Drive out of Adelaide in almost any direction and before too long you’ll find yourself among the vines.
South Australia produces half of Australia’s wine and three quarters of its premium drops, and the wine regions clustered around Adelaide are some of the country’s best.
Here’s a guide to Adelaide’s wine regions and what you need to know before heading out to explore.
The Barossa Valley is by far Australia’s most famous wine region, and one of its most historic. Grapes were first planted here in 1842 and today swathes of these same gnarled old vines are a dramatic feature of the landscape. Early Silesian settlers also left their mark in other ways and the German heritage is still visible in the fantastic bakeries and smallgoods producers to be found in the valley.
Warm days on the valley floor make for robust wines and the region is most famous for big, bold reds. Rich, velvety shiraz is the hero varietal and the most famous is Henschke’s Hill of Grace. Also try Kellermeister’s Wild Witch shiraz, which was recently named the best in the world (London Wine Competition, 2019).
For amazing fortifieds, make Seppeltsfield your first port of call. Down in the Centennial Cellar there’s an unbroken line of deliciously sweet tawny vintages stretching back well over a century. Book a tour of the cellar combined with lunch at in-house eatery Fino.
Long overshadowed by the Barossa, McLaren Vale has come into its own in the past decade. Ringed by rolling hills and brilliant sandy beaches, it’s an absurdly beautiful wine region — and one of Australia’s greenest, thanks to the many biodynamic and organic vineyards that operate here. There’s plenty of variation in the soil and climate throughout the Vale and this is mirrored in the myriad wine styles produced. Mediterranean varietals, including fiano, verdelho, sangiovese and barbera, do particularly well, alongside more traditional French varietals like grenache and shiraz.
In addition to wine, McLaren Vale is a hotbed of artistic and culinary talent. Experience all three at the iconic d’Arenberg Cube. Then do a combined olive and wine tasting at Coriole, where the cellar door is perched on a hill with stunning views over the country’s first fiano plantings.
To see the future of Australian wine, pop into Yangarra Estate. Here, careful land management is yielding exquisite wines that have won just about every award going.
As the name suggests, the Adelaide Hills is South Australia’s highest elevation wine region. Although just 20 minutes’ drive from the city, the lush, leafy region is notably cooler and wetter than the Adelaide plains and well-suited to agriculture. Winding roads lead you through a patchwork of farmland, picturesque vineyards, lakes and valleys. It feels seductively secluded, without being too isolated. Sadly, recent bushfires have affected around one third of the region’s vineyards, but almost all cellar doors are open.
The Hills’ cool climate wines are quite different to other South Australian offerings, with crisp sauvignon blanc, elegant chardonnay and smooth pinot noir predominating. The last two often find their way into sparkling wines and some of the best can be sampled at Deviation Road. At Shaw + Smith you can pair delightfully complex wines with local cheeses, and Ashton Hills has been leading the way for Australian pinot for decades.
The first vine plantings in the Clare Valley were for sacramental wine, and almost 170 years later Sevenhill is still supplying religious institutions. Fortunately, plenty of table wine also comes out of this small but scenic valley two hours’ drive north of Adelaide. Charming cellar doors are clustered together and you can cycle between them on the Riesling Trail. It runs the full length of the valley.
On the way you’ll encounter plenty of riesling vines; the Clare Valley is the style’s spiritual home in Australia and still leads the way with zesty, acidic drops that can be aged for up to 20 years. The most famous blocks are located on the broken slate near Polish Hill River, but you’ll find it all over the valley, alongside fragrant shiraz and cab sav with berry and chocolate aromas.
The dry mineral-rich wines at Grosset are the archetypal Clare Valley rieslings, while Shut The Gate specialises in single vineyard wines and experiments with a number of lesser-known varietals. Pikes was established as a brewery in 1885, but today you can sample a range of wines alongside their beers while looking out over the vines from onsite restaurant Slate.
Sample wines from them all without leaving town at the National Wine Centre in Adelaide. It represents these, and over 40 other Australian wine regions. Fifteen varietals grow in the garden outside and the discovery museum explains how wine is made. But the best part is to be found at the bar, where enomatic dispensers allow you to taste 120 different wines and even pit your wits against several mystery bottles.
Do you have any suggestions to add to our guide to Adelaide’s wine regions? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Additional images: Bigstock
The wineries mentioned in this story are recommendations from the writer and are not necessarily visited on the Adelaide wine tours offered by The Big Bus. Please check the itinerary notes for your preferred tour for a list of the included stops.
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After spending years as a music journalist and beer taster, Alexis Buxton-Collins sold everything he owned and spent three years travelling the world. He now writes about his experiences on the road, both abroad and at home in Adelaide. Alexis has written for Australian Traveller, Qantas, Virgin, Lonely Planet, Wild, and many other publications. He’s currently undertaking a comprehensive search for McLaren Vale’s best value bottle of wine.