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Barossa – The Boss

26 Feb

Having spent the night in the Barossa, I set off with John in the “grand old lady”, the Daimler, to tour the vineyards of the Barossa.  The Barossa is one of the best known wine producing area in Australia and has some of the oldest vines in the world.

Sunset over the Barossa

Sunrise over the Barossa

John noted that despite being called the “new world” with regard to wine, some of the world’s oldest vines are found in the Barossa, as phylloxera, imported from the US along with vine cuttings, destroyed most of Europe’s root stock.

Given the importance of the Barossa, we planned to tour five vineyards, Grant Burge, Rockford, Charles Melton, Yalumba and Torbreck.

Grant Burge

This is a small family owned vineyard, and Grant Burge is the 5th Generation of these winemakers.  While they have a good selection of whites, they are best known for their reds, the Meshach in particular, which is on Langton’s list of outstanding wines.

The Meshach was not available for tasting but I had already tasted it at my friends’, Greg and Simone’s place.  Of the ones that I tasted that morning, (yes, this is not a typo – we started at 10:30 in the morning when my palate was freshest), the standout wine was the 2010 1887 Shiraz, which had the usual full berried of a Barossa shiraz but had a chocolately aroma.  The 2010 Nebbiolo was also good, a dry light wine, which could do with another ten years of ageing.  Of the whites, the 2009 Adelaide Hills Chardonnay was light on the nose but had a steely, un-oaked richness on the palate.

Wines at Grant Burge

Wines at Grant Burge


Many of the region’s top winemakers learnt and developed their trade at Rockford.  These include Chris Ringland and David Powell at Torbreck.  They make a pretty decent sparkling Shiraz, called the Black Shiraz.  However, I found the wines on offer to be decent but not amazing.  Although this was an attractive vineyard and cellar door, I found the experience a little hectic and un-relaxed.  Rumour has it that they are up for sale.



Basket Press

A Basket Press at Rockford

Charles Melton

I had high expectations of Charles Melton as I had already had their Nine Popes (2009) that Greg and Simone had bought for me in London.

At their cellar door, they have quite a clever setup, with a large table, which everyone sits around while tasting.  This means that people chat with each other while tasting.  John was, again, well known, respected and liked at this cellar door.

Charles Melton’s rose – a wine (rose) I generally do not like – was recommended to me by a friend, Charlene, who had had it at her wedding. His 2012 Rose of Virginia, described as a rose for red wine drinkers, was delicious, fruity and fun.

On tasting, I had to admit that the 2010 Richelieu was the stand out (aside from the Nine Popes of course).  This blend of Granache and Mataro (also called Mourvedre in Europe) was delicious, gentler and spicier than the Nine Popes and possibly with greater ageing potential as well.

The 2010 Grains of Paradise was also a very interesting wine. Grains of Paradise is the name of a spice or pepper, from West Africa, that was all the rage a few years ago.  I tasted this wine alongside the Voices of Angels, another Shiraz.  I found the GoP to be a drier wine, which I described as sexy (the cellar manager described it as voluptuous), so I guess it is just that kind of wine.

View of the vineyards at Charles Melton

View of the vineyards at Charles Melton


This was an attractive cellar door, if a little more commercial than the ones I had seen earlier.



The stand outs were the Hill-Smith Estate Chardonnay 2010, which was a fruity Chardonnay, almost in a Gewurtztraminer style, which would be a good match for spicy food; and “The Signature”, a Cabernet / Shiraz,which was quite easy drinking and friendly  – not too loose (i.e. not only berry, there were some structured tannins) yet not overly complex.

The cellar door at Yalumba

The cellar door at Yalumba


Next we headed to Greenock to what is sometimes called the “working” Scottish quarter.  The Sydney Morning Herald has an interesting  article on the history of the area, which had been well established by Aborigines before the arrival of Europeans.  Greenock was named after a port on the River Clyde in Scotland.

Torbreck vintners is situated near Greenock and was set up by David Powell in 1994.  David started up by share-farming, through which the owner of the vineyards is paid market rates for a percentage of the grapes, in exchange for the having the vineyards totally managed.  In addition to understanding viniculture (i.e. the making of the wine), it is important to understand viticulture, which is the growing of the grapes and production of the wines base material.  What apparently makes David exceptional is his interest in finding the old vines and acquiring their fruit and so being in control of the process from beginning to end.

One of the things that I found interesting to learn is that many vineyards may supply their grapes to more than one producer in the region.  Two ways to differentiate yourself is buy having exclusive access to excellent grapes or making excellent wines from the same grapes.

The stand out wine at Torbreck is RunRig.  This wine has been rated at 98 or 99 almost consistently since 2001 by Robert Parker, an American critic,  and therefore commands ridiculous prices.  Fortunately there are a number of other really good wines which were more reasonably priced.

One thing that I did at Torbreck was try to wines made from the same grapes, same vintage, both grown in the same region but sourced from different vineyards.  The wines I tried were both from 2010, and made exclusively from Shiraz.  “The Gask” was sourced from a single vineyard, Eden Valley.  “The Celts”, from Marananga.  The Gask was grown on more rocky soil.  Its flavour was big and bold but with less length.  The Celts had a bigger more fruity flavour, almost like blackberry jam but was longer and had more tannic structure to it.

The "Old Lady" outside Torbreck vineyards

The “Grand Old Lady” outside Torbreck vineyards

I had a totally enjoyable day – the value of travelling with John was evident in the reception that I got at several of the cellar doors.  Additionally, John has incredibly vast knowledge of the wines and spent a lot of time observing my likes and dislikes and working out my wine style. I was greatly amused to realise, by the end of this day, that not only had my wine style changed over the last ten or so years but that Greg and I have totally different tastes in wine!  I was delighted to have chosen this tour.

