Saturday, 11 August 2007

Exploring the Mclaren Vale

Visit to the McLaren Vale
10th August

Three blokes, one excited Kelpie, a car and a map with a hell of lot of wineries circled. The obvious way to start a day like this is with a pie and so first stop was of course the McLaren Vale Bakery .
Gemtree (website) & Dowie Doole (website)
We got things started with a bang with two producers for the price of one at Gemtree and Dowie Doole. They share a new cellardoor facility were they offer formal wine flights as well as the usual tastings.

Though it's hard to discover Dowie Doole has a strong belief in biodynamics and many of their grapes are grown to these standards. It's interesting that they chose to let the quality of their wines sell themselves rather than marketing the environmental angle. I enjoyed the light, fruity Chenin Blanc 2006 and the slightly acidic Rose 2006. I also thought the Merlot 2005 was pretty impressive, it had a lovely nose that combined both fruit and earthy aromas; while the palate was well structured with nice up front fruit. I was surprised that I didn't rate the Shiraz 2004 I found it overly sour with harsh alcohol. The Reserve Shiraz 2004 on the other hand was a lovely wine; elegant nose, refined, structured palate and a hefty price tag of $50. A surprise highlight from the Dowie Doole range was their well named Sticky Bits Botrytis Semillon 2004, a nice wine that was a steal at only $13.50.

Visiting Gemtree it was lucky we had a geology expert with us who directed us to all the wines being named after rocks. I was not that impressed with the Citrine Chardonnay 2007 or the red blend Cadenzia 2005. The Bloodstone Tempranillo 2005 was much better; it was a richly textured in the mouth and had savoury, moreish, almost sour flavours. The Tatty Road 2005, a blend of Cabernet, Petit Verdot and Merlot, had a soft pleasant nose and nice grippy tannins. The cellardoor only release The Phantom Petit Verdot 2005 was a good wine with nice earthy flavours and firm tannins. The Uncut Shiraz 2005 was also lovely, a rich fruit filled nose and a palate with firm structure and nice tannins. The winning wine was definitely the Obsidian Shiraz 2003; a powerful wine with plenty of lovely fruit, but also a silky smoothness that held it together magnificently.
Wirra Wirra (website)
Wirra Wirra is an old favourite and over the last few years I've really enjoyed the wines I purchased here on my first every winery tour back 1998. A beautiful building and grounds, with a modern cellar door and a heap of fantastic old timber scattered about the place in furniture, sculpture and fencing. The staff were awesome; friendly, helpful and full of good-advice. The Woodhenge Shiraz, RSW Shiraz and Angelus Cabernet Sauvignon had unfortunately sold out, but there was still a great range of good value wines to try. I thought the Hand-picked Riesling 2006 was an absolute bargain at $16.50. Both the 12th Man Adelaide Hills Chardonnay 2006 and the brooding, finely tunned, limited release Sparrow's Lodge Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 were impressive, as were the fresh, savoury flavours of the Mrs Wigley Rose Grenache 2007. The driver was as taken with the big, ballsy The Anthem Sparkling Shiraz as I was, and earned a bottle for supposedly staying sober enough to drive us around. A cracker of a winery that is highly recommended.
Penny's Hill (website) & Mr Riggs Wines (website)
Next we had another value for money, two-for-one cellardoor. Wine maker Ben Riggs crafts all the wines here; some for his own brand Mr Riggs and some for Penny's Hill as their Penny's Hill range or for their second label Black Chook.

Mr Riggs offers two Rieslings, the Watervale Riesling 2007 and the off dry German style VOR-GS Riesling 2007. The Watervale offering was OK, but for $22 there's a lot better value around. On the other hand I really liked the VOR-GS with its lovely citrus and floral nose and balanced palate, though its slight sweetness is probably not for everyone. The Mr Riggs reds seemed to be defined by an alluring soft, ready to drink feel. The Gaffer Shiraz 2006 was all vanilla oak on the nose and a palate bursting with blackberries, chocolate and herbs, a slight sweetness and nice soft tannins - a good wine, though with very obvious oak. The appeal of the Shiraz Viognier 2005 was its delightful fragrant nose, though I felt the palate was dominated by alcohol. The Mr Riggs' wines were nice, though they didn't seem particularly good value.
First in the Penny's Hill Range was the Chardonnay 2006, a wine that was dominated by powerful oak and intense nutty flavours on the palate. I didn't like the Specialized 2005, a blend of Shiraz Cabernet and Merlot, it was unbalanced and alcoholic. The Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 was a better offering; as black as a big black dog, it was rich and powerful with classy fruit and strong hard tannins. In contrast the Black Chook Shiraz Viognier 2005 was a soft and smooth drinking experience with plenty of lovely sweet berry flavours. The highlight of the cellardoor and one of the highlights of the day was the Penny's Hill Shiraz 2005; a truly lovely wine. It was extremely approachable, yet well structured with perfect balance and good tannins; an absolute bargain at $27. The best thing about the botrytis offering was its name; the Sticky End Viognier 2006 was a flat and unexciting wine.

