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May 7, 2024

Australian Riesling: The regions, producers, and wines

Ken Gargett profiles the sites and winemakers responsible for the finest Antipodean Rieslings.

By Ken Gargett

In the second part of his in-depth survey of Australian Riesling, Ken Gargett profiles the most significant regions, producers, and wines.

Australian Riesling: An underrated, pristine joy

Key regions

Clare Valley 

If any region in Australia is synonymous with great Riesling, it is the Clare Valley in South Australia, which James Halliday once described as the “monarch of Australia’s Riesling regions.” Edward Gleeson, the first mayor of the township of Clare, who named the place after his birthplace in Ireland, believed the region had a future for grapes. He imported vines from the Cape and, by the late 1840s, had planted 500 of them on his own farm. Ken Helm and Trish Burgess, in their excellent Riesling in Australia (2010), note the Austrian Jesuits making sacramental wine at Sevenhill, originally from Clare Riesling (Crouchen) but later from Riesling. 

Good Clare Riesling will be dominated by citrus, most notably limes and lemons, with hints of grapefruit and even crisp, appley notes. A wet-stone character can be evident and occasionally a touch of the tropicals. Florals, in varying degrees, are almost always present. Age provides a glorious toasty character, the best like fresh toast slathered with lemon butter. They will have depth, balance, intensity, and persistence.

Recent vintages here have been nothing short of stunning. Jeff Grosset and Stephanie Toole have been quoted as raving about 2021 but then having to pinch themselves when 2022 came along. Some may have fumbled the acidity question when it comes to 2022, but overall this is as good a vintage as most producers have seen. They are in raptures. Anyone who enjoys good Riesling simply must go overboard when it comes to Clare 2022. And drink them anytime over the next decade or two. Then along came 2023, yet another home run. Want to make a Clare Valley maker agonize? Ask him to pick the better year. Basically, the region has enjoyed three truly stunning vintages: 2021, classic; 2022, cool but brilliant; 2023 completed the hat-trick. Generally speaking, the 2015 to 2018 vintages were all excellent, with 2017 considered the star. Prior to that, 2010, 2005, 2002, and 1997 were standout years. So, too, was 2009 for many producers—indeed, some have this vintage as one of the all-time greats. Others opt for 2007 or 2012. It’s far too early to know about 2024, of course, but a severe frost in late October has apparently devastated up to 30 percent of the vineyards in the Clare. What the quality will be like remains to be seen, but at the very least, production will be considerably diminished.

Eden Valley

Despite being known as a valley (though really only since the 1950s), the Eden Valley enjoys a higher altitude than the neighboring Barossa and a cooler climate than the Clare. Riesling from here tends to be a little more delicate than that from the Clare, more austere, on occasion with an even finer, more steely backbone. Florals (notably white flowers) and limes (often quite intense limes) morph into honey on toast and gentle orange-marmalade notes, through the simple magic of time in the cellar. The Eden Valley has some of the oldest Riesling vines on the planet.

The vintages don’t always replicate what we see in the Clare Valley, but recently there has not been that much of a difference. The latest three years are also truly superb here. Perhaps the Eden Valley didn’t show quite as well as the Clare in 2023, but it was certainly still one of the better years. In turn, some suggest that it may have fared even better in 2022, if that were possible. If we look back, perhaps 2018 and 2010 were not quite as good as we have seen in the Clare, but 2009 and 2011 were a touch better.

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Great Southern

This includes subregions such as Mt Barker, Denmark, Frankland River, and Porongurup in Western Australia. For me, while we have the limes and other citrus, the inevitable floral notes and a backing of river stones, there is often a touch of honey toward the finish of good examples, as well as herbal hints. It comes as a surprise to learn that Riesling is actually only the fourth most planted white grape variety in the region.

2023 is showing itself to be a fine year. Reports have suggested that the 2022 vintage was a little challenging here, but that of all varieties, Riesling fared best. 2021, provided protection from birds was in place, an excellent year. Prior to that, almost all vintages back to the turn of the century were good to excellent, with the possible exception of 2014, 2006, and 2003. Damien Smith from Frankland Estate identified 2018 as the pick for him, but every vintage since has come very close. Like neighboring Margaret River (the concept of neighbors being relative in parts of Australia), it seems that the Great Southern is a region blessed with endless great years. 


If ever a Riesling region sails in under the radar, this is it, despite the very best efforts of Ken Helm (Helm Wines). The diurnal divergence certainly assists in the character and complexity of these wines. Inevitably, the region’s stunning reds, especially the wonderful Clonakilla Shiraz/Viognier, take center stage, but Riesling lovers know how good local examples can be. These are fresh, crisp wines, destined for the long haul, often exhibiting impressive complexity. Helm describes the region as enjoying “dry, cool weather in autumn, for slow, disease-free ripening, and a sea breeze in summer, for cool nights,” allowing Riesling to “grow perfectly for acid retention and low pH, for full flavor development,” permitting “the resulting wines to practically make themselves because they are in perfect balance—in flavor, acid, and complexity.” He believes Riesling from here can easily age for 50 years. 

