Wine Hunter

On the Move: Spend A Day in McLaren Vale

Just 45 minutes from Adelaide, McLaren vale is rich in Italian heritage: in its people, food and, most especially, its wines.

While Grapes were first planted by Italian migrants in 1838, until relatively recently McLaren Vale wineries made small batches of selected wines, and the usual suspects of Shiraz and Cabernet thrived.

Now the region has developed a strong reputation for growing outstanding Spanish and Italian varieties such as Fiano, Vermentino, Tempranillo and Sangiovese, which are well suited to the climate and soils.

At the same time, many Italian migrants brought wine, they also brought olives, creating an industry that still thrives with many of the wine producers making fabulous olive oil.

On my trip down to McLaren Vale, I was wanting to taste this strong connection to the region’s Mediterranean past…

Image Credit: S.C. Pannell

Starting Point: S.C. Pannell

I have known Steve Pannell for many years, and as one winemaker to another, I take my hat off to him: He is one of Australia’s best.

Wines from Steve are beautifully crafted with a true feel for his region. I know I’m not the only one that thinks this, he was named the Gourmet Travellers Winemaker of the year in 2015.

At his stunning new cellar door, S.C. Pannell, you are blown away by the views across the region. It is great starting point to get your bearings.

Steve has created a niche as one of the Australian wine industry leaders in producing outstanding Mediterranean varietal wines. When you taste through the wines note the beautiful textures and flavours he nurtures in his wines. A stand out for me is the Pinot Grigio, a bright fresh popping white.

However, Steve is the King of Australian Nebbiolo. His product is a superb example of a very difficult wine to make. It has poise and straddles the vibrant dark cherry flavours and a lush earthiness. It is so good, it is limited to two bottles per customer. The straight Grenache and the ‘loudly’ labelled Montepulciano are also outstanding wines with fleshy succulent fruit and balanced textures. Steve is a master at delivering wine that reflects this climate and the region. As a place to start our Mediterranean adventure, there’s nowhere more ideal.

Next Stop: Primo Estate

Image Credit: Primo Estate

One of the most established and successful vineyards in McLaren Vale, Primo Estate is an ideal place to really feel the Mediterranean culture.

Primo Grilli first came to Australia in 1953, but it was his eldest son, Joseph Grilli, who pioneered the movement into McLaren Vale in the 1980s.

Through his unique style, he made Primo Estate one of Australia’s most original winemaking operations, focusing on Italian varieties well before they became commonplace.  Joe is also regarded as Australia’s most successful producer of olive oil, and is seen as the benchmark for all Australian olive oil producers.

The cellar door is a beautifully designed building with a real  sense of modern Italian style and taste. Dina, Joe’s late wife, had an eye for design and was the driving force behind the slick details in all aspects of the brand.

I still remember Joe’s Columbard from my days in wine retail, over twenty years ago. It is now in its 35th vintage, and is absolutely delicious: Full of floral aromas and passionfruit flavours.

My personal favourite is the Joseph Moda Cabernet Sauvignon. It is a Cabernet made in the Italian ‘Amarone’ style, where the grapes are semi-dried before fermentation. The result is a complex, brooding and rich wine with velvety textures. The other wine which grabbed my attention was in the Primo Estate range, Il Briccone Shiraz Sangiovese. This is the Australian version of a Super Tuscan, blending the Tuscan variety Sangiovese with the well-known Shiraz. This is a full bodied red wine with plum, pepper and spice characters.

Joe also does plenty of really exciting events at his vineyard, like a regular themed lunch once a month that showcases the produce in season. These events are extremely popular and usually sell out very quickly, so be sure to get your tickets as soon as possible.

Lunch: The Salopian Inn

Image Credit: Salopian Inn McLaren Vale

After the delights of Joe’s vineyards, lunch is only across the road.  The Salopian Inn has had a long and somewhat interesting life, being managed and owned by different owners trying different things

Established in 1851, currently the Inn is run by two inspiring woman; Karena Armstrong and winemaker Elena Brooks.

These two do a wonderful job mixing delicious food farmed from the local farmers and their own impressive market garden, with local wine and styles. The space is very relaxing, with a contemporary urban feel. A real highlight though to this hidden gem of the region is the 200+ gin menu.

