Adelaide and South Australia Wine Country
For my second stop on my Australian adventure (you can read about my first stop in Melbourne here), I decided to visit Adelaide so I could explore the South Australian wine region. I have always been interested in the wines of Australia, but haven't had extensive exposure to them in the United States. Adelaide itself is substantially smaller than Melbourne, and feels more like a town than a city. I would not have put Adelaide on my trip had it not been for the close proximity to wine, so if you aren't interested in tastings and vineyards, this is probably not the place for you. Adelaide is a unique and progressive city with multiple universities, a brand new state of the art hospital, and interestingly enough, the current Governor of South Australia who resides in Adelaide is a Vietnamese refugee. It's also important to note that South Australia was founded as a free colony and was convict-free compared to many other Australian states who were founded through convict labor sent by the British Government. Adelaide today has a little bit of everything, but for me the real draw was the close proximity (less than an hour's drive) to the McLaren Vale region, the Barossa Valley, and Adelaide Hills.
THINGS TO KNOW
- South Australia is the largest wine region in the country and it includes the Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale, Adelaide Hills, the Coonawara, Clare Valley, and more.
- South Australia is the driest state on the driest continent. The climate is closest to that of the Mediterranean with lots of sunshine year-round and limited rainfall. This is why so many of the French Rhone grapes grow well here.
- Most wine tastings in Australia are free, which allows you to taste a range of different styles and blends.
- Americans have a very poor reaction to Riesling as we have mainly been exposed to the sweet varieties. Go into the tastings with an open mind-- I was surprised by how many of the Rieslings I enjoyed in Australia. Most of which are incredibly dry and refreshing.
DAY 1: MCLAREN VALE & ADELAIDE HILLS
My travel agent had arranged for a private tour for the day with Mary Anne Kennedy who is the owner and founder of A Taste of South Australia. Mary Anne has been working in the wine industry for over 27 years, and she is not only an expert, but a total pleasure. I really appreciated that Mary Anne called me the night before to get a sense of my likes/dislikes as it relates to wine, and this allowed her to plan the perfect day. In addition, we were not locked into any one itinerary. Because of Mary Anne's connections, we were able to change course at any time and pop in just about anywhere that was of interest and find a friend of hers who was willing to walk us through a tasting. She picked me up at my hotel at 9 a.m. and we got started with a bunch of fun stops along the way! The McLaren Vale region is located south of Adelaide and is most known for its red wines, specifically Shiraz and Grenache. Given that I love Rhone varietals, I was really excited to taste the wines and explore what the region has to offer. In addition, I was pleasantly surprised to taste some delicious Tempranillos, and even Sangiovese is starting to grow well in the region which was a surprise to me.
- Adelaide Central Market: We started our day by stopping into the market and tasting a few dishes at select stalls. We grabbed a table and enjoyed coffees at Lucia's as we gamed out our plan for the day. Adelaide Central Market is located at 44-60 Gouger Street in Adelaide.
- Samuel's Gorge: This was the first winery we hit in the McLaren Vale region. I loved the relaxed and carefree atmosphere, and especially that we were able to taste outside on a patio overlooking the wine region. We had the chance to chat with the winemaker Justin McNamee, and he even joined us for a glass of Shiraz. Samuel's Gorge is located at 93 Chaffeys Road in McLaren Vale.
- Bekkers Wine: Upon pulling up to the modern glass tasting room I could tell these were going to be sophisticated wines. The owners and winemakers are couple Toby and Emmanuelle Bekkers with Toby hailing from Australia and Emmanuelle from France. This combination allows them to create elegant versions of Grenache and Syrah, but also Chablis. These were the best wines I tasted while in Australia and I have a case being shipped home to me so I can share it with my friends. Bekkers Wine is located at 212-220 Seaview Road in McLaren Vale.
- The Salopian Inn: After we had a few tastings under our belt we went over to The Salopian Inn for lunch by Chef Karena Armstrong. The menu is eclectic, the wine list is extensive, and this is definitely the place for food in McLaren Vale. I loved the prawn and crab dumplings with roasted chili oil, and the pork buns were divine. We also enjoyed a fish dish and some fried zucchini blossoms stuffed with goat cheese. After a good meal I felt recharged and ready to take on more wine. The Salopian Inn is located at the corner of Main Road and McMurtrie Road in McLaren Vale.
