WINES FOR THE BOOT
2009 Grosset Polish Hill Riesling, A$45/NZ$45
A scintillating riesling with deep wells of minerality that resonate with the purity and tenacity of this shaly, infertile vineyard. The 2009 vintage characterises Jeffrey Grosset’s precision and unrelenting focus on the finer details.
2009 KT and the Falcon Melva Watervale Riesling, A$28
Kerri Thompson (KT) takes Clare riesling to the wider world in this medium-dry, international style. She makes wine by taste, not recipe, reflected here in rich baked-apple and honey flavours, perfectly offset by a lemon and lime zest backbone.
2009 Mount Horrocks Cordon Cut Riesling, A$35/375ml
Stephanie Toole has long maintained the benchmark for Australian dessert-style riesling, and this vintage is alive with all the theatrics that set this iconic label apart. Oozing with exotica and fruits of many kinds, this wine pulls together with consummate control in its finely structured finish. Shouldn’t be missed.
2009 Tim Adams Pinot Gris, A$23
Fortunately, one of this country’s most celebrated pinot gris is also one of its most affordable. A gorgeous pale salmon hue introduces an elegant palate, which perfectly juxtaposes pear and lychee fruit with textural phenolics and great finesse.
2009 Skillogalee Clare Valley Gewürztraminer, A$22.50
The fruits of Dave and Diana Palmer’s vineyard are as spectacular as the snaking lines of contour-planted vines. Classic gewürztraminer aromatics glide smoothly over a palate of controlled exuberance, with a wonderfully long, dry finish.
2009 Mount Horrocks Semillon, A$27
The Clare’s barrel-fermented semillons are worthy of attention, particularly when they exhibit the purity and restraint that are on display here. Woodwork adds spice and weight to the back palate, lifting and supporting its edgy lemon, guava and star fruit profile, which remains the predominant focus throughout.
2009 O’Leary Walker Clare Valley Grenache Rosé, A$14
A waste of 80-year-old, dry-grown Clare Valley grenache vines? Not if you have the privilege of experiencing this wine’s redcurrant, pomegranate, watermelon and pepper profile and its textural structure. Life doesn’t get any better than this for $14.
NV Knappstein Sparkling Shiraz, A$22
One of the most drinkable sparkling shirazes on the shelves, it’s an attractively fruit-driven style with fine, firm tannins, so there’s no need for a chill here. Drink it at red wine temperature and its classic Clare black fruits will put on quite a spectacle.
2009 Crabtree Watervale Tempranillo, A$22
The versatility of the terroir of the Clare is on full parade here. Unlike many New World attempts, there’s no mistaking this wine for a shiraz, thanks to its honed structure, bitter dark chocolate notes and restrained, textured finish.
2008 Sevenhill Inigo Merlot, A$19
The best merlot in the Clare is a finely structured style with a classic violet perfume and black plum skin and dark cherry palate. Well crafted and well priced.
2008 KT and the Falcon Churinga Vineyard Shiraz, A$40
The concentration here is transcendental, its inky power derived from an unrelenting pursuit of balance in the vineyard. It’s a mesmerising ribbon of purple velvet, laced with exotic spice and tempered oak.
2006 Tim Adams Cabernet Malbec, A$26
Tim Adams makes wine to shape, not flavour, and the classic Clare duo of cabernet and malbec are the ideal ingredients to build structure. It’s sinewy and upright, so be sure to give this skeleton a decade or two in your cellar to grow some flesh.
2007 Grosset Gaia, A$60
Grosset’s dramatic Gaia vineyard infuses its fruits with pronounced varietal personality and longevity. A blend of cab sav, cab franc and merlot, the wine’s blackcurrant, capsicum, cigar box and spice are held in line by a fine web of firm tannins.
NV Skillogalee Liqueur Muscat, A$40
The Clare’s top fortified is the best answer to cool nights in. Beautifully presented inside the bottle and out, you’ll be enchanted by its polished mahogany hue, red fruit scents and Christmas spice flavours.
