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What our expert thought of Jamsheed, Le Blanc Plonk




about this wine About this wine
 
This week's wine is an Australian Riesling from cool-climate sites in Victoria, the Australian mainland's most southerly region. Surprisingly, Australia is the world's second-largest producer of Riesling, after Germany (of course) but ahead of such noted Riesling producers as Austria and France's Alsace.
 
The first vineyards in Australia were planted by German-speaking immigrants around 150 years ago. They naturally planted their favourite grape, but it wasn't well-suited to the generally hot climate. Still, they persisted and eventually identified higher, cooler areas where their precious Riesling could retain its freshness and aromatic complexity: the Clare and Eden valleys in South Australia, Great Southern at the southernmost tip of Western Australia, and a few favoured sites in Central and Western Victoria.
 
Le Blanc Plonk is made by cult winemaker Gary Mills at the quirky Victorian producer Jamsheed. It's part of Jamsheed's lower-priced 'Harem' range, which allows Gary full rein to experiment. The grapes and vineyards used for this wine change every year, although it's always Riesling-based. The label on this one claims it's a "barrel-fermented Victorian riesling" but then adds a "WARNING" that "chardonnay was also used in production, traces may still remain". I'd like to think that he's joking - received wisdom dictates that Riesling should never be blended and especially not with Chardonnay - but the evidence is against me. Previous vintages have included Gewurtztraminer, Sauvignon Blanc and, indeed, Chardonnay.
 
However, it is mostly Riesling and much of that is from century-old vines in the historic Garden Gully vineyard in the Great Western subregion of Western Victoria. This low-yielding vineyard is famed for its intensely-favoured, high-acid fruit, and is usually bottled as a much more expensive single-vineyard wine in Jamsheed's premium range. Here it has been blended with Riesling (and, presumably, a touch of Chard) from the Barwite vineyard in Upper Goulburn, Central Victoria. Both vineyards are organically farmed, in keeping with Jamsheed's non-interventionist approach.
 
Not content with the mortal sin of blending Riesling, Gary then compounds his crime with a whole string of un-Riesling-y treatment. The hand-picked grapes are whole-bunch pressed (fairly normal for whites) but then the juice is run into oak barrels "on full solids" - without letting any of the bits of skin and pulp settle out first - and fermented using only the naturally-occurring yeasts from the grape skins. The wine then remains on its lees for 8 months before being bottled unfined and unfiltered.
 
This sort of treatment is much more associated with white burgundy and similar full-bodied oaked whites than with delicate, aromatic Riesling, where stainless steel is the norm. The oak barrels used here are not new, but they're not all that large and must impart some oak character to the wine. And while blending Riesling may be sinful, oaking it is regarded as the work of the devil.
 
So what has all this unorthodox treatment done to the wine?
 
the tasting The Tasting
 
The colour is a medium+ lemon, which is surprisingly deep for a young Riesling. I suspect this wine has picked up colour from extended skin contact, perhaps as a consequence of fermentation on full solids.
 
There's a pronounced nose of fresh limes (very typical of Aussie Riesling), with pungent sweet spices (ginger, kaffir lime, even ginseng), and tropical fruit scents that suggest fully ripe grapes.
 
The palate is off-dry, which is unusual for an Australian Riesling - they're normally made dry. However, that touch of sweetness is probably necessary to balance the piercingly high, mouthwatering acidity. Fermenting it out to dryness would have unbalanced the wine, which is already 13% alcohol. Despite that highish alcohol, it's on the light side of medium-bodied - a consequence of the high acidity and Riesling's natural poise.
 
There are intense, exuberently fruity flavours of fresh limes, nectarines and tropical fruit (banana, papaya), backed by some subtle toastiness. Banana is quite an unusual flavour to find in a Riesling, being more common in Chardonnay. The toastiness may well be due to the lees ageing or the oak barrels, although many Australian Rieslings develop toastiness with age. Banana (again), honey and ginger show up on the medium+ finish. There's a slightly drying quality to the finish that suggests this wine has picked up a touch of tannin from all that skin contact.
 
Assessment
 
This really shouldn't work! Noted wine authority Jancis Robinson says there's a special circle of hell reserved for those that blend Riesling... and with Chardonnay, of all grapes! She didn't bother to reserve a hell for those that use oak on Riesling, because nobody does that.
 
This wine flies in the face of all the accepted wisdom about Riesling: it's deep-coloured, barrel-fermented and aged on its lees, featuring hints of oak, tannin, and Chardonnay. It ought to be horrible - yet it's absolutely delicious. It will be perfect for summertime drinking but I don't want to wait that long. Calling it Le Blanc Plonk is seriously under-selling it.


Tasting notes

Appearance
medium+ lemon
Nose

Intensity pronounced

Aromas fresh limes, pungent sweet spices (ginger, kaffir lime, ginseng), tropical fruit (papaya)

Development developing
Palate

Sweetness off-dry

Acidity high

Body medium-, despite high-ish 13% ABV

Intensity medium+

Flavours limes, nectarines and tropical fruit (banana, papaya), backed by some subtle toastiness
Finish

Length medium+

Flavours banana, honey and ginger. Slightly drying - touch of tannin?
Other notes


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