Barossa Valley visit: heart of the region

Although the morning wind was chilly, the forecast for our last full day in the Barossa Valley promised the mildest weather of our visit. On the first two days, we had explored all the outer districts of the region; on this fine day we would focus on the region’s heart.

We had booked a table for lunch at a restaurant in Tanunda. Prior to that, we wanted to visit two particular wineries but their cellar doors would not be open until 11am, so we began with a visit to Menglers Hill lookout and sculpture park.

This is a frequently-visited spot, due to its ready accessibility compared to other lookouts in the region. The view across the valley is lovely, varying according to season, weather and time of day; it was green, windy and with even-but-dull mid-morning light for our visit. The sculpture park – dating from an international gathering of sculptors in 1988 – is moderately interesting, but the experience would be much richer if more information about the works was provided; our visit to ‘the Whispering Wall’ was exemplary by comparison. The site as a whole felt a little neglected  but, with the right weather, a picnic hamper and plenty of good company, it might come to life.

Lookout 5   Lookout 2

Lookout 1   Lookout 4

It was still well before eleven o’clock, so we did some exploring by car, making good use of my, ahem, map-mis-reading expertise. The cellar door at the Turkey Flat winery was already open, so we added that to our itinerary. Turkey Flat makes one of the best rose-style wines in Australia; it is widely available, so we didn’t need to add it to our luggage for the flight home. However, we did buy a bottle of their single-variety Mataro (Mourvedre), which is usually blended with Grenache and Shiraz to make the southern Rhone valley style of wine that is known famously as Chateau neuf du pape.

From Turkey Flat, it was a short drive to the winery of Charles Melton. He is so devoted to the Rhone tradition that he calls his GSM blend ‘Nine Popes’. Having spent Christmas Eve 2009 in Avignon – home town of the nine actual Popes – and visited a nearby Rhone winery, we just had to buy a bottle; besides, it did taste fabulous.

Melton 1

And then it was time for me to introduce Maggie to Rockford, established more than three decades ago by Robert ‘Rocky’ O’Callaghan. If you are one of those depraved or deprived people who like wines that taste as if they were made by an corporate bean-counter, don’t bother visiting Rockford – the wines will be too ballsy and hand-hewn for your palate. Every wine in their range is distinctive and most of them make their buyers want to hold a dinner party, from sunset ’til late, just so they can open some bottles of Rockford and share them with good friends.

In truth, my own love affair with Rockford had ebbed over the last ten years or so, partly for budgetary reasons; I had also allowed it to become an innocent victim of my mute protest against the over-hyped, high-alcohol style of wines that were being produced in the Barossa region to pander to American wine critics and their fawning readers. Happily, the cellar-door crew at Rockford, supported by Maggie, have forgivingly but firmly brought me back into the fold. Geez Louise, the wines tasted bloody good!

Rockford 2   Rockford 1

It was time for lunch and the people at Rockford assured us we were in for a treat.

We had set aside the middle of our third day for the premium dining experience of our time in the Barossa. We didn’t fancy a close-to-winter-soltice road trip for an evening meal; for day one, we had an early start and lack of local knowledge; and the Grange tour was booked for 1pm on day two. By the end of our first day, we had been told of two restaurants renowned for fine-dining excellence; we chose the one that gave us an a la carte menu and food that differed markedly from what we cook at home.

I will write a more detailed post about our lunch at fermentAsian (say it quickly to pick up the wine industry pun), where we had a wonderful meal infused with the Vietnamese heritage of the chef and accompanied by wines from the amazing – and much awarded – wine list put together by her Australian husband. Here are two photo-teasers:

Ferment 2   Ferment 6

By the end of our fermentAsian experience, our palates had had a hectic day and our brains were a little travel weary. We returned to our room at the Novotel, rested, freshened up and went out for one last exploration.

We drove south to Lyndoch, to visit Chateau Yaldara, which had been established in 1847. We knew nothing of its wines but we were keen to see the old buildings and large rose garden, as described in the regional guide we had found in our room at the Novotel. Unfortunately, the guide had been published before a Chinese company acquired the property in July last year. We found no evidence of an operating winery, nor any signs pointing the way to the rose garden.

Update: More evidence of my declining map-and-guide-reading skills: the winery with lovely old buildings and the rose garden is Barossa Chateau and it is still very much operational. Thank you to the Barossa Visitor Information Centre for alerting me to this. The other information about Chateau Yaldara is pretty much correct.

So, we turned around and drove north to the Jacob’s Creek Visitor Centre.

I remember the original Jacob’s Creek wine fondly, a blended red wine produced by Orlando Wines at a reasonable price; easy to drink but with enough character that you could serve it to dinner guests without blushing. Since then, it has become a ‘global’ brand, killing off the Orlando name along the way. So, I shouldn’t have been surprised that this so-called Visitor Centre had a very ‘corporate’ look; even the the display of information about the company’s history lacked character. Yes, it was late in the day and our palates were still infused with the flavours of our wonderful lunch, but the wines that we tasted were a bit lean and mean for our liking.

When we returned to our room at the Novotel, the mild afternoon was lingering and the breeze had abated. So, we set ourselves up on the deck and whiled away the best part of an hour, sipping wine and taking in the scenery.

Novotel 4   Novotel 3

We only needed a light dinner, so we shared half a dozen fresh Coffin Bay oysters and two entrees – stuffed zucchini flowers with a green chilli cream, and herb meringue with a piquant tapenade. Most of the food we had been served in the Novotel’s restaurant had been satisfactory; this meal was particularly good and a fine way to end a wonderful Barossa Valley visit.

Novotel food 2   Novotel food 1

There will be two further posts about our time in the Barossa – one about our lunch at fermentAsian, the other about the wines we took back to Melbourne.

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About rmgtravelsandfood

Maggie and I are both in our early 60s and live in Melbourne, Australia. This blog is devoted to our shared passions for travel and fine dining at home. As cooks, we are skilful and adventurous within a framework of mainly traditional ingredients and techniques, and we aim to prepare nutritious food that looks good and tastes delicious. Our evolving repertoire is influenced by both our travels and Melbourne's vibrant food culture. While we are young enough, our priority travel destinations are overseas, although we do spend a few weekends each year exploring south-eastern Australia. As travellers, we are most comfortable with a combination of organised and independent touring. Our first overseas journey together was to Italy in the northern autumn of 2008. We later travelled in France (2009), Spain (2011), Singapore and Cambodia (2012/13). All trips from 2014 onwards are documented in this blog.
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