There are times I’m nostalgic for my hometown, especially when reminded of the gems it holds. Adelaidians are fortunate to have great wine regions in close proximity. Adelaide Hills, McLaren Vale, the Barossa Valley and a couple further out, the Clare Valley and Coonawarra make up a substantial wine industry for South Australia. We had a day in McLaren Vale recently and frankly, we didn’t touch the sides, but for a day trip, 3 cellar doors and a great lunch, it was perfect.
Bookings are required at wineries for groups of 5 or more so under pressure, our tour guide had to consider the tastes of 8 and book accordingly. After a couple of cellar doors, a party of 8 can be difficult to round up but not when the driver is Kev.
Kev’s done this before. Pick up was on time, directions under control and he’s used to gently guiding patrons to his bus to maintain the schedule. The bus is a 12 seater and rates are good value so when you plan your trip leave a comment below and I’ll provide his contact details.
Taking the Southern Expressway we were at our first winery in 45 minutes. Samuel’s Gorge is housed in a mid 19th century stone farm shed with a view to die for overlooking the Onkaparinga River National Park. Specialising in 4 grape varieties; Tempranillo, Grenache, Mouvèdre and Shiraz, each parcel of fruit goes through a slow fermentation process in huge 100-year-old open slate vats.
Traditional basket pressing is applied before transferring the wines to oak barrels to mature. A good indication of the popularity of Samuel’s Gorge wines was the many varieties “sold out” on the day including the Tempranillo for tasting.
Ashlee set us up on the sunny verandah and began with the Grenache; light yet complex with cherries and herbs. Onto a favourite, the Mouvèdre; deeper with plum and spices and lastly the Shiraz; perfect by the fire on a cold winter’s night teamed with rich slow cooked meats.
The winemaker, Justin McNamee, praised the 2013 Shiraz and has every right to do so. His philosophy; to make wines great to drink now yet have the structural support for cellaring. You can bet none of our bottles will make it to a cellar. Big thanks to Ashlee Raymond at the cellar door for her hospitality.
Kev’s effective corralling had us back on the bus and on our way to d’Arenberg Winery for tastings and lunch. The varieties here are substantial and the staff’s knowledge extensive so allow some time. An encouraged plan starts with the sparkling and wanders through the whites, move over to the reds beginning with their sparkling Chambourcin.
Now enjoy lunch at Darry’s Verandah overlooking the rolling hills and vines. All wines are available from the restaurant’s wine list or can be purchased at the cellar door with corkage applied. At the end of the meal head back to the cellar door for “stickies” or fortifieds. You’ll need a good 3 hours at d’Arenberg to enjoy the entire experience.
At the cellar door, Tanya shared a wealth of information and gave recommendations to complement dishes on the restaurant’s menu. She also opened my eyes and palate to Chardonnay. I haven’t been a fan for years preferring crisp, fresh Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris. Happy to be converted, I took a sip of The Lucky Lizard Chardonnay and it was life changing.
A process called malolactic fermentation converts the tart malic acid (think granny smith apples) to the softer lactic acid (think butter and cheese). It turns out the Chardonnays without this process suit me perfectly. Thanks for increasing the range of wines I’ll consume Tanya 🙂
Back on the bus and feeling rather chirpy, we headed to Wirra Wirra Winery, a short 6km away. Established in 1894, the winery fell into disrepair in 1926 but was rebuilt some 40 years later from 2 walls and some slate fermenting tanks. It’s difficult to imagine that today with the impressive local ironstone cellar door and vines stretching to the horizon.
Wirra Wirra is famous for Church Block, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon- Shiraz- Merlot they began producing in 1972. My guess: all Australians know it or at least of it. 1999 they screw capped it and celebrated the 10 year anniversary of phasing out corks by building a 10 metre tall Church Block bottle with them. Off their rocker? Maybe, but it is pretty impressive at the entrance.
Chris took us through all 20 of the wines for tasting with a third of them cellar door exclusives. “The Angelus” is a product of exceptional parcels of Cabernet Sauvignon from the region and was an instant hit with our group, some deciding to grab a bottle and enjoy it outside under the gums.
Those left inside were educated in the complexities of taste. Where on our tongues taste buds recognise bitterness, salt, acid and sweetness and what flavours to try to detect in each wine. A lot of fun and surprisingly accurate.
To finish, Chris mixed a cocktail. A glass of the 2014 Mrs Wigley Moscato with a shot of Bombay Saphire gin and a squeeze of lime. Into the box went the Moscato and we picked up the gin on the way home.
For Australian residents, become a member of Wirra Wirra’s Bell Ringers and receive 10% discount on purchases, free freight for 2 dozen bottles or more and free insurance to $300.
With over 70 wineries in McLaren Vale, it’s worth making a few days of it. Accommodation is plentiful, from Beach Holiday Parks and cottages to pretty B&Bs in the middle of wineries. Many wineries have their own restaurants but there are also independents in beautifully restored 19th-century buildings.
The Willunga Farmers Market is on every Saturday from 8 am to 12.30 pm where local growers showcase their fresh seasonal produce.
You can help with the harvest in Autumn, attend the Sea and Vines Festival in Winter or fish, surf and fly any time of year. Grab a cheese hamper from Blessed Cheese and follow their wine and cheese trails. Burn off your tastings cycling between wineries or take a walk through Onkaparinga Gorge. There is much to see and do.
McLaren Vale: it’s a place we love….