Plunder From Down Under

South Australia offers up gems of wine finds.

One of my favorite trips to wine country ever was to south australia. there is so much to love about SA. First, I loved the amazing diversity of the region. This is the first thing that may be overlooked by most wine drinkers. SA also has a viticultural treasure trove of some of the oldest vines in the world. And who can question the slightly “in your face” irreverence with which the local winemakers share their passion and dedication; it shows through each of their wines.

South Australia’s wine quilt is a diverse one with more regions than I can describe on these pages. So I will focus on the highlights. What most people think of when South Australia comes to mind is the Barossa Valley. And they would not be entirely off the mark. The Barossa Valley is to South Australia what Napa Valley is to California. It is its leading light, first among equals and the area that most wine drinkers around the world associate with high-quality reds from Australia. The Barossa Valley itself is about an hour’s drive north of Adelaide and is diverse in its own right with no less than 13 recognized subregions within the valley, each having its particular soil types and exposure. Its lead variety is without question Shiraz. The Barossa Valley is a following spring for delicious, dark and effusive Shiraz on the planet. But one would be remiss if they turned a blind eye to the Grenache, Mourvedre or Cabernet that is produced in this region. Surprisingly, there are also a number of evocative Semillon and Riesling grown here. Greenock Creek, Torbreck, Penfolds, Elderton and Rockford are just some of the top producers.

Just to the East of the Barossa on the other side of the Barossa Range is Eden Valley.îs is more of a rolling hill and rockier area with higher elevation. Shiraz leads the pack here as well with some of the world’s greatest calling it home. And because of the cooler climes pinot noir (especially Mountadam’s), and Riesling does phenomenally well. Henschke is a name that no wine lover should forget. ~eir wines are some of the best to be made in the Eden Valley and in my opinion all of Australia.

One of my personal favorite regions for bold reds in South Australia is McLaren Vale. This region is just o° the coast of the Gulf of St Vincent south of Adelaide. What I Ë›nd so intriguing about this area is although the Shiraz here has just as much power as those of the Barossa, they seem to strike more of a balance in structure. There are even more diverse plantings in this area with Sangiovese, Tempranillo as well as Savagnin and Fiano gaining footholds. Mollydooker is without a doubt the champion of the region. Samuel’s Gorge, Noon and Chateau Reynella are also flagship wineries.

Just east of Adelaide are the Adelaide Hills. Its proximity to the Gulf and elevation give it some of the coolest growing temperatures in South Australia. The Burgundian varieties of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir truly shine here and also lend themselves to production of sparkling wine in the region. Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling have a raciness and elegance that I also enjoy. I would diligently search for Nepenthe, Mount Lofty Ranges and Shaw and Smith’s wines.

Speaking of Riesling, I would be remiss if I did not mention Clare Valley. Further north, past Barossa lays the Clare Valley. What is amazing about this region is that both Shiraz and Riesling, two wines that are entirely different in expression and in their needs in terms of climate, can be grown to world-class levels. Growers here achieve this by growing their reds, primarily Shiraz, in dark loamy soil on lower lying flatlands and at the base of the hills; while planting their whites in limestone soils further north of the region. Both areas enjoy dry cooling winds from the west and southwest. Jim Barry is not to be missed; Tim Adams, Grosset and Mt. Horrocks have some deeply individual wines that are well worth the asking price.

Sauvignon. It is nestled in the far southeast corner of South Australia and has a unique soil known as Terra Rossa, which is like a layered cake of limestone deposit as a base, topped with rich, yet freely draining red-brown topsoil. These soils give rise to Cabernet distinct from any other region in Australia. Many would say, these Cabernets would make Bordeaux blush with envy. Wynns John Riddoch Cabernet is stunning. Penley Estate, Majella and Katnook Estate also make some top-quality bottlings.

Along with these diverse and complex regions South Australia lays claim to having some of the worlds’ oldest vines. Examples of centenarian Shiraz vines dot the landscape in the Barossa and Eden Valleys. Perhaps the Ë›nest example of this is Henschke’s “Hill of Grace” Vineyard is home to vines planted in the 1860s on their own rootstocks. These vines are lovingly called the “grandfathers” and the tiny bit of fruit that they produce creates an amazingly intense, seamless expression of Shiraz. One of the reasons why these vines have not been ravaged by phylloxera is because of the sandy nature of the soils in Barossa and Eden Valleys. Phylloxera does not travel well in sandy soils, and thankfully so for these ancient vines and for those of us lucky enough to drink its produce.

And finally it is the people behind the bottles that I love. Who can deny Sparky Marquis’ (Mollydooker) colorful and charismatic personality or Peter Gago’s (Penfolds) Jedi-like mind and eloquence? Chester Osborn’s (d’Arenberg) love of life and Justin McNamee’s (Samuel’s Gorge) hospitality and generosity all show through their wines. The Australian winemaker’s lack of pretense, pomp or circumstance is refreshing, honest and welcome. It is also endearing and engaging, even with that funny accent. What’s not to love?


MATARO: Synonym for Mourvedre. This is a deep, dark, almost black red wine that has lots of grip along with blackberry fruit.

BAROSSA OLD VINE CHARTER : Old Vines: 35+ years old; Survivor Vines: 70+ years old; Centenarian: 100+ years old; Ancestor Vines: 125+ years old

STICKIES: Term used by Australian referring to late harvest, bortrytized and fortiêd sweet wine.

RIVERLAND: This is Australia’s largest wine-growing region located along the Murray River and a source of fruit for most of Australia’s large brand names.

KANGAROO ISLAND: This island off the South coast of SA whose landmass is dominated by National and Conservation Parks is home to 13 different wineries.

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