Barossa’s best

I’ve visited every Australian wine region and in my view Barossa beats them all. Established in 1842 by mostly English and German settlers it retains much of its European tradition, if with a strong Australian accent. It’s a colourful area that’s full of surprises. Barossa wines command enormous international respect but you need to visit the region to fully appreciate the wide range of seriously great wine styles on offer. We all know that Barossa Shiraz can be a world-beater but Riesling, Viognier, Semillon and Grenache from the valley can also foot it with the best.

The Barossa Valley wine trail is a vinous wonderland of truly memorable wines. Winery cellar doors range from large to tiny, new to old and slick to quaint but they each share an infectious enthusiasm for their region.

The valley is an easily navigable 15km long (by my calculation), about 1½ hours drive from Adelaide. I asked a number of winemakers to name their favourite Barossa restaurants. Vintners, Appellation and 1918 were the three that earned the most votes. Maggie Beer’s Farm Shop also scored well. There is such a wide range of accommodation on offer that I find it difficult to provide a short list. I suggest you visit the friendly folk at the Barossa Visitor Information Centre in Tanunda or visit their website www.barossa.com.


Yalumba

If I had time to visit only one winery in the Barossa Valley, this would be it. Yalumba has been owned by one family for 160 years. The winery’s historic old stone buildings haven’t been restored – they’ve been lovingly preserved by each generation of the Hill-Smith family. Allow enough time to wander around manicured gardens, visit the winery cooperage or enjoy a tutored tasting of award-winning wines.

Yalumba’s winery facade may appear ancient but the wines it produces are cutting edge. If a grape variety performs with distinction in the Barossa Valley then Yalumba probably makes one of the best examples. Specialist winemakers within the company have a masterful touch with Viognier, Riesling, Grenache, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and blends of Shiraz with Cabernet Sauvignon.

Wines you must taste:

  • Pewsey Vale “The Contours” Riesling 2004 (very pure, taut, mature Riesling) (tastings)
  • Yalumba Eden Valley Viognier 2009 (Australia’s best fruit-driven Viognier)
  • Yalumba Bush Vine Grenache 2008 (beautifully spicy, silken red – at $20 this is poor man’s Pinot Noir) (tastings)

Rockford Winery

Entering Rockford’s winery and cellar door is like stepping back 100 years. I’m a huge fan of Rockford’s wines, particularly their flagship Basket Press Shiraz, but when I first visited the winery I assumed it was museum with modern winemaking equipment out the back somewhere. When I admired a piece of equipment that looked like an ancient traction engine I was told it was an active part of the grape-crushing system.

Founder, Robert “Rocky” Callaghan, claims he equipped the winery with gear others were throwing out through economic necessity. Rockford’s traditional wines have built such a large following that most are sold through a (closed) mailing list and at the cellar door. Members of the winery’s private fan club have their own tasting facility at the cellar door.

Wines you must taste:

  • Rockford Alicante Bouchet Rosé 2009 (full-flavoured, bone-dry and deliciously spicy Rosé) (tastings)
  • Rockford Semillon 2005 (rich, weighty, almost chewy Semillon)
  • Moppa Springs Grenache Mataro Shiraz 2005 (richly textured wine showing the benefit of bottle age)

If available you must also try Rockford’s famous Basket Press Shiraz – sold out when I visited.


Seppeltsfield

This historic winery is not only on Seppeltsfield Road it is in the Seppeltsfield district of the Barossa Valley. When established in 1851 the then relatively isolated winery featured a distillery, vinegar house, stables, a piggery and a large staff cafeteria here the workers were fed lunch.

Seppeltsfield makes the “must visit” list for anyone who loves fortified wine. If you don’t like fortified wine go there anyway, you could be in for a life-changing experience. Stacked in neat rows are 24,000 barrels of port, sherry, liqueur Muscat and Liqueur Tokay dating back to 1878.

Visitors can join a number of tours starting with a private tasting at $8 a person at the budget end of the scale and rising to the Legend of Seppeltsfield tour which includes a tasting of a 100 year-old vintage Para tawny plus a birth year tawny port (in my case 1947). That tour costs $79 and is worth every penny.