TO MARKET, TO MARKET
Clare Valley was filled with fruit trees before it was covered in vines. Once famous for prunes, currants, apricots, almonds and pears, many old orchards still remain throughout the region. If you’re in the market for fresh, local produce, you’ll find it on most weekends. Don’t miss these markets:
Clare Valley Food, Wine and Art Market (Ennis Park, adjacent to Clare Town Hall, first Sunday of every month, 9am-1pm)
Clare Showgrounds Country Market (second Saturday of every month, 8.30am-1pm)
Sevenhill Producer’s Market (Madonna Hall, Sevenhill, last Saturday of every month, 8.30am-12.30pm)
The Auburn Gourmet Markets (long weekends in January, March, June and October each year)
Great wine drives: Clare Valley
Home to some of Australia’s finest expressions of riesling, Clare Valley is also turning out stellar shiraz and cab merlots. Four days will give you a taste of its picturesque landscape, historic townships and world-class cellar doors.
Looking for more reasons to hit the road? Check out our 12 great wine drives slideshow, complete with itineraries and wine recommendations.
There’s something eminently soothing about immersing yourself in country air, although some people take the idea way too far. Eyebrows were raised recently when Britain’s National Trust gave away bottles of fresh air to lift the spirits of London workers. Rural and coastal air was bottled to capture the grassy perfume of Wiltshire, the lakeside aroma of Lake Windermere and the woodland scent of Surrey. It sounds, well, like a lot of hot air, but there’s certainly something unique about a country atmosphere.
There is a distinct quality to the air of the Clare Valley. Whenever I explore a wine region, I drive with the windows down and the airconditioning off. There’s more to discover than just sights and sounds – there are aromas unique to a place that can unlock even some of the secrets of its wines. The Clare’s ancient, towering gums infuse the air with distinct eucalypt aromas that are more pronounced than in other wine regions. That scent is transferred to the grapes of nearby vineyards, and it’s not uncommon to find a characteristic eucalypt or menthol note in some Clare Valley reds.
A vinous oasis in the midst of sweeping expanses of wheat, the Clare is special for much more than its country air. Ten minutes out of Balaklava, the earth rises and a dull, flat landscape of wheat fields transforms into picturesque rolling hills, quaint gullies, sweeping skies dotted with galahs and the first vineyards of the Clare Valley. A series of charming little villages and their historic stone buildings line the way towards the township of Clare itself.
Interestingly, the Clare Valley is no valley at all, rather an elevated plateau of sub-valleys carved into the hills by a multitude of meandering creeks. This elevation thrusts its vineyards to cool altitudes between 320 and 570 metres, crucial in defining the wine styles of one of South Australia’s most northerly fine-wine regions. The Clare’s cool evenings bless its wines with crunchy natural acidities, structured spines and more pronounced varietal markers than warmer regions.
This is why the Clare is home to one of Australia’s finest expressions of riesling. Classic floral aromas are the fingerprint here, with notes of lemon and lime developing into tropical fruit characters in warmer seasons. The benchmark Clare rieslings of the greatest vintages are characterised by the cool-season signposts of fragrant lemon blossom, nervy lime fruit, restrained alcohol and deep wells of minerality. Prolonged flavour development over a slow ripening season produces impressive palate persistence and linearity. These are highly strung, refreshing wines promising longevity, developing toasty, waxy, honeyed flavours with maturity.
Shiraz claims the crown as the most distinctive of Clare’s reds. The slow, even ripening conditions furnished by cool nights and warm days nurture full-bodied wines deep in colour and concentration, with Clare’s signature acid backbone and often lifted, floral aromatics. The interplay between eucalypts and vineyards in the Clare identifies wines from vines located close to gum trees by telltale eucalypt notes. Purists from far shores may question the merits of this char-acter, but it is no less a part of the terroir of the region than the lavender of Provence or the wild garrigue of the Languedoc.
There are very few places on the planet that can produce both world-class riesling and cabernet, but the warm days of the Clare make it possible to ripen cabernet reliably, even in the highest vineyard in the region. Perched in a stark, windswept landscape, Jeffrey Grosset’s Gaia vineyard is so elevated that the nearest landmark is a mobile phone tower. This tough environment creates varietal cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and merlot which, when blended, produce a distinguished, long-ageing style.
The cabernet sauvignon malbec blend is a regional specialty. The tannic malbec grape can be a formidable soloist but lends structure and savoury complexity to this duet. The two varieties are somehow more in tune with each other in the Clare than elsewhere and the best examples exhibit tremendous stamina in the cellar.
