Exploring the Evolution of Jim Barry Riesling Over Five Decades

By | 9 May 2024

A vintage piece featuring multiple vintages of the Barry family’s finest Clare Valley Rieslings.

By Ken Gargett

To complement Ken Gargett’s magisterial two-part survey of Australian Riesling published on worldoffinewine.com this week, we have returned to an article first published in WFW68 in June 2020, in which Sarah Ahmed reported from the Barry family’s 60th-anniversary Clare Valley Riesling tasting, which included some of the last remaining bottles from the 1970s, and which proved to be an impressive demonstration of the longevity and quality of Jim Barry Riesling.

Australian Riesling: An underrated, pristine joy

Australian Riesling: The regions, producers, and wines

Modest and perspicacious, Jim Barry (1925–2004)—Clare Valley’s first (and Australia’s 17th) enology graduate—remarked, “Sometimes it takes longer than a lifetime to do a lifetime’s work […]. It’s now up to my children.” And grandchildren. His eponymous label was the first to boast three generations to graduate from Adelaide’s acclaimed Roseworthy/Waite School of Oenology (Jim, Peter, then Tom), and the milestones keep coming. Today, Jim Barry Wines is Australia’s market leader for Riesling in sales volume, value, and vineyard area, with 160ha (400 acres), no less.


Playing the long game is not only a family trait at Jim Barry Wines. Last September, Jim’s grandson Sam (director of sales and marketing) resoundingly reinforced the staying power of Jim Barry Wines’ Rieslings with a 60th-anniversary tasting across five decades, showcasing the grape that “fascinated” his grandfather. From the Barrys’ museum, this rare vertical included some of the last remaining bottles from the ’70s. With an eye to the future, Jim’s son, managing director Peter, has held back stock since 1989 and, from 2012, 30–50 percent of The Florita, Jim Barry Wines’ flagship Riesling, has been laid down for rerelease after a minimum of seven years. Going further still, in 2023, Jim Barry Wines will launch two new single-block Rieslings from its Lodge Hill vineyard with ten years’ bottle age.

Australia’s classic bone-dry Riesling is a smart choice for those who find some wines too austere. The rewards of patience with Clare Valley Riesling are plentiful, resulting in greater complexity, texture, and palate-weight over time. These characteristics make it a versatile accompaniment to meals. Young, vibrantly acidic Riesling pairs perfectly with Coffin Bay oysters and lime, whereas a mature Riesling, with more pungency and a hint of savory, can handle garlicky dishes like chicken Kiev. Read more…

Riesling grape-growing and winemaking practices at Jim Barry Wines have evolved over the years just as the museum stocks have matured in the bottles. The wines from the 1970s originated from the clay-based soils of the original Watervale vineyard, planted by Jim Barry in 1964. The old-school Rieslings would have had around 10g/l residual sugar. Doubling the residual sugar for the entry-level Watervale Riesling has resulted in notable sales growth. Learn more…

Two special vineyards produce Jim Barry’s top-tier Rieslings. In 1977, Jim purchased Wolta Wolta, a horse stud he believed would produce some of the best Rieslings in the Clare Valley. Lodge Hill is a cooler site and yields wines that are crisp, focused, and mineral. The Florita vineyard was known for “grand cru” Rieslings, and when an opportunity to purchase it came about in 1986, it was just too good to pass up. Find out more…

The reputation of The Florita vineyard as a source of distinguished wines, predated its purchase. Being mainly loam topsoil over calcareous siltstone, the vineyard was the original source of Leo Buring’s renowned Watervale Rieslings of the 1960s and ’70s. When a chance to buy The Florita vineyard surfaced at an auction in 1986, the Barrys jumped on the opportunity to acquire this vineyard famed for Rieslings, despite the recession’s high-interest rates. The decision bore fruit when Jim Barry’s iconic Riesling, The Florita, came to existence in 2004. Read more…

The 30ha (75-acre) Watervale vineyard is split into individual rows, often blocks, with The Florita typically originating from the 2ha (5 acre) block 26, which yields the oldest Riesling. The deep limestone isn’t well covered by the terra rossa and loam, but in drier years blocks with more clay are preferred. Hand-pruned and yielding an average of 20hl/ha for block 26, thanks to an early press cut resulting in high-quality free-run juice, The Florita offers impressive intensity and structure. This allows it to age well for 30 years.