Wines you must taste (these and more on the Legend of Seppeltsfield tour):

  • XO Oloroso (mellow, nutty wine from a Solera dating back to the early part of the 20th century)
  • XO Tawny (an amazingly concentrated blend dating back to 1878 with a retail price of $349)
  • 1910 Para (a truly breathtaking wine with a retail price of $975 for a 375ml bottle)

Charles Melton

“I hate bars at cellar doors”, complained Charlie Melton, “they put a barrier between you and the people who buy your wine.” This welcoming cellar door has a table that guests are invited to sit around when they taste wine. There’s also a veranda cafe serving platters of local foods. “We find many visitors want a quick bite rather than a lingering lunch when they’re on the wine trail.”

Most wineries are closed to visitors during vintage but Charlie encourages his guests to witness the action from a cordoned area. They’re also welcome to wander through his barrel storage area.

Friendly, personal service and high quality wines are two good reasons to visit this important Barossa Valley wine producer.

Wines you must taste:

  • Charles Melton Virginia Rosé 2010 (an enormously popular, smooth-textured Grenache-based Rosé)
  • Nine Popes 2007 (intense Grenache, Shiraz Mataro blend with layers of berry and spice flavours) (tastings)
  • Grains of Paradise Shiraz 2007 (a classic Barossa style)

Grant Burge Wines

If you are confused by the reference to Jacob’s Creek in the address it’s because the Grant Burge cellar door is on the banks of the creek that’s namesake to one of Australia’s best known wine brands produced by near neighbour, Orlando. There’s also a white wine winery on Krondorf Road (with cafe) that’s open to visitors together with Grant Burge Illaparra Fortified Wine Store in nearby Murray Street.

Grant Burge is a fifth-generation Barossa Valley grape grower, continuing a tradition that began in 1855 when John Burge immigrated from Wiltshire in England. The Grant Burge label has grown rapidly it was launched 22 years ago. The family now own over 1000 acres of vines which is supplemented by a slightly larger acreage from growers, most of whom have been contracted for more than 20 years.

The entire range of Grant Burge wines, including their flagship Mesach Shiraz, are available for tasting at no charge. The cellar door offers back vintages of several classic labels with some stretching back more than a decade. Limited edition “cellar door only” wines offer another compelling reason to visit.

Wines you must taste:

  • Grant Burge Miamba Shiraz 2007 (Fruit-packed wine with classic, cuddly chocolate/mocha flavours) (tastings)
  • Grant Burge Filsell Barossa Old Vine Shiraz 2006 (a wine that demonstrates a level of concentration that can only be achieved by significant vine age) (tastings)
  • Grant Burge Carryton Park Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 (first vintage from an outstanding new vineyard – offered at cellar door only) (tastings)

Peter Lehmann Wines

Peter Lehmann is known as “the baron of the Barossa”. His generosity of spirit, fierce support for the Barossa Valley and especially its grape growers and stylish wines have earned him legendary status. If you’re lucky you might meet him at his cellar door. If not, there are many other good reasons to visit. You can enjoy a platter or light meal at the vineyard cafe, picnic in landscaped gardens or join any one of five different tutored tastings. I chose the $20 “A taste of excellence” option and was treated to an eye-opening line-up of ten top wines with commentary from knowledgeable wine enthusiast Daniel Mattschoss – a highly recommended experience.

Every wine Peter Lehmann makes is available for tasting at no cost in a cellar door that successfully recreates the sort of warmth and hospitality you might expect if you were to visit Peter Lehmann’s own house.

Wines you must taste:

  • Peter Lehmann Wigan Riesling 2004 (a truly great, mature Riesling with intense lime, mineral and toasty flavours) (tastings)
  • Peter Lehmann Mentor Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 (powerful, elegant Cabernet Sauvignon with dense blackberry, pepper and cedarwood flavours)
  • Peter Lehmann Eight Songs Shiraz 2004 (opulent Shiraz with dark berry and bitter chocolate flavours) (tastings)

Henschke Wines

Wine lovers don’t visit Henschke, they make a pilgrimage to the vineyard and winery that makes one of Australia’s greatest and most expensive examples of Shiraz. You can buy Hill of Grace at the cellar door for most of the year although the A$510 wine is understandably not available for tasting. Its price reflects that fact that this legendary wine is made from gnarled old vines that were planted before 1860 and produce a meagre crop of highly concentrated grapes.

You’ll need to book ahead if you wish to visit the famous vineyard or tour a winery that looks a bit like a working museum – but its well worth the effort. The tiny cellar door and even smaller tasting room have a great atmosphere and must be especially cosy in winter (I’ve only ever visited during the summer months).