The Clare is capable of fabricating weapons-grade, high-octane blockbusters but it is the marriage of the growing conditions with refined, medium-bodied reds that is most captivating. The unique haven of the historic Wendouree vineyard in the heart of the region nurtures century-old vines that produce wines with alcohols that remain in the thirteens. Some new-generation Clare makers are equally passionate about restraint, and Kerri Thompson’s KT and the Falcon Churinga Vineyard Shiraz displays similar precision.
The notion of one region growing red varieties and riesling in adjacent plots was attacked rather infamously in a sprawling vineyard photograph in Decanter magazine in March 2009 under the headline “If you grow riesling here... and shiraz here... how can you talk about regionality?” There are few places that can achieve this combination as effectively as the Clare Valley, but here the story goes much further than the hat-trick of riesling, shiraz and cabernet.
I am a vocal opponent of the modern trend to plant a fruit salad of varieties anywhere and everywhere, but there are a few special pockets that have proved to be well suited to this diversity. So compelling is the range of styles that the Clare can produce with varietal distinction that I set myself the challenge of lining up a selection of Wines for the Boot (see page 93) that didn’t repeat a single style. This proved to be a surprisingly simple task, and the final list comprises dry, medium and sweet riesling, pinot gris, gewürztraminer, semillon, rosé, tempranillo, cabernet sauvignon cabernet franc merlot blends, cabernet malbec, sparkling and still shiraz and muscat. Such diversity is extremely rare anywhere in the wine world, with every drop representing exacting varietal correctness and value for money.
For its wealth of wine opportunities, the fine-dining experiences on offer in the Clare are disappointingly sparse. In a recent media release, Peter Barry, chairman of Clare Valley Winemakers Incorporated, was a tad blunt but accurate: “Apart from Skillogalee Restaurant, we have had a terrible food void in the Clare Valley with relation to the consistency of quality food and the opening times of restaurants. It has been a disaster for years.”
Thankfully, this is changing. Barry’s release went on to use glowing terms to announce the opening of Artisan’s Table Bar and Bistro. All going to plan, Skillogalee will extend its kitchen and open for night service and O’Leary Walker Wines will open a showpiece 150-seat restaurant and cellar door before these words reach you, pending availability of the right operator to take charge of the kitchen. This seems to be the challenge in Clare. I have enjoyed wonderful lunches at Stephanie Toole’s The Station Café at Mount Horrocks. But chefs come and go in rural places, and even Toole’s enticement of free rent and services has not attracted a replacement, at the time of writing. I am eagerly awaiting another press release from Barry to announce the reopening of this delightfully situated cafe.
All of that being said, the Clare’s finest dining establishments are lacking only in their numbers. Follow my recommendations in your travels and you will be well satisfied.
There’s a rising feeling of isolation in the Clare Valley. Mobile phones go dead in many parts and unless your GPS is more savvy than mine, it probably won’t know where you are. All of which is rather disconcerting at first, but ultimately you’re here for a country escape and losing your gadgets might just add to the relaxed feeling of the visit.
A little advanced planning will help you get around. Swing by the information booth opposite the escalators at Adelaide Airport and grab a copy of the Clare Valley Regional Visitor Guide. There’s an ominous absence of street names on the maps, but it will generally get you where you need to be.
Most tourists crawl to the Clare through Elizabeth and Gawler, and that’s the route still marked on some maps. The locals know better. As you leave the airport, follow Sir Donald Bradman Drive towards the city and turn left on South Road. Genuflect as you pass the Coopers Brewery, follow route A13 and turn off on the A1. Head north then turn off to Mallala at Two Wells and pull into the Mallala Hotel (1 Adelaide Rd, Mallala, 08 8527 2249) for lunch.
Less than an hour from the airport, you’ll find plenty of Clare Valley winemakers stopping here for a meal with a modern twist. The wine list will tell you who visited most recently to show their wares to publican Dylan Stodart. When he’s not serving Coopers-beer-battered fish or pulling Coopers at the bar, you’ll find Stodart on his replica Adelaide Oval cricket pitch. Pop out the back for a hit yourself.
