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Wine Traveler Riverland

While South Australia’s riverland region has always been famous for bulk wine production, innovative local winemakers are changing the landscape by planting a range of grape varieties perfectly suited to the hot, dry climate.

As I sit down to pen this brief piece on the Riverland, I’m reminded of the words of that great American philosopher LL Cool J who rhymed, “don’t call it a comeback; I’ve been here for years; I’m rockin my peers; Puttin’ suckers in fear”. Mic drop from Queens.

Perhaps I’m getting carried away. I’ve always been told I have a fertile imagination, but who would have thought a decade ago that boutique winemakers from Margaret River to Coonawarra would be sourcing fruit from the Riverland and proudly displaying that fact on their wine labels?

The Riverland has always been, along with several other regions that lie along the life-giving artery of the Murray, the engine-room of the Australian wine industry. The Riverland accounts for over 50% of South Australia’s wine crush and around 30% of the national total, some 470,123 tonnes in 2017. It is a very important region for Australian wine.

One winery alone, Berri Estates, is the largest grape processor in the southern hemisphere, crushing some 220,000 tonnes of grapes annually or around one-third of the total grape crush of South Australia. Several years ago, I recall driving with the Berri Estates winemaker to the crushers; a journey through a huge truck marshalling area complete with traffic wardens. He turned to me and said, “Can you feel the romance?” Funny, but the sheer scale of the operation was astounding.

The Riverland is also a region well aware of the hardships of farming; of extended droughts and the plunging grape prices of boom & bust cycles. But the droughts, while devastating for growers already struggling with low grape prices, have forced some changes for the better. Included among them are sustainable irrigation, drought hardy rootstock and clonal research, and the planting of alternative varieties, or, as one local winemaker described them, “appropriate varieties.”

King of grapes

One of the larger producers is Kingston Estate, established by Greek immigrants, Nina & Steve Moularadellis in the mid-1980s after they met picking grapes in the early 1960s. Today, you can still find them in the winery most days, but it is son Bill who steers the ship.

Kingston Estate produce a range of wines that offer great value for money and drinking pleasure. Their portfolio centres around the European classic varieties, but for me, when I think of the estate, it is their Petit Verdot that springs to mind and it is certainly a variety they have hung their hat on.

Deeply coloured and laden with rich fruit and spice, it possesses an ample structure with plenty of ripe tannin and is a variety that seems to thrive in the warmer climes of the Riverland.

Salena Estate, another of the larger operators, has around 520 acres under vine, roughly half of which is certified organic. Their range includes classic varieties, across different price points that provide great drinking, and their ‘Ink’ series concentrates on the ‘appropriate’ varieties with some great examples including Montepulciano, Graciano, Bianco d’Alessano and Vermentino.

The Banrock Station cellar door is top-notch with the complete range of wines available for tasting, a great little restaurant if you are feeling peckish and the amazing wetlands ecosystem with walking trails if you need to stretch your legs. The Angove cellar door in Renmark is another must visit for the quality and diversity of their range of wines with fruit sourced from the Riverland and further afield across South Australia.

In recent times, the interest in sourcing fruit from the Riverland by winemakers based outside the region has been pleasing to see. There are several factors at play here. Better farming practices and increased interest in some of the varieties that end in ‘O’ that seem well suited to the region are certainly in the mix.

Another is the tireless efforts, boundless energy and great farming nous of Ashley Ratcliff of Ricca Terra Farms, who has done much to raise the profile of the Riverland as a source of well-farmed, alternative varieties.

Part of this nous was knowing when to take a risk on doing something new. As he explains, “During the boom times in the Riverland, grape prices were up and getting people to change their practices was hard. Why would you decrease your yields and plant new varieties? When things turned, however, others panicked, but we were brave; buying up vineyards and planting alternative varieties that now fetch sustainable prices.”

