McLaren Vale is a small down that is booming with food and wine culture. The main street is lined with restaurants, cafes and gourmet stores with olives, nuts and other local delights available for sampling. It is very commercial and quite busy during the day but once the cellar doors shut, the only places left are the pubs and restaurants. The fare is quite expensive, so make sure you have your wad of cash with you.
If you’re looking for a good coffee, check out Koffee N Snax. They’re open from 6am, which is great for the early birds, and they make a decent coffee that tastes good. The staff are really friendly and whatever food they sell smells great.
The Almond Train is another feature of the McLaren Vale – an old train carriage that has been converted into a charming shop full of gourmet delights, including Australia’s largest range of tasty almonds. There are toffee almonds, tiramisu almonds, chilli and smokehouse, as well as lime and chilli, red sugar and salt and vinegar. They also sell olive oil, chutneys, chocolates, sauces and sweets. If you need stuff to fill a gift basket, this is the place for you. Stop by for some free tasting that will get your juices flowing.
Of course, that’s not the real reason why one would visit McLaren Vale, unless they really loved almonds or olives. The real reason for the visit is for the WINE! McLaren Vale is famous for its Shiraz wines and has approximately 120 wineries stuffed into a small area, making it possibly the densest wine region in the country! We only had two days to hang about so we were selective and tried to include a unique range of wines, beers and other creations that were on offer.
What a fabulous place! As soon as you walk in, there is an air of welcome and everyone was extremely friendly. The vineyard was established in 1840 by English immigrants William Colton and Charles Hewett, who landed in Adelaide in 1839. Around 120 years later, the Scarpantoni brothers were born and raised on the Oxenberry Farm property. Once they were old enough, they purchased the part of the farm that they grew up on. The Oxenberry range exhibits over a century of wine making experience within the Scarpantoni family.
It would have been great to visit the Scarpantoni Cellar Door, but we didn’t have time and we were very happy with the goods presented at Oxenberry Farm. Here are the notes on our favourites:
- Grapple – grape and apple cider! They had both white and red varieties – the white is made from Chardonnay grapes and had a delightful sweetness while still being fizzy and crisp, while the red is made with Gamay grapes and is slightly drier than the white.
- 2008 The Sermon Tree Pinot Grigio – a pale yellow wine with a slight citrus smell, it tasted nutty, like almonds, and had a mineral finish with a twist of citrus.
- 2010 The Two Tribes Shiraz Grenache – rich scent of dark chocolate with an entry that blossomed with pepper and black forest fruits.
- Farmgate White – an easy to drink wine full of white nectarine and citrus
- Farmgate Sparkling Red – fruity and light, a perfect red to drink on a hot day. It was bubbly and refreshing, and we left with a bottle.
- The Right Nut Liqueur Muscat – a rich sweet smell that was followed by a thick and sweet entry that hinted spice and smoky, roasted nuts. The finish was soaked in coffee and honey.
Dennis Wines & Mead
This winery began when Egerton Dennis returned from serving in the RAAF in 1947. For over 20 years, he developed his wines and released the Dennis Wines label in 1971. Not long afterwards, the winery pioneered the production of mead in the Vale, the oldest alcoholic beverage in recorded history that is made from fermented honey.
Since its establishment, Dennis Wines has picked up over 200 medals and awards at numerous wine shows and produces a variety of reds, whites, ports and mead. Here are the notes for our favourites:
- 2005 Grenache – rich red colour with smells of sweet cherry and dark chocolate. The entry was juicy and spicy with a gentle kick of oak and mint. The aftertaste was fantastic.
- Old Tawny Port – made with 50 year old grapes, it was light and reddish with a beautifully sweet smell. The entry was headlined with coffee and toffee while the aftertaste was full of honeyed nut, a rancio characteristic that shows the port has been aged well.
- Spiced Mead – this naturally fermented honey wine smelt of cloves, cinnamon and apple pie. The entry was very smooth, like apple juice and the flavours included pear with an orange peel finish. You can serve it chilled on a hot day or stick it in the microwave for a warm nightcap.