The Florita, with its floral and chalky character, remains true to its Watervale roots. It showcases great perfume and limpidity in spite of the concentration. Its delicacy is enhanced by slightly earlier picking dates, more handpicking, better sun protection, and the use of clay-based sprays. Switching to screwcap bottling in 2000 improved freshness and consistency, allowing them to forego ascorbic acid which darkens over time.

New Riesling vineyards have been added due to its site expressiveness – McKay’s, Churinga in Watervale, and Morrison’s vineyard in Penwortham being the highest. Experimentation is part of process with Tom Barry diversifying the range after working the vintage in theMosel with Ernst Loosen in 2015. This experience introduced more textural, opulent styles which can be seen in the collaborative wines released this year; Walhalla Riesling 2016 and Wolta Wolta Riesling 2017. The latter is modeled on Germany’sGrosses Gewächs style. Assyrtiko, the Greek grape, is also part of the innovative range of Jim Barry Wines.

Jim Barry St Clare Riesling 1972
(Watervale, Clare Valley; 12.5% ABV)

Like the 1974, this originates from a Watervale vineyard planted on clay by Jim Barry in 1964. The bronze coloration, and the aromas of tufa and bone-meal, might seem uninviting, but there are signs of vitality, noticeable acidity and dried honey sweetness, which follow through in the tasting process, along with a hint of buttermint and, as it breathes, baked peach. However, compared to the dominant tufa and bone-meal elements, these flavors are sporadic. Becoming more dry; the best among a poor selection of the remaining bottles. | 82

Jim Barry Watervale Riesling 1974
(Watervale, Clare Valley)

This vintage is memorable for all the wrong causes: it marked the first identified outbreak of downy mildew. But thanks to Jim Barry’s technical knowledge & understanding, this is a truly remarkable wine; having researched about downy mildew, Clare Valley’s first qualified winemaker proactively sprayed the vines. The result is a very elegant wine, with seamlessly blended acidity, and notes of potpourri, pith, saline, and barley-sugar. A subtle residue of sugar skillfully rounds out and extends the palate. An hour later, touches of buttermint, peach traced with saffron, and amaretto biscuits emerge. The balance and intensity are commendable. | 94

Jim Barry Lodge Hill Riesling 1986
(Polish Hill River Valley, Clare Valley)

Purchased in 1977 and planted to Riesling in 1979, the Lodge Hill vineyard is perched at just under 500m (1,640ft). Elevation and this subregion’s “hard-rock” soils (shallow brown loam over a layer of clay and slate bedrock up to a million years old) typically create tighter wines. Saffron yellow/gold, with searing aromas of salted limes, honey, and a hint of potpourri. Maintains its line but, with this much age, is yielding, too, revealing honeyed peach with time in glass. Lovely persistence. | 92

Jim Barry Lodge Hill Riesling 1988
(Polish Hill River Valley, Clare Valley)

Antique gold. Pan-fried smoky spices, pith, and herbal notes to the nose and the attack. Pungent almost, but for the mellowing honey and the burst of juicy, grapefruity acidity, which opens up the mid-palate, lending impetus, clarity, and layers. Lingering and intense on the finish, with salted limes, anise, eucalyptus, and burned honey. | 92

Jim Barry Watervale Riesling 1992
(Watervale, Clare Valley)

Near-amber hue, with spicy citrus pith, buttermint, and eucalyptus honey to the nose. A wandering palate reveals baggy, moldy orange, salted lime, and peach kernel, with an attenuated biscuit-like quality (incipient bone-meal) to the palate. Low on pleasure. | 84

Jim Barry Watervale Riesling 2002 (Watervale, Clare Valley; 13.5% ABV; 1.7g/l RS; pH 3.05; TA 7.4g/l)

