McLaren Vale is another gorgeous region just off the sea with rolling hills, olive groves and, if it wasn’t for the odd kangaroo, you’d swear you were somewhere on the Mediterranean coast. Our first morning was a curated tour of significant and historic spots led by Justin McNamee of Samuel’s Gorge winery. Justin is insanely knowledgeable about his region and was the perfect one to introduce us to McLaren Vale. He took us to a lookout where we could grasp the technical points about the region – a hot, dry place (which can get heat spikes in the high 30s and low 40s from a bright and intense southern hemisphere sun), yet cooled by south breezes off the ocean – a very maritime influenced climate. The main viticultural hazard, more than anything, can be periods of extreme summer heat. The dryness of the region actually makes it a likely place to farm organically and some of the producers we met were either certified organic or generally farming that way. The soils are ancient yet incredibly varied; you see a lot of red clay over limestone, but there is also plenty of sand and basaltic rock. The hills don’t really get much higher than 200 meters. Justin, who has some of the higher plantings in the region, said in candid Australian fashion, “when anyone tells me that my winery is at an elevation, I find it humourous. In case you haven’t noticed, we’re on a huge, fucking flat island.”
Tasting wine at the old and very charming Samuel’s Gorge.
During the three nights we spent in McLaren Vale we tasted a lot of wine. Masterclasses in the region’s Grenache, Cabernet, obscure varieties, local whites, and Shiraz. Plus all the bottles we casually drank with lunch and dinner. The diversity was surprising and the quality of the wine we were exposed to was impressively high. Here are a few points I took away from the trip:
Samuel’s Gorge – these wines should really be in the BC market.
Grenache. Killer Grenache is being made in McLaren Vale, and it can be light on its feet – medium bodied with bright acidity and layers of savoury characters. It was a savior for those of us who don’t default to drinking full-throttle and full-bodied wines. Samuel’s Gorge is particularly exciting – we tasted a number of his wines out of barrel, including the 2011 Hammer Vineyard which was floral with lavender aromas and the most vivid pink peppercorns character I’ve ever encountered. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the prettiness and vibrancy of this wine – and these aren’t descriptors you consider when you think of McLaren Vale. Other Grenaches I thought were great were the S.C. Pannell ’10, Wirra Wirra ’10 Absconder, and particularly the Samuel’s Gorge ’10 ‘Cadenzia’.
Tasting whites at Angove
Oddities. There are cool vines planted in the ground that you wouldn’t expect and that are doing quite well. It’s in times like the current lull in the Australian wine industry when producers have the chance to play and experiment with less commercial vines. We tried a huge range of these from grapes like Sangiovese, Tempranillo, Touriga Nacional, Fiano, Zinfandel, Savagnin. They keep things interesting in the region. A handful of producers have Fiano planted and the 2011 example from Coriole was especially delicious – a fresh green nose with a creamy texture with almond and lemon. Both the ’10 Sangiovese and ’09 ‘Black St Peters’ Zinfandel from Kangarilla Road were both great. They also make a Jura style Savagnin called The Veil, complete with flor yeast aging for 6 months that I could drink every day.
Some of the wines from the Scarce Earth Project.
Scarce Earth Project. This is a consortium of producers who bottle single site Shiraz that fit into different sub-regions of McLaren Vale. The project is in its infancy still with only the ’09 and ’10 vintages having been released, yet the intention is in the right place. We tasted through twenty-two wines which have the branded, Scarce Earth band and the elevated quality is extremely high. Wines with too much oak influence or other skewing qualities, don’t pass the tasting panel (around 30% were rejected this year). A few of the sub-regions had tactile similarities, yet many varied and it seemed to come down more to differences in the hand of the winemaker and possibly vine age, but keep an eye out for the work they are doing.
Gratuitous beach, meal and bottle shots:
Fantastic lunch with Chester and D’Arry Osborne on the patio at D’Arenberg.
From Samuel’s Gorge
The Barn in McLaren Vale.
Dinner in the cellar at the Victory Hotel.
Old Shiraz from Chapel Hill.
Neville Rowe of Reynella, Tintara, Hardy’s.
My new favourite McLaren Vale producer: Battle of Bosworth. They farm organically and I enjoyed the 5 or 6 of their wines I tried including this non-sulphured Shiraz.