One of the oldest wineries in McLaren Vale, its origins date back to 1861 when Dr. Alexander Kelly, a Scottish surgeon who migrated to Adelaide in 1840, planted some vines in an area that was mainly used to grow wheat. In the 1870s, Thomas Hardy stepped in to acquire the land and brand from Dr. Kelly, so the Tintara label sits under the Hardy Wine Company umbrella.
- 2010 D651 Chardonnay – a medium-bodied white with toasty vanillan oak on the nose with a smooth creamy entry with a citrus bite.
- 2011 Nottage Hill Merlot – smelt dry and musty but had a deliciously juicy entry with lots of dark berry flavours and a sweet, succulent finish.
- 2009 Tintara McLaren Vale Shiraz – rich red with tints of magenta, there were scents of rose and current. The entry was wonderfully smooth and silky with a peppery bloom before the velvet finish that tasted of chocolate.
The story about Gemtree started just over 30 years ago when a courageous couple decided to risk it all and buy a vineyard. It took almost 20 years to set up the label, and with their daughter becoming a viticulturist and joining the family business, their first wines were released in 1998. Over the last 15 years, Gemtree has grown to 330 acres of wine-yielding land and they are currently working the Gemtree Wetlands in partnership with Greening Australia to create a biodiverse haven for plants and wildlife.
We tried six of their wines and these two were our favourites:
- 2012 Moonstone Savagnin – pale straw with a light green tinge, it smelt buttery but had a crisp, light entry that was refreshingly citrus.
- 2010 Uncut Shiraz – a buttery entry that blossomed with earthiness and mulberries with a juicy finish that was slightly velvety.
This cellar door not only offers wine tasting but also beer tasting paddles! We chose to try everything and here are our notes of the best ones (in our opinion)…
- Sparkling Red – this wine is made with Shiraz grapes and had a beautiful ruby red colour with the smell of sweet raspberries. While the entry was a little peppery, it was refreshing, juicy and the Shiraz grapes keep the sickly sweetness at bay.
- 2012 Sauvignon Blanc – a very pale wine with barely any colour, it smelt of stone fruits and passionfruit. It was deliciously smooth with a citrus, mineral finish.
- 2010 Cabernet – a rich garnet colour that smelt of sour cream and sweet chilli crisps! It had a slightly dry entry with a peppery finish that encouraged salivation.
- Tokay – rich amber hues with a strong smell of spirits, it was thicker than their Muscat, more powerful with toffee and honey flavours and a chocolate sauce finish.
The paddle included a wheat beer, IPA, dark ale, ginger beer and 50/50.
- Wheat Beer – 5.2% bubbly, clean and refreshing, mildly fruity with a little yeast. Very easy to drink.
- IPA – 7.4% honey coloured, syrupy with no bitterness and much more pleasant to drink than most other IPAs. Dave was surprised to enjoy this beer.
- Dark Ale – 8.8% toffee and coffee with a creamy texture and coffee aftertaste.
- Ginger Beer – 5.2% smooth and refreshing, despite being VERY sweet. It had a silky entry with minimal fizz.
- 50/50 – 5.2% half ginger beer, half wheat beer. It was sweet and refreshing from the ginger beer but the sweetness was subdued by the wheat beer.
We were curious about the beers available in McLaren Vale so we set off on foot to Goodieson Brewery, a young establishment run by a couple influenced by German and Austrian beer. There were five beers available for tasting and here are our notes on our favourites:
- Pale Ale – cloudy like unfiltered apple juice with a crisp and fruity taste. It was light and mild, slightly bitter with a hint of malt and spice.
- Pilsner – clear, golden liquid made with pale and crystal malt to give it a medium-bodied flavour that was mild, a little bitter and long lasting.
- Wheat Beer – cloudy and light yellow, it was sweet and fruity with cloves, honey and fermented banana.
- Christmas Ale – a rich, dark coloured beer made with roasted malt, they put a muslin cloth full of spices into the mix to produce a wine full of cinnamon, cloves, orange rind, honey and ginger.
What a whirlwind! So many wineries and breweries, so little time! We tried our best to visit as many as we could but the days were hot and the more we sampled, the slower we became. In the end, we were happy with what we accomplished in this busy and dynamic wine region.