Ashley’s Ricca Terra Farms is just outside Bamera and is planted with many of the varieties that are now sought after in the region – Nero d’Avola, Fiano, Vermentino, Montepulciano, Zibbibo, Muscato Giallo and the curiously named, Slankamenca Bela. As well as supplying grapes for other winemakers, Ashley has his own ‘Ricca Terra’ label featuring inventive blends of these varieties. Another producer riding the wave of the alternative varieties that are well-suited to the Riverland is Alex Russell Wines. Viticulturist and winemaker Alex Russell crafts a range of delicious wines from Montepulciano, Vermentino, and Lagrein to Nero d’Avola, Saperavi and Graciano. Alex’s range of wines hold true to the tenet that a wines ‘raison d’etre’ is to be above all else, delicious to drink and they have picked up a swathe of awards at the Australian Alternative Varieties Wine Show in Mildura.

small names, big impression

Other small local producers who farm in a thoughtful, sustainable fashion to seek out include Whistling Kite, whose biodynamically farmed range includes a fantastic Petit Manseng and a Montepulciano that is a benchmark for the region. The organically farmed Bassham Wines is another, with delicious, racy whites including Vermentino and Fiano, along with lovely examples of Lagrein, Nero d’Avola and Graciano.

Also check out 919 Wines, whose range of table wines provides beautiful drinking across both the classic and alternative varieties, including a killer Pale Dry Apera style.

And last but not least, the Delinquent Wine Co has a fantastic range of funkily packaged wines for “drinkin, not thinkin”, featuring new wave varieties, including the very drinkable Bianco d’Alessano Pet Nat Sparkling.

Of the producers from further afield who proudly source fruit from the Riverland, the list is growing. Sue Bell from Bellwether Wines in Coonawarra produces a fantastic, award-winning Nero d’Avola Rosé and crisp, textural Bianco d’Alessano; Margaret River based winemaker Brad Wehr of Amato Vino produces a dangerously drinkable Riverland range including a wonderful Slankamenca Bela. In the Adelaide Hills, Unico Zela features amazing Fiano, Nero d’Avola and an enchanting skin-contact white blend. And from McLaren Vale, ex-NYC sommelier Brad Hickey of Brash Higgins Wines crafts a heady, textural Zibbibo using grapes from Ricca Terra Farms vineyard.

a bright future

Riverland is on the up and up and if you haven’t sampled its wines, now is the time. Perhaps its reputation has been unfairly tarnished as a source of lower-end, bulk wine offerings, but today the wines have never been better and there is an undercurrent of innovation, sustainable viticulture and experimentation that bodes very well for its future.

