in oil and vinegar and are particularly delicious with Brie.

Netley Road Riesling, 91 Points