The Langtons vintage chart allocates 10/10 to this region for every vintage from 1999 to 2012, which seems a little generous (or a typo). More recently, forget 2020. 2022 and 2023 are both fine years. Prior to that, 2015, 2016, 2018, and 2019 are usually considered the pick. Helm rates 2023 as one of the greatest vintages in his many years.


A relative newcomer, and with a small production, much of which does not make the mainland, let alone go international—but there is serious potential here. Many commentators believe that Tasmania will eventually prove to be the source of many of our finest Rieslings. It is entirely possible that climate change will merely strengthen that conviction. Time will tell… But for now, expect pristine, pure, focused Riesling in a range of styles. Bright acidity is key here. The island is simply too large for any general vintage information to be of much use. Suffice to say that there has been nothing in recent years that one should actively avoid. 

Wineries and wines

Clare Valley


These days, it seems as if the name Jeff Grosset can’t be uttered unless accompanied by “king of Riesling,” the title passing to him from the extraordinary John Vickery (see over). Grosset makes a number of exceptional wines, but it is his Rieslings that have lifted him to his current exalted status. 

Grosset’s Riesling history dates back to when he was 15, and his father opened a bottle. On his 16th birthday, he enrolled at Roseworthy College. After domestic and offshore experience, he set up his own operation in a milk depot in Auburn, in the Clare Valley. His first vintage, 1981, produced 800 dozen. Over the following decades, Grosset has won almost every award imaginable, largely based on his thrilling Rieslings. His operations are certified for organic and biodynamic; have focused on single-vineyard wines; were crucial in the move to screwcaps at the turn of the century; have wines on almost every serious wine list in the country; are represented in the cellars of almost every genuine wine lover in the country and, put simply, have become synonymous with Riesling.

This has been on the back of his two famous single vineyards—Springvale (for many years, the wine was labeled “Watervale”) and Polish Hill. In the early days, there was nothing like the focus on single vineyards that we enjoy today, but when Grosset first made his two wines, the differences were so stark that those still claiming that only France possessed and understood terroir (yes, that was once a problem facing the New World) could not help but be converted. It would take only seeing bunches from the two different vineyards to understand how completely different the wines would have to be: Springvale offers larger bunches and berries, whereas those from Polish Hill are tighter and much smaller. As well as offering visions of the contrasts, Grosset makes Riesling that continues to develop and improve over many years. These are great wines by any standard.

Springvale would be the option if one had to drink a Grosset Riesling young, though it will also age superbly. It abounds in various perfumes—citrus, especially limes, and floral. Polish Hill almost demands time in the cellar—steely, austere in the early days, pristine, laser-like, focused, and extremely long. The Springvale vineyard is red loam over limestone, whereas Polish Hill is on the region’s famous Mintaro slate, proving hard-going for any vine that is hoping to flourish easily.

Grosset kindly spent some time compiling thoughts on Riesling for us. “The 2022 vintage is, for me, the culmination of that work—it’s the most impressive in terms of fruit quality, being of pristine condition, and the volume is once again respectable, following three years of very low yields due to drought.” He also attributes the quality of his ’22s to “the ongoing impact of A-grade organic certification of our vineyards, winery, and bottling hall, which occurred in 2014 (in conversion from 2011) and our biodynamic certification since 2018.” Needless to say, after more than four decades leading the charge for quality Riesling from specific sites, his thoughts are profound and have application beyond his own wines.

“To experience such an elevation of wine quality after focusing on constant improvement for so many decades is a revelation to me. I hadn’t thought about it before, but your inquiry has prompted me to think about whether that quality improvement might be more significant in the case of Riesling versus those other grape varieties we grow, like Cabernet, Shiraz, and Fiano. As you know, I’ve always considered Riesling production the ‘purest’ form of winemaking, meaning it is essentially expression of the variety and the place it is grown; winemaking is important, but a ‘deft hand’ is, to me, critical if expression of the variety from a specific site is your aim. Perhaps that gives weight to the theory that Riesling may be more profoundly impacted by true organic and biodynamic conditions, even when applied to the already pristine, pollution-free environment that we enjoyed here in the Clare Valley? (By ‘true,’ I mean independently assessed and accredited.) Either way, the uptick in the complexity of insect and plant species in our vineyards and the way this contributes to a ‘sense of place,’ the freedom from disease, and ultimately, the impact on wine quality, has been profound.”

Grosset has expanded his range with Alea, a slightly off-dry Riesling, and the extremely rare G110, from a single site—the Rockwood vineyard. The G110 is a thrilling Riesling, the first release being the 2019, of which 1,100 bottles were released at A$110 each. (The production naturally varies from year to year—for example, there were only 984 bottles of the 2020.) In addition, the wine is from a rarely seen Riesling clone—the 110—and spends a little extra time on lees. The price has increased for the 2022 vintage (A$135). The concept apparently came from Georgie, daughter of Grosset and Stephanie Toole (more about Stephanie below). In return, the “G” is a tribute to her. I’ve only seen the 2021, thanks to the kindness of a friend, and it was spectacular. Pears, crystalline lemons, limes, spices… such intensity and length. Hints of green apples and florals. Surely a good 25 years ahead of it. I score it 98.

