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]

Aussie Wine Adventures- McLaren Vale (Part 2)

DSC_0117-1Here’s Part 2 of my adventures in McLaren Vale, South Australia. We had such a fun day packed with wine tastings, barrel samplings, great food, amazing vistas of the countryside….  there was simply too much to feature in one post. Read the complete first post McLaren Vale Part 1 here. To catch you up: after connecting with Tony and Anthony at De Lisio Wines, drinking Sparkling Shiraz at Lloyd Brothers, and relaxing with Rosé & tapas at S.C. Pannell Wines, we still had a couple more places we wanted to visit. So next stop: Yangarra Estate Vineyard.
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Whilst visiting dear friends in Adelaide, we had enjoyed a bottle of the Yangarra Roussane  (and well, maybe a bottle of the Viognier too) a couple nights before our excursion to wine country. So we knew this winery was on our list to visit whilst in McLaren Vale. This stop was towards the end of a long day of tasting, but no matter, we fought on so we could experience the unique portfolio of Yangarra wines. Wasn’t that hard really, we had more wine waiting for us! This winery is part of the Jackson Family Wines portfolio (Kendall-Jackson,  La Crema, Arrowood, etc) so I was curious to see how the US-based company influenced the winemaking style of this historic Australian winery.
Yangarra focuses solely on Rhône-style varietals which are grown on the 420-acre estate through a commitment of sustainable vineyard & winemaking practices. In fact, all the wines from vintage 2012 forward are certified organic and bio-dynamic.  It was a treat to experience their Roussanne again (delicious!), Mourvèdre, Grenache and Shiraz. They host their tastings salon-style (seated) and our friendly cellar door hostess gave us winemaking and growing facts as we sipped through the range of estate wines.
Here’s what we tasted:
2014 Yangarra Estate Roussanne– captures the classic characteristics of this steely white varietal. Loads of stone fruit on the nose and mid-palate with a wonderful slate & wet stone finish. Great balance of lush fruit with austerity. Nice hommage to this white Rhône grape.

2013 Yangarra Estate Mourvèdre- this wine definitely reflects its terroir with the overt earthiness and bold fruit on the nose. The palate was intense with rich, dark fruit and the tannins were quite pronounced. Not necessarily my cup of tea as far as wine styles go, but this bottling would be a good choice with a hearty braised meat dish or game. It’s a big wine so it needs big food to complement it.

2012 Yangarra Estate Shiraz– this was a nice wine. Very much in keeping with the regional style of Shiraz, but slightly more earthy. I think this is in large part due to the concentration of estate fruit, the organic vineyards and hands-on approach of winemaking. It showed a nice floral component on the nose and opened up into deep, berry flavors on the palate. Finishes with firm, but not offensive tannins.

To visit:
Cellar door is open 10am – 5pm, 7 days a week.
Address: 809 Kangarilla Rd, Kangarilla SA 5171
Phone: +618 8383 7459 | Fax: +618 8383 7518

Last stop of the day found us catching up with Anthony again at the De Lisio’s barrel aging cellar. We had the opportunity to taste some beautiful wines in barrel. Grenache blends, Cabernet, Merlot…you name it. Some of the wines were still aging on the lees and wouldn’t be finished for a few months yet, whilst others were completed and about to go into bottle very soon. What a treat to have a private tasting with the winemaker!
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Phew, that’s a lot of tasting, but what a fabulous outing in one of the world’s premier wine growing regions. How do you finish up a day like that? How about with some more wine! Back in Adelaide we feasted on a homemade pizza of sopressetta, mozzarella, sun dried tomatoes, artichokes, and paired it with a 2011 E. Guigal Côtes du Rhône Red. Can’t think of a better way to end the day!!

Aussie Wine Adventures- McLaren Vale (Part 1)

DSC_0074-1A glass of Rosé in hand, a platter of local tapas sprawled across the table, rolling hills of vineyards in full leaf behind me, and sunshine warming every toe. No, this is not a daydream of a trip to Spain. This is right here, right now— which happens to be summertime in the gorgeous wine region of McLaren Vale in South Australia. DSC_0025-1[Shiraz grapes (Syrah) in McLaren Vale, South Australia]

I’m thrilled to have just visited McLaren Vale again to reconnect with some favorite producers and seek out new gems.  Over a long weekend, I visited two of my favorite wine areas in SA– McLaren Vale and Clare Valley.  We had a very full day in McLaren Vale so thought I’d break up the post into two parts as there’s so much to share. All the highlights of Clare Valley will be featured in an upcoming post as well.
DSC_0044-1 [vineyards in McLaren Vale, South Australia]