Don’t loiter for too long, though, the Clare Valley beckons. Within three-quarters of an hour you’ll be in Auburn, on the doorstep of the Clare’s most famous wine producer, Grosset Wines (Stanley St, Auburn, 08 8849 2175, cellar door opens from September 4 to October 10). What a place to start! Grosset sells out within a month, but if the cellar door located in the 1907 butter and ice factory is shut, you can always find a bottle at the Rising Sun Hotel (Main North Rd, Auburn, 08 8849 2015). Grab an extra one for dinner tonight. Jeffrey Grosset is one of Australia’s greatest riesling minds, and his Polish Hill and Springvale Watervale wines are among Australia’s finest. All of his wines are made with the most exacting precision; don’t miss a single detail of this legendary estate.
Just around the corner is Mount Horrocks Wines in the charming Old Railway Station (Curling St, Auburn, 08 8849 2202). Stephanie Toole is Jeff Grosset’s partner, her vineyards are next to his and she makes her wines at the Grosset winery, but any vinous association ends here. These are distinctive wines, made with Toole’s exacting, no-nonsense approach. Each is worthy of your attention and her Cordon Cut is Australia’s best sweet riesling.
Before close of business, make a quick phone call to Wild Saffron (288 Main North Rd, Clare, 08 8842 4255). This bustling cafe and gourmet food shop in the heart of Clare makes picnic hampers to order, with specialty cheeses and local antipasto products. Break your “never eat takeaway on a wine escape” rule and order tomorrow’s lunch.
It’s time to settle in for the night and if you’re up for a self-contained vibe, treat yourself to Skillogalee House B&B (Hughes Park Rd, Sevenhill, 08 8843 4311). An ideal location in the centre of the region to base yourself, there are two purpose-built cottages (two and three bedrooms) and a spacious historic stone farmhouse immaculately restored and furnished to provide five-star luxury indulgence. You’ll need to bring some friends to make the most of this idyllic location, nestled between fruit trees, berry vines and vineyards. Three couples would be ideal because the larger cottage is is so expansive that even the bathroom could be a bedroom (and it once was). The definition of hospitality is taken to new heights with generous breakfast supplies and a kitchen equipped with everything you could need. When you book, order an almost-cooked dinner for your first night. Then unscrew your Grosset and recline in splendour on the veranda overlooking the garden, vineyard and lake.
If hosted accommodation is your scene, you mustn’t miss the Clare’s most luxurious B&B. Thorn Park by the Vines (Quarry Rd, Sevenhill via Clare, 08 8843 4304) is the life passion of partners David Hay and Michael Speers. If you ever wondered what it was like to travel like a rock star, now is your chance. The accommodation is lavish, but this visit is all about dinner, and the company and old-fashioned hospitality of your inimitable hosts. After 30 years in the area, they are friends with many local winemakers and will keep you entertained with their anecdotes. At the same time, they will present a silver-service meal as fine as any you will enjoy in the region, with fresh ingredients, and accompanied by well-priced wines from a cellar of the best that the region has to offer. You can also BYO, so get that Grosset flowing and settle in for a long night.
There’s a strong case for never leaving either of these magnificent B&Bs (ever) but a new day and new adventures call. If you’ve now tossed your GPS, as I did, and the maps in the Regional Visitor Guide are leading you astray, pop into the Clare Valley Visitor Information Centre (cnr Main North Rd & Spring Gully Rd, Clare, 1800 242 131) and pick up an A3 sheet with the best maps of the region and, yes, the streets are named.
This will get you to Wild Saffron to pick up your lunch and then down to Watervale to visit Kerri Thompson at KT and the Falcon (by appointment, with advance notice, 0419 855 500). Welcome to the future of Clare Valley wines! Thompson has an intimate knowledge of the local vineyards and is passionate about expressing the personality of each site. Her three beautifully defined rieslings reveal the diversity of the variety and her reds reflect an inherent balance in the vines. Make sure you taste the wines she makes for Crabtree, too, and don’t miss the impressively varietal tempranillo.
The next village further south is Leasingham, the home of one of the Clare’s best-value producers, O’Leary Walker Wines (Main Rd, Leasingham, 08 8843 0022). This is a large facility, but only one-quarter of its production goes into its own brand, and this is one clue to its consistent quality. David O’Leary and Nick Walker are the other. Having made wine all over Australia, they say they’ve never found a region that produces such consistently good wine as the Clare. Their rieslings, shiraz and cabernet are bargain benchmarks and their Claire Reserve Shiraz ranks among the region’s best. You certainly shouldn’t miss their incredible new cellar door with phenomenal 270-degree views all the way to the Barossa.