Jim Barry

The Barry family, long-term Clare Valley winemakers, have in their possession the crown jewel of Australian Riesling vineyards—the legendary Florita. If any local vineyard could be seen as the Romanée-Conti of Riesling, this is it. 

The Florita vineyard was originally established in 1946, by Leo Buring (a famous name in Australian wine, especially for Riesling), in the Watervale subregion, but he bought it to plant Pedro Ximénez for the production of Sherry—in those days, fortifieds very much dominated local wine consumption. There was also some Palomino, Shiraz, and Trebbiano, and possibly a little Crouchen. No Riesling. Even the name Florita, Spanish for “little flower,” was in reference to Sherry flor (flower). The Sherry that was made here was called Florita Fino.

Over time, tastes changed, and in 1962, Leo Buring’s winemaker decided that they should remove the Pedro Ximénez and plant Riesling. (This was the year following the passing of Leo Buring himself, at 85.) That winemaker was John Vickery, who had held the position since he graduated from Roseworthy College in 1955. It was also in 1962 that Lindeman’s purchased the Leo Buring operation, making certain to keep that talented young winemaker on board. At the time, Vickery was aided by the revolutionary new refrigerated tanks, sterile filtration, and modern bottling lines.

By 1963, they were making a range of Rieslings under the Leo Buring label, from a number of vineyards, but Florita was always the gem. By 1997, Leo Buring had won an astonishing 50 trophies and more than 400 gold medals for their Rieslings, many of the very best coming from the Florita vineyard (despite losing access to it during the mid-1980s). I recall doing two massive tastings with John Vickery many years back, when I first started writing about wine. There were some failures, down to the vagaries of cork, but that aside, they remain two of the most astonishing and memorable tastings of my life. The quality of the aged Rieslings was extraordinary, and none better than those that hailed from the Florita vineyard.

By the mid-1980s, large corporations, especially Big Alcohol and Tobacco, owned many of the local wine producers. And they largely made a mess of things. When this sank in, operations and vineyards were put on the market. It was also a time when the South Australian government was literally paying growers to rip up their vineyards and get out of the industry. The bean-counters at Philip Morris realized that not only did they have six years of Riesling supply piling up in their cellars, but it simply was not selling. Chardonnay was the flavor of the month, and the market had little interest in Riesling. In 1986, Philip Morris decided to abandon ship and offload assets.

The Barrys had been around long enough to know the folly of all this. Jim Barry was considered to be one of the founding fathers of Clare Valley wine. His son Peter is still known throughout the industry today, with the next generation—Tom, Sam, and Olivia—also making its mark. Peter convinced his father that the family (Peter and his brothers) should step in and buy Florita, despite his mother’s doubts about adding more vineyards. She was not alone. At the time, few would have considered buying a Riesling vineyard, for love or money.

 The legendary Florita vineyard established in 1946 by Leo Buring, now owned by the Barry family and the source of their Clos Clare Riesling. Photography © Don Brice.

There was, however, one small issue. Southcorp, a former incarnation of Treasury, owned the name Florita. The Barrys needed to wait eight years for the registration to expire. It got worse. Southcorp renewed the name, meaning that the Barrys had to wait a total of 18 years before they could use it, even though they could use the fruit. When the registration again expired, Peter jumped on it. The first Jim Barry release of the Florita Riesling was the 2004 vintage. The Barrys produce around 15,000 cases of Riesling annually but only between 300 and 400 dozen of the Florita. 

I recall discussing this with Peter years ago: He believed he got a bargain the equivalent of the Dutch buying Manhattan for 60 guilders (the equivalent today of around $1,150, give or take). The property also had a small house in the southwest corner. It was of no interest to the Barrys, so they subdivided the property and sold the building and 5 acres (2ha), recovering much of the original price of the property, while retaining 75 acres (30ha) of vines. The house and 5 acres went to a local artist, Ian Sanders. In 1993, he established Clos Clare and contracted Jeff Grosset to make the wines. In 1996, Sanders sold to Noel Kelly. In 2007, Kelly offered the house and vines back to Peter Barry. Peter and sons, Tom and Sam, leapt at the chance and, closing the circle, now offer wonderful Watervale Riesling under the Clos Clare label (where clos is stylized with a lowercase c in the branding).

O’Leary Walker

David O’Leary and Nick Walker (now joined by Nick’s son Jack) were two of Mildara Blass’s finest winemakers until they set up on their own in 2000. If ever a new operation was destined to succeed, this was it. They moved into new premises, in Leasingham, in 2010. They offer brilliant wines, especially their Rieslings, which are stunning value.

O’Leary had extensive experience with both small and large producers in Australia before joining Walker. O’Leary’s skills don’t stop at Riesling—he won a Jimmy Watson Trophy in 1988 and was twice named International Red Winemaker of the Year (in 1992 and 1994). Walker has wine in his blood. His father, Norm, and grandfather, Hurtle, were both legends. Hurtle even worked with Edmond Mazure, who came to Australia in the late 1800s to make sparkling wine and was a crucial pioneer of that style. Hurtle joined the cellars at Auldana at Magill in 1904.