- Nepenthe: We snuck into Nepenthe's Cellar Door right at closing time and they were kind enough to let us in. I tasted close to eight different wines including Shiraz, Viognier, Chardonnay, Gruner Veltliner, Riesling, and Sauvignon Blanc. Nepenthe has won many awards, and their wines are more accessible in the United States than many others that I tried. At Nepenthe I got the chance to try my first Shiraz Viognier blend which had some darker notes with a touch of fruit, all while remaining very dry. The Cellar Door here is a little bit of a more traditional indoor environment, but they do have a beautiful outdoor space with some picnic tables. Nepenthe is located at 93 Jones Road in the Adelaide Hills.
- Magill Estate Restaurant (Penfolds): Upon returning to Adelaide after a great day of tasting, I decided to splurge for dinner at the famous Magill Estate Restaurant which sits on the foothills of Adelaide and overlooks the city. This restaurant is owned and operated by Penfolds Wines, and offers a 9 course tasting menu paired with some of their best bottles. The cost is $175 AUD per person, and this does not include wine or alcohol. The restaurant has a gorgeous setting, and I arrived in the evening so I could watch the sun go down through the floor to ceiling windows of the restaurant. The view is divine, the service is impeccable, and the wines were excellent. However, there was only one course that wowed me and that was the lobster with butter and "snow". I enjoyed the mango cheesecake ice cream dessert and the add-on wagyu course, but for me, this restaurant was much more about the experience and the wine than the food. Magill Estate is located at 78 Penfold Road in Adelaide.
DAY 2: BAROSSA VALLEY
For my second day of wine tasting, Mary Anne picked me up in the morning and we were joined by a lovely couple from Sweden. The Barossa Valley is just northeast of Adelaide and is best known for its Cabernets, big and bold Shiraz, and the region also offers many GSM blends (Grenache, Syrah, Mataro). I was especially excited to taste in the Barossa given I had a point of comparison from my previous day in McLaren Vale and Adelaide Hills. I was also interested in tasting more whites such as Riesling, Chardonnay, and Semillon which all thrive in the Barossa Valley given the climate.
- Mercato: Our first stop of the day was at an Italian market in Campbelltown on our way out of Adelaide. The store itself is pretty dreamy and stocked with every Italian delicacy one could want: pastas, cookies, a deli counter, and cookbooks. We sat down in the bar/café section and ordered coffee and pastries to fuel up before our first tasting. Mercato is located at 625-627 Lower North East Road in Campbelltown.
- Schild Estate: We stopped into the Cellar Door right at opening time and we were the first ones to arrive which means we had a private tasting. Schild is a family run vineyard and dates back to the 1950's when Ben and Alma Schild moved to the Barossa Valley. We tasted Chardonnay, GMS, Semillon, Grenache, and a few of their bottles of Shiraz. The standout for me was the 2013 PRÄMIE which is a Shiraz that has nice hints of blackberry and vanilla. Schild also has a playfulness about it with their wine labels. They are all photos from the vineyards, and many include the hands and legs of the family to show the earthy nature of wine making. Schild Estate is located at 1 Lyndoch Valley Road, Lyndoch in the Barossa Valley.
- Kellermeister: This winery is named after the founder's German mother and produces Shiraz like most wineries in the Barossa, but they are also known for old favorites they produced back in the 1970's including a chocolate liqueur, a sparkling Moscato, and a pink Alicante Bouschet. I don't care for sweet wines so I stuck to their Shiraz, GSM, and Tempranillo, but there were others tasting these old classics and it's clear that people come to Kellermeister for the nostalgia. Kellermeister has a beautiful outdoor patio, and they have fun names for their wines including The Curtain Raiser, Wild Witch, The Wombat General, and The Funk Wagon. Kellermeister is located at 1561 Barossa Valley Way, Lyndoch in the Barossa Valley.
- Jacob's Creek: This is one of the most well known wineries in Australia and is now owned by Pernod Ricard. We didn't actually taste wines here, but we stopped into the Visitor Centre to view some of the vines and note the differences between the different types of grapes. In addition, the Swedish couple I was with served Jacob's Creek at their wedding years before, so they wanted to check it out and take a photo as a memento. Jacob's Creek Visitor Centre is located at 2129 Barossa Valley Way, Rowland Flat in the Barossa Valley.
