Barossa is a dream holiday destination for Shiraz lovers – but there’s plenty to see, and taste, besides. JILL NORMAN tours the region and its star wineries.
The Barossa region, with its dry, rolling landscape, towering gum trees and enormous skies is archetypally Australian. Set in the ranges to the north of Adelaide, the area encompasses the Barossa Valley – known as the ‘valley floor’ – and the adjacent Eden Valley – a higher, undulating region of windy, weathered hills and sheltered slopes. Wines have been produced here for more than 150 years.
From the main road, the valley appears nothing but a patchwork of vines. But if you turn off you will find a string of orchards, beehives, old cottages and barns.
The people who started farming and winemaking here came mostly from German Silesia, now part of Poland. Pretty Lutheran churches with slender spires, bakers selling Vollkornbrot and Streusel cakes, a fabulous range of German-style sausages and smoke-cooked meats all point to a thriving traditional culture. There is a strong sense of community here and many farms and businesses have been in the same family for five or six generations. The region has a unique culinary heritage and Barossans are justifiably as proud of local foods as of their wines.
You can’t escape Shiraz in Barossa. It takes pride of place at every cellar door. With its velvety tannins, Barossa Shiraz drinks beautifully when young, but the finest wines will keep for years. Many winemakers are now adding Viognier, and using French oak in combination with, or instead of, US oak.
Although you are unlikely to find Penfolds’ Grange, Henschke’s Hill of Grace or the top new-wave wines like Torbreck’s Run Rig or Ben Glaetzer’s Amon-Ra on offer, many excellent Shirazes are on sale, from traditionalists like Rockford or Charlie Melton to Lehmann’s classic Stonewell or St Hallett’s Old Block and modern interpretations like Turkey Flat or Thorn-Clarke’s William Randall.
At Rockford, the old stone cottage that serves as cellar door stands in the midst of the winery. If you are there at harvest you can see the winemakers using the 50-100-year-old equipment, including the fine old basket press. Try the honeyed Riesling, the outstanding sparkling red, and Moppa Springs GSM (a Grenache, Shiraz and Mourvèdre blend).
Up the road at Charlie Melton there is always a loaf of good bread on the table and a welcoming fire in winter. Don’t miss Australia’s best rosé, Rose of Virginia, and the renowned Nine Popes, the wine that started the new wave of interest in Grenache and Rhône-style blends about 15 years ago.
Turkey Flat’s smart, modern winery stands behind the attractive cellar door, originally a butcher’s shop built by owner Peter Schulz’s ancestor in 1865. Here you will find another fine rosé, an unusual Marsanne-Semillon blend, Butchers Block GSM and a moreish PX sweet wine.
The windows of Peter Lehmann’s tasting room look onto beautiful gardens. Of the many cellar door specials, try the Mud Flat Shiraz and Black Queen Sparkling Shiraz, and the Reserve Range, notably the lithe, floral Eden Valley Reserve Riesling.
Father and son Colin and Ben Glaetzer are fast making a name for their premium reds – subtle, elegant, yet rich and powerful wines. Try Glaetzer Shiraz, Bishop Shiraz and Wallace, a Shiraz-Cabernet-Grenache blend, and the Heartland range.
The Willows Vineyard is off the beaten track but well worth a visit. Peter Scholtz is known for his award-winning Semillon. He also makes a sparkling red, a silky-textured Cabernet, and a fine, well-priced Shiraz that exudes mulberries, mocha and cinnamon.
Stephen and Prue Henschke’s visionary, yet scientific, research-based approach to viticulture and winemaking – to nature and nurture – produces outstanding wines. Taste everything if you can – each wine is a classic expression of the grape variety. From the musky notes of Innes Vineyard Pinot Gris to the dense black fruits and spice of Mount Edelstone Shiraz, the wines show purity, finesse and great length.
Yalumba, Australia’s oldest family-owned winery, stands in extensive grounds and the list of wines at the cellar door is equally extensive. Winemaker Louisa Rose has pioneered Viognier wines in Australia and Yalumba makes Viognier at different brand levels, all imbued with apricot and a touch of spice. Virgilius, the flagship white wine, is a complex, elegant wine with lingering notes of ginger. Don’t neglect the Rieslings – floral, delicate Pewsey Vale and the aged Contours wines with their toast and butterscotch notes. Among the reds, The Signature is benchmark Cabernet-Shiraz with layers of intense black fruits and fine tannins.
The smart tasting room with Shiraz-coloured walls, red gum and white tasting bar and clever lighting comes as a surprise as you enter the 100-year-old cottage at Two Hands. Named best new producer in the 2003-2004 Penguin Good Australian Wine Guide, Two Hands specialises in Shiraz-based wines. Here the names are vineyard related (Bella’s Garden) or just plain wacky (Brave Faces, Angel’s Share, Tyrekickers). There are no duds. All the wines are packed with mouthwatering dark fruits, have a supple structure and are very seductive.
Torbreck, the cult-status boutique winery, draws the names for its wines from the Scottish highlands where owner Dave Powell once worked. All are worth tasting, from the introductory Woodcutter’s label, to Juveniles, an unoaked, brightly fruity SGM, and the Shiraz-Viognier Descendant, powerful yet velvety with subtle Viognier notes mid palate.
At the opposite end of the spectrum is the impressive Jacob’s Creek Visitor Centre, harmoniously designed to fit the environment, with views to either side of the Barossa Ranges and the majestic red gums that line the creek. The gallery displays show the history of the Barossa and of the group’s Orlando wines, with interactive screens on winemaking and viticulture. The tasting bar offers a wide range, including the recently released Shiraz Rosé with its vivid strawberry flavours. Choose a flight of wines to improve your knowledge of a particular style.
Written by Jill Norman