The Inn is a slight detour from the Mediterranean theme, but we do so because it is a special experience.  The menu is an innovative and eclectic blend of culture and food that are all centred on the local and home-grown produce.

The menu reads like a food adventure through China, Sri Lanka, and India with touches of Italy and Spain. Crazy, but it works. It is so temping to stay on and enjoy the GnTs well into the afternoon, however, I suggest a strong Espresso and another couple of wineries.

Afternoon: Oliver’s Taranga Vineyards

Image Credit: Oliver’s Taranga Vineyards

After a crazy food experience at Salopian, I suggest you pop in to see Carina Wright and her wonderful cellar door and delicious wines at Oliver’s Taranga Vineyards.

Settled by William and Elizabeth Oliver in 1841, this vineyard was one of the earliest pioneers in the region.

The Oliver family has been here for five generations, and if you get to meet the current generation, you will meet Carina, who makes sure that her business sticks to its simple mission statement: to produce ultra-premium age worthy wines that reflect the unique character of the Taranga Vineyard.

While their Shiraz is very smart, my personal favourites are their small batch speciality wines, with many of the grapes used coming from Umbria province in central Italy.

Their 2016 Fiano is a stand out. It is zippy and taught with a crisp freshness which tends to be a good reflection of the soils, made in a style suited to easy drinking. A great summer wine. This was closely followed by another compelling Italian white, their 2016 Vermentino. Another must add to the growing stock in the car boot. Finally, the 2012 Sagrantino, a rare Umbrian red variety, is a real treat. It oozes old world charm and rustic characters with a cheek new world grin.

Last Stop: Coriole Vineyards

Image Credit: Coriole Vineyards

Our final stop is only just up the road from Oliver’s Taranga Vineyards, and is one of the most picturesque vineyards in the entire: Coriole Vineyards.

Founded by Hugh and Molly Lloyd in 1967, the estate is still in the family and is managed by Mark and Paul Lloyd and despite being around for only fifty years, the vineyard feels a lot older, as the farmhouses were built in 1860, and vines have been growing there since the First World War.

The Lloyds are the real deal when it comes to pioneering many of the Italian grape varieties here in Australia, using multiple grape varieties at their vineyard since 1985. For me, their experimentation with these varieties has produced wines that you will not get anywhere else in the country.

My personal favourites are the Picpoul, a pioneering wine for the Lloyd Family, who imported the vine cuttings from southern France. The variety has proven itself to be well suited to the local climate.  An intriguing wine with a fresh acidity and lively texture, it is a clever way to refresh yourself at the end of an indulgent day.

In the red wine department, I always head towards their Italian varieties and the Nero d’Avola. A grape variety originally planted in southern Sicily, it is awash with wild strawberry, anise and sage; a softly textured wine and very easy to get lost in.

But the final taste for the day should be reserved for the Sangiovese. Another Italian variety pioneered by Coriole with the first plantings in 1985, this wine is from the oldest Sangiovese vineyard in Australia, and the depth of the spice and earthy flavours is extraordinary. A great wine to finish off an incredible trip.

If you want to stay longer…

Image Credit: The Vineyard Retreat McLaren Vale

While it is close to Adelaide, I strongly urge you to take the time to stay longer and soak up the atmosphere more of McLaren Vale. The towns of Port Willunga and McLaren Vale are particularly popular, with beautiful beaches and restaurants aplenty, and the wine region is only a short drive away.

Many restaurants cater to a Mediterranean style of cooking, and one of the most beautiful coastal restaurants in the entire state, the Star of Greece is located in Port Willunga. A leisurely fifteen-minute drive from McLaren Vale, this beautiful restaurant sits in a prime location on the cliffs above the beach, which itself was named in the top twenty destination beaches in the world. Another notable favourite of mine is Russell’s Pizza, located in the village of Willunga, which is famous for it’s food and atmosphere.

For those looking for a homely style of accommodation, Wine and Roses Bed and Breakfast in the town of McLaren Vale is widely regarded for it’s intimacy, excellent service, amenities and proximity to the wine region.  For something more secluded, The Vineyard Retreat McLaren Valealso in the town of McLaren Vale, is comprised of four beautiful guest houses on a vineyard property, which allows you to experience the beautiful grounds, the many tranquil spots and the stunning scenery, while being able to enjoy a glass of the regions best.

Until next time,
Your Wine Hunter, Jame Gosper.