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Yarra Valley’s Best Cellar Doors and Wineries
Start planning your next trip to the Yarra Valley with our latest cellar door guide to this premier cool climate wine region.  The Yarra Valley is an easy one-hour drive from Melbourne’s CBD – arrive there and you’ll find an almost endless choice of premium wineries, cellars doors, restaurants and exciting experiences. To help make the most of your time in this spectacular cool climate region, we’ve selected a collection of wineries that provide great cellar door experiences. With a such a diversity of terroir, the Yarra Valley is able to produce a wide range of classic wine styles and is renowned for its Chardonnay ,  Sauvignon Blanc , and  Pinot Noir , Sparkling wines  and innovative savoury  Rosés . You can find out more about the wines on offer in our  Yarra Valley region guide here. YARRA VALLEY MUST-VISIT WINERIES Helen & Joey Estate
Established in 2010, Helen & Joey Estate is a family owned winery producing outstanding cool climate wines from their 85-acre vineyard located in the Yarra’s Gruyere sub region. Nestled in the Warramate foothills, a visit to their cellar door will leave you feeling like part of the family. Senior winemaker Meg Brodtmann MW is the first female Master of Wine in Australia, and has many years’ experience making wine all around the world. Meg works closely with vineyard manager Jamie McGlade to produce sensational Pinot Gris, Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.  Enjoy a wine tasting across their Inara, Layla, Alena, Late Harvest, and Wayward Child ranges whilst soaking in the stunning views from the Helen & Joey deck. 2-14 Spring Lane, Gruyere Open 7 days a week (except Christmas day) 10am - 5pm Visit the Helen & Joey Estate Website Oakridge
While, the Oakridge’s vineyards and winery were established back in 1978, their contemporary cellar door was opened in 2013. With its sleek industrial lines, the striking, architect-designed building is in bold contrast to the surrounding vines. Step inside to sample a superb range of award-winning wines including Pinot Gris, Semillon, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Shiraz, Cabernet and more. Treat yourself to lunch at Oakridge’s one-hatted restaurant where chefs Matt Stone and Jo Barrett serve seasonal menus based on fresh ingredients from the Oakridge kitchen garden, as well as wild produce they discover on foraging and fishing excursions around the region. 864 Maroondah Highway, Coldstream  Open daily 10am to 5pm Visit the Oakridge Website Coombe Farm
Tasting Panellist and wine show judge, Trent Mannell says, “Coombe Farm is a remarkable winery and a destination with a real sense of history.” The enchanting  Coombe Farm  cellar door is set within the grounds of the historic Melba House, constructed in 1912 by famed opera singer Dame Nellie Melba. The exquisite gardens, lovely restaurant, and Melba Gallery are not to missed. Melba’s Morning Tea is available from 9:30am Saturdays and Sundays, while a special high tea experience is at 2:30pm every Wednesday and Saturday through June and August. The estate grown, limited production wines are elegantly varietal and regionally expressive.  673 Maroondah Highway, Coldstream Open 9:30am to 5pm Tuesday to Thursday, 9:30am to 3:30pm Friday and Saturday, 9:30am to 5pm Sunday and public holidays Visit the Coombe Farm Website Soumah
Located down a country lane in the dress circle of the Warramate foothills, the Soumah cellar door offers, not only a fantastic tasting experience, but also spectacular views of the vineyards and the surrounding Warramate Hills. “Our focus at Soumah is on making wine with the charm of Northern Italy, but with the provenance of the majestic Yarra Valley,” says Soumah director, Brett Butcher. “We’re best known for our Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and are also gaining a good reputation for Viognier and Syarah, plus our passion for the Northern Italian varieties with our Nebbiolo, Brachetto, Pinto Grigio and Savarro ( Savagnin). Along with its casual tastings, Somuah has a premium wine rooms where you’re treated to six exclusive samples selected from their reserve quality, limited production and museum release wines. You can also enjoy a glass of wine or two at their restaurant, Trattoria d’Soumah which serves up excellent Northern Italian cuisine like antipasti, pasta, wood fired pizza, cheese and dessert, seven days a week, with extra options offered on Saturdays and Sundays. 18 Hexham Rd, Gruyere Open 7 days a week 10am to 5pm Visit the Soumah Website Punt Road Wines
