The Halliday Wine Companion Awards

Wine of the Year

By The Tasting Team
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2023 Wine of the Year

Best’s Wines Foudre Ferment Riesling 2021Great Western, Victoria

96 points | Price when tasted $35

Anointing just one Wine of the Year from more than 8000 wines tasted for this edition was no trivial task. The complexity of the challenge was again compounded this year by bringing the full tasting panel in on the final decision. Every standout wine of every style from every taster was on the table to be assessed blind, rigorously discussed and voted upon.

The winner of each category was then in the running for Wine of the Year. Lining up 18 winners in one taste-off to single out one winner would have proven insurmountable, so again we first voted on our Sparkling Wine of the Year, White Wine of the Year and Red Wine of the Year. The three were then tasted off, and the panel cast its votes for Wine of the Year. It was ultimately between the white and the red, and the result could not have been closer, with only one vote between them.

The winning wine comes from Best's Wines in Victoria's Great Western, winner of our 2021 Best Value Winery. Of all the wines submitted to the 2023 Companion, riesling has been dubbed the best-value grape variety – with 33 per cent earning the value rosette – no other variety came close. So it comes as no surprise that a value-for-money riesling has taken out the title of Wine of the Year.

Winemaker Ben holding the Best’s Wines Foudre Ferment Riesling 2021Managing director, vineyard manager and fifth-generation family member Ben Thomson.

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A wine style that started a minor revolution in Australia when it was first made, with extended skin contact, wild fermentation and maturation on lees in foudre. Each vintage it tingles and impresses and in a good year like 2021, it excels. Jasmine florals, bergamot, lime cordial, lemon curd and peach-skin aromas. A wine of some complexity and nuance, featuring bright, vibrant fruits, soft mealy texture with a hint of savouriness. Seamless and sustained. – Jeni Port

Best’s Wines Foudre Ferment Riesling 2021

The Foudre Ferment Riesling was one of the first wines Justin Purser made when he joined Best’s in 2011. The winery had just received a 2500L oval-shaped oak vat known as a foudre, which was intended to ferment chardonnay.

The riesling juice was given extended skin contact, before wild fermentation in two French oak foudre – one made by Marc Grenier in France and the other by the Schneckenleitner family in Austria – the result is flavours of lemon curd and lime pith, with crunchy minerality balancing the richness.

Justin says of the Foudre Ferment's success – like all good wine, it starts in the vineyard. “Wine only has one ingredient, essentially. If your vineyard is well managed and well nurtured and cared for, you're onto a pretty good start. It’s certainly the most important thing, that’s for sure.”

Justin Purser with the vineyard behind himJustin Purser has experimented with the Foudre Ferment since its 2012 vintage.

Ben Thomson is the managing director and vineyard manager at Best’s Wines. His motto in the vineyard is “to do as little as possible to get what you need,” which means being observant and reactive rather than manipulative. “Most your influence comes from the soil and the climate,” he says. Fruit for this wine came from two estate vineyards – Great Western and Rhymney – which although only 12 kilometres apart show quite different characteristics. 

Also working in the team’s favour was the 2021 vintage. “It was a cracker – the best season we’ve had for many years,” says Ben.

Tyson Stelzer on the 2023 Wine of the Year

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Previous Wine of the Year recipients were Bass Phillip Reserve Pinot Noir 2010 (2014), Xanadu Stevens Road Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 (2015), Serrat Shiraz Viognier 2014 (2016), Best’s Thomson Family Shiraz 2014 (2017), Henschke Hill of Grace 2012 (2018), Duke’s Vineyard Magpie Hill Reserve Riesling 2017 (2019), Yangarra Estate Vineyard High Sands McLaren Vale Grenache 2016 (2020), Brokenwood Graveyard Vineyard Hunter Valley Shiraz 2018 (2021) and Yarra Yering Dry Red No. 1 2019 (2022). 

The 2023 Halliday Wine Companion is available now. Secure your copy of Australia's most comprehensive wine guide here – and at all good bookstores.

*This is an edited extract from the 2023 Halliday Wine Companion, with reviews by Dave Brookes, Jane Faulkner, Ned Goodwin MW, James Halliday, Erin Larkin, Jeni Port, Philip Rich and chief editor Tyson Stelzer.