The Age of Riesling

Raymond Chan – wine industry stalwart, judge, commentator and author of has his say on Nga Waka Riesling following a recent vertical tasting. Raymond’s overall assessment and detailed notes are re-printed here with Raymond’s kind permission.


Roger Parkinson

Nga Waka Riesling Vertical Tasting 2011 – 1993

8 March 2014

At a recent Summer of Riesling ‘flash mob’ tasting event held at the Martinborough Wine Centre, the excellent condition of Roger Parkinson’s Nga Waka 1994 Riesling inspired him to conduct a vertical tasting of all the Rieslings he had made under the Nga Waka label.  He, and Simon and Amanda of the wine centre titled the tasting ‘Back to the Future’, recalling the past and possible future of the variety for him, the wine industry and wine consumers.

While studying at Roseworthy College, Roger had the opportunity of tasting some aged versions of Australia’s classic labels, 20+ year old Leo Burings and the like, and these were a revelation in how they’d kept so well, while developing great interest.  Roger jokes that he actually got the wrong message from these wines, and should have asked: “Why are these wines still here, unsold after 15 years?”  Growing, making, drinking and enjoying is truly a passion, rather than a means to commercial success.  Roger admits it’s a special club to be part of when one loves the variety.


The Nga Waka Riesling

Riesling comprises around 10% of the Nga Waka production, far more than the national vineyard proportion of around 2%.  The fruit for the Nga Waka Riesling comes primarily from 1.4 ha of vines planted in 1988.  The first crops of the vines were sold to Palliser, and Roger commenced making the Nga Waka wine in 1993 once back from his studies.  The wine was continually made until 2005.  From 2006 to 2010, the fruit was dedicated to the ‘Three Paddles’ label, due to slow sales and accumulating stocks of the premium Nga Wala label.  The Three Paddles wine is made a little sweeter and designed for earlier drinking.  Roger relaunched the Nga Waka Riesling with the 2011, which is just now become available.

According to Roger, Riesling is not a winemaker-made wine.  In growing it, he ensures the fruit is clean and ripe.  It is cool-fermented in stainless-steel, “and the variety does the rest”.  His approach is unashamedly dry, and his model is more Alsace than Germanic, the wine based on textures and body, rather than sweetness and acidity.  I would say that his model was ‘South Australian’ if one were to be more specific.  In typical Clare Valley/Barossa Valley fashion, his ferments are clean and he avoids the funkiness that many contemporary winemakers are building into the wines.  He is aiming for dryness, but is not averse to some botrytis in the fruit picked.  He sees no difference between hand-picking and machine picking in the final result.  Picked at around 21.5°Brix, he avoids skin contact and ferments to around 5 g/L RS, with a TA of up to 7 g/L and the pH is usually low, around 3.0 – 2.9.  Roger reckons the wine needs 5 years bottle age to start drinking.


The Tasting

The tasting was conducted at the Martinborough Wine Centre, the logistics managed superbly by proprietors Simon Groves and Amanda Ritchie.  Roger sees Riesling as variety deserving bottle age, and also, it reflects the growing season very clearly, like no other.  Its transparency is a highlight.  For that reason alone, the tasting was a fascinating exercise.  Roger brought along bottles of the new release 2011, and vintages 2005 in a continuous line back to 1993, his inaugural wine.  The wines from 2003 onwards were sealed in screwcap, those earlier under cork.  Roger notes the variability of the older wines under cork.  The wines were served identity known, from youngest to oldest, in flights of four wines, the last two flights being composed of three wines.  In attendance were mainly local wine consumers, Roger’s vineyard manager Mike Kershaw, at Nga Waka since 1996, Susan McLeary from ‘Wines from Martinborough’and writer Joelle Thomson (who inspired us to attend).  Some great insights and passion were revealed over the course of the evening.  Here are my notes on the wines.


Flight One: 2011 and 2005 – 2003

The more youthful wines, all sealed with screwcap.  At a decade old, the 2005 – 2003 wines were all in their secondary phase, the hotter years more toasty, the 2004 appearing cooler and refined.  Drinking now, they all have 4 – 5 years ahead easily.

Nga Waka Martinborough Riesling Dry 2011  ««««

A “lovely, solid season”, with large crops, a little botrytis.  Bright, pale straw-yellow colour.  This is tightly bound, firm and densely packed on nose, with lime fruit expressed with clarity, quite pristine, revealing secondary toasty notes with orange blossom.  Dry to taste and very fine featured, supple and delicate, quite soft textured, tightly bound lime and lemon flavours and very soft and refined with the acidity.  Dry, but in no way austere.  In retrospect, decidedly more youthful than the other wines by a clear margin.  This will keep a decade.  13.0%, 6 g/L RS, TA 7.1 g/L, pH 3.1.  18.0+/20

Nga Waka Martinborough Riesling 2005  ««««

A short, hot season, a small crop of ‘tough’ wines.  Bright, pale straw colour with lemony hues.  This is very fine and firmly concentrated on nose, refine secondary toast development showing, ith some classiness.  Dry to taste, high acidity backs tightly concentrated lime and lemon notes.  Toast and succulence unfolds to become broader on mid-palate, the linearity carried by some phenolic textures.  Becomes a little matty, broad and diffuse on finish, the acidity soft, and the wine showing a little dryness.  Though developing breadth, this has a firm core.  Drinking well now – 4 years.  17.5+/20