The  Punt Road Wines  cellar door is the perfect place to sample a fine selection of single vineyard, estate grown wines. The Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Shiraz, and Chardonnay, in particular, are all exceptional. Enjoy a cheese platter, a glass or a full wine flight, chat with their team and experience why they spend every day here. Relax outdoors on the back-garden lawn with a Gundowring ice cream or try your hand at bocce.  Tasting Panellist, Adam Walls  loves visiting the Punt Road cellar door – ‘It has such a warm and welcoming feel and the quality of both the wine and cider on offer is very high!” 10 St Huberts Road, Coldstream Open daily 10am to 5pm Visit the Punt Road Website Domaine Chandon
Every Aussie Sparkling wine lover needs to experience the joie de vivre of Domaine Chandon. In the mid 1980s, leading Champagne house Moet & Chandon established Domaine Chandon, considering the Yarra Valley as a leading location for the cool climate Sparkling grape varieties of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier.  The stunning cellar door and winery melds traditional Champagne architecture with modern Australian design. Its cavernous 72,000 bottle climate-controlled riddling hall, stunning colonnade wall and restaurant overlooking their Green Point vineyard are all world class. As of course are the wines, including the Chandon Brut that was awarded Best Australian Sparkling Wine at the 2018 Champagne & Sparkling Wines World Championships. The terrific self-guided tour of the winery allows visitors to examine up close the full winemaking process from the expansive winery, barrel and riddling halls, all with informative interactive guides. 727 Maroondah Highway, Coldstream  Open daily 10:30am to 4:30pm Visit the Domaine Chandon Website Giant Steps
“Making wine is often done hidden in sheds in distant wineries. That’s no how we do it. We like our winemaking as transparent as the big glass wall between our winery and cellar door,” Steve Flamsteed, Giant Steps chief winemaker and 2016 Gourmet Traveller Winemaker of the Year. Located in Healesville, the Giant Steps complex is a fantastic wine and food experience that shouldn’t be missed. The remarkable venue features a restaurant, café, private dining rooms and a cellar door built directly within their working winery separated by floor to ceiling glass. Visitors are surrounded by the winemaking process with tastings held in the barrel hall tasting room allowing further insight into the happenings of vintage.  All day grazing plates are available with a new menu of beautiful and seasonal dishes on offer Friday and Saturday evenings. 336 Maroondah Highway, Healesville  Open 11am to 7pm Monday to Thursday, 11am till late Friday and Saturday, 11am to 7pm Sunday Visit the Giant Steps Website Dominique Portet
When you visit the gorgeous Dominique Portet Winery, you’ll be enjoying wines crafted by 9th generation winemaker Dominique Portet and his son Ben, who is the family’s 10th generation winemaker. Their cellar door is absolutely charming with a Mediterranean-inspired terrace cafe overlooking the rolling vineyards. Take time to sit and relax while sampling their exceptional Rosé, Sparkling, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon.  870 Maroondah Highway, Coldstream Open daily 10am-5pm Visit the Domonique Portet Website Rob Dolan Wines
A Yarra Valley winemaking stalwart of over 25 years, Rob Dolan launched his label in 2010 and in 2014 was awarded the  James Halliday Best New Winery . His farmhouse cellar door combines welcoming spaces where you can taste Rob’s premium wines, plus sample the delicious Stone & Crow cheeses that are matured at the winery by cheesemaker and founder Jack Holman. Enjoy a platter of local produce including pâté, terrine, olives, and a fantastic range of Rob Dolan pickles, pastes, relishes and jellies. Located in Warrandyte, just 30 minutes from Melbourne’s CBD, this charming cellar door makes for the perfect start or conclusion to any visit to the Yarra Valley. 21-23 Delaneys Road, South Warrandyte Open Daily 10am to 5pm Visit the Rob Dolan Wines Cellar Door Website De Bortoli Yarra Valley Estate
One of Australia’s iconic wine producers, De Bortoli Wines   was established in  Griffith, NSW in 1928 by Italian immigrant, Vittorio De Bortoli. Even in his wildest dreams, he never imagined he would establish an Australian winemaking dynasty. The baby of third generation Leanne De Bortoli and her husband Steve Webber (who is De Bortoli’s chief winemaker), the Yarra Valley vineyard was established in 1987. The vineyard has produced excellent wines with De Bortoli winning the coveted Jimmy Watson Trophy in 1997. The cellar door is set in a stunning location with vines in every direction. Along with their wide range of wines, what makes De Bortoli a particularly nice winery to visit is the marriage of wine with cheese. The extensive selection of local and imported cheeses in this friendly cellar door is outstanding and perfectly complements De Bortoli’s excellent cool climate Yarra Valley wines and those from their other regions. Upstairs, The Locale Restaurant offers an authentic Italian dining experience with the menu reflecting the best local seasonal produce and featuring veggies from their garden, homemade pasta and delicious authentic Italian risotto.  58 Pinnacle Lane, Dixons Creek  Visit the De Bortoli Yarra Valley Estate Website Yering Station