Not unlike Grosset, the two main Rieslings they offer are their Watervale and Polish Hill River (the slight difference in nomenclature being an ownership thing). Their Watervale vineyard is red loam over limestone, a dry-grown site. The Polish Hill River is sourced from two adjacent vineyards, gray loam over sandstone and slate, which have been cultivated organically since the 1970s (officially since 2010). They also offer a prestige Riesling (though at a price that hardly competes with many of the region’s standards) called Drs’ Cut. The vineyard, also gray loam over sandstone and slate, was planted more than four decades ago in the Polish Hill River region and is owned by two doctors.

As for recent vintages, Nick has described 2021 as having “great structure and powerful fruit intensity.” 2022 has the power but also “a delicate finesse.” He sees 2022 as “textbook” and compares it with the “great 2002 vintage.”


Everybody’s go-to Clare Riesling, this is a perennial favorite that still, somehow, seems to slide below the radar. I have followed the Rieslings (and other wines) from this family operation for as long as I can remember, and it never fails to thrill—or to provide sensational value.

Current winemaker Steve Baraglia believes that Riesling “handles climatic conditions better than most other varieties” and that the style will always “be dictated by the region’s climatic condition.” He aims for wines that reflect their place of origin and sees Riesling as the ideal for that. “We try to capture what the fruit tastes like in the vineyard and bottle this with minimal winemaking intervention.” Baraglia notes that their vineyard at Polish Hill River has soil, more than 650 million years old, that is red-brown clay loam. The subsoil is “predominantly slate.” He notes that they are “quite elevated and generally get a little more rainfall, which helps our vines produce delicate Rieslings.”

Pikes began in the mid-1980s when the family purchased 66 acres (27ha) in the heart of Polish Hill River. Father Edgar was well experienced in the wine and hospitality industries, but it was his sons, Andrew (viticulture) and Neil (winemaking) who ran the operation. Over the years, the brothers established this as one of the most reliable wineries in the region, and there can be few serious cellars or wine lists in Australia where their wines are not represented. Neil has retired, but Andrew is still full steam ahead. 

Their Reserve Riesling was renamed with the stellar 2005 as the Merle. Merle was Andrew and Neil’s mother, a delightful woman. I met her a few times, and she and I shared what one might term a lack of fondness for Sauvignon Blanc. I remember Neil’s disappointment when she told him that it really did taste better as juice, before they turned it into wine. But Merle Pike had no such reservations about their Rieslings. Their 2023 Traditionale is the 39th release, while the Merle (formerly the Reserve) is simply always one of the very best Clare Rieslings, vintage after vintage.


When I first heard that there was a Clare Valley winery called Rieslingfreak making nothing else, I wondered if this might be a little more sizzle than substance. Meet John Hughes, talk to the man, try the wines, and no one will be in any doubt that what we have here is complete dedication to the grape (and one of the nicest guys in the industry). 

Hughes’s first vintage was the excellent 2009. He made a single Clare Valley Riesling. Since then, the portfolio has expanded considerably and incorporates all things Riesling. Hughes grew up in the Clare Valley, and the family has a Riesling vineyard. He also works now with growers in the Eden Valley and the Polish Hill River subregion. His wines run the full gamut of styles (and most importantly, they are seriously good). John is certainly not afraid of residual sweetness, nor texture. The wines are identified by numbers that indicate regions and styles. To take only a few examples, No.1 is from the family vineyard at White Hutt in the Clare, made only in the best vintages; No.6 is also from the White Hutt vineyard but is released with at least five years’ aging in the cellars; No.9 is a sparkling Riesling, which will have seen between 30 and 36 months on lees; and No.10 is John’s Zenit Riesling, a multiregional blend that John and his equally Riesling-loving wife Belinda, a winemaker in her own right, originally made as their wedding wine.

As John says, is there any other variety on the planet that can offer what Riesling does? A quick word on vintages: John noted that 2023, cooler and wetter than most, was a vintage of purity but also a challenging one. For him, 2017 is the superstar.


When I mentioned that Neil Pike had retired, he did not take long to pull on his boots and head straight back into the winery. His retirement project is Limefinger, comprising just two Rieslings—but what scintillating Rieslings they are. 

The first release was from 2020—The Learnings—which comes from the St Clare Gardens Honey Home Block, just to the northeast of Watervale. The vines were planted in 2002, on red loam over limestone and red clay. Even though only 230 dozen were made, it made a real impression. Production of this Watervale has reduced since, down to just 1,250 bottles. From the wonderful 2021 vintage, the range has expanded to include some 2,000 bottles of a Polish Hill River Riesling, The Solace, from Neil’s own block, red-brown loam over slate, at an elevation of 1,450ft (440m), the vines planted on their own roots in 1994. Neil refers to it as a patch of heaven and considers the wine from it as “the world’s best oyster wine.” Asked for the differences, Neil described the Learnings as showing “fragrant, limey florals, soft and full-flavored, whereas the Solace is quite lean and tight and displays a good lick of grapefruit and the slaty characters typical of this vineyard.”