- Rockford Wines: From the minute I arrived in Adelaide, my driver who picked me up at the airport started raving about the Sparkling Shiraz from Rockford's. None of us had ever tasted a Sparkling Shiraz, so this was a necessary stop. I had envisioned it would be similar to a Lambrusco, and boy was I wrong. The Rockford Sparkling Shiraz is much bolder and heavier, and it also has a bit of a Port-like flavor on the finish. It is blasphemous to say you do not like Sparkling Shiraz in the Barossa Valley, so I'll just say I am glad that I tried it but will likely be sticking with Lambrusco for my sparkling reds. We also tasted a few others, and I loved their Basket Press Shiraz. I particularly liked the rustic nature of the Cellar Door at Rockford's which is set in an old brick house, and the staff was one of the most knowledgeable we met throughout the two days in South Australia wine country. Rockford Wines is located at 131 Krondorf Road, Tanunda in the Barossa Valley.
- Vintners Bar & Grill: Mary Anne had arranged for a nice lunch for us at Vintners which is in a beautiful stone building surrounded by lush green plants and trees. I was immediately at home when I saw the framed posters from Willi's Wine Bar in Paris hanging throughout the restaurant. We selected from a pre-set menu and each had two courses. The meal started with warm, fresh sourdough bread and olive oil for dipping. We devoured the bread quickly after our morning of tasting. I enjoyed La Dame cheese, garlic, and leek croquettes to start the meal and had the scotch filet for my main course which was done with beautiful Asian flavors with shoyu dressing and chives. We also ordered some french fries to share for good measure. Vintners Bar & Grill is located on the corner of Stockwell and Angaston Roads in the Barosssa Valley.
- Yalumba: Yalumba is the oldest family-owned winery in South Australia dating back to the 1840's. The Cellar Door is reminiscent of a French chateau, and the grounds are breathtaking. This was one of the prettiest stops we made throughout our days of wine tasting, and I highly recommend a stop at Yalumba for the beauty and the wines. I was very pleased with their Block 2 Grenache Rosé which was made in the classic Provence style, which is a favorite of mine. Another favorite was the Carriage Block Grenache which was light in both color and style with delicate notes of fruit. Yalumba has a wide array of wines to taste, in addition to offering multiple varieties, vintages, and collections at all price points. Yalumba is located at 40 Eden Valley Road, Angaston in the Barossa Valley.
- Penfolds Wines: This is one of the most famous and well known wineries in Australia. In addition to eating at their restaurant the night prior, we also stopped at their Cellar Door for tastings in the Barossa Valley. It was here that I got to try their Pinot Noir which isn't something you commonly find in South Australia. This was one of my favorite wines I tasted throughout the few days, but it was also our last stop and my palette was overrun and needed a break. The Cellar Door isn't very special here, and is housed inside a warehouse style building with a few other offerings, so you definitely come to Penfolds for the wines and not the views. The Penfolds Cellar Door is located at 30 Tanunda Road, Nuriootpa in the Barossa Valley.
- Maggie Beer's Farm Shop: This was our last stop in the Barossa Valley and Mary Anne explained to us that Maggie Beer is similar to the Martha Stewart of Australia. She has written numerous cookbooks, has appeared on cooking shows, and owns a Farm Shop with high-end foods, coffees, and gifts out in the wine region. We stopped in and picked up her delicious ice cream which was the perfect treat after a long day of tasting. The Farm Shop is located at 50 Pheasant Farm Road, Nuriootpa in the Barossa Valley.
Wine tasting in South Australia was a fantastic experience, and I am so glad I got more exposure to the flavors and profiles that are coming out of McLaren Vale, the Barossa Valley, and Adelaide Hills. While I didn't get to spend a lot of time in Adelaide proper, I did have a great meal at Press* Food & Wine, and also heard great things about Gondola Gondola, Chianti, Peel Street, Osteria Oggi, and Ruby Red Flamingo. Thanks for the memories, South Australia! Next stop: Hamilton Island for some rest and relaxation.