No visit to the Yarra Valley is truly complete without a visit to  Yering Station . This winery is a destination in and of itself with an exceptional architect designed restaurant and bar, historic cellar door, art space, underground barrel room, local produce store, monthly farmers market and stunning grounds. The first vineyard in Victoria was established on this site in 1838, and that history is enshrined in the old winery that now serves as the cellar door and gallery.  Choose from several different tasting experiences to enjoy the excellent range of wines (including Chardonnay, Rosé, Shiraz, Pinot Noir and of course, Sparkling wines) crafted by chief winemaker Willy Lunn and his talented team. Open seven days from 12pm, the Yering Station Restaurant serves a superb French-inspired menu under the leadership of executive chef, Maxime Croiset. The monthly farmers market held in Yering Station’s historic barn is the oldest farmers’ market in Victoria and is a must if you are fortunate to be in the area. Be sure to check the  Yarra Valley Regional Food Group’s page  for more details on the market. 38 Melba Hwy, Yarra Glen  Open daily Monday to Friday 10am to 5pm, Saturday and Sunday 10am to 6pm  Visit the Yering Station Website Seville Estate
One of the oldest continually operating wineries in the Yarra Valley, Seville Estate was named the Winery of the Year at the 2019 James Halliday Wine Companion Awards. “Our philosophy at Seville Estate is to capture the fruit expression of this unique vineyard, in wine styles that show cool climate complexity and finesse,” says Dylan McMahon, winemaker. Their famed Shiraz and Pinot Noir are excellent examples of the region’s terroir. “Seville Estate is a Yarra Valley icon, the higher elevation of the estate’s vines allows the grapes to ripen slowly to produce elegant cool climate wines perfect for Pinot Noir,” explains Trent Mannell, Tasting Panellist. Situated further southwest towards Yellingbo and with a charming casual aesthetic overlooking a classic Australian bushland setting, the  Seville Estate  cellar door makes for the perfect place to spend a lazy afternoon. The newly opened restaurant offers lunch on Friday through Sunday, and dinner Friday and Saturday nights. 65 Linwood Rd, Seville  Open daily 10am to 5pm Visit the Seville Estate Restaurant Tarrawarra Estate
“There are so many great cellar doors in the Yarra Valley, but TarraWarra must be on your short list,” says Trent Manell, Tasting Panellist. “Situated on 400 hectares of prime land beside the Yarra river, TarraWarra’s wines are meticulously grown, handpicked, vinified and aged on the estate,” he says. The spectacular  TarraWarra Estate  cellar door is built into the earth of the wineries’ rolling hillside and is a stunning place to sample their premium-quality wines. Serving delicious dishes inspired by the estate’s kitchen garden and prepared by head chef Mark Ebbels, the renowned restaurant further cements TarraWarra as an exceptional Yarra Valley winery experience.  311 Healesville-Yarra Glen Road, Yarra Glen Open Tuesday to Sunday, 11am to 5pm Visit the TarraWarra Website Helen's Hill
Nestled at the bottom of its eponymous hill, Helen’s Hill is a 100% family-owned and operated vineyard and cellar door, and a must-visit for those interested in the inner workings of the winemaking process. The cellar door reveals floor to ceiling views of the winery and barrel hall, providing a real sense connection to the wines that are hand crafted by winemaker Scott McCarthy and his team. Enjoy tasting of Helen’s Hill cool climate regional range including premium Arneis, Fume Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz. Don’t miss The Wine Deck for a casual snack or lunch and tasting in the garden. For beer lovers there’s another treat – a fantastic range of carefully brewed small batch craft beers. A tribute to the family’s furry members, the Caesars Pale Ale, Brutus’ Amber Ale and Archie’s Pale Ale are all easy drinking styles that go really well with food. 16 Ingram Road, Lilydale  Open daily 10am to 5pm  Visit the Helen's Hill Website Yering Farm