Neil has long been my barometer for Clare vintages, usually revealing warts and all. When asked for his pick of 2021, 2022, or 2023, he suggests that time will tell, but “I think ’22 wins at the moment. Just.” He described 2023 as “another really good Riesling vintage. A slightly cooler and damper growing season has resulted in harvest being a week to ten days later than last year,” though the analysis at the time of harvest was “virtually the same.” He did note that 2023 saw a small amount of botrytis, but there was no issue provided bunches were dropped prior to the arrival of the pickers. When asked what were the best vintages of his career, he offered, “1982, 1992, 2002, 2012, 2022—a nice little numerical sequence going on here!” Neil will expand on that to include—prior to screwcaps—“1982, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1990, 1992, 1995, 1997, and 1998.” And since screwcaps, “2002, 2005, 2006, 2009, 2012, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2021, 2022, and 2023.”

Finally, Neil has some thoughts on the style of Clare Riesling and just how dry they should go. He notes that there seem “to be many more ‘bone-dry’ (< 1g/l) wines on the market these days. I have always been an advocate of a small amount of residual sweetness (3–4g/l) in my wines—it allows me to pick earlier, achieve lower alcohols, and run higher acid levels.”

Mt Horrocks

Stephanie Toole was not the first female winemaker in Australia, but she began her career when they were hardly thick on the ground. Life can’t have been easy. Originally from New Zealand, with experience from Western Australia, when she moved to the Clare, she forged ahead and created the much-loved Mt Horrocks winery. Perhaps the toughest hurdle, in a sense, has been that Stephanie is married to Jeffrey Grosset. Even today, one encounters consumers who simply assume that Jeffrey must be behind the wines. It is, of course, a deeply insulting presumption, not to mention utter rubbish. One should not need to mention any of this, but if one does not, the assumptions linger. No doubt the couple bounce ideas off each other (they’d be mad not to) and have benefited from each other’s insights—not to mention shared their winery, some staff, and equipment—but these are discrete operations.

Stephanie purchased the existing Mt Horrocks in 1993, and in 1998 she opened the old Auburn Railway Station as a cellar door. She expanded her options in 2000, with land she planted at Watervale, and is fully biodynamic. (One thing that she and Jeff share is that neither has ever bought a vineyard—they have only ever bought land and planted vineyards.) As an aside, she has also developed a deep understanding and appreciation of Australian art. Her wines, especially the Rieslings, have long been acknowledged as superb examples of what the subregion offers.

Stephanie Toole, Mt Horrocks, harvesting Riesling in February 2024. Photography courtesy of Mt Horrocks.

Eden Valley


In any examination of Australian Riesling, Orlando must take a front-row seat, for several reasons, but the most important are, first, Colin Gramp and Guenter Prass, who were crucial to the direction that Riesling would take in this country; and second, the Steingarten vineyard.

Gramp was one of those pioneers with wine running through his veins. He was the great-grandson of Johann Gramp, the man who, in 1847, originally planted grapes at Jacob’s Creek. His father was lost in the tragic 1938 Kyeema air disaster, which also robbed the industry of Tom Hardy and Sidney Hill Smith.

Prass was born in Germany into a winemaking family, though he saw his career as a member of the German merchant navy. Both he and Gramp fought in World War II, though not on the same side. After the war, Prass had little option but to return to the wine industry. When Orlando purchased “two cold- and pressure-fermentation tanks that prevent oxidation”—equipment that would help revolutionize the Australian industry, especially the production of Riesling—they needed a winemaker. Gramp was already their technical director, appointed in 1947. Prass took unpaid leave from his work in Germany for a three-year stint. The Barossa, in the mid-1950s, was a massive shock for Prass’s new bride, used to Berlin. They found “very friendly people” and an industry dominated by fortifieds. After the three-year stint, Prass and his wife returned to Germany but lasted no time at all before reversing course to Australia, the Barossa, and Orlando.

Orlando changed the wine scene when it released Barossa Pearl, a slightly sparkling wine. They apparently kept tally until sales hit 10 million bottles, then they gave up. It was developed to coincide with the Melbourne Olympics in 1956, but there are stories that much of its success was because Victorians somehow confused Barossa for Barassi—Ron Barassi—who passed away a few months ago and who was one of the all-time great Australian Rules footballers. Whatever works!

Barossa Pearl spawned endless imitators—Sparkling Rinegolde, Pearlette, Mardi Gras, Tiffany, Viva, Sparkling Est, Starwine, Gala Spumante, and Porphyry Pearl were just some. Many were very successful, but if any contained Riesling, that was probably more by chance than design; Barossa Pearl was said to be a combination of Riesling, Muscat, and Semillon. What was important for Riesling was that the new innovations allowed for the production of quality examples of the grape. Suddenly, consumers had access to wines with freshness. It was a new day.

