Riesling reigns supreme

By J'aime Cardillo

Riesling was the standout class at the 2023 Halliday Awards judging. Of the 11 rieslings in the flight, two were crowned joint-winners for Riesling of the Year, and one became the 2023 Wine of the Year.

At this year's Halliday Wine Companion Awards, we crowned two joint winners for Riesling of the YearBest's Wines Foudre Ferment Riesling 2021 and Henschke Julius Riesling 2021.

In March, when the Tasting Team gathered at Mitchelton to taste the best wines from around the country, of the 18 varietal flights, there was one class that stood tall among the rest – riesling. It was also the only class where all wines were from the same vintage. Tasting Team member Dave Brookes described the 2021 riesling vintage as "really solid."

The Best's and the Henschke rieslings are vastly different in style – the Foudre Ferment spent extended time on skins, with wild fermentation, and maturation on lees in foudre. The Julius was tank-fermented and bottled post-vintage to preserve the delicate fruit characteristics. These two wines went head-to-head at the blind tasting, both proving to be such strong wines that they couldn't be split at the first tasting or at the final revote. The Best's Foudre Ferment then went on to win White Wine of the Year, before taking out the top gong of Wine of the Year – a great triumph for riesling; especially one priced at $35.

Jeni Port and James Halliday at the March Awards judging.Jeni Port and James Halliday were the tasters who put forward the winning rieslings.

When reflecting on the 11 wines put forward for judging in the riesling class, chief editor Tyson Stelzer said the panel had trouble separating the wines because there were so many highlights. "All from the 2021 vintage, all from different regions. It's just such a thrill to taste a line-up of wines and then for all the judges to stop at the end of the flight and go, 'oh my gosh, that was just a phenomenal experience to be able to taste all these wines together'."

Of the 8000 wines tasted for the 2023 Companion, riesling has been dubbed Australia's best-value grape. Of the rieslings tasted, 33 per cent earned the Halliday Value Rosette – which indicates a wine offers special value for money at its price point. While Clare Valley did lead the charge when it came to regional standouts, Eden Valley and Tasmania followed closely.

Philip Rich at the Awards judging in March.Philip Rich at the Awards judging in March.

The first recorded plantings of riesling was in 1838, in New South Wales, although it likely arrived with the First Fleet. Today, Australia has the second highest total riesling plantings in the world (second to Germany). While the majority of riesling in Australia is harvested in time for crisp, dry wines, riesling is also integral to producing late-harvest sweet wines.

Jeni Port, as the regional taster for Best's Wines, put forward the Wine of the Year. She says she's delighted by the return of riesling. "I know I keep saying this, but there's been some fabulous rieslings come through and making a bit of a mark." Jeni says winemakers are returning to riesling and being more imaginative than ever before. "It's a classic grape variety, for goodness sake. It's been in the wilderness way too long, so I love that riesling is coming through...and the blends, shiraz with riesling for instance, who would have thought?"

Philip Rich says picking the winner from the 11 wines was tremendously difficult. "I got particularly excited by the riesling class we did. Eleven gorgeous wines, showing the depth and breadth of riesling in Australia."

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