McLaren Vale wine region or GI (Geographic Indication as it’s known in Australia) is bordered on three sides with Adelaide to the north, the Mt. Lofty Ranges to east and south, and the Gulf of St. Vincent to the west. This close proximity to the coast offers cooling breezes and moderate wind in the afternoons , helping to cool what is considered a warmer growing region. Known for its bold Shiraz (Syrah), fruit-forward Grenache, hearty Cabernet Sauvignon and unique red blends like GSMs (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre), the region has begun to explore and cultivate Spanish and Italian varietals too such as Barbara, Tempranillo, Nebbiolo, and Fiano. The diversity in climate is very similar to that of the Mediterranean,  so these food-friendly varietals are a natural extension of the extreme food & wine culture that South Australia has become synonymous with. We started our day with winemaker & grower Tony De Lisio and his son Anthony (also now a winemaker) at their new micro production cellar.
When we arrived, he was organizing the barrel and tank room in preparation for “vintage” or harvest as we know it in the states. Tony is probably best known for his De Lisio Wines featuring Quarterback Red, a four-red blend of Shiraz (Syrah), Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Grenache. Tony also crafted the La Testa wines under the Classic McLaren label for many years.  If you ever get your hands on some of his earlier bottlings of La Testa (from the 2000’s), be ready for a treat. I’m fortunate to have been introduced to his wines over a decade ago, and his consistency in winemaking truly creates a must-drink for anyone wanting to experience the terroir of McLaren Vale region in a glass.
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Next stop was Lloyd Brothers Wine & Olive Company.
We sampled their range of wines from the Estate Series and took in the beautiful views of the property. I had visited here many years before when their Alpacas were out in front of the winery,  so we were hoping to see them again. But today, a large collection of Kalamata olive trees sits in their place with olive & oil production now a major focus of their business.
Inside the cellar door you can sample the olives and oils, shop their gifts and foods section, or relax on the back patio with a glass of wine. Oh, and the Alpacas are still there….. they’ve just moved to the back paddock where it’s more secure—guess they had escaped out the front one too many times!
My favorites from the tasting were:
2014 Lloyd Brothers Sauvignon Blanc– crisp, citrusy, and loaded with all the traditional Sauv Blanc flavors. The estate grown fruit comes from their Adelaide Hills vineyard (cool climate) and showcases the fresh, clean style of this wine.

2014 Lloyd Brothers Grenache Rosé- made from Grenache grapes like many of the Rosés in McLaren Vale, this one offered a nice fruit-forward nose and palate, keeping the dry, crisp flavors of a traditionally crafted Rosé wine.  Hints of soft red fruits and spice on the finish. Perfect drop for a summer picnic lunch!

2014 Lloyd Brother Sparkling Shiraz– Living here in Northern California, I don’t often get to indulge in Sparkling Shiraz, so whenever I see one, I have to try it. This was a nicely crafted bottle with fragrant aromas of violets and blue fruits on the nose. Darker berry fruits and fine bubbles filled the mid-palate completed by a lingering finish of baking spice.

To visit:
34 Warner’s Road (PO Box 399)
McLaren Vale, SA, 5171
Open 11am-5pm | 7 Days a Week
Ph: 08 8323 8792 | Email:

Tapas and wine tasting at S.C. Pannell Wines
This was a fabulous lunch stop with a newer—and very busy cellar door & tapas patio that overlooked McLaren Vale. The wines are crafted by highly respected veteran of the wine industry, Stephen Pannell. The family-run winery focuses on classic McLaren Vale grape blends of Grenache and Syrah as well as small lot productions of Spanish and Italian varietals grown from environmentally sustainable vineyards in McLaren Vale, Barossa, and Adelaide Hills.
Stephen’s influence of his time in Barolo is evident throughout the selection of Mediterranean varietal wines, making their offerings fresh and new. Here are the standouts:

2014 S.C. Pannell Pinot Grigio– aromatics of lime & lemon zest with tropical fruit on the palate. Finishes crisp and clean with a good balance of fruit and acidity.

2013 S.C. Pannell Arido Rosé Nebbiolo– this was my favorite of the wines we tasted and is now sold out. And I can completely understand why as the beautiful pale pink color was perfumed with notes strawberries and roses. The palate was an expert balance of lush fruit and acidity, with a slight hint of dust and slate from the Nebbiolo grape. It was a perfect pairing for the amazing tapas we enjoyed that afternoon.

S.C. Pannell Touriga Nacional– this was the second favorite amongst the group. Deep in color and fragrant with blueberry and blackberry, this wine opened up to earth and spice enhanced by a velvety texture. Dusty notes of plum and and cacao carried the long finish.

2013 S.C. Pannell Tempranillo Touriga– with the warm day time temps and coastal influences in McLaren Vale being similar to that of southwestern Spain, it’s no wonder that so many winemakers are making a move towards Mediterranean varietals in their vineyards. This particularly good red blend opened with heady floral notes of baked plum and spice followed by a weighty mid-palate of earth, cocoa powder and more black fruits. The finish was bold and dry. Definitely a great candidate for cellaring as the strong core of the wine will hold up and only improve over time.

This winery is a must-see for the views alone, not to mention the wine tasting & incredible food. Just be sure to arrive between 12-3pm so you don’t miss out on summer tapas on the back deck. And by the way, we polished off two orders of the potatoes–yes, they were that good!
lunch at sc pannel-1[clockwise: Fried Halumi with Pistachio Pesto, Patatas Bravas with Spicy Tomato Sauce, Bucket Of Prawns with Cocktail Sauce & Aoili, Pulled Pork Sliders with Apple & Cabbage Slaw. Above photo courtesy Ian Goldschmidt]
DSC_0052-1To visit:
Tapas menu available Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 12pm
60 Olivers Road, McLaren Vale (look for the bright red sign)

Open 7 days, 11am to 5pm. Extended hours on Fridays through to 8pm.
For enquiries and group bookings please call (08) 8323 8000.

We’re not done yet. There’s still two more winery visits to go, but more on that in McLaren Vale Part 2…….coming soon!