Guenter Prass died in 2015 at the age of 88, while Colin Gramp left us in 2020 at 98. Both were highly decorated for their contribution to Riesling in Australia—Prass, with an Order of Australia (AM) in 1990, the inaugural Wolf Blass Award for his contribution to the development of Riesling in Australia in 2003, and the Maurice O’Shea Award in 2004; Gramp, with an AM and also the Wolf Blass Award in 2014.

In 1962, keen to replicate what Germany offered from Riesling, they knew they had to look for a special site (early echoes of what Croser would stress in the years to come). It meant going up or going south. South meant Tasmania, a bridge too far in those days, so up it was, and they planted the famous Steingarten vineyard, at an elevation of 1,475ft (450m). A 9-acre (3.6ha) vineyard, close-planted, two thirds of the vines today are still the original plantings. Prass once described how the training of the vines was done in heart shapes, to replicate the Mosel. The latest release, 2020, is still wowing judges, locally and offshore.

Pewsey Vale

A far older vineyard, and an equally crucial one when we look at Riesling, falls within the Hill-Smith/Yalumba empire: Pewsey Vale in the Eden Valley. Last year, it celebrated its 175th anniversary, having originally been planted in 1847; the team believes that those plantings included Riesling. A special celebratory Riesling from 2022 was released—a symbolic 1,847 bottles, with retro ’60s labels and individually hand-numbered labels. The Hill-Smith family purchased the vineyard in 1961, and it has been fully dedicated to Riesling ever since—given the ups and downs enjoyed by the variety, this reflects their dedication to the cause.

One of Australia’s top winemakers, Louisa Rose, has made the wines since 1996. She believes the success hails from the “lean soils, high altitude of 500m [1,650ft], rocky outcrops, and finicky microclimates… as well as careful, sustainable viticultural management.” Organic and biodynamic principles are followed here. The property is 358 acres (145ha), with 125 acres (50ha) under vine. The soil is low-fertility, gray sandy loam.

One of the reasons consumers love Pewsey Vale is that we see aged examples at extremely fair prices. As well as the Anniversary bottling, the latest release included wines from 2022, 2016, and 2012. 

 Louisa Rose, Pewsey Vale, originally planted back in 1847. Photography courtesy of Pewsey Vale.

Peter Lehmann

While legendary winemaker Peter Lehmann may be more famous for his reds, quality Riesling was always close to his heart. His longtime offsider Andrew Wigan was largely responsible for making the wine for many years—so much so, that the name of their top wine, the Reserve Riesling, was changed to Wigan in 2003. While every Clare/Eden winemaker will talk about how well their Rieslings age, these have proved it time and time again. An Eden Valley superstar.


Crawford River Wines

Henty may not be the first name mentioned when great Riesling is discussed, but its cold climate and volcanic soils contribute to the pristine acidity for which the region is known. This is a family operation, the vineyard planted back in 1975, by John and Catherine Thomson in far southeast Victoria, a region not known for its wines at the time—yet now it has its own GI. Riesling and Cabernet were the grape varieties chosen. Daughter Belinda now runs the vineyards and winery. Plantings were extended in 1994 and 2001. It took many years, but they have developed a reputation as one of the state’s finest Riesling producers. All of the Riesling is clone G198. They use a large proportion of whole-bunch-pressed fruit, with wild yeasts, and the wines spend five weeks on lees. They also make what they call a Noble Dry Riesling, which is from fruit affected by botrytis, but it is, at most, just off-dry.

Mac Forbes

Mac Forbes is the other big name in Victorian Riesling and very much a pioneer for his styles. His legion of fans eagerly awaits the annual release. Mac has been making his RS Rieslings from Strathbogie Ranges fruit since 2005. He was a great lover of Riesling but did not like the way he felt that it had been painted into a stylistic corner of dry lime juice. His preference was textural, with varying levels of sweetness. He did have some difficulties with disease and yields in 2023, but this will undoubtedly just intensify demand, finding the end result to be “intense fruit concentration, lovely acid balance, and an unexpected purity.” 2022 provided excellent results, and 2021 was “practically flawless.”

Mac labels his Rieslings to identify the level of residual sweetness in the wine—hence, RS22 has 22g/l RS. While some of the old dinosaurs might frown at the methods and results we are seeing from Mac, he takes a completely different approach, being “incredibly excited by the range of styles evident in Australia, no doubt spurred on by imports from all over Europe challenging the old ‘Clare Valley’ stereotype. Phenolics, lees, foudres, oxidative handling, and moving away from prescriptive recipes make this the most dynamic time to drink Riesling. Maybe most exciting of all, is the recognition of soils and the impact they have on the final wines, and Riesling is the best mode to explore these soils.”

For his own wines, “Granite is the soil of choice. We are exclusively Strathbogie Ranges, which offers 600m [1,970ft] elevation, granite in various forms, older vines, and scintillating fruit. Our only obligation is not to fuck it up through ego or laziness. We allow hours of skin contact, a long press cycle, and then either foudre or concrete, to allow long, slow ferments. They sit on gross lees until bottling. No [additions] other than SO2.” For those who can tear themselves away from the traditional Clare Rieslings, these are some of the most exciting wines in the country.