Nga Waka Martinborough Riesling 2004  «««««

A wet year, with large crops.  Full, even, light golden-yellow colour.  The bouquet is full and voluminous with concentrated and densely packed aromas of savoury citrus fruits, and a hint of nuttiness.  Is this forward?  Dry to taste and surprisingly delicate on palate.  Lovely penentration with bright, refined, lively acidity.  A very fine phenolic linearity guides the flow.  Very elegant in presentation, and very long with an amalgam of toast and lime fruit, along with nuances of honey.  A wine of delicacy, which shows some savouriness and broadness on bouquet.  Drinking over the next 5+ years.  18.5-/20

Nga Waka Martinborough Riesling 2003  ««««

A hot, dry growing season.  Bright, full, light golden straw colour.  On nose quite tight with concentrated aromas of minerals, toast and kerosene in the best sense.  Dry and broad on palate, with solidly packed and dense flavours, the mouthfeel quite soft and open.  This could do with a little more drive and linearity, but the openness and mouthfilling nature is very attractive.  Lovely developed honied creaminess melded with kerosene complexities.  Drinking well now and over 4-5 years.  17.5+/20


Flight Two: 2002 – 1999

Cork sealed wines that showed the variability, the 2001 in perfect condition whereas the 2000 and 1999 allowed some oxidation to appear.  These wines at their plateau and need to be drunk, especially due to cork variation.  But the 2001 could last another decade.

Nga Waka Martinborough Riesling 2002  «««««

A big, cool year.  Bright, light golden straw colour.  This has a very refined, tightly bound and beautifully presented nose, with deep and piercing aromas of limes, honey and toast with kerosene elements.  The concentration is a feature here.  Dry and very finely proportioned, the palate still tightly bound.  This has textural finesse, the grip providing great linearity.  Fine, soft acidity supports the mouthfeel, and the palate flows with precision to a long finish, just showing a little phenolic bitterness.  This will keep another 5-7+ years.  18.5/20

Nga Waka Martinborough Riesling 2001  «««««

A warmer growing season, deemed ‘perfect’ for Roger and Mike.  Very pale straw colour, still youthfully pale.  The nose is wonderfully delicate with subtlety and nuance.  Though smaller-scale, the proportions are very close to perfection.  Dry to taste, and very refined.  Tightly bound flavours of kerosene infused lime fruits, reveal nuances of honey, floral perfumes, minerals and toast.  The acidity is still bright and this has precision and focus in the delicate style.  Elegance, freshness and the potential to go another decade.  A perfect cork.  19.0+/20

Nga Waka Martinborough Riesling 2000  «««

Regarded as one of the best vintages for Roger and Mike at Nga Waka, called the ‘Goldilocks’ year, where everything was not too big, nor too small, and it just got better.  A classic year.  Bright, light straw-yellow colour.  Very elegant and refined on nose initially, with toast secondary notes, unfolding to show nutty oxidation and savoury tertiary elements to the bouquet.  Dry, soft and mellowed out on palate, the mouthfeel even.  Somewhat dried out, the fruit modest in sweetness, becoming drier as it progresses along the palate line.  Oxidation and nutty overtones, but still with residual toast and honied elements.  Slightly bitter with buttered toast on finish.  A poor cork, ruining what should have been a much better wine.  16.5-/20

Nga Waka Martinborough Riesling 1999  ««««

A hot year, not as hot or as dry as 1998.  Full, deep, golden yellow colour.  The bouquet is very full, soft and even with real breadth, with integrated aromas of savoury wild honey, toast and nuts, the aromatics well into their tertiary phase.  The spark of life has faded and this appears a little flat on nose.  Dry to taste, this has a tight and complex amalgam on palate.  The flavours of honey and toast are fully mature and interwoven.  This shows better on palate than nose, the smoothness and seamlessness a feature.  The acidity is soft, and there’s a little dryness, all leading to a savoury, honied finish that fades a little.  A little oxidation is apparent.  Drink well now and indeed drink up.  17.5-/20


Flight Three: 1998 – 1996

Wines that need drinking up now, being somewhat past their best.  Issues with cork, one tainted by TCA, and one with oxidation.  The 1996 is sweeter than the rest of the wines, but is not too different in character!

Nga Waka Martinborough Riesling 1998  ««

The hottest growing season since the beginning.  Deep golden yellow, showing its development.  This has a full, soft and broad bouquet, with honey and toast and definite oxidation nuttynotes.  Dry to taste, somewhat dulled and flat, with a mellow amalgam of toast, nuts, honey and burnished flavours of tertiary development.  The fruit sweetness has faded, and the mouthfeel has dried out.  There is still some acid life.  Past its best now.  How much of this is due to the vintage and how much is due to the cork?  14.5/20

Nga Waka Martinborough Riesling 1997  ««««

A similar vintage to 2005, short and hot, with some rain, producing ‘tough’ wines, seen as a lesser year.  Bright, light golden yellow colour.  The bouquet is somewhat shy and restrained, with delicate lime fruit, toast and kerosene nuances.  Some cork taint is noticeable, scalping the fruit, and surprisingly imbuing the aromatics with a degree of class and finesse!  Dry to taste, this is elegant, finely proportioned and has some classiness to the mouthfeel.  The fruit is still in the youthful side, with limes, florals and toast.  The cork taint mustiness is prevalent too, and the wine follows a firm, bright acid line, fading on the finish.  Looking past the cork taint, I am generous with a score of 17.0-/20.  On a good day, could this be a 5-star wine?  Roger sees it similar to the 1999.

