Burch Family Wines Blog

Howard Park Riesling Vertical Tasting 1986-2014 Summary


Howard Park Riesling Vertical Tasting, 1986 - 2014

A summary of the Howard Park Riesling Vertical Tasting, by Mail Order Manager, David Stredwick.

To download the Howard Park Riesling Vertical Evaluation Summary document, click here.

There was some trepidation when I approached, corkscrew in hand, the 1986 Howard Park Riesling in preparation for a full vertical tasting of the range in our Margaret River winery boardroom.  It was early August 2014, and the time had come for us to conduct an internal assessment of the progress and evolution of this seminal Howard Park wine.  With Senior Winemaker Janice McDonald hovering in support, the corks on the early vintage wines were removed in turn, mostly intact but with the occasional expected crumble.  Due to the extremely limited nature of our early vintages in the museum, only one bottle of each wine was allocated to the tasting.

The wines were organised into flights of 5 vintages for participants to taste, compare, notate and discuss.  The only wine absent was the 1989, with no more tasting stock available.  The 1986 vintage wine, the oldest in the collection, was a revelation which outperformed several of its younger cousins from the 1980’s and 1990’s.  The full, rich golden/rust colour of the wine gave the initial impression that it may be long over the hill – but the nose and palate defied the ravages of time by displaying attractive, complex and balanced characters, with acid and freshness still very much evident – a satisfying and inspiring way to begin proceedings.


The reputation of Australian Riesling for longevity is well established, With Howard Park Riesling being a prime exemplar.  There was most definitely variation evident in the cork sealed vintages (1986-2000), with some showing overdeveloped flavours and/or overly oxidative characters, while others retained good acid which provided structure, and flavours ranging through citrus, toast, toffee, marmalade and others typical of classic aged Riesling.  In general our advice for those of you that have some of these vintages in your cellar would be to think about carefully pulling them out and giving them a try – those that have been carefully cellared since release will likely prove the most rewarding.

During lunch we were able to assess the food friendliness of the 2013 Howard Park Great Southern Riesling alongside some contrasting examples of the variety – one from a different Australian region (Kerri Thompson’s Churinga Vineyard Riesling from the Clare Valley) and a sweeter style from Germany, the spiritual home of the variety (Weingut Robert Weil Keidrich Turmberg Spatlese).  The wines worked perfectly with dishes of scallop and pork belly, showing the ability of different Riesling styles to complement and enhance good food with both delicate and bold ingredients and flavours.

Australian Riesling producers were in the vanguard of those who adopted the screwcap closure, as they knew it would provide a superior method of preserving the acid, flavour, delicacy and freshness which characterises good Riesling.  Howard Park made the move from the 2001 vintage and it was both evident and exciting to see the consistency of style emerge as we progressed through to the current vintage releases.  The emergence of the Porongurup Riesling variant in 2010 then gave us the ability to compare different vineyard outcomes in the same vintage, enhancing the notion that Riesling as a variety tells the story of its location, soil and climate in a unique way, as the touch of the winemaker is always very gentle.  These screwcapped vintages also showed the tendency of Riesling to go through phases as it ages, sometimes more and sometimes less generous with its varietal flavours, a journey which becomes part of the intrigue and reward of cellaring these long-lived wines.

I felt privileged to participate in this experience and absorb some of the wisdom and history imparted by the other participants, who were able to bring their own expertise and unique perspective to the analysis of the wines.  The summary document produced, a condensation of the compiled notes and scores of all the participants, provides an insightful, warts and all snapshot into how an iconic wine emerges untested from vineyards and a winery, evolves, matures and eventually provides a record of quality which justifies the endeavour and perseverance of its creators.

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