The region of Riverina, though rarely found on a wine bottle label, represents the miracle of the modern Australian wine industry: quality varietal wine made from premium grapes at affordable prices. Located well west of Sydney within New South Wales, Riverina is centered around the Murrumbidgee river, the second longest river in the country. With the Great Dividing Range to the east and the political border with Victoria to the south and west, Riverina enjoys agricultural diversity and success. Mainly flat land covered by sandy soils that were deposited by the river as it flooded and changed course over eons. The area first came to prominence at the beginning of the 20th century with the creation of the Murrimbidgee Irrigation Scheme Area, which made the river’s abundant surface water available to irrigate vast tracts of farmlands for the first time. Those irrigation canals that propelled the region to prominence are now its major liability, as increasingly long droughts require continual adaptation to a changing environment.
Riverina produces three-quarters of all wine in New South Wales, thanks to the success of household names such as McWilliams, and later waves of Italian immigrant families like DeBortoli and Casella (Yellowtail). The vines grown here benefit from the region’s warm climate which guarantees uniform and consistent ripening. Using cutting-edge technology in the vineyard and winery, the climate allows the successful cultivation of nearly every variety, whether it be Chardonnay, Shiraz, or even Pinot Noir. The most impressive aspect of wines from the Riverina region is their scale, that such consistency and approachability are achieved seemingly effortlessly at large volume and at budget-friendly prices.
Unlike other large tracts of Australia which concentrate solely on the affordable segment of the wine market, Riverina has also developed a reputation for a unique style of premium wine that has not been duplicated in any other region, lusciously sweet, botrytis-affected Semillon dessert wines, in a style reminiscent to the great sweet wines of Sauternes. Here the humidity from the local rivers creates a unique environment perfect for the natural development of the noble rot which concentrates the flavors and sugars in overripe Semillon grapes so that they can be fermented into luscious nectars, full of the characteristic honey and marmalade flavors that their French counterparts share.