Virtually all of the alcohol that Maggie and I imbibe comes from wine; the occasional exceptions are our homemade limoncello and, for Maggie, a gin & tonic in summer. We like wine, both as a companion to food and, depending on the style, as a beverage in its own right.
At home, we mostly drink inexpensive wines; ‘quaffers’ as they are known in Australia. But when we travel, we happily spend more on wine. Enjoying quality wines made in other countries or Australian wine regions is one of the main types of experience we seek as travellers. Food, culture, history, sightseeing and meeting people from other countries are also important to us.
So, while we were in the Barossa, we drank local wines before and with our meals; and we purchased bottles to take home from most of the winery cellar doors we visited. Just ten bottles, plus two half-dozen cases that were freighted to us after we returned home.
In telling you about these wines, I will also share some observations about my own association with wine, and the history of both the Barossa Valley and the Australian wine industry.
Pewsey Vale 2009 ‘The Contours’ Riesling
Well before I drank alcohol in any other form, my parents introduced me to wine, to be consumed as part of a substantial meal. The wines that they drank were mainly dry riesling or medium-to-full-bodied shiraz and virtually all of it was from South Australia. Most of the riesling came from the Eden Valley, immediately to the east of the Barossa and one of three Australian regions responsible for some of the world’s best riesling wines. Pewsey Vale was a regular guest at our dinner table. This one was given five years of bottle-ageing before being released in September 2014. It will age well for many more years but, having tasted it at the Yalumba winery, we won’t let it live much longer!
Hill-Smith Estate 2012 Chardonnay
This is another wine made by Yalumba from fruit grown in the Eden Valley. There, in a climate cooler than the Barossa’s, chardonnay can be made in a crisp and elegant style.
Henschke 2014 Eleanor’s Cottage
This wine symbolises how much the wine industry has changed since I first drank wine. It is a blend of semillon grown in the Eden Valley and sauvignon blanc grown in the Adelaide Hills. The latter region did not exist when I was a teenager and there were few, if any, sauvignon blanc vines planted in Australia; ditto for chardonnay. Many other producers in the long-established regions now grow or buy fruit from some of the newer regions – many of them having a cool climate – in order to cater for a consumer market that has expanded and diversified dramatically over the last few decades.
Tearo Estate 2014 Tempranillo
For much of its history, most of the grape varieties grown in the Barossa Valley were chosen for the production of brandy spirit, sherry and port styles of wine, and table wines comparable to the great wines of Bordeaux, Rhone Valley and the Rhine. The vast influx of European migrants and the internationalisation of Australians’ wine awareness has stimulated the planting of new varieties, including some that better suit the flavours of Mediterranean food. Tempranillo, the great Spanish red variety, is one of these.
Charles Melton 2012 Nine Popes
Year in, year out, this is the benchmark for an Australian wine made from grenache, shiraz and mataro (mourvedre), the style made famous in the southern Rhone appellation Chateau neuf du pape.
Turkey Flat 2014 Mataro
A rare thing – a single variety mataro wine. Mataro ripens well in the Barossa’s warm climate but most of it is blended with shiraz and grenache. We now have a mission to cook food that will warrant opening our bottle.
Rockford Black Shiraz
Sparkling shiraz is a wine style that is unique to Australia. As with sparkling white wines, the quality varies from ‘cheap and cheerful’ to ‘how good is this’. This one has been a personal crusade for Robert O’Callaghan and he has produced a wine that inspires words of reverence. You won’t find it a liquor store – you have to make a pilgrimage.
Rockford 2012 Rod & Spur
The blending of shiraz and cabernet sauvignon is another Australian gift to wine lovers. At the quality end of the market, it has become less common in recent times, partly due to the lust of well-heeled consumers for single variety wines. This, my favourite Rockford wine, shows just how well the two major red grapes of France can work together.
Yalumba Museum Muscat
Although the fruit for this wine would have been grown elsewhere in the south east of Australia, it is a style that reflects the long Barossa tradition of producing fortified wines.
Seppeltsfield Selma Melitta
By agreement with the European Union, the words sherry and port no longer appear on the wonderful fortified wines made using fruit grown in the Barossa Valley from Spanish and Portuguese grape varieties. This would once have been called a sweet sherry, but don’t make the mistake of thinking it doesn’t belong in this post.
After our ‘Grange’ tour of Magill Estate, our guide encouraged us to consider a couple of special wines, one of them being sold at a ‘special’ price, the other, a wine that is only released at the cellar door.
2013 Koonunga Hill Seventy Six
The first wine with a Penfolds Koonunga Hill label was made in 1976, using leftover parcels of very good quality shiraz and cabernet. From 1977 onwards, the quality of the wine was dropped back to a level that, while still acceptable, allowed it to appeal readily to consumers who could not afford a premium wine but still wanted a wine with dinner table virtues. On this basis it was very successful, so much so that other varieties were progressively added to the Koonunga Hill range. From the 30th anniversary of the original release, a more refined and complex wine than the standard Koonunga Hill shiraz-cabernet has been produced each year and given the name ‘Seventy Six’.
2013 Thomas Hyland Chardonnay
Penfolds introduced the Thomas Hyland range about 15 years ago. I believe the company was aiming to offer a wine that could compete in the busy $20-$25 range, sitting below Penfolds renowned Bin range but above Koonunga Hill. It never really took off – most of the Koonunga Hill wines over-deliver on value and the Thomas Hyland wines were clearly inferior to their Bin counterparts; a case of ‘neither fish nor fowl’. So, the brand is being discontinued and sold off at cellar door at a 50% discount. Lucky us!
There were several other wines that we tasted and enjoyed, but didn’t purchase; some, because they are widely available near our home; others because, sometimes, you have to say “no”. These wines included: Yalumba 2013 ‘The Virgilius’ Viognier (Yalumba’s winemaker has made it her personal mission to make viognier in an elegant style, with great success); Charles Melton 2014 Rose of Virginia, the most luminously-coloured rose made in Australia, using pinot meurnier fruit; Turkey Flat 2015 Rose, more than 90% grenache but parcels of four other red grape varieties; Rockford 2014 Alicante Bouchet, another rose, made from the unusual grape of the same name; and last, but definitely not least, Rockford 2011 Basket Press Shiraz.