Lark Hill

Chris Carpenter is now running Lark Hill, the estate established by his parents, Sue and Dave, in 1978. They have been fully biodynamic since 2006, one of the earlier conversions in Australia. Chris sees Riesling as one of their core varieties. Their Riesling vineyard is at 2,800ft (860m), one of the coldest in the region. The soil is decomposing shale over clay—around 400 million years old, give or take—and the block has a subterranean watercourse running underneath it.

The fruit for the Lark Hill Vineyard Riesling is soaked on skins for 12 hours after crushing. A small amount of juice will be set aside for “back-sweetening,” in order to balance the acidity. Production is a mere 120 dozen. They also produce a Regional Riesling, a little more forward, and their Leyline Riesling, a dessert-style wine from the original vineyard, with 100g/l RS and 9% ABV.

Western Australia 

Frankland Estate

Once consumers were able to accept that fine Riesling could be made beyond the dynamic duo of the Clare and Eden valleys, they then had to come to terms with the fact that it was the Great Southern region, in far distant Western Australia, that was making a name for itself. The fact that this has largely been achieved is very much thanks to Judy Cullam, her husband Barrie Smith, and their family at Frankland Estate. Judy has long been very much part of the international Riesling community. Planting began in 1988. Today, brother and sister Hunter and Elizabeth Smith are in control. Riesling makes up around 50 percent of their production—a serious commitment. 

For the past nine years, the team has pushed the envelope, playing with textures, levels of intensity, styles, and every aspect of making Riesling. Damien Smith notes, “Since 2015, we have been on a crusade for flavor diversity and additional textural complexity in our Rieslings; we know we can get the lemon and limes with ease, and our cool-climate and organic viticulture leads to great natural acidity, but we are now looking at the more exotic stone fruit, tropical, orange citrus like mandarin, and the spice elements that we think can elevate the variety. Using different techniques in the vineyard (different clonal material and vineyard planting density) and winery—including wild yeast ferments, barrel-ferment components, and extended lees contact in tank and barrel—have all played a part in our desire to make better Riesling.” But they are keen to stress that this was something that has happened incrementally, the work never ending. The results are some of Australia’s most thrilling Rieslings. And the past half-dozen vintages have ranged from superb to exceptional.

In addition to their standard Frankland Estate Riesling, they have site-specific wines from Isolation Ridge and Poison Hill, as well as their Alter Weg, which is fermented in large-format, old oak. The Smith Cullam is their prestige offering. Their Isolation Ridge also sees a small proportion of maturation in barrel, as well as nine months on lees.

Howard Park

Although Howard Park may be seen as very much a Margaret River winery with other interests, the truth is that it is a leading Great Southern producer, and its Rieslings are exceptional. It considers that its Rieslings take a different path from the South Aussie citrus and austere acidity. Richard Burch believes that “acid integration is a feature of the structure and flavors of these wines.” Granite soils, the highest site in Western Australia (even though that it is a meager 1,200ft [360m]), and the exposure to the Southern Ocean also contribute. 

Howard Park was established in 1986, releasing two wines, one of which was a Riesling from Great Southern fruit, made by John Wade. Since then, it has never given up the search for the best sites for Riesling in this region. Chief winemaker Nic Bowen suggests, “Riesling is the poetry of the earth and is a great transmitter of the site it is grown in. Both sites where we grow Riesling are built on shallow, decomposed granite soils, which are free-draining, mineral-rich, and generally of low pH. The site is also at a reasonable elevation (300m+ [1,000ft]) and is south-facing, so is generally pretty cool. I think that this leads to fruit with very soft, mineral-rich acidity and with floral aromatics.” Jeff Burch, founder of Howard Park, adds, “It’s a variety that really has its own sense of where it’s come from, and the Great Southern is fantastic for Riesling—each subregion has its own individual signature that is different and exciting.”

The team also releases mature Rieslings, to show the development potential and complexity that the region imbues. As well as its standard Rieslings, Howard Park releases Arbor Novae, a small-batch Riesling with every bottle sold contributing to Carbon Positive Australia, which has been restoring degraded land for the past two decades. The wine comes from the Gibraltar Rock vineyard in the Porongurup subregion, with its ancient Karri loam soils.

The Frankland Estate family. Photography courtesy of Frankland Estate © Laura Moseley (Studio Appetite).

Castle Rock

Australia has more than its fair share of take-center-stage, rock-star, all-about-me winemakers. Rob Diletti is not one of them. He has quietly toiled away at family winery Castle Rock—established by his parents, with the first plantings in 1983—and let his wines do the talking. For some time, they have been screaming quality.

The estate is located on the eastern slopes of the Porongurup Mountain. Recently, Rob has added a new wine to his line: the A&W Riesling, named for his parents Angelo and Wendy.

The A&W joins a range of Rieslings. Rob considers the Estate Riesling as the flagship, a blend of the six blocks they have planted. The Diletti Riesling spends time in puncheons and barriques before nine months on lees, the aim being to enhance texture and complexity. The Skywalk Riesling aims for slightly lower acidity, richer texture, and earlier drinking. Finally, there is a medium-dry style with 21g/l called RS21. If these wines are not on your radar, it is time they were.


