Too cool to drink cabernet . .

By | 03/02/2013

There is something very encouraging about the approach of Auburn Wines of Bannockburn. The singular focus on riesling and desire to explore the variety through various sub-regional bottlings underscores the growing maturation and confidence in our terroir. The prevailing ‘jack of all trades’ approach has of course been necessary as our young industry develops, and successful too with plenty of producers giving lively expression of terroir across the country.  Auburn though is surely a harbinger of more interesting times to come with vineyards and their varietal matches increasingly to the fore.

That said, admirable though it may be, single minded focus doesn’t always deliver the goods and most thankfully it is here that Auburn acquits itself well. Having been impressed by the previous vintage’s wines, I was interested to see what happened next: so far they do not seem to be a one-hit wonder. Proprietor and winemaker Max Marriott reminded me rather of a yellow Labrador, such was his boundless enthusiasm and friendly nature. He is clearly bewitched by riesling and has done his homework.  Good thing too as even with the stars of quality and attention to detail in alignment, it can be no mean feat placing one’s eggs in riesling’s basket. However much critical cheerleading it receives, consumers remain in the most part stubbornly unmoved. Max was cagey about the likelihood of his and his Auburn partners giving up their day jobs but the luxury of these will at least allow them to stay small and focused which is no bad thing. That said, they might help their own cause by providing a little more useful information for drinkers on their labels. I am yet to be convinced that anyone outside of the intimate trade, and even that’s a close run thing in many instances, has a clue about residual sugars or even wine geography beyond the bleeding obvious so what’s there at present isn’t particularly illuminating. It’s a small thing but an important one.

I tried these wines twice, tasting initially at home with supplied bottles and then a little later at a public tasting matched with food, hosted by Max and Scenic Cellars. Riesling is a surprisingly versatile wine with food and it pays to think beyond the usual matches – some of the successful pairings on this night was Moroccan spiced lamb with tzatziki, smoked pear with bacon and feta and riesling-marinated pork belly with a honeyed balsamic dressing.  On occasion of both tastings, the wines looked sharp.

2011 Auburn Riesling Alexandra, Central Otago        $30.00
A fresh apricotty nose with aniseed undertones in a clean and stony style. Crisp palate with firm acid, rich in fruit (ripe stonefruit and lime). Tastes just off-dry with light body and nice delicacy and good length (16g/L, 9.5% abv). Simple, fresh and attractive with good harmony, this is all too easy to drink.

2011 Auburn Riesling Bannockburn, Central Otago            $30.00
(In comparison with the Alexandra bottling, this is more minerally and herbal in style with some struck match evident too.  Slightly more restrained nose but fruit is again stonefruit and citrus-based – a lot like lemon sherbet. Palate is a step up in sweetness (47g/L, 10.5% abv) and has the same lovely balance and depth of fruit – peach and apricot with a tangy lime finish. Firm, cleansing acidity balances the lush fruit and gives a mouth-watering finish. Lithe and lovely.

2011 Auburn Riesling Lowburn, Central Otago        $30.00
Particularly interesting to compare this with the Bannockburn wine as in this instance the residual sugar and alcohol are near identical (48g/L, 11.5% abv) and the total acidity and pHs not wildly dissimilar. The character of the two wines is very different though with the Lowburn much ‘prettier’ and floral in style with masses of ripe peach, apricot jam and honeysuckle. Seems a lot sweeter than the Bannockburn with a softer, fleshier nature though the acidity remains tight, minerally and cuts through the sweetness to provide a clean and lengthy finish.

2011 Auburn Riesling Bendigo, Central Otago        $30.00
This is a denser and more complex expression of Lowburn’s floral femininity.  Plenty of ripe stonefruit, yellow apple skin and honeysuckle, with a base of sweet, spicy marmalade suggesting some botrytis influence. The palate is rich, sweet and yet snappy with brisk acidity providing a firm backbone from which to anchor fruit and sugar (63g/L, 10% abv). Poise, freshness and very good length complete the picture.

No doubt, a very assured quartet of wines which stand confidently alone but together paint a charming picture of Central Otago riesling. At the Scenic Cellars tasting, Max also poured a 2011 ‘barrel sample’ which was a rather intriguing wine. Showing more acetone and some beeswax, there was stonefruit, poached apricots and a certain lusciousness, being fat and quite unctuous with a honeyed waxiness but this was a dry wine with plenty of extract and a clean, lengthy, very dry, almost savoury finish. Very interesting and good to see the Auburn crew keen to push boundaries further.

The wines illustrated both how faithful riesling is to its origins and also how even relatively subtle changes in sugar, acid and alcohol have a marked effect on character. Granted, that comment is hardly a revelation but it is rare enough thing to be able to examine it in a New Zealand context (Framingham offers a variation on the theme with its Pradikat-based examples). That alone would be a good excuse to drink the Auburn wines, but the fact they are also delicious examples of the variety in its own right makes them an even surer buy. A label whose progression it will be fascinating to watch.

Image kindly supplied by Max Marriott

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