So you’ve got yourself to McLaren Vale, about 40 minutes drive south from Adelaide, and you’re ready to enjoy a day (or if you’re lucky a few days) tasting some of Australia’s best wines.
But with over 65 cellar doors set within this picturesque landscape of big blue skies and gently rolling hills, where on earth do you start? Even for most of us wine lovers, 65 cellar doors equals a very big wine headache.
To help you with the decision making, and to ensure you make the most of your time in this gorgeous part of Australia, here are five of our favourite McLaren Vale cellar door experiences that no wine loving gal should miss. (In no particular order…)
1. Oliver’s Taranga
Seaview Rd, McLaren Vale Open: Seven days a week 10am – 4pm www.oliverstaranga.com.au
Beards. Yes, you read that right. Beards. Of the hairy, facial kind. When we visited the cellar door at Oliver’s Taranga the place was covered in them. Costume beards were hanging off the walls and adorning the mantle. It was all part of their latest marketing campaign called “Find the Bearded Bottle” – a nod to their oft bearded ancestors.
It’s all the more hilarious because Oliver’s Taranga is a winery with a predominantly female team!
The Bearded Bottle campaign is just another example of the sense of fun and hilarity that embodies everything this family winery does. It’s quite an achievement to maintain that level of enthusiasm for your work when your family has been doing it for six generations.
But smart marketing is only truly effective when it’s backed up by quality product. And that is exactly the case here. Oliver’s Taranga make simply stunning wine.
Shiraz is what they’re best known for (I mean, this IS McLaren Vale isn’t it?), particularly their HJ Reserve Shiraz. But there’s some…ahem…other corkers you shouldn’t leave without trying. We adore their mod-European style wines from their Small Batch collection, like Vermentino, Fiano, the new Sagrantino, and the Tempranillo. Their Grenache is pretty out-of-this-world too.
The cellar door is a charmingly restored workers cottage originally built in the 1850’s. And the staff are warm, friendly and helpful. Which is probably one of the many reasons they were recently awarded the 2012 McLaren Vale Cellar Door of the Year by the McLaren Vale Grape & Wine Tourism.
2. Alpha Box & Dice
Lot 50 Oliver’s Rd, McLaren Vale Open: Friday through Sunday 10am – 5pm, and other times by appointment. www.alphaboxdice.com.au
Mysterious. Kooky. Altogether spooky. The Alpha Box & Dice cellar door is a tiny little player in McLaren Vale bursting with big, quirky style.
With wines labels like Blood of Jupiter (a blend of Sangiovese 85% and Cabernet Sauvignon 15%), Dead Winemakers Society (Dolcetto), and Tarot (Grenache) you’d be forgiven for thinking you’re sampling various brews and concoctions from an medieval apothecary. But don’t be fooled, these are some of the most exciting and flavour-packed reds coming out of McLaren Vale.
And reds is really what wine maker Justin Lane is doing the most of here. The Alpha Box & Dice label only produce one white wine (so far). A curious blend of Muscadelle and Chardonnay with the wonderful name of Golden Mullet Fury.
This off-beat cellar door may be full of curiosity, but the quality wines and the passionate cellar door staff speak for themselves. You just may need to cleanse your aura, as well as your palate, upon departure.
Osborn Rd, McLaren Vale Open: Seven days a week, 10am – 5pm www.darenberg.com.au
From David to Goliath. d’Arenberg is one of Australia’s oldest and best known wineries, and is currently celebrating it’s 100th birthday in McLaren Vale. Despite it’s enormous success, it remains a family owned winery and continues to deliver interesting, quality wines.
The d’Arenberg cellar door is in a restored 19th century homestead, with stunning views over McLaren Vale, the Willunga Hills and the Gulf St Vincent. Yup. Lots of gobsmack factor here.
While the cellar door and accompanying restaurant, d’Arry’s Verandah (well worth a visit – their Lobster Medallions with Prawn Ravioli and Lobster Bisque has caused many patrons to utter an embarrassing grunt of orgasmic delight) are impressive and glamorous in the way that the cellar doors of big wineries so often are, there’s a sense of irreverence and fun that permeates everything else. “The Art of Being Different” is their company slogan, and one that is lived out in what they produce and the way they communicate it.