Wines you must taste:

  • Henschke Louis Semillon 2008 (impressively pure with a lightness verging on ethereal) (tastings)
  • Henschke Keyneton Euphonium 2007 (poised, elegant Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc blend) (tastings)
  • Henschke Cyril Henschke 2005 (supple, powerful Cabernet Sauvignon with a small blend of Merlot) (tastings)

Saltram Wine Estate

When William Salter immigrated to the Barossa from England in 1844 he immediately set about building a simple stone cottage for his family christening it Mamre Brook House. 15 years later he planted his first vineyard and in 1862 made 8000 litres of wine which he called “No.1 Shiraz”. The cottage has been extended over the years but the attractive and historic cottage still sits proudly near the winery entrance. In 1873 Salter began to export wine to New Zealand, establishing what was to become an important market for the company.

Saltram is one of a relatively small number of cellar doors to feature an a la carte menu with a range of tempting dishes. An extensive winery garden provides fresh herbs and many of the vegetables offered. The restaurant has a wood-fired pizza oven. A comprehensive wine list includes a museum list offering past vintages of Saltram’s red wines.

Wines you must taste:

  • Saltram Mamre Brook Shiraz 2006 (elegant, fine-boned red that punches well above its weight) (tastings)
  • Saltram No. 1 Barossa Shiraz 2005 (an outstanding Shiraz with intense ripe flavours plus an edgy mineral/oyster shell character) (tastings)
  • Winemakers Selection Estate Grown Shiraz/Tempranillo 2008 (the first vintage of an elegant, powerful red – only available at the cellar door) (tastings)

Torbreck Vintners

Torbreck ranks high on my list of “must visit” wineries because I’m a card-carrying member of the Torbreck fan club. If I could sum up the appeal of their wines in one word it would be “texture”. In the case of Torbreck’s top reds their rich textures are mostly derived from very old vines. Founder, Dave Powell, built Torbreck’s reputation by making great wines. The great wines are in turn built on strong relationships with owners of old vineyards in top sites.

Torbreck’s cellar door is a small, 150 year-old cottage which contrasts sharply with their sleek, modern winery next door. All of the wines are available for tasting including the flagship RunRig, a Shiraz/Viognier that in its heyday was fetching over US$1000 a bottle in that market after being blessed by critic Robert Parker Jnr. Five of the wines on taste cost more than $120. Tutored tastings are available or you can choose to have a picnic in the cellar door garden. My advice is – forget the picnic, taste the wines.

Wines you must taste:

  • Torbreck Les Amis 2006 (the best Grenache I’ve ever tasted, and so it should be for $187.50) (tastings)
  • Torbreck RunRig 2006 (Shiraz/Viognier that’s better, and more expensive, than most Cote Rotie) (tastings)
  • Torbreck Highland Fling 2007 (the best fortified Shiraz I’ve ever tasted – we were once allowed to call it vintage port)

The Willows Vineyard

There’s nothing showy about The Willow Vineyard – except their wines. A modest sign directs visitors down a long driveway between rows of neatly tended vines. The cellar door is a simple cottage featuring a vine-covered pergola at its entrance.

Owner, Peter Scholz, is a tall, powerfully-built man who clearly relishes tending his 120-acre vintage and producing wine from about one-third of his crop each year – the rest is sold to local winemakers.

Since 1845 six generations of his family have farmed the 220-acre block of land now partly covered in vines. The first five generations were doctors (which explains the name of the flagship wine, “Bonesetter Barossa Shiraz”).

Scholz prefers elegance over high alcohol blockbuster reds. He likes the fruit flavours to shine through and although he likes to give his red wines two years’ oak maturation he uses at least 50% second and third year barrels to moderate oak influence.

I was struck by the modest prices of all The Willows wines at cellar door – A$13 or A$14 for the whites and a little more for the reds although Bonesetter Shiraz was A$50. The pleasant lady who runs the cellar door frowned when I mentioned price and said “he hasn’t raised his prices for five years”. Scholz shrugged. I gathered he wasn’t in it for the money.

Wines you must taste:

  • The Willows Semillon 2006 (very attractive wine, taut with appealing mineral and apple flavours) (tastings)
  • The Willows Grenache Shiraz G-7 2008 (ripe plums and lifted spice character – very small production mostly sold through the cellar door)
  • Bonesetter Barossa Shiraz 2006 (very classy wine with intense fruit, a seasoning of spice and a silken texture) (tastings)

First published in KiaOra Magazine – Jul 2010.

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