Nga Waka Martinborough Riesling 1996  ««««

One of the best 4 or 5 vintages experienced in Martinborough, warm but not too hot.  The odd wine out in the line up, the fermentation stopping at 20 g/L RS.  Very full, dark, deep golden yellow colour.  This has a full, bright and energetic nose with lime fruit still, along with honey and cream, toast and caramel.  This has layers of complex aromatics in the secondary spectrum, along with a lift and esters vitality.  Medium-dry to taste, this is soft with the palate carried a little by the residual sugar.  Gentle, lush and luscious, with ripe citrus fruits, exotic tropicals, honey and toast.  This has a creaminess, still showing good vibrancy and mild acidity to balance.  The palate carries smoothly to a dryish finish.  The flavours of cold, buttered toast are evident, and show the full development.  Drinking well now and over the next 3-5 years.  18.0+/20

Flight Four: 1995 – 1993

The oldest and earliest wines.  Generally past their best, but in surprisingly good condition.  The 1994 was in outstanding condition, one of the best wines of the tasting at 20 years old.

Nga Waka Martinborough Riesling 1995  «««

A good vintage in Martinborough, not too dissimilar to 1996, but with some rain, not a deluge as it was in Marlborough.  The fruit with botrytis.  Deepish, light golden yellow colour.  The nose is soft fine and positive with toast, honey and kerosene aromas, just a suggestion of oxidation, but still in good condition.  Dry to taste and medium-bodied, the flavours a little dull and flat in expression.  Burnished honey and slight caramel notes from tertiary development and botrytis.  The fruit sweetness receding, leaving a stolid, grainy, dry texture.  Still drinking, but drink up.  16.0+/20

Nga Waka Martinborough Riesling 1994  «««««

A cooler vintage, the end of the effects of the Mount Pinatubo eruption in the Philippines.  Brilliant light golden-yellow colour.  The bouquet is one of great finesse and intensity, lifted  ripe lime fruits and aromatic, fresh esters.  The fruit is finely laced with toast and notes of kerosene, as well as honey.  This has great focus and intensity with vibrant cut.  Dry to taste, the palate exudes finesse and refinement.  Beautifully poised citrus fruits, yellow florals, fresh and lively with delicate toast, caramel, honey nuance.  The acidity provides great tension and energy.  Just a touch of drying phenolics through the mid palate, but great length of limes, minerals, honey and toast on finish.  This will go another 5-7+ years.  18.5+/20

Nga Waka Martinborough Riesling 1993  «««

Mount Pinatubo affected vintage, with a very long growing season, the Riesling picked latest on record.  A tough wine with less than ideally ripe acidity for Roger.  Full, deep, light golden yellow colour, this has a full, broad and complex bouquet with secondary and tertiary aromas.  Densely packed burnished honey, toast and a little caramel.  Dry to taste, full, soft and broad flavours of dried toast, butter and cream show with some nuttiness.  The mouthfeel is soft, a little flat, the acidity more mellow than expected, giving some underlying drive.  This is rounded and just beginning to dry a tad.  Drink up now.  16.5+/20



I felt the wine maintained a steady style, representing the variety and winemaking approach – South Australian – clearly throughout the different vintages.  The wines have a pure linearity and steely austerity, with clear-cut acidity.  The different vintage conditions were the next most obvious feature.  The wines from a hotter growing season showing the lime flavours of youth when young, developing the ‘kero’ character with age.  Those from cooler seasons start off more floral and become honied.  Old, full-mature wines have what can be described as ‘cold buttered toast’ characters, according to Roger.  These traits were indeed evident.  Then came vineyard and site specific characters and regionality, which were described by Joelle Thomson, as a strength of palate core.

The closures play a very large part in the consistency and evolution of the wines.  A number of them, cork sealed, displayed oxidative and oxidation characters, and one was affected by cork taint.  Roger brought two bottles of each, so for the oxidised and tainted wines, there were only two chances!  There were no issues with the screwcap sealed wines.

I personally enjoyed the produce of cooler vintages, and found a good drinking window that was very wide, from youngest to 20 years old.  My picks were the 2011, 2004, 2002, 2001, 1996 and 1994.  Roger had a slightly different selection, enjoying the 2011, 2005, 2001, 1996, 1995 and 1994.  This comes partly from his appreciation of the efforts that each vintage required as well as quality per se.  It could be concluded the best time to enjoy the wines would be from 10-15 years of age.  Now that’s inspiring for a wine consumer to do the right thing and cellar Riesling!

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