The shift to screwcap and a very cool, highly regarded vintage combine to produce a stunning, markedly youthful yellow/straw wine. Ebullient classic lime-shred on toast, with honey to both nose and palate. Rolling, ripe grapefruity acidity brings great length, line, and layers; lightly pithy, chalky dry extract anchors lifted kaffir lime and lime oil on a resonating finish. | 96

Jim Barry Watervale Riesling 2004(Watervale, Clare Valley; 12.5% ABV; 2.5g/l RS; pH 3.15; TA 7.7g/l)

A warm year, producing ripe, generous wines. Yellow-gold, with a lovely tingle of freshness to the nose, with lime juice, kaffir lime, and mature lime cordial notes, too. The concentration of the vintage makes for a firm, drier-seeming attack, but the generosity of the year unfolds going through. Rippling acidity produces a long cascade of flavors, citrus and mineral, the finish intense, honeyed, and toasty. | 93

Jim Barry The Florita Riesling 2004
(Watervale, Clare Valley; 13% ABV; 0.7g/l RS; pH 3.99; TA 7.4g/l)

The first vintage to be labeled after the vineyard, and most worthy of the moniker. Perfumed and pithily textured, with pink grapefruit, pronounced chalky minerality, and, opening up, lime cordial and incipient honey. Thoroughly delicious, with mille-feuille multiplicity and delicacy to its layers. Highly expressive, it is in a great drinking window now but will keep for several years yet. | 95

Jim Barry The Florita Riesling 2005
(Watervale, Clare Valley; 13.5% ABV; 0.99g/l RS; pH 3.01; TA 7.5g/l)

Exquisite antiquity: Balmy days meshed with nippy nights crafted wines embodying ripeness with an added hint of elegance. Exhibiting a deeper shade and fruit ensemble as compared to the 2004; demonstrating a more textural character, presenting lime, peach, and unripe mango fruit subtly wrapped in a sweet veil. Flawless yet assertive acidity propels to an elongated, piercing finish, distinguished by a distinct quinine minerality, a tad of salt, and, upon time in the glass, the quintessential toast. | 95

Jim Barry The Florita Riesling 2007(Watervale, Clare Valley; 13.3% ABV; 1g/l RS; pH 2.93; TA 8.2g/l)

Deep gold. Expansive, more direct, delineating a dry, warm, measly-yielding year, adorned with layers of lemon-butter on toast, lime cordial, and lime-oil aroma. Texture of pith, with honey-coated and peach-infused retronasal olfaction. Spirited acidity meticulously retains the flavors. Might lack the subtlety of the prime vintages yet remains gratifying. | 92

Jim Barry The Florita Riesling 2008
(Watervale, Clare Valley; 11.5% ABV; 2.5g/l RS; pH 2.88; TA 6.2g/l)

On a tough dry year, an unexpectedly cooler February allowed for fantastic flavor development and acid retention. Despite being youthfully pale in color, it had a somewhat flat taste in terms of freshness and intensity. This might be reflecting the relatively lower alcohol/flavor ratio and total acidity. Notes of geranium, rosewater, and well-rounded litchi are evident, ending with an atypical faded finish. | 86

Jim Barry The Florita Riesling 2009 (Watervale, Clare Valley; 12.1% ABV; 2.3g/l RS; pH 2.93; TA 6.8g/l)

A cooler summer eventually followed by a heatwave in January fast-forwarded the ripening process; the harvest was met with cooler temperatures. A rich, concentrated, and honeyed attack blended with lemon and lime curd, lime oil, toast, and a touch of quinine minerality. Graceful acidity and a hint of spicy texture lead to a composed and dignified delivery. It’s generous but balanced, featuring an appealing mouthfeel and length.| 93

Jim Barry The Florita Riesling 2010 (Watervale, Clare Valley; 12.4% ABV; 2.5g/l RS; pH 2.99; TA 6.7g/l)