Willunga Bakery
You know the drill: three blokes, a kelpie, a car, and a map which still has a hell of a lot of wineries it. Yes of course we had pies for lunch, but these ones were a step-up from breakfast. Willunga Bakery was absolutely superb, offering old-school Australian country style baking. The pies were different to what you normally get these days; the pasty was flaky and buttery, the meat was thick and chunky and they were served in a little aluminium tray. Trying to be a relatively healthy I limited myself to one pie, unlike my fat travelling companions; one of whom indulged in a fine looking lemon meringue pie and the other obese chat even ate two pies! Willunga Bakery was the perfect spot for lunch.

Fox Creek (website)
I'm not sure why we bought a dog on a wine tour but by lunchtime he'd had enough. It could have been the big run the day before, it could have been pies for breakfast and lunch or it could have been he was utterly bored, but our dog needed the vet. We discovered that Willunga didn't just have an awesome bakery, but that it also had a good vet. The driver dropped us at Fox Creek were Shadow, an illustrious wine dog, was there to play with while our puppy got a little love and attention

The two whites on offer at Fox Creek, the Chardonnay 2006 and Verdelho 2006 were both OK, though not overly exciting. Shadow's Run Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 offered pretty good everyday drinking for $12. I liked the Red Barron Shiraz 2006, a soft sweet wine that was asking to be drunk. The Duet Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2006 had peppery fruit on the palate wrapped in firm tannins. The JSM Shiraz Cabernet Franc 2004 was rich, with intense fruit and hints of oak. The soft and smooth Short Row Shiraz 2005 was a pleasant as was the Reserve Merlot 2005 which had lovely fruit flavours, firm tannins and good structure. The last wine we tried was the Vixen Sparkling Shiraz Cabernet Franc, a wine that gets great press, though it didn't do much for me. Though most of the wines at Fox Creek were nice enough I wasn't overly inspired and thought better value is to be had elsewhere. Coriole (website)
This hilltop location definitely takes the award for one of the most scenic of wineries in the McLaren Vale, with its impressive views of rows of vines stretching into the distance. The busy cellardoor also has a selection of cheese, their own olives to try and a restaurant out the back. Their Semillon 2005 was a touch out of balance with acidity and alcohol dominating. Coriole was a pioneer of Italian varieties in the McLaren Vale and next we tried the Fiano 2007. Fiano is a southern Italian variety I had never tried before, but I loved this wine; the herbal nose was delicious and the balanced palate oozed sweet pineapple. Next was another Italian, the tasty Sangiovese 2006, a bright, vibrant wine, medium bodied, with a palate packed full of cherries. The Nebbiolo 2005 was a lot lighter then I expected and another winner; it was very drinkable, with soft tannins and sweet raspberry flavours. The Lalla Rookh Grenache Shiraz 2003 was a tidy package with a tidy name; a soft palate with dark fruits and a hint of sweetness. The earthy Dancing Fig Shiraz Mourvedre 2004 was good as was the powerful fruit and firm structure of the Estate Grown Cabernet Sauvignon 2005, though there was a little distracting alcohol on the palate. The Estate Grown Shiraz 2005 was all about red fruits and pepper, though again this wine was let down by hot alcohol. The Lloyd Reserve Shiraz 2005 was an awesome wine made from 88 year-old vines, but with a hefty price tag of $70; its powerful and intense nose was packed with rich dark fruits and chocolate, while the palate was held together by big firm tannins. The dessert wine Racked Semillon 2006 was a tasty little number full of pears and orange peel. Coriole with their great views and interesting Italian offerings are worth a visit. Samuel's Gorge (website)
Our last winery of the day was Samuel's Gorge, a place none of us had heard of until we got the nod from the bloke at Wirra Wirra. Located in an old barn, along the ridge from Chapel Hill, Samuel's Gorge has great views across the Onkaparinga River Valley. The whole operation is pretty small scale and is run by a fantastic bloke called Justin McNamee. As we arrived he was leaving but re-opened and invited us in for a sip. Justin makes a Grenache, Tempranillo and Shiraz under the Samuel's Gorge brand. He is a bloke bursting with energy and stories; as we sampled the wines he told us tales of the building, the grapes, running the cellar door and the tiny individuals featured on the mosaic that circles the label. The Grenache 2004 was probably my favourite of the three; it was a beautifully balanced affair with dried herbs, sweet fruits and moreish softness. The Tempranillo 2005 was another nice wine full of sour cherry and earthy flavour. The Shiraz 2004 was savoury and peppery with dark fruits lingering in the background and nice clingy tannins. There were so many great things about visiting Samuel's Gorge; classy wine, an awesome location, fantastic views from the bathroom, but what impressed us the most was how welcome we felt. Justine made the driver coffee, kept filling up our tasting glasses, entertained us and was apologetic that he had to go (it was 5.30) and couldn't offer us a beer - a top bloke, a top location and top wine.
It was definitely time for a beer so we stopped at the Kangarilla Pub for a couple of quite ones. On returning to Adelaide we hit the awesome Wheatsheaf Hotel for lots of loud ones. Our exploration of the McLaren Vale was an absolutely fantastic day; good wines, good pies and a couple of great mates.

Visit the McLaren Vale website

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