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]

The Perfect Match: Figs & Ricotta Salata

Black Mission Figs with Ricotta Salata
This is the first post of a new series called the Perfect Match. Periodically I’ll be sharing some great food & food pairings as well as food & wine suggestions. I think we all can agree that when you eat something amazing, and then find another food that perfectly complements it,  the result is crazy good. And for those even more rare occasions when you’re lucky enough to elevate that pairing to the next level with a phenomenal wine; the end result is off-the-charts good.

So is the food nirvana for me with fresh figs and Ricotta Salata. The earthiness,  sweetness and softness of the figs is nicely counter-balanced with the firm, salty tang of the Ricotta Salata. The best flavors of each are amplified when the two come together. Simply shave a few slices of cheese off the wedge and place on a fig half. Couldn’t be easier or more delicious! And with figs on the cusp of being in full-fledged season,  what better time to revel in these two gastronomically delightful delicacies.
black mission figs
First, a bit about figs. There are several varieties growing where I live:

Black Mission: these are the most popular commercially and one of my favorites. Deep purple to black with a bright pink flesh. The flavor is earthy, sweet-tart and the tannins from fruit enable it to be a very wine-friendly food.  This variety is available mid-May through November.

Brown Turkey: a lighter purple – black color and have a similar pink flesh on the interior. They have a more intense “figgy” flavor as compared to Black Mission and notes of hazelnuts in the finish. Brown Turkey’s are delicious fresh or dried. Almost ever-bearing, this variety is available mid-May through December.

Kadota: very pale yellow to green in color these are not as commonly seen commercially as their two darker counterparts. When the fig ripens, the skin turns a beautiful amber color and this particular variety is almost seedless, making it the ideal candidate for drying, canning, or jams.  The thick skin houses a light pink and sweet pulp. Limited window of availability June- October.

Calimyrna: Large and pale yellow skinned figs with a nutty, sweet flavor. These are typically eaten dried as their fig-flavor and sweetness intensifies as the pulp dehydrates. They have a very limited window of  availability from July through September, hence the propensity of this variety typically eaten dried. Read more about Figs in mission figs & ricotta salata
ricotta salata & black mission figs
Say hello to Ricotta Salata. This cheese is so good, yet so under-utilized. Made from Ricotta, it’s a pressed, salted, dried, and aged variety of the cheese. It is milky-white and firm, and used for grating or shaving. Originally from Sicily, Ricotta Salata is sold in wheels, decorated by a delicate basket-weave pattern. It’s typically used when you want to introduce a salty flavor to a pasta dish or salads (both greens and fruit based).  I personally love to nibble on this delicious sheep’s milk cheese with fresh figs (of course), cantaloupe, or crumble over a bowl of fresh strawberries drizzled with balsamic- yum!!

white wine in glass

Now to kick it up a notch: the wine pairing.

Whites: I recommend a Riesling, Champagne/Cava/Prosecco or Pinot Gris. For all of the above wines, you’ll want to find offerings of those varieties with a slight RS (wine-speak for residual sugar) to elevate the sweetness of the fig and off-set the acidity of the cheese. You could do a Late Harvest Semillon or Late Harvest Riesling, just be sure it isn’t too sweet or cloying as it will over power the pairing.

For the bubble lovers (like me!) I suggest a Spanish Cava (light, floral aromas, citrus notes on the palate). Look for a Brut Cava —that has 0-12 g/l residual sugar so it’s not sweet, but not totally “dry'” either. An Italian Prosecco made from the Glera grape has loads of fresh & bright aromatics, notes of stone fruit and flowers on the palate. These wines have become lower in sugar over time as compared to the Proseccos of yester-year,  but you’ll still find them a tad sweeter than traditional French Champagne.

If you choose a Pinot Gris, please be sure it’s an Alsatian style, not an Italian Pinot Grigio. A true Pinot Gris will have elements of spice notes and slight oak or neutral barrel aging to create a fuller mouth-feel. Italian Pinot Grigios (although made from the same Pinot Gris grape) are typically stainless steel fermented which yields a much tighter, astringent, less full-bodied wine and it will fight with the inherent acidity in the cheese.

red wine in glass

Reds: My ideal partner for this dish would be one of the red wines of Tuscany such as Sangiovese, Chianti and my all-time favorite, the heavy-hitting Brunello. But for this pairing Sangiovese is probably the best match as the grape has a naturally higher acidity level than other red varietals, making it a good foil to the sweetness of the fig and saltiness of the cheese.

Another fabulous pairing would be the Tuscan-exclusive Vin Santo. This is a wonderful dessert wine made from dried Trebbiano and Malvasia Bianca grapes. It dates back to the Renaissance days where it was used as a sacramental sweet wine. This nutty-tasting elixir is similar to a sherry in aromatics and viscosity and will vary in levels of sweetness, depending on the mix of grapes used and the producer. It’s meant to be consumed with Cantucci , a heavenly biscotti-like biscuit with almonds for dunking in the wine.

Final thought: do try this pairing of figs and Ricotta Salata and you will have a new found appreciation for them both. And perhaps give one of the recommended wines a whirl & swirl as well. Then let me know what your Perfect Match is. Cheers!

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