A hot, dry summer and November heatwave resulted in an early year, with warm days and mild evenings throughout the vintage. Tertiary lemon curd, lime oil, and tufa are developing but, all in all, aromatically quite restrained. The citric bite and persistence on the palate suggest it may still be knitting together. | 88+

Jim Barry The Florita Riesling 2011 (Watervale, Clare Valley; 13% ABV; 2.5g/l RS; pH 3.01; TA 7.2g/l)

Described by the Barrys as a “very wet ‘European’ vintage, with a cold summer and harvest, and botrytis. Finer-framed, more restrained than usual, with delicate celery and chalky minerality on the nose and attack. Fresh lime—a suggestion of sweetness—builds in intensity going through, with subtle hints of pith, lime cordial, and toast to the finish. Promising; needs time. | 93+

Jim Barry The Florita Riesling 2012 (Watervale, Clare Valley; 12.3% ABV; 3.5g/l RS; pH 3.00; TA 6.9g/l)

A mild year has led to the development of a refined, pale Riesling with undertones of minerals and hints of celery salt, quinine, grapefruit, and lime. Elements of rose petal and litchi also peek through. Though it maintains a level of reserve, complexity is unmistakeable, culminating in an oyster-shell finish. | 93+

Jim Barry The Florita Riesling 2013 (Watervale, Clare Valley; 12.1% ABV; 2.4g/l RS; pH 2.9; TA 7.7g/l)

Rains in the early parts of spring, specifically in December, preceeded warm, dry conditions when the harvest season rolled around. A testament to the classics, the wine is known for its dynamic and punchy acidity, chalk with a dusty touch, and lime in all its aspects— oil, pith, flesh, and juice. It winds tightly as it progresses, the finish sharp and enticing, with a marked quinine minerality. Unmistakeably youthful and remarkably persistent. | 95+

Jim Barry The Florita Riesling 2014(Watervale, Clare Valley; 12.1% ABV; 2.4g/l RS; pH 2.9; TA 7.3g/l)

During a hot, arid summer, relief came in the form of rainfall in early February (4in [100mm]), which resulted in a delayed harvest. The 2014 vintage, sampled from a magnum, exudes a youthful delicacy, punctuated by floral notes and undertones of chalk dust. On the palate, a concentrated burst of fresh lime collides with succulent, gently diffused litchi. The fruitiness gracefully subsides into an exquisitely precise yet gentle finish, underlined by hints of quinine, chalk, and oyster shell. Truly remarkable. | 96

Jim Barry The Florita Riesling 2015 (Watervale, Clare Valley; 12.4% Alcohol by Volume; 2.4g/l Residual Sugar; pH 2.9; Total Acidity 8.1g/l)

This early, energetic vintage exhibits a laser-sharp focus alongside youthful vivacity. Intense fresh lime zest is deeply rooted in a steady foundation of zingy acidity. Passing notes of celery salt, chalk dust, and quinine provide intriguing interludes. It’s promising and worth cellaring. | 94+

Jim Barry The Florita Riesling 2016 (Watervale, Clare Valley; 11.3% Alcohol by Volume; 2.8g/l Residual Sugar; pH 2.8; Total Acidity 7.5g/l)

A hot January resulted in an early vintage. The concentrated lime seems so solidly held, it feels like you could hear the seeds squeaking. The palate is extraordinarily mineral-laden, with a taste reminiscent of quinine that is exact, and has a refreshing, clear, sorbet-like character. Its balance is exquisite and it flows in an unwavering, straight line. It’s certainly a wine to hold onto. | 96+

Jim Barry The Florita Riesling 2017 (Watervale, Clare Valley; Alcohol content12.5%; Residual Sugar 2.4g/l; pH 2.95; Titratable Acidity 7.9g/l)

The cool weather made this vintage similar to that of 2002, and the fruit had a long duration on the vine. A gust of flavors presents itself, including delicate florals, and a hint of celery-salt and grass tied to the grapefruit-centric, well-directed palate. Lemon sherbert, lychee, and green mango make their appearance in a lively finale. | 95+

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