The Hunter Valley wine region is world-renowned and you’ve no doubt heard about, perhaps even visited, the vineyards, cellar doors and charming stays around the on-the-rise regions of Mudgee and Orange. But in-the-know wine lovers are heading to the southwest plains of country New South Wales to try world-class Italian varietals and indulge in a vibrant wine and dining scene. The Riverina wine region may not be a household name just yet but its food and wine pedigree, classic wineries such as De Bortoli and luxury country accommodation are compelling reasons to visit before word gets out. Here’s everything you need to know before you go.
Where to stay
Encompassing Griffith, Wagga Wagga, Gundagai, Hay and many more heritage towns, the Riverina region spans a patchwork of diverse landscapes – mountain, rivers, vineyards and plains. Kimo Estate near Gundagai is a working sheep and cattle station with a range of chic accommodation options. Give luxury glamping a go in a Scandinavian-inspired A-frame eco hut with views across the farm, or, for a more traditional stay, book one of the two elegant country cottages – ideal for a wine weekend with friends.
Family-owned Borambola Wines is about 45-minutes’ drive away and known for its chardonnay, shiraz, beer and cider (stay for grazing platters at the cellar door), while you can be at Tumblong Hills Winery in less than half an hour to try its Table of Plenty and Tumblong Hills labels.
The wineries and tours
De Bortoli has outposts across the country but the heritage brand began in the Riverina and the local cellar door in Bilbul (15 minutes drive from Griffith) is a celebration of its Italian heritage – and remains the site of the De Bortoli family home. Sip the award-winning dessert wine Noble One Botrytis Semillon in the beautiful gardens, and book a tasting to choose which bottles you’ll take home.
Another of the region’s founding winemakers, Calabria Family Wines, has a gorgeous Tuscan-style cellar door in Griffith where you can sample eight different drops in a 45-minute seated tasting flight, all the while snacking on olives, breadsticks and crackers. The estate’s Richland label represents the meeting of the family’s Italian heritage with the Riverina’s climate and soil; try the pinot grigio.
Yarran Wines only released its first shiraz in 1998, but at the boutique winery and cellar door in Yenda (just outside Griffith) you can now try drops such as petit verdot, cabernet sauvignon and pinot grigio sitting on the shady deck looking out across the vines.
If you’re not keen on planning (or driving), join local wine industry stalwarts Simon and Louise Cook for a tour of the region’s best wineries and cellar doors. Bella Vita also hosts Riverina wine tours, as well as preparing personalised itineraries if you know which vineyards or other attractions you’d like to visit.
Where to eat and drink
Cottontails Wines (pictured above), outside Wagga Wagga, has a restaurant on-site where you can enjoy wood-fired pizzas, olives grown on the estate and locally sourced lamb – with matched Cottontails wines, naturally. They also serve a luxe high tea accompanied by the award-winning house sparkling, White Bubbles.
This region has long been home to a thriving Italian population, which means there are plenty of restaurants turning out excellent Mediterranean cuisine. In Griffith, Zecca focuses on traditional regional Italian fare – made-from-scratch dishes change daily – served in a relaxed setting and complemented by Italian varietal Riverina region wines. Limone (pictured above) is Griffith’s favourite fine diner and its a la carte dinner menu is served on Friday and Saturday nights. Dishes are Italian-style but local-produce inspired, and you might try battered and stuffed zucchini flowers or rainbow trout with roasted banana peppers. If you’re not around for a dinner service, the casual breakfast and lunch menus are also topnotch.
When you’ve had your fill of wine for the day, Wagga Wagga’s Thirsty Crow Brewing Co. has a brew pub in the heart of town with a beer garden, a casual menu of drinking snacks – chicken wings, burgers and charcuterie – and a range of frothies that includes River Float pale ale, Piranha Lager and Vanilla Milk Stout.
If you can time it right, visit when the annual Wagga Wagga Food and Wine Festival transforms the regional hub into a gourmet fantasyland with tastings, events and menus showcasing the finest Riverina regional produce.
Image credits: Hilary Bradford/Destination NSW, Lean Timms, Lachlan Bouchier Photography