Aussie Wine Adventures- Clare Valley

drive home from clare-1
For my final Aussie Wine Adventures post, I think I saved the best for last. Clare Valley. This has to be one of my favorite wine regions in Australia. Since first visiting in 2003, I’ve had the pleasure of returning several times to the wineries that made such a big impression on me all those years ago. Sevenhill Cellars and Mount Horrocks Wines are places which I absolutely treasure. We spent most of our time that day in the Clare visiting both wineries. Leisurely tasting, wandering the vineyards and grounds, and enjoying the beautiful valley.

But first, a little about this wine GI (Geographic Indication or Appellation as we would know it in the states). Clare Valley is situated about 80 miles north of Adelaide. This valley is known for its exceptional Rieslings and now getting world-recognition as well for its Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz. The long valley receives a good winter and spring rain and at 400 meters above sea level, its elevation ensures cooler nights, which is critical for the consistent ripening of the cool-climate varietals like Riesling.

For outdoor and food enthusiasts, this place has it all. For cyclists, there are several cycling trails, with The Riesling Trail probably being the most well known. It’s a fairly easy route and you can dine and wine taste along the way. For foodies, the Clare Valley Gourmet Weekend in May is a top event. I’ve been to it in the past, and it’s a great way to become acquainted with all the wineries in the valley. Especially the smaller cult producers who are typically by appointment only or closed to the public…they’re pretty much all open for this big weekend.

Stop 1: the iconic Mount Horrocks Wines in Auburn, the lower part of the Clare Valley. We visited this winery at the start of our day and for some reason, I didn’t take any photos here this trip. Think I was more focused on the wines! So here’s a shot from my first visit in 2003 using an old point n shoot camera.

The cellar door is small, but its wines are mighty. They limit their production to 3,500 cases annually to ensure ultra-premium quality and it’s well worth a visit to the cellar door to taste. They produce only six varietals (we tasted five that day) from their organic vineyards…and each wine is spectacularly crafted by Stephanie Toole, Proprietor and Winemaker.  Stephanie purchased the winery in 1993 and after substantial renovations, opened the cellar door in 1998.

Mount Horrocks Wines garner awards and acclaim world-wide and coming back to taste again is always a wonderful experience. I love all of their wines. My favorites:

2014 Mount Horrocks Watervale Riesling– one of the best Rieslings you will taste in the Clare, if not Australia. Fragrant on the nose with honeysuckle and citrus notes, the palate is a well-executed balance of tropical fruit, lime zest and acidity. The finish is clean and goes on and on. I’ve enjoyed older vintages of this wine before, so don’t be afraid to let it cellar. It will only become more beautiful with age.

2012 Mount Horrocks Clare Valley Cabernet Sauvignon– a really nice expression of cool-climate fruit from the Clare Valley. This is my kind of Cab! I loved the herbal notes (mint, eucalyptus) and rich cocoa notes (dark chocolate) that you get from this style of Cabernet. The tannins were structured but soft and elegant on the finish. Age this for 10-15 years for a real treat!

2012 Mount Horrocks Shiraz– we tasted the last of this vintage, it’s now sold out. The 2013 has just been released. Get some. It will be amazing. For the 2012, the color was deep purple and dark berry aromas invited me into the glass. Red fruits like raspberry & cherry greeted next, followed by a round and full mouth-feel on the palate. The tannins were present but well-integrated. Again, this is one that can certainly age. Drink for the next 5-7 years easily.

2014 Mount Horrocks Cordon Cut Riesling– this wine has a huge cult following—and for a darn good reason. It’s stunning. I’m not a huge dessert wine fan, but this is so well crafted and delicate, that all I wanted to do is just take in the aromas from the glass. Yep, just swirl & sniff and swirl & sniff again. For like five minutes. It’s that good. But when I did take a sip, all the typical and wonderful aromas of Riesling came to the front of the wine. Then it opened into a spiced, citrus-kissed liquid amber that grew and grew the more it was on the palate. Think Foie Gras if serving this as an aperitif, or with a ginger & apple tart perhaps for dessert.

To visit:
Cellar Door is open every weekend and public holidays from 10am to 5pm.
The Old Railway Station, Curling Street , Auburn SA 5451
Telephone: 61 8 8849 2202
The Station also makes an ideal small function venue – for product launches or birthdays

DSC_0017-2Stop 2: Sevenhill Cellars. It’s a must-see winery for anyone visiting this area. This is the oldest winery in Clare Valley (est. 1851) and was founded, and still run today, by Austrian Jesuits from Europe.  Sevenhill Cellars (named after the Seven Hill District in Rome) has a long and fascinating history. The cellars & winery were excavated by hand and the buildings constructed from stone quarried on site. There have only been seven Jesuit winemakers since its founding, most recent of whom is Jesuit Winemaker Emeritus Brother John May, SJ, who works closely with the winery team today to craft five ranges of wines including fortifieds. All the wines were very nice and my favorite happened to be the Fine Old Tawny (did I say I didn’t like dessert wines- hmm, need to rethink that). The rest of the group really enjoyed the 2009 Brother John May Reserve Release and the Saints range as well.

I highly recommend one of their guided tours as you’ll learn so much about the winery’s past and former charitable works, along with a good understanding of how the Clare Valley wine region became established. Check their website for tour availability. Otherwise, take yourself on a self-guided tour through the underground cellars, immense manicured lawns, the gardens of the College Building, St. Aloysius’ Church and parish crypt, plus the other many spiritual sites over the 100 acres.
DSC_0024-2   DSC_0018-2[Inigo range of single-varietal wines honors St.Ignatius, the Jesuit’s founder]

DSC_0011-2   DSC_0015-2  [the Saints range are small lot blends. The Single-Vineyard Riesling honors St. Francis Xavier, missionary in Asia]

In the gardens:
The Gardens at Sevenhill CellarsPistachio Tree
[Pistachio Tree]

The College & Saint Aloysius Church
The College at Sevenhill
    Saint Aloysius Church at Sevenhill

Cemetary and Vineyards at Sevenhill

Saint Aloysius Church
To visit:
Cellar Door open daily 10am – 5pm. Closed Christmas Day, Boxing Day, New Year’s Day, Good Friday and Easter Sunday
Address: College Road, Sevenhill, South Australia 5453
Telephone: 61 8 8843 4222

So that’s the last of my wine adventures in Australia……for now at least!  :(
Hope you’ve been inspired to add McLaren Vale & Clare Valley wine regions to your bucket list. Just go, you won’t be disappointed.


[header photo courtesy Ian Goldschmidt]

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