August 14, 2020

This week I am talking about South Australia’s Riverland wine region.

Until the turn of the century I barely knew this wine region existed. Then I spent some time (2001-2004) up there as the general manager of a citrus/olive/vineyard & wine business and became an ardent supporter of this wonderfully diverse region – which is to a large extent the “engine room” of the Australian wine industry.

Since then I have watched the region blossom from being basically the bulk wine provider to major brands, to becoming an area of great diversity producing some of Australia’s most outstanding Emerging variety wines (used to be called “Alternative varieties”). During my time there we tried hard to get producers to put, “Riverland”, on their bottles as almost all were instead using, “South Australia”, because of the then “bad” connotations of using Riverland.

Fast forward to today, and yes it is still the engine room but there are a number sensational producers making some brilliant and cutting edge emerging variety wines in the region. In addition, the region is the home of the Riverland Vine Improvement Committee (RVIC) which not only supplies cuttings and rootstock to the grower, but also grows trial plots of new varieties and clones which are made into wine so as to show what that variety is capable of producing in the region – a brilliant initiative!

By the way, in 2017, a wine made by RVIC won the title of “The best non Georgian Saperavi in the WORLD”! (Cirami Estate 2015 Riverland Saperavi) against Saperavi wines from nine countries, including 19 entries from Australia.

Riverland producers are making some absolutely cracking, medal and award winning wines from emerging varieties, especially from the Mediterranean ones which are ever so suited to the Riverland’s hot, dry climate. To mention some of the superstar emerging variety producers whose wines I have tasted recently there is Cirami Estate, Bassham Wines, Whistling Kite Biodynamic Vineyard, 919 Wines, Spook Hill Wines, Alejandro Wines, Byrne Vineyards and Salena Estate. All well and truly worth looking up on the internet and checking out.

Given all this vinous progress in the region, it was with great disappointment and frustration that when I recently looked at the entry form for the 2020 Riverland Wine Show (which seems to be stuck in the 1980s), out of the 36 different classes for entries, seven are for fortified wines plus another two for Brandy (who other than Angoves and 919 Wines makes good fortified wines there these days) and yet only one class for all the exciting emerging red varieties being grown in the Riverland. Oh, other than Durif, which does have its own class – obviously somebody with “clout” on the committee grows Durif.  So that 25% of the Show’s classes are focused on wines that hardly anybody drinks these days and yet only 5% of classes are focused on the exciting, upcoming future of wine drinking in Australia. Hey, they even have a class each for Dry White Bulk Wine and Dry Red Bulk Wine. Why?

So to the Riverland Wine Show Committee, I say: Please, please think about making your show a bit more relevant to today’s wine world by altering/re-configuring your classes to be more in tune with the current wine consumers. This could only help in the promotion and visibility of this fabulous but almost unseen wine region. Please consider.

I wish you a great week. Enjoy lovely wines and stay safe. Cheers!

This Week's Wine Review:

As I was talking about the Riverland in my blog, rather than reviewing one wine, I decided to mention a few really outstanding Riverland emerging variety wines that I have tried in recent times. These are rare but well worth checking out:

CIRAMI ESTATE 2017 MACABEO (VIURA): An exciting white Spanish variety that has interesting floral aromas with a hint of sweet apple pie and a mouthful of smooth, rich flavours counterbalanced by crisp acidity and a drying, refreshing finish.

CIRAMI 2019 ARINTO: A delicious emerging Portuguese white wine that is oh, so drinkable with zesty citrus flavours and an ubber refreshing finish. A brilliant summer wine. (This variety is also grown in the Barossa Valley.)

Winery Link: www.ciramiestate.com.au

BASSHAM 2019 VERDEJO: This is a white Spanish variety (not to be confused with Verdelho) that makes exciting, crisp, zingy, dry wines. This example is an absolute ripper with a great bouquet and masses of crisp, almost crunchy flavours making it the perfect companion for seafood. Bloody gorgeous!

BASSHAM 2018 ORGANIC LAGREIN: An exciting native Italian red variety that is just starting to make its presence in Australia felt. Deep, dark inky colour, aromas of bitter plums and red berries on the bouquet. Rich, unctuous palate which is lip-smackingly delicious – Utterly divine!

Winery Link: www.basshamwines.com

MATRIARCH & ROGUE 2019 ‘ROGUES OF THE RESISTANCE’ PRIETO PICUDO: An exciting emerging Spanish red variety that has just arrived in Australia and has stacks of colour, rich concentrated flavours and heaps of appeal.

Winery Link: www.matriachandrogue.com.au

919 WINES 2017 TOURIGA NACIONAL: This variety is considered by many to be the finest of the Portuguese native red varieties which are mainly used in the production of Port wine. This example is awesome, deeply coloured, with vivid rich aromas and smashing flavours of cherries, red currants and some herbal characters - It is truly divine!

919 WINES 2018 PETIT MANSENG: A native French white variety that produces elegant, tasty, sophisticated wines. This one is really classy with divine pear and apple aromas, a gracefully smooth, slick palate with refined citrus flavours and a great textural mouthfeel. Truly Superb!

Winery Link: www.919wines.com.au

There are many more outstanding emerging variety wines being made in the Riverland these days and they really deserve more diverse classes in the Riverland Wine Show, rather than being lumped all together.

I hope you have a good week, enjoy tasting emerging variety wines and please stay safe in these challenging times. Cheers!