Owned and operated by Alan and Vicki Johns, Yering Farm is located on the original site of the Yeringa Vineyards once owned by the Deschamps family in the 1800s.The Johns family, who are fifth generation orchardists, resurrected the property in 1980 with the replanting of the 30-acre vineyard starting in 1989. The original Yeringa Vineyard sign adorns the entrance of the rustic cellar door and the whole property exudes charm and commanding views of the Yarra Valley. All of Yering Farm wines, including Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Shiraz, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, are produced on site from estate grown fruit. Enjoy a tasting and a Yering Farm 'Pruner's Platter’ by the fire or out on the large verandah where you can take in the gorgeous views. You can also bring your own picnic or use the BBQ facilities for a small fee (bookings essential). A tasting at Yering Farm wouldn’t be complete without trying Alan's Farmyard Apple Syder (cider), it's delicious! 19-21 St Huberts Rd, Yering  Open 7 days a week from 10am to 5pm  Visit the Yering Farm Website
Wine
Cycling the Clare Valley Riesling Trail
Words by Elliot Watt on 6 Nov 2017
Discover the fun of cycling the Clare Valley Riesling Trail with Wine Selectors Membership Consultant, Elliot Watt, as he shares all his tips for touring through this spectacular wine region . Exercise and wine don’t usually go together, but, when you think about it, it's actually a genius combination. You are essentially cancelling out the damage done by one with the other. Well, in theory, anyway. Now a word of warning. We’re in no way suggesting you empty a bottle of wine into your drink bottle and hit the gym. There are far more attractive and much more appropriate places to achieve this symbiotic activity. A leisurely two-hour drive north of Adelaide will see you in Australia’s epicentre for Riesling , the Clare Valley, where you’ll find the Riesling Trail. This 35-kilometre-long cycling and walking track follows the path of the old rail line that sliced through the hills before it was irreparably damaged by the 1983 Ash Wednesday Bushfires. Today, the trail takes you past some of the region’s finest Riesling producers, so get ready to sip, sweat and cycle your way through the Clare Valley.  Clare
It all begins with a visit to the Riesling Trail Bike Hire to collect your trusty steed. Kent will size you up with the perfect bike and give you the local lowdown on the trail. Once in the saddle, an easy 12-minute ride north on the trail will take you to your first destination, Knappstein Enterprises Winery and Brewery . Originally established as the Enterprises Brewery in 1878, the current winery was installed by Clare Valley icon Tim Knappstein in the late 1960s. In 2006, 89 years after the original taps went dry, the brewing of beer started up once again in this heritage building. For Riesling lovers, definitely look to the Single Vineyard range, which is a perfect expression of the diversity in Clare Riesling. However, if you prefer a beer, then the delicious Knappstein Reserve Larger will quench your thirst and replenish the tank for the next leg of the journey.  Sevenhill and Penworth
Now you need to put in some hard yards and work off that wine and/or beer. Head south, 6km from Clare, and you’ll arrive in Sevenhill where it’s time to take a detour. John Horrocks Road is off the trail and runs through some seriously beautiful countryside, which will take your mind off the fact your legs are on fire. More importantly, it leads you to one of the jewels of the Clare Valley, Mitchell Wines . Andrew and Jane Mitchell established their winery in 1975 and have created something really special, showcasing a true Australian family-owned and run winery. On arrival, Jane welcomes you like you’re one of the family and you can tell her and Andrew are proud of their wines and vineyards and so they should be. Within their quaint cellar door, they present stunning single vineyard Rieslings, as well as Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Semillon. Now, it’s awfully hard to transport wine on a bike, trust me, I ride to work at Wine Selectors and constantly attempt to juggle wines home. However, not to worry, Jane will personally deliver any purchases direct to your accommodation that very same day.  Watervale
Departing Mitchell Wines, with a few more turns of the cog, you’ll be off the detour and back on the trail. This is where things start to go downhill, literally, not figuratively, as you’re now over the incline and can give the legs a rest as you glide through the rolling hills towards Watervale. As soon as you arrive, it’s essential to restore your energy with some carb loading and there’s no better place to do so than the Watervale General Store . It’s one of those charming country icons that is part café, part grocery store, part post office. The food is simple and delicious, but heed my warning, it's not wise to consume a full pizza and then carry on the trail as if you are riding in Le Tour De France. That pizza will come back to haunt you. Leasingham