Pressing Matters

Founder Greg Mellick is well known in wine, legal, and defense circles (as a major general in the ADF Reserve). He and wife Michelle established Pressing Matters in 2002, with the first vintage in 2006. Greg’s admiration for the wines of the Mosel and Burgundy ensured that the focus would be on Riesling and Pinot Noir. The talented Samantha Connew makes the wines (and her own Stargazer) at the new 200-tonne winery.

The Rieslings are based on varying levels of sweetness, as one might expect of a fan of Mosel, and named accordingly (as we saw with Mac Forbes)—hence, we have R0, R9, R69, and R139. Vines are planted at a density of 5,000/ha, with a mix of clones.


If one asked most wine lovers in Australia what Freycinet meant to them, some would rave about its long-aged sparkler, others the stunning Pinot Noir, and yet more about its focused and fabulous Chardonnays. I’d be among them, but some years ago, an aged bottle of its Riesling came my way. It was as fresh, bright, and balanced as the day it was bottled, yet complex and finely textured. For me, the Freycinet Riesling is one of the great secrets of Australian wine.

The operation was established by Geoff and Susan Bull in 1978, planting their first vines the following year (a 10-acre [4ha] vineyard), with the first wines from 1983. Theirs was the first commercial vineyard on the east coast of Tasmania. Daughter Lindy worked in the Great Southern in WA, and when she returned in 1993, she brought with her the man now inextricably linked to Freycinet, Claudio Radenti. Because both Lindy and Claudio had worked in the Great Southern, Riesling would be a must. The team members at Freycinet acknowledge the vital assistance they received from Tasmanian wine pioneers in the early days, and they are certainly returning the favor. When I asked Claudio about his Rieslings, the first thing he did was to list a few from other producers that I should make sure I saw.

Expansion now sees the vineyards at 40 acres (16ha), 6 acres (2.4ha) of which are Riesling. In the early days, the aim was a slightly fruity style, and to this end, a little Müller-Thurgau was blended with the Riesling. This ceased from the 1998 vintage. 

Claudio describes the great benefit of the cool climate they enjoy as providing “excellent natural balance in the fruit, giving piercing intensity of flavors yet delicacy at the same time. Great acid/pH balance, too, providing superb length, refreshment qualities, and longevity. Winemakers do not have to fiddle too much, due to this excellent natural balance in the fruit.” The aim is to ensure retention of the delicate floral perfumes. The team is not interested in taking the envelope-pushing route here. They want the delicacy, finesse, and sheer quality of pure Riesling to shine through.

The New Wave 

It should be no surprise that, as well as offering many traditional Rieslings, wineries are pushing boundaries in every way they can. Space limits how deep we can dive here, and many are in such small quantities that, short of heading to the wineries themselves, wine lovers are unlikely to encounter them at this stage. The proponents are many of the young guns, keen to make a mark and shake things up, but well-known Riesling experts are also taking their own shots. What follows is a necessarily brief mention of what is happening in this category. If we revisit in a decade, many of these wines are likely to be mainstream—and the winemakers, household names.

Much of this activity is taking place in the sectors one might term orange and textural. (One wonders how much the failure to find a suitable tag has hindered these styles.) Skin contact, long avoided by Riesling-makers, is providing complexity and texture, as well as different aromas.

Some of the young guns might be surprised to find that Australian winemakers were apparently trialing these wines almost a century ago; it is suggested that the famous Jack Mann played about with skin contact with his first “White Burgundy” back in 1932. Different fermentation vessels—various oak formats, obviously, but also amphorae, ceramic eggs, and the like—provide alternative styles. Single-site Rieslings are almost old hat here, as are those with varying levels of sweetness. One might ponder whether Riesling is the ideal grape for some of this, but time will tell.

Among the many successful proponents are Brendon Keys from BK Wines, Abel Gibson of Ruggabellus, and others like Tom Shobbrook, Anton von Klopper, and James Erskine. Domaine Simha from Tasmania offers its Lotus Amphora Riesling, which undergoes a wild ferment in clay amphorae for 90 days, followed by six months sur lie. Xabregas Madmen of Riesling offers a still but cloudy example, in a sparkling bottle with a crown seal.

Another path we have seen winemakers take is where they have ventured either to or from this country, or worked in collaboration with colleagues from offshore, to produce Riesling. These are undoubtedly fascinating and often superb examples, but the logistics involved mean that they are unlikely ever to be much more than Riesling’s party trick (nothing wrong with that). With Kanta, we have seen Shaw+Smith stepping up for Egon Müller. Andrew Margan has made a German Riesling from the Trabener Würzgarten vineyard in the Mosel. The Barry boys from the Clare, and Ernie Loosen from the Mosel, came up with some sort of Freaky Friday arrangement wherein Loosen made a German-style wine from Clare fruit, and the Barrys made a Clare style from the Mosel. Brian Croser beat them all to this, making his Tunkalilla Riesling from the Willamette Valley in Oregon.

Grateful thanks to Brian Croser, Jeffrey Grosset, Neil Pike, and so many others who provided information, samples, and assistance with this piece.

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