Chuck Hayward on Clare Valley Riesling
Wine & Spirits Magazine
interviewed by Luke Sykora
In the early 1990s, Chuck Hayward was buying wine for the Jug Shop, a small San Francisco retailer. With family-owned wine shops going out of business as big fish like Costco showed up, he felt he needed to set the store apart–so he started stocking an unusual amount of Australian wine. He found that the bolder versions of Aussie shiraz and cabernet were a hit with customers familiar with California zinfandel. Australian winemakers began making detours to visit the store, and soon Hayward was heading Down Under, drawn into the regional particularities of Australian terroir.
His first taste of Australian riesling was a bottle from Margaret River, which he found to be juicy and pleasant enough. But soon importers were bringing him rieslings from Clare Valley, a cool upland region north of Barossa. And they were something else. “Tasting them for the first time, I dare anyone not to get excited about them,” he says. He found that the fresh, bone-dry whites often took on fascinating flavors and texture with age, knit together by Clare’s unmistakable acidity.
“That spray when you squeeze a lime, that’s Clare,” he says. While a good Clare riesling should be instantly recognizable, he finds that soil, elevation and producer style do give different expressions, especially in the case of these six definitive Clare rieslings that he pulled together for a conversation and tasting.
Kilikanoon Clare Valley Mort’s Block Riesling
“To me, this opens up a whole other prism of food, because of the texture,” says Hayward, pouring a 2009 that came from a 40-year-old vineyard in Watervale. It’s still a racy wine, but oilier, with a toasty aroma that gives its citrusy element more depth. “They get a little marmalade [with age]–that conserve, candied lime,” Hayward observes. “[Winemaker Kevin Mitchell] is just one of those really good dudes. He works hard, and doesn’t ask for a lot of attention. He isn’t so into going into [wine] awards shows and wearing a bow tie. I’ve never seen him over here in the States.”