With a full stomach and renewed energy, it shouldn’t take long to reach the next town of Leasingham and the home of Claymore Wines . Here you can wash down lunch with a glass of Dark Side of The Moon or Bittersweet Symphony . No idea what I’m talking about? Cleverly, the majority of their wines are labelled after hit songs from a bygone era . However, there are no gimmicks when it comes to the wines with some seriously good juice going on here. Sing your way through the range, find your favourite and sit down with a glass accompanied by a board of local South Australian Cheese. For a second in time, you will completely forget about your aching muscles and the fact you still have to ride home.  The Riesling Trail comes to an end a further five clicks south at the town of Auburn. Unfortunately, I cannot tell the tale of Auburn as Leasingham is as far as my legs would carry me. Some say, namely my wife, it was the pizza that lead to my ultimate demise however that’s neither here nor there.  Now begins the journey home, although it's not over yet. As any good bicycle wine tour strategist knows, you’re going to get thirsty, so Stone Bridge in Sevenhill is the perfect rehydration stop. Crafting not only exceptional Riesling but another 14 wines from 7 different grape varieties, Stone Bridge has something to quench any thirst. The aftermath Once off the bike if you stop moving things begin to hurt, the wine wears off and the lactic acid sets in. The only solution is to manoeuvre yourself directly to Seed Winehouse and Kitchen in Clare . Immersed in the simplistic stone and natural timber of the old chaff mill, you begin to imagine you are somewhere in rural Italy about to dine on local rustic cuisine. However, Head Chef Guy Parkinson is no Nonna, he may be better. Offering sophisticated A la Carte and degustation options, the menu highlights local produce with a wine list to reflect. Nearly 200 local and international wines will make the decision hard, add in 47 Gin choices and the mind begins to boggle. Whatever your decision there is no doubt any indulgence is guilt free. You have literally burned off three Big Macs during the ride so sit back, reward yourself and reflect on the beauty of the Clare Valley and the amazing wines it has to offer. Your Quick Guide to the Clare Valley Riesling Trail Wineries Knappstein Enterprises Winery and Brewery Mitchell Wines Claymore Wines Stone Bridge Restaurant Seed Winehouse and Kitchen in Clare Watervale General Store Bike Hire Riesling Trail Bike Hire
Wine
Riverina: Farming, Food And Wine
Words by Nathalie Craig on 16 Mar 2018
The Riverina region has undergone a renaissance that’s seeing its established traditions given a fresh makeover. The result is a dynamic food and wine experience presenting local produce with European flair. The Riverina  has long been referred to as Australia’s food bowl. This south western region of New South Wales between Griffith and Wagga Wagga is abundant with citrus and stonefruit, grapes, figs, olives, nuts, lamb, beef, chicken, wheat and rice. What is not so widely known is that there is a shift happening in this rural farming centre. It’s being led by a growing number of innovative chefs, winemakers and growers dedicated to providing new and unique wine, food and agritourism experiences. Dining Out
The wealth of fresh produce available in the Riverina , combined with a strong history of Italian immigration following the World Wars, means there is no shortage of quality places to dine. Chef Luke Piccolo, who owns and runs Griffith’s renowned Limone Dining , cut his teeth at Sydney restaurants Pilu at Freshwater and Pendolino before returning home to Griffith to open his own fine-dining establishment. Luke, who is of Italian heritage, won the Council of Italian Restaurants Australia (CIRA) Young Talent Award in 2013. His nonna, who cooks beautiful rustic Italian food, was the first to show him the ropes in the kitchen. “When he left school, Luke came to help at our family restaurant and we were blown off the planet with what he could do,” his father, Peter reveals. “We were blind to what had been going on for the past decade. Then all of a sudden there he was in the kitchen at 16 years of age with amazing cooking skills, work ethic and creations.” Luke’s nonna taught him about the no waste policy, which you can now see woven into Limone Dining. The place is built almost completely from recycled materials and Luke offers an evolving seasonal menu featuring local produce. Think fresh tagliolini with spring lamb ragu followed by char-grilled quail with pancetta finished off with blood orange almond sponge and lemon custard. For full-blown Italian dining in Griffith, visit Zecca Handmade Italian in the old bank building. Run by returning locals, Ben, Michaela and Daniel, Zecca’s regularly changing chalkboard menu is packed with delicious Italian staples. Their Maltagliati, casarecce and pappardelle pastas are lovingly made by hand each day. Plates of house-made antipasti are packed with olives, salumi and baccala from local Murray cod. Another restaurant not to pass by is Pages on Pine in the main street of Leeton. It is a stalwart of the area, run by French-born chef Eric Pages and his wife Vanessa. They serve up French fare with a creative twist and are huge supporters of local producers, including Coolamon Cheese, Bruceron pork, Riverina  lamb and Randall Organics. They also offer a three-course set menu, matched with Leeton wines from Lillypilly and Toorak. Coolamon Cheese