Take for example their gorgeous Sparkling white they call Dadd. “Not to be confused with Mumm,” the lovely lass on the cellar door that day tells me. Hovering on the line between a tongue-in-cheek dig at a major Champagne house and a huge legal trademark dispute (it even has the red line in common) is not something that d’Arenberg shies away from. They’re already renowned for pushing the boundaries and doing things on their own terms. And it’s brought them great success.
For the record, Dadd was given it’s name by Chief winemaker, Chester Osborn, who draws inspiration from his Great Grand-Dad, his Grand-Dad and his Dad to make d’Arenberg’s first sparkling white wine. Their contributions have been so significant he felt that each ‘Dad’ deserved their own D in the title. It’s a lovely fizz too, done in the Champagne style using all three grape varieties – Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier.
d’Arenberg has a lengthy portfolio so there’s sure to be something for everyone in your wine tasting party to fall in love with. Don’t miss the amazing sparkling red Chambourcin Peppermint Paddock, the Money Spider Rousanne or the Stephanie the Gnome with Rose Tinted Glasses Rose. The Love Grass Shiraz, the Derelict Vineyard Grenache, are also two picks from among the plethora of reds to try.
And if you’re feeling courageous, dare to ask for the Noble Botryotinia Fuckeliana. A sticky made from Sauvignon Blanc with beautiful tropical fruit flavours and nice acidity. Told you they were different.
4. Battle of Bosworth & Spring Seed Wine Co.
Gaffney Road, Willunga Open: Friday through to Monday 11am – 5pm www.battleofbosworth.com.au
Organic wine is big news these days, but few are doing it better than Battle of Bosworth & Spring Seed Wine Co. – two labels coming from the same producers, Joch Bosworth and Louise Hemsley-Smith.
The Bosworth family have had vineyards in McLaren Vale as early as the 1840′s. Joch and Louise converted their vineyards to organic viticulture in 1995, and started their own label in 2001. They produce balanced and flavoursome single vineyard wines that best express the qualities and characteristics of the site. Every drop has been grown organically in their own McLaren Vale vineyards. You’re virtually on a detox just by being there.
The tree lined driveway that leads to the restored, 1850’s converted stone chaff shed and stables has elevated views over the vines looking north to McLaren Vale and west to the Gulf St Vincent. Such an magnificent entrance instantly creates a sense of location and place, a magical hidden wonderland of delicious vino ready for discovery!
There’s plenty to love about all the wines on offer. There’s a nice balance between reds and whites, and every wine is bursting with flavour. The Spring Seed Four O’Clock Chardonnay is a must try – and has been known to convert even the most avid Chardonnay critic. The Moscato is refreshing and not too sweet and the Pinot Grigio, which is Australia’s only organic example, is fresh and light bodied. From the Battle of Bosworth lable, the Puritan Shiraz is a revelation – not only organic, but preservative free too, it’s laden with fresh, purple fruit.
The delectable organic wines, quiet setting and gregarious, charming hosts make this gorgeous cellar door an absolute must-do on your McLaren Vale visit.
Chaffey’s Road, McLaren Vale Open: Monday to Friday 10am – 5pm. Weekends 11 – 5pm. Restaurant open Friday to Monday 12 – 4om. www.coriole.com
When you’re ready to take a break from driving around the pretty countryside and sit and relax for a while, then it’s time to head to Coriole. With some of the most beautiful gardens around, and a breathtaking view over the valley, this cellar door dishes up an incredible lunch platter piled high with fresh, local gourmet offerings.
There’s no menu. You just sit down, kick your shoes off, grab a glass of wine and get ready to enjoy the plate of the day. And while the selection changes regularly, you can expect delights such as smoked kangaroo fillet, poached chicken salad, locally made chorizo, carrot chutney, cheeses from Woodside Cheese Wrights, and sauteed portabello mushrooms. Just loosen your belt first and all will be fine…
Of course, the food is not enough for lunch in a vineyard. There must be wine! And at Coriole there’s plenty to like. The Sangiovese and the Fiano are two of the stand out wines on offer, and the Mary Kathleen Cabernet Merlot is one red you could easily while away the rest of the afternoon with as you take in the exquisite view.
Coriole are also known for their wonderful extra virgin olive oil and cured olives, so be sure to stock up on both before waving goodbye to McLaren Vale.
Got a favourite McLaren Vale cellar door we haven’t mentioned here? Give ’em a shout out by leaving a comment below!