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Jacob's Creek Steingarten Riesling 2002

Branded wines do not feature heavily on Winedoctor, despite the fact they no doubt provide daily drinking for many. One of the reasons I have tended to avoid such wines is that they don't enhance my knowledge nor do they increase the usefulness of this site. A taste of such a wine, or indeed perusal of a branded-wine tasting note, does nothing to connect us with the origins of the fruit or the men and women responsible. Looking at Australia specifically, the wines tend to originate from irrigated flat-land vineyards, made on an industrial scale, acidified or tannified to requirement and bottled under an uninformative regional 'appellation' such as South-East Australia. They are commodity wines; they serve a purpose, but do nothing to enrich our lives.

In a fit of online vinous masochism early in 2008 UK wine writer Simon Woods drank nothing but the leading branded wines for three weeks. The verdict was that Jacob's Creek came out top, according to Simon "[t]he best by a significant margin, with wines that seem to have been made by a person with a soul rather than by a parrot with a recipe book." Perhaps this brand is worth closer inspection? Secondly, as Jacob's Creek long-voiced intention has been 'premiumisation' (hooking customers with a brand they become comfortable with, they encouraging them to spend up with the introduction of 'premium' wines under the same brand), we should be looking for the arrival of wines of higher quality and interest under this label.

Such as this Steingarten Riesling.

Jacob's Creek Steingarten Riesling 2002

I find Australian brand names fascinating; over the past ten or fifteen years in the UK we have seen not only Jacob's Creek but also Rawson's Retreat, Oxford Landing and many others. Catchy names, but it is easy to forget that many such names relate to real places and real people, names that can sometimes embody huge swathes of Australia's wine heritage. Jacob's Creek was the site of a vineyard established in the Barossa Valley, using vines imported from Germany, by a Bavarian immigrant to Australia. The man in question was Johann Gramp, and he planted his first vines here in 1847. The Steingarten vineyard does not perhaps have such illustrious heritage, having been planted in 1962 less than two miles from Johann Gramp's residence at Jacob's Creek. Do not be fooled by this snippet of knowledge into thinking the next step up in the 'premiumisation' ladder is a single vineyard Riesling though; the Steingarten Riesling, part of the Jacob's Creek Heritage range is named - quoting the Steingarten back label - "in honour of this iconic vineyard". The fruit is in fact sourced from higher altitude vineyards in the Barossa, giving flexibility in origin and thus quantity and quality of fruit - so this is still a branded wine, even though the mention of Steingarten on the label may suggest otherwise.

One characteristic that does set this wine apart from the more everyday branded wine, however, is the existence of a museum-release programme. A proportion of the wine is held back for release when mature; many of Australia's leading wine estates hold back large quantities of bottles in this way (it isn't limited to Australia, of course), facilitating not only sale of more mature wines at a later date, but also providing the winemakers with a library of bottles for intermittent tasting. For wines bottled under screwcap, the evidence from these Australian libraries for the efficacy of this closure - from wines stored under this type of closure for decades, in the case of some - is unparalleled. The team running Jacob's Creek have followed this long-standing tradition with a 'museum release' of the 2002 Steingarten Riesling.

Bottled under Stelvin screwcap, this is bottle number 861. Although this must have been under this closure for perhaps seven years, the nose of this wine is as clean as a whistle when it is released from the bottle. In the glass it shows a moderately rich hue, with a very typical Riesling-green tinge. The nose has a very firm character, reminiscent of the Alsatian rather than German style, with solid, honeyed limes on toast backed up by a minerally element, this wine certainly has great character. The palate is full, textured, rounded, but cut through by wonderful acidity. With a little more time in the glass it develops a fine creamy edge to the texture too, but it always remains well focused, linear and bright. This is a lovely example of the variety in question, and what is more the bottle age has left it as fresh as a daisy, I am quite sure this would develop to its advantage in bottle for a decade yet - if not longer than that. What a very worthwhile and enjoyable glass of wine this is. 17/20 (17/8/09)

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