A nirvana for cheese-lovers has been formed inside an historic 1920s co-op building in the main street of Coolamon. Cheesemaker Barry Lillywhite and his son Anton Green have filled the space with top-of-the-line cheese making facilities, a commercial kitchen, deli and generously sized dining area. All their cheeses are handcrafted on site using just four simple ingredients: local Riverina milk, starter culture, rennet and salt. “By hand-making our cheeses in small batches we can tend to them more closely, watch them mature cheese by cheese and release them to our customers at exactly the right time,” Barry explains. Barry’s signature collection of native Australian-flavoured cheeses pack a punch. Right now he has lemon myrtle, river mint, bush tomato and alpine pepper cheeses on the menu. Other cheeses available include vintage cheddars and oil-infused fettas, blues and runny Bries and Camemberts. His soft cheeses are a far cry from varieties you find in the supermarket. “Our soft cheeses are not stabilised and this is why they are soft and gooey and have a mind of their own,” he explains. “In fact, the only preservative we use in any of our cheeses is salt.” Visitors to Coolamon Cheese can taste test the cheeses or sit down to a cheese-inspired meal from the cafe menu. Here the cheeses are served with a range of gourmet accompaniments like tempura saltbush, cold roast lamb, pickles, onion jam, sticky prunes and balsamic strawberries. Guests are also invited to take a tour of the factory led by one of their cheese makers. “We want visitors to understand where their food comes from and the processes it goes through to get to their plates,” Barry says. Wine a plenty
The Riverina  is home to 20,000 hectares of vines, making it the largest wine producing region in NSW and the second largest in Australia behind Riverland in South Australia. The region is well established, having been pioneered in 1913 by the famous McWilliam family of the Hunter Valley. Riverina wineries are largely family owned with many having Italian heritage including Calabria Family Wines, Mino & Co, Lillypilly Wines and De Bortoli . Some of the families behind these labels actually began making wine out of necessity when they first migrated to Australia, so they could enjoy a glass with their meal as they would have back home in Italy. “At the end of the long working day, my grandfather found he looked forward to a glass of home-made wine,” Elizabeth Calabria of Calabria Family Wines explains. “Unfortunately, he didn’t have the money to invest in all of the necessary equipment to make it, so he took over my grandmother’s laundry tubs and improvised,” she continues. “Soon enough, he was producing wines for the local Europeans who had also made Griffith their home.” Ideal conditions
The Murrumbidgee Irrigation scheme, coupled with rich red soils and a warm Mediterranean climate, allows most varieties of grapes to grow well. Although the area was once looked upon as a producer of table wines, successful Italian varieties are fast becoming the star. “What is exciting is what we are learning about alternative varieties, such as Montepulciano, Nero d’Avola, Aglianico, Vermentino and Pinot Bianco,” chief winemaker at Calabria Family Wines, Emma Norbiato says. “By controlling the yield and the canopy, we are seeing some beautiful fruit and making some exciting wines. “In the next five years, I would like to think we will see more thoughtful viticulture and winemaking in our alternative varieties. Montepulciano , Nero d’Avola , Pinot Bianco are new to our region and haven’t even reached their potential yet.” Vermentino has also been a successful addition to Lillypilly Wines. Their first vintage of the dry Italian white was released in 2015 and went straight on to win the trophy for Best Dry White Varietal at the Perth Royal Wine Show and another gold at the Small Vigneron Awards in Canberra. General manager of Mino & Co, Nick Guglielmino says while Italian wines are not new to Griffith, there is now a higher demand for them. “We are experiencing a time where these varieties are being more accepted by consumers,” he says. “Griffith indeed has a rich history of Italian culture, so it makes sense for us to follow the style of wines we are familiar with, that of Italian authenticity yet grown in Australian conditions similar to that of their origins.”
Two Blues Sauvignon Blanc 2014
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