McLaren Vale, Barossa and beyond

Waking up the day after our long lunch at D’Arenberg, I wasn’t sure how we were going to top the experience of the day before, but I was sure ready to try. We were staying in McLaren Vale for another two days, before heading back to stay in Adelaide for a couple of nights and heading out to the Barossa for a day trip from there. I had paid for an extra 10kg’s of baggage for the flight back home and I was determined to find some wine to fill up my suitcase!

For our first day of adventures, Ollie was designated driver so I could get my fill of red wine (don’t worry, I was returning the favour the next day). Our first stop, after a requisite visit to the local bakery for a morning pastry, was Olivers Taranga. A small cellar door at the top of McLarenVale, they have a wide variety of rich red’s, along with a sparkling Fiano called ‘the hunt for Mrs Oliver’ which I found particularly amusing – Ollie not so much. It was quite nice so I picked up a bottle of it, as well as the DJ Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon which I will attempt to cellar for a good few years before drinking – cross your fingers for me! They also had a tempting range of fortifieds – a Grenache called The Banished, and Liqueur Muscat called Ruthless Ruth.

After that, we cruised around the corner to Molly Dooker, a quirky winery with a focus on fruit forward wines. We were informed as we paid our tasting fee and received our glass that Molly Dooker means left handed (apparently something I should have known already as an Australian) and that we had to hold our glasses in our left hand at all times. The wine was interesting, but I didn’t buy any. I think I am swimming against the tide in here as fruit forward and natural is becoming more and more popular, but my preferences lie with a big, layered cabernet sauvignon or shiraz with a hefty dose of oak influence. Anyway, that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the wines, and we got to take the glass home which was a nice souvenir.

The next winery on the list was Samuels Gorge. Right at the top of McLaren Vale, abutting Onkaparinga River National Park, this winery produces a very small range of reds that you can enjoy while taking in the view of the gorge and patting the placid winery dog.  They focus on 5 varietals – grenache, shiraz, mourvèdre, graciano  and tempranillo, and serve them all to you in a beautifully restored farm shed. All of them were lovely, rich reds and right up my alley. While I would  have liked to take them all home I had to make a choice and I opted for the graciano for something a little bit different. I made sure to note down where I could buy them in Perth though!

After that it was off the Alpha Box and Dice, a relative new winery, self described as a culture soaked in community, quality and a laissez-faire spirit. This little tin shed is home to the ‘alphabet of wines’ – Alpha Box and Dice aims to develop a wine for every letter of the alphabet. With only six letters left to cover they are well on their way, although not every wine in the alphabet is available at any given time. I enjoyed the wines here so much that I signed up to a ‘life improvement plan’ – six bottles of wine delivered every 6 months for $150 – and took home a bottle of the Tarot Grenache. We had hoped to have lunch here as well but it turns out they only serve food on the weekend.

After a short stop at Wirra Wirra wines where I quickly realised that I needed to eat something, we stopped for an early dinner at Pizza-teca. This woodfired pizza joint a few kilometres outside of the McLaren Vale township has got some serious game – not the very least a cracking wine list filled with a range from primarily southern Italian style wine from V.Mitolo and Sons that is made exclusively for Pizzateca. Throw in some char grilled lamb skewers, arancini and a hefty dose of pizza and you have yourself an awesome night.

Up and out again the next day, the were off to explore the breweries around Adelaide and it was my turn to drive – probably a good thing after the amount of wine consumed the day before! Our first stop was Shifty Lizard taphouse in Wilunga. A small little shopfront on the high street, this relatively new brewery was founded by two SA locals who have spent some time overseas only to come back and do what they love in their hometown. We had one of the owners, Lee, there when we arrived bright and early, and his passion for was apparent as he talked us through his beer list and helped us out with some suggestions for other breweries we might visit as we went on our way.

Next stop on the itinerary was Smiling Samoyed, a sprawling brewery about 20 minutes drive away in Myponga. As the name might suggest, it’s home to two very happy samoyeds who have absolutely no shortage of pats and treats as they roam around the tables! Only  short stop here – we grabbed a beer paddle and played a few games of uno in the sunshine. If we hadn’t stopped by the bakery earlier that morning we would have grabbed some lunch as well as the food looked fantastic!

Our next stop, the Fleurieu distillery, a small little place on, as the name would suggest, the Fleurieu Peninsula. We stopped at a Victor Harbour on the way , a really picturesque part of the coast and binged on some cinnamon donuts at the pop up fairground there. Once we got to the distillery Ollie gave the whiskey a good go – I had one sip and was promptly reminded how much I hate brown spirits!

On our way to our next stop we stopped in a quaint little town called Strathalbyn, which had a super cute park that we went for a short walk around. The town is heritage listed, and has some nice antique shops and a beautiful bridge over the Angas River which runs through the town.  A nice place to stop and stretch the legs.

The final stop on our brewery tour of regional SA was Prancing Pony, the self proclaimed ‘home of the long flavour’. They had a range of interesting beers, ranging from the ‘Imperial German Sledgehammer’ to the ‘Magic Carpet Midnight Ride’ and our favourite, the ‘Hopwork Orange’ pale ale. These were my kind of beers – big, bold and hoppy – and we shared a paddle with a plate of loaded fries. I was only able to enjoy a sip of each beer though, as the tasting paddle came in at an impressive 2.5 standard drinks and I had to drive home. We bought a 6 pack of the Hopwork Orange to enjoy back at our hotel though, so I didn’t miss out too much.

The next morning it was wine time again – only we were off to the Barossa on a tour so neither of us had to drive. One of my favourite stops we made in this area was Tscharke, a small family owned winery with a roaring fire and a beautiful in-house pottery gallery. The wine here was delicious and so reasonably priced – I left with a case of the Shiraz Shiraz Shiraz (so named for the three vineyards it’s picked from) which was outstanding value for $10/bottle, as well as a bottle each of the single vineyard Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon for a mere $20 each.

Another stand out winery was Rusden, another small family owned and operated place with a working basket press that was in operation when we arrived. Using a basket press is a traditional way of extracting juice from grapes, and we learnt that it is gentler on the fruit than more modern methods and means the wine has softer tannins. Basically all the grapes are loaded into the basket, and a large plate slowly pushes them down, squeezing the juices out the side. We also got to stick our hand into some barrels of squishy fermenting grapes – as well as taste some wine of course! Another outstanding winery, and we left here with some of their premium wine that will go in the cellar (aka cupboard).

Driving back we visited one final winery, Murray Street Vineyards, which while being a really picturesque venue with decent wine, didn’t blow us away after the amazing day we had.  It was an interesting drive there though, down Seppeltsfield road which is lined with palm trees – a  strange site in the rolling hills of South Australia! Apparently they date back to the 1930’s when they were planted by the Seppeltsfield family (or at least the people who worked for them). After that it was on to Greenock Brewers, a small taphouse located in a 100 year old wheat store. They had only had three beers on tap which I must admit weren’t to my taste, but for someone who likes lager it would be perfect.

And that was it for our Barossa and McLaren Vale adventures. It is a beautiful area and one I would love to visit again. Although I still have to get to Mornington, Yarra, Hunter, Coonawarra, and the list goes on. So much wine, so little time!

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