South Australia’s wine regions cater to all tastes – from its robust shiraz to aromatic whites and experimental drops aged in buried amphorae.
Hundreds of wineries across the state make every imaginable type of wine, and cellar doors these days do far more than just sell the finished product. Visitors can find a growing range of unique experiences on offer alongside the wine: here are six of the best.
1. The Home Of Grange
Penfolds Magill Estate is more than just the spiritual home of Australia’s most famous wine. The original winery on the edge of the Adelaide foothills has a 175-year history, and it was there that pioneering chief winemaker Max Schubert began experimenting with a new red blend in the 1950s. Initially, the new red was so poorly received by critics and the public that Schubert was ordered to stop production. Instead, he continued to make Grange in secret, hiding several new vintages in the depths of the cellars until management saw the wine’s potential.
The Ultimate Penfolds Experience lets you tour the original working winery and famous bluestone cellars, including the otherwise unremarkable cupboard where Schubert hid his forbidden fruit. And most importantly, you can then retire to a private tasting room to sample a range of Penfolds’ super-premium wines, including the iconic Grange.
2. A Surreal Degustation
The five-story d’Arenberg Cube is the most eye-catching building in McLaren Vale, and the views out over the lush Lofty Ranges and cliff-ringed beaches of the Fleurieu are worth the trip alone. Amazingly, what’s inside is even more memorable. Shockingly bright harlequin-covered chairs and lurid artworks are just a hint of what awaits in the Cube restaurant.
The chefs’ mission is to engage the imagination and challenge convention, and they succeed abundantly at their task. Fusing Heston-style molecular gastronomy with Lewis Carroll’s creativity, some of the offerings include “coals” of barramundi and vegemite, sherbet that’s sucked off a mirror through a rolled hundred dollar bill and 3D printed dishes. In comparison, the Dali exhibition being displayed on the grounds looks downright conventional. Whether you think it’s unfiltered madness or pure inspiration, it’s impossible to deny that the result is one of the most memorable meals in the country.
3. Tawny Time Capsules
If Chester Osborn at d’Arenberg is the wine world’s mad hatter, Warren Randall must surely be its master perfumier The olfactory wizard has created a sensory paradise at his Seppeltsfield complex in the heart of the Barossa.
The soothing scent of olive oil soap at Vasse Virgin is enhanced by hints of sandalwood and essential oils, while the kitchen at Fino Seppeltsfield is responsible for a range of tantalising aromas. But entering the Centennial Cellar is like ascending to a loftier plane. Walk into this magical space and you’re immediately be engulfed by a warm cloud of toffee and almonds. This is the angel’s share of barrels representing every vintage of tawny dating back to 1878, a collection that is unrivalled anywhere in the world. You can only enter on a guided tour and, fortunately, all of them include at least one tasting. Taste your birth year direct from the barrel, sample a 100-year-old tawny or embark on the ultimate choose-your-own-adventure with This Is Your Life, a selection of five vintages that can go back as far as 1902.
4. Be A Winemaker For A Day
Plenty of wineries allow you to blend your own wine, but Coonawarra’s Raïdis Estate goes one step further and gives you control over every step of the process. Each vintage, a select few wine enthusiasts gather at the friendly-family winery and help to make that season’s Kefi. And they’re in charge of everything, from picking the grapes to deciding what kind of oak and fermentation method to use (with a little guidance from the winemakers).
The day begins with a strong Greek coffee before you head out to pluck grapes directly from the vine. After crushing the fruit, the hard work is done and you can indulge in an elaborate Greek feast accompanied by plenty of Raïdis back vintages. Then you can sit back and wait for updates on how the wine is progressing and, once it’s ready to be released, you’ll receive a bottle in the post so you can see just how well you did.
5. Learn From The Best
The Adelaide Hills is the land of the long lunch, and few are more satisfying than Shaw + Smith’s. Perched above a beautiful lake near Balhannah, the cellar door is one of the most picturesque in the region, and the views from the vineyards are even better. After beginning the Friday Table experience with a walk through the vines, venture behind the scenes of the winery with a tour through the barrel halls and fermentation rooms as you learn the craft of winemaking and sample wines in various stages of maturation.
Retire to a private room for a guided tasting of some limited edition single site wines and sit down to a meal where each of the courses is paired with two vintages for side-by-side comparison. Shaw + Smith is the only winery in Australia that’s home to two Masters of Wine, and you can see if some of their expertise has rubbed off on you by finishing with a blind tasting opposite one of the winery’s top guns.
6. The Ultimate Cellar Door
You won’t find a more convenient vineyard than the one at the National Wine Centre of Australia, in the Adelaide CBD. Seven varieties are grown here, but they’re mostly for educational purposes and the 120 wines on offer in Australia’s largest tasting room represent all 65 wine regions around the country.
That means there’s something to suit every taste and budget on offer from the Enomatic dispensers (which represent a small selection from the 18,000-bottle cellar). If the choice is overwhelming and you need a little assistance, ask one of the centre’s sommeliers to take you on a tour followed by a master class that takes you to any wine region in the country.