Mother Nature clearly has a soft spot for McLaren Vale and delivers the region growing conditions that others can only envy. Written by Nick Ryan. McLaren Vale’s famed consistency would become a base commodity if tarnished by complacency but the region’s best producers continue to innovate and inspire others to constantly push for quality.
There’s a very natural matter-of-factness to the winemaking in the Vale. It comes from really knowing what you’re doing and having got it right over a long period of time. In McLaren Vale the show-offs only come out after hours.
While the Vale can make some pretty snappy whites, the region’s reds will really float your boat. It’s great shiraz country, good for grenache too, and the wines that best express a sense of the place are those showing opulence without exaggerated richness, power without brute force and structure and length without pulling the tongue out of your head with a rough rope of tannin.
McLaren Vale is also a great mix of the old and the new, where the great established names work alongside an emerging generation of young turks. All share the same singular vision; to make bloody good wine in one of the most naturally blessed places on earth.
"the wines that best express a sense of the place
are those showing opulence without exaggerated richness,
power without brute force
and structure and length without
pulling the tongue out of your head with a rough rope of tannin."
A crucial thing to consider when heading to the Vale is how you’ll be affected by the planet’s dumbest piece of public infrastructure – the world’s only one-way freeway.
Basically this means if you leave Adelaide in the morning it will be closed as commuters coming up from the south take priority over you. You’ll be stuck negotiating the old congested South Road. Wait till mid-morning before heading for the Vale. Not only will the drive be a good 30-minutes shorter, you’ll have a better excuse to stay overnight.
There are several things I consider essential for getting the true McLaren Vale experience.
You must tick off a list of cellar door visits that include; Coriole, Oliver’s Taranga, Wirra Wirra, Primo Estate, Gemtree, Penny’s Hill and Maxwell.
Lunch at d’Arenberg’s d’Arry’s Verandah Restaurant, dinner at Fino (Saturdays only) and a beer at the legendary Victory Hotel. The view out over the gulf is almost as good as the view inside of publican Doug Govan’s enviable cellar.
Try to time your visit to include a Friday or Saturday night and book a table well in advance at Russell’s in Willunga. Russell’s is a local institution that has grown around wood-oven guru, Russell Jeavons. This place feels more like a backyard barbecue than a restaurant, with tables scattered through out the old stone cottage and its garden. Riotous dancing fires up in the shed out the back. Bring a bottle or four of something special and join the fun.
But for perhaps the perfect McLaren Vale experience head for Samuel’s Gorge, where the quixotic Justin MacNamee makes some cracking wines in old fashioned ways among beautiful old buildings. Pull up a pew outside, a glass in hand, gaze out over the gorge and through to the sea and consider how lucky these bastards are to live here and wonder why the hell you aren’t too.
d’Arry’s Verandah Restaurant //
Osborn Road, McLaren Vale (08) 8329 4848
8 Hill Street, Willunga (08) 8556 4488
Russel’s in Willunga //
13 High Street, Willunga (08) 8556 2571