I returned to my hotel in the Barossa to contemplate my increasingly dissolute lifestyle.

Adelaide and McLaren Vale

25 Feb

After a horrendously early start (04:45), I finally arrived in Adelaide, SA.  Here I met John, from the Barossa-Daimler tours (, who took me wine drinking for the following three days!

Earlier, Greg went through the wine regions and highlighted the different vineyards, those that produce great wine and those that have interesting “cellar doors”, as well as those which do good food.

I started in McLaren Vale on the first day and then went to the Barossa in the evening, through the Adelaide hills.  I spent the next day touring the Barossa and then the final day touring the Clare Valley before heading back to Adelaide on Saturday night and Sydney on Sunday evening.

This is the final wine session of the trip and I hope to add to my recently acquired knowledge of Australian wines.


Our first stop was the d’Arenberg vineyards, owned and run by the Osbourne family, the original winemaker being d’Arenberg Osbourne.  The d’Arenberg wines come with a good reputation, with a number of their reds featuring in the Langton’s Auction House wine guide.

View of the d'Arenberg vineyards

View of the d’Arenberg vineyards

This was a good “cellar door” with several delicious wines and their cheeky sparkling wine, DADD, a take on the French MUMM.

Dadd sparkling wine

Dadd sparkling wine

I went on to try their Lucky Lizard, a Chardonnay made from grapes from the Adelaide hills.  Note that this wine, made from grapes that are not from the McLaren region have a different label (the signature d’Arenberg label is a diagonal red stripe) and are the baby of Chester Osbourne, the son of the original winemaker.  He has run the vineyard for the last ten years.

The Dead Arm Shiraz, 2008, was, not surprisingly, the best of the reds on show – clearly a little young but developing well.  I also tried one of the “Amazing Sites” wines, the JRO Affiliates 2010.  The best grapes of all vineyards are blended to give the dead arm.  The “Amazing Sites” feature wines made from the best grapes from each vineyard.

The d'Arenberg wines

The d’Arenberg wines

I tried a dessert wine which was tasty but way to sweet without enough balancing acidity.

Kay Brothers

I loved, loved, loved the Kay Brothers’ cellar door, which was certainly my favourite of those in the McLaren Vale.

View from the Kay brothers cellar door

View from the Kay brothers cellar door

I would say white wines are not their speciality, although I tried a perfectly delicious 2012 basket pressed Muscat Blanc, which would be a good match to seafood, fish or even creamy pasta.  All of their wines are basket pressed.  The stand out wine for me was the 2010 Cuthbert, named after the son of one of the original Kay brothers.  I also found the 2011 Basket Pressed Merlot to be a very interesting wine.  It smelt like tobacco / cigars and was very tannic and structured on the palate – more like a Cabernet in style than a Merlot.  It would be interesting to see how this would develop after a few (ten or more?) years of cellaring.

Additionally, for top ranked Australian wines (again, a number feature in Langton’s), their prices were more reasonable than a lot of the other cellars and for wines which aren’t as good.

Their best known wine is block 6, which sadly was not on the tasting menu.  Fortunately, Greg has a case so…..


Next we went on to the Primo vineyards, which were established in 1979.

Primo Cellar Door and vineyards

Primo Cellar Door and vineyards

They have a number of different labels, with Joseph being the premium one used for local McLaren Vale wines and the Primo label being used mainly for the wines made overseas and experimental wines.

The owner, Joseph Grilli, is Italian and he likes to use Italian grapes such as Nebbiolo (present in the Italian stallion of wines, Barolo) and Sangiovese (most commonly known as the key grape in Chianti), which are not so common in Australia.  They also make olive oil – Joe Grilli has almost single-handedly been responsible for improving the quality of Australian olive oil.  The sample that I had was certainly of a high quality, very olive flavoured, with a tinge of green.

As I asked  about the Sangiovese, so we had two extra bottles added to our tasting – both 80% / 20% Shiraz / Sangiovese, one made in Tuscany and one from McLaren Vale.  These are very, very different beasts.  Apparently 2011 was a rainy year in McLaren Vale, so more of the grape retained its blue colour and remained highly tannic, rather than the black colour that the grapes achieve when they ripen more on the grapes and some of the tannins even out.


I enjoyed these wines and certainly found them quite interesting.  I am not alone in this – the well known Australian chef, Neil Perry, in this month’s Gourmet Traveller highlights Joe’s sparkling Burgundy as his favourite summer barbecue wine. (

The standout wine for me, though, was the 2007 vintage Joseph Nebbiolo, aged for 20 months in French oak.  This wine had fruits and berries on the nose and some muscle-y tannins on the palate.

Bridgewater Mill

After lunch, we went to the BridgeWater mill, the Petaluma Label.

The waterwheel from the original Bridgewater Mill

The waterwheel from the original Bridgewater Mill

They have recently been taken over by Kirin beer.  While there, I tried a couple of sparkling wines.  The first was disturbingly yeasty and a bit rushed and nothing I would recommend or buy.  The rose was gentler and lighter on the yeastiness.  The late disgorge 2000 was clearly a much better made wine and was something I could drink.

Next we tried their 2012 Riesling.  Now, Clare Valley is the key Riesling area with winemakers such as Jeffrey Grosset specialising in this wine.  The 2012 Hanlin Hill had a fair amount of minerality but was not too acidic.  I would say it was a decent Riesling that would get destroyed by the top Clare Valley wines.  I went on to try their Chardonnay (too “oak-ey” for my tastes), a Cabernet Merlot and a Shiraz.  None of them stood up to the wines I had tried earlier.

At this point, as the early start to the day began to wear on me, we made our way on to the Barossa where I would stay overnight, readying myself for my big wine day.