South-Australia wraps the country’s full array of wine-making into one delicious package
Most travelers to Australia — first-time ones, at least — follow a fairly prescribed itinerary’, what locals refer to as the Rock (Uluru), the Reef (Great Barrier), and the Harbour (Sydney). About a decade ago some started adding Kangaroo Island, off the coast of South Australia, a place of great natural wonders that got noticed thanks to a terrific luxury resort, Southern Ocean Lodge. Still, few stop to savor much else in this beautiful corner of the continent.
They should, especially if they have any interest in wine. If what you think of when you think of Australian wine is the big, high-alcohol Shirazes that dominate the export market, then South Australia is the perfect place for you to discover the full variety of Australian wine making. Within just a couple hours’ drive of Adelaide, you have four world-class wine regions that are entirely distinct. What’s more, the state is also home to exceptional produce, which means the kind of talented chefs who are often drawn to wine regions the world over have great material to work with here. Drop yourself into any of these four regions and I guarantee you’ll find some of the best drinking —and eating— of your life.
Just a few minutes out of Adelaide you quickly find yourself among eucalyptus groves (keep your eyes peeled for koalas) as the road wends its way up into the Adelaide Hills.
This is a true wine-producing region, but it’s also a poshly suburban place, a scenic jumble of vineyards and dairy farms punctuated with prosperous little towns that cater to city dwellers on lazy weekend excursions.
You could easily spend a few days up here, but I had just one, so I made a beeline for Hahndorf, a touristy but cute town with, characteristically, a single main street lined with stone cottages built by German settlers that house shops, bakeries, and pubs. A stroll down the street will take you to stores selling everything from artisanal knives and German handicrafts to Aboriginal art. My favorite: Udder Delights, a dairy and cafe where you can do a tasting of house-made cheeses.
For a great meal, everyone recommends the Lane Vineyard — a winery with a sleek glass box of a restaurant that takes in sweeping views of the surrounding vineyard — and it doesn’t disappoint. The creative farm-to-table menu runs to dishes like roasted lamb dotted with salsa verde and tangy sheep’s curd beside broad beans and sweetbreads given an earthy coating of burnt herbs. The wines are a fine representation of what the Adelaide Hills region does well, including some beautifully restrained cool-climate reds.
For my one proper wine tasting, I settled on Nepenthe, a large producer that demonstrates the variety of wines made in the area I tried a Gruner Veltliner (here, typically minerally and astringent but softened with a touch of oak) as well as a crisp, intensely citrusy Sauvignon Blanc and a soft-but-spicy Pinot Noir. Nepenthe is one of more than 50 “cellar doors” in the Hills, so it was clear how much I was missing.
Take the pretty Onkaparing’a Scenic Drive northeast from the Adelaide Hills and you’ll follow the path of the German settlers toward the Barossa Valley, the beating heart of Australia’s wine industry. There are tidy towns of Lutheran churches, busy farmers’ markets, and bungalows festooned with roses, but mostly this is abroad, gently undulating landscape with row upon row of vines stretching to the horizon.
There are upwards of 150 producers in the valley. Right across the street from the valley’s best hotel, the Louise, is Tscharke, where winemaker Damien Tscharke is doing exciting work with varietals like Savagnin, Touriga Nacional, and Montepulciano. At the Standish Wine Co., Dan Standish uses organically and dry-farmed grapes to craft only a few wines per year; his 2014 Standish Shiraz knits concentrated blueberry and stone into a wine of exceptional depth and purity. It was a standout among the hundreds of wines I tasted in a week.
I love discovering smaller makers like these, but you’d be remiss if you skipped Penfolds’s slick tasting room, where you can sample the full range of what this famous producer does, including the Grange, one of the country’s most cellar-worthy reds. And don’t miss the recently restored 19th-century Seppeltsfield winery for a glass of port—called Para Tawny here.
You can sample right from the barrel, including the current 100-year-old vintage and the one from your birth year. I had several great meals in the Barossa, but none topped the seven-course extravaganza at the Hentley Farm winery. Chef Lachlan Colwill creates showstopping dishes like bluefin tuna, chicken liver, and toasted sunflower seeds in a shroud of cured egg yolk— an unlikely symphony of flavor, texture, and temperature — all well paired with the winery’s vintages and served in the original stables. It was the perfect expression of what the Barossa is all about: a beautiful marriage of the rustic and the refined.