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Wednesday 12 June 2013

Scarce Earth: McLaren Vale offers quality and variety

With a well-deserved reputation for producing some of Australia’s gutsy, most flavoursome red wines, McLaren Vale is the perfect day trip or weekend destination for anyone visiting Adelaide.

Drive just 45 minutes out of the South Australian state capital and you’ll discover 60 plus cellar doors and a genuine country welcome, along with some top-notch restaurants.

With its rich soils, warm climate and cooling sea breezes from the Gulf of St Vincent, McLaren Vale has been a premium winemaking region for almost two centuries and produces wines with power and flavour that usually offer excellent value for money.

There is a good choice of modern tasting facilities and small, quirky cellar doors where there is every chance you’ll be served by the owner, winemaker or viticulturist.

Many of the leading wineries here remain family owned and run, including names like Oliver’s Taranga, d’Arenberg (below), Coriole, Angove’s and Geoff Merrill.

While there are no luxury retreats, accommodation choices range from the popular McLaren Vale Motel and Apartments to cosy options like the Bellevue Bed and Breakfast and Red Poles. 

Wine lovers will have several names on their list including family-friendly Wirra Wirra which has a barbecue area and deck overlooking the vines; and historic d’Arenberg, which last year celebrated its 100th birthday.

Here the cellar door and the excellent d’Arry’s Verandah restaurant are housed in a 19th-century homestead with striking views – and tutored tastings are offered for a small fee.
In the recently renovated Stables Wine Immersion Centre, visitors are invited to explore the quirky labels, McLaren Vale geology, viticultural practices and winemaking philosophies.

Other favourites include Chapel Hill, with a huge range of individual-site wines, a cooking school and luxurious The Retreat accommodation facility; relative newcomer Angove’s with a state-of-the-art tasting room, cellar door and boutique function facility and the Shingleback in a beautifully renovated colonial building - the original barn of Aldersey Farm, built in the late 1800s and restored in 2003.

Also visit Coriole, pioneers of sangiovese in Australia, and producers of olive oils, olives and cheeses to enjoy a regional platter.
Small producers like Samuel’s Gorge, Kangarilla Road, Pertaringa, Primo Estate, Shottesbrooke, Oliver’s Taranga (below) and Battle of Bosworth are also worth seeking out, along with historic Hardy’s Tintara.

Other impressive labels include Chalk Hill, Dandelion Vineyards, Dowie Doole,  Alpha Box and Dice, Brash Higgins, Mitolo, Hugh Hamilton, Paxton, Hither & Yon  and Fox Creek.

The newest cellar door, only opened in late April, is Gemtree’s new sustainable facility overlooking their vineyards and wetlands.

There is also no shortage of places to eat with the second incarnation of The Elbow Room (below) hugely popular with locals. It can be found adjacent to the Shingleback cellar door.

Chef Nigel Rich, who spent eight years as co-head chef at the iconic d'Arry's Verandah, started at the Producers of McLaren Vale facility but now has more room to move and the new site has stunning views of newly planted vines and the surrounding hills of the Vale region. 
Fino is something of a Willunga institution and a favourite with local winemakers. Chef David Swain produces rustic, flavoursome dishes with a Mediterranean accent, concentrating on local produce, while d’Arry’s Verandah at d’Arenberg is consistently good with a vibrant atmosphere, great views and hearty portions.

Other favourite eateries include the Currant Shed, The Kitchen Door at Penny’s Hill and Mr Riggs cellars, the iconic Victory Hotel at Sellicks Beach; The Star of Greece, Woodstock Coterie and Red Poles.

The former Salopian Inn, more recently known as the Vale Inn Tap House, is under new ownership and reverting to a fine dining format.

One of McLaren Vale’s most innovative projects is the Scarce Earth program, now in its third year, which explores and celebrates the geolological, climatic and soil diversity throughout the region.

Driven by winemakers including Chester Osborn of d’Arenberg and Michael Fragos of Chapel Hill, Scarce Earth features single-site shirazes from all corners of the region; this time 23 different shirazes from the 2011 vintage that express their sense of place.
The new-release wines are available to taste and buy only at McLaren Vale cellar doors or the local visitors’ centre until August 1 when any that remain will be put on sale.

Scarce Earth highlights the region's best vineyards reaching their full expression through single site wines contrasted by the sub-regions and soil geology profiles they come from.

The Willunga Farmers’ Market, held ever Saturday, is also a great spot to sample local produce and rub shoulders with the artisans. The entire region is something of a foodies’ paradise with a wide range of boutique operators producing olive oils, venison, cheese, chocolates and other gourmet goodies.

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