A riesling celebration at Bibo

The Real Review celebrated International Riesling Day a day early in Sydney this year. The venue was Bibo wine bar at Double Bay and the line up of riesling from across the country was a top-class representation of Australian riesling.

Riesling cuttings came to Australia with William Macarthur in the mid 1830s and were originally planted at Camden in NSW.

Riesling’s origins are in Germany and the earliest reference dates from March 13, 1435, when the storage inventory of Count John IV of Katzenelnbogen in Rüsselsheim lists “22 ß umb seczreben Rießlingen in die wingarten” (“22 shillings for riesling vine cuttings for the vineyard”). The spelling Rießlingen is replicated in many other documents of the time. The modern spelling of riesling was first documented in 1552 when mentioned in botanist Hieronymus Bock‘s Latin publication containing the description of plants and their applications. *(courtesy of Wikipedia)

Riesling cuttings came to Australia with William Macarthur in the mid 1830s and were originally planted at Camden in NSW. Eventually these cuttings made their way east and south to Tasmania, Victoria, South Australia and eventually Western Australia. And interestingly, Australia is second only to Germany in terms of riesling area under vine.

Back in the 1970s and 80s riesling had a bit of a schizophrenic existence as it was branded as Rhine Riesling to differentiate it from Hunter River Riesling (semillon) and Clare Riesling (crouchen). Today, riesling is absolutely riesling.

On the night, we delved into wines from the established old stalwarts in Eden and Clare Valleys as well as Great Southern in WA, a region that genuinely challenges the South Australians for the mantle of riesling supremacy. We ventured south to Tasmania where former Petaluma winemaker Peter Dredge is crafting some wonderfully textural and pure riesling and then we also went west of Sydney to Orange and the high-altitude sites of Logan and Highland Heritage.

The first bracket of wines started with the above-mentioned Dr Edge Tasmanian Riesling 2022. This wine was served from magnum. Peter Dredge bottles around 50 magnums every year and all proceeds from the sales of these go to the Hobart City Mission to help the homeless. Not only is Dredge a very good winemaker, he’s also a very decent human being. Fermented in old oak and left on lees for nine months, this wine has wonderful texture and palate presence. There’s plenty of citrus and stone fruit at play and the length is mightily impressive.

The second wine of the bracket was from Mount Barker WA, some 2700km west-north-west of Hobart. Capel Vale’s Whispering Hill vineyard is over 30 years old and has been producing steely, delicate, pinpoint riesling for many years. All lemon and lime with plenty of youthful tension and a seamless acid line, one to stick away for some years.

The third wine of this bracket was from Eden Valley in the shape of the Tomfoolery Cut n Run Riesling 2023. This displayed classic Eden Valley aromatics of white flowers and green apple and had real intensity and long carry on the palate. Lovely crunchy acidity and a lick of phenolic grip brought it all home rather nicely. These three wines worked superbly with the salmon tartare and the sourdough with bottarga butter, allowing the delicate, salty seafood flavours of the dishes to shine through.

We stayed in Eden Valley for the first wine of the next bracket. Eden Hall Springton Riesling 2023 was benchmark Eden Valley gear. Plenty of pithy, lemon and lime running through it along with Eden Valley’s signature florals. Fine, delicate and with lovely length.

Next, we headed back over the Nullarbor to Porongurup, one of the five sub-regions of the Great Southern region. Castle Rock Estate A&W Riesling 2023 from the Diletti family honours the founders, Angelo and Wendy. Porongurup is the smallest of the five sub-regions and here, a bit of altitude comes into being. Light and bright, with a slaty, stony drive, it also has a brown lime and feijoa exotic-ness evident in the fruit and a racy, linear finish. A wine built for the long haul.

The third wine of the bracket was Jim Barry Wines The Florita Riesling 2022. A big hitter and highly reputable riesling out of the Watervale subregion of the Clare Valley. First planted to the sherry variety palomino in 1946, it was replanted to riesling in 1962. Legendary winemaker John Vickery made some of the most renowned rieslings from this vineyard under the Leo Buring label, hugely revered wines which have gone down in Australian wine folklore, and rightly so. The Barry family purchased the site in 1986 and the first Florita was released in 2004. Incidentally, Florita means ‘little flower’ in Spanish and there is indeed a little flowery lift in the aromatics.

This is classic Watervale riesling, with lashings of citrus pith and a slaty talc edge along with the aforementioned floral action. There’s real precision and purity and the length is mightily impressive. Blue-eye cod with a riesling beurre blanc and a dash of Avruga caviar was served with this bracket and the wines worked supremely with the cod, the butter sauce and the power of the caviar.

The final bracket took us back to Eden Valley and the Orlando Steingarten Riesling 2020. The oldest wine of the evening and showing its (graceful) age. A touch of toast and honey in the aromatics, then on the palate the gravelly, rapier-like acidity kicks in and delivers signature Eden Valley cut and shape.

This grape delivers absolute quality and value and wines that truly possess a sense of place.

The last two wines to round out the bracket and indeed the evening were from the high altitudes of Orange. Logan Ridge of Tears Riesling 2022 is sourced from a vineyard on the south facing slope of Mount Canobolas, sitting at around 970m above sea level. Fermentation takes place in large, old oak and the wine stays in oak, on its lees for 11 months. This wine was all about texture and mouth-feel and it has it by the spadeful. Aromas of poached stone fruit and honey with a lick of sweetness on the palate, this is a wine of immediate appeal and real drinkability. Textural, mouth-filling and layered.

The final wine of the bracket was Highland Heritage Nikki D Riesling 2022. The D’Aquino family have been making wine in Orange since the 1940s and this wine is named after the fourth generation of the family to enter the wine business. Only 8.5% alcohol and with a decent amount of residual sugar, the wine certainly displays balance with the plush fruit working well with some taut, bracing acidity. Cheese and dried fruits were partnered with this bracket and the added bottle age in the first wine and the sweetness in the next two wines really worked well.

Riesling has been much overlooked by a majority of the wine drinking public over the years, but for those in the know, this grape delivers absolute quality and value and wines that truly possess a sense of place.


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