Scoot up to Sevenhill to discover the history of the oldest winery in the Clare Valley, Sevenhill Cellars (College Rd, Sevenhill, 08 8843 4222). Built and operated by the Jesuits since 1851, there is graffiti from the Christian Brothers hidden on the inside of the spirit store door in beautiful old-fashioned cursive dated 1869. Take your time to explore the church and museum and wander down into the old cellar. The sprawling gardens are the perfect location for your picnic lunch, so grab a bottle of 2008 Inigo Merlot from the cellar door and spread out under a tree.
Sevenhill Cellars is an ideal launch point to set off on the Riesling Trail on a bike that you can hire from the cellar door. The Trail follows the former railway course from Auburn to beyond Clare, giving it one very important advantage – trains do not traverse steep slopes! It maintains the quaint feel of a traditional railway route, with landscape and vegetation changing quickly as you ride past postcard scenes of churches and grazing cattle and sheep. From Sevenhill you can follow the main trail up to Clare or down through Penwortham, Watervale, Leasingham and Auburn. If you’re particularly athletic, follow one of the three loops off the original railway route. Those who are up for a large hill, can cycle all the way out to Pikes. You’re in for an exceptionally big meal tonight, so maybe that hill is not so daunting after all?
With so many local-produce markets to choose from, chances are you’ll have already plundered all you need to whip up a storm at Skillogalee House tonight. If not, your destination is Artisan’s Table Bar and Bistro (above Kirrihill Cellar Door, Wendouree Rd, Clare, 08 8842 1796). After many incarnations, this restaurant is now a family affair, with Roger Graham in the kitchen, wife Tania at front of house and four daughters helping out at any opportunity.
It’s not just about the wines at Knappstein Wines & Brewery (2 Pioneer Ave, Clare, 08 8841 2100). The original Enterprise Brewery began making beer here in 1878. Today, you can watch the process through big windows. Don’t miss the steaming pots on brewing day (Tuesday) or bottling (Thursday). It’s the wines that are the attraction and you must try every one. Perfumed rieslings, age-worthy reds and the best sparkling shiraz in Clare.
Of all the Clare cellar doors, I am most tempted to fill my boot at Tim Adams Wines (Warenda Rd, Clare, 08 8842 2429). Adams is one of the harder-working winemakers in the country and this is reflected in every one of his well-priced wines. He is attuned to texture and structure above overt flavour, so every wine is honed and accurate. With more than 10 wines to taste, this is a great place to experience a diverse range of varieties.
Time for lunch at the region’s finest restaurant. The first and only full-time winery restaurant in the region, Skillogalee (Trevarrick Rd, Spring Gully, 08 8843 4311), has been open for lunch seven days a week, 363 days a year for 19 years. The original stone cottage in the vineyard has two rooms and a veranda but if the weather is fine, sit outside under the olive tree, overlooking the cottage garden and the vines. The theme here is interesting dishes from around the world. Set aside a good deal of the afternoon for a lazy lunch and don’t miss the soufflé. Enjoy the full Skillogalee range by the glass – the menu recommendations are spot on. No Clare producer has soared in quality faster than this winery in recent years, so stop by the tasting bench to try anything you missed over lunch. With vines dating since the early 1970s, planted in picturesque lines along the contours of some of the region’s higher slopes, this is a visit to savour.
Try to drag yourself away before sundown, as there is one more spot you mustn’t miss, unless you made it this far on the Riesling Trail yesterday. Wind your way between majestic gums to discover one of Australia’s best-value rieslings at Pikes (Polish Hill River Rd, Sevenhill, 08 8843 4370). Celebrating their 25th year of winemaking, Neil and Andrew Pike continue a proud family tradition. While you’re here, wander upstairs in the century-old shearing shed to explore a local artwork exhibition.
After today’s lunch you won’t be up for a marathon dinner, so pop in for an impressive pub meal at the Sevenhill Hotel (Main North Rd, Sevenhill, 08 8843 4217). Reinvented variously since 1863, this is a great spot for a casual dinner. The original cellar runs the length of the main building, and you can drop down to choose a bottle from a good range of well-priced local wines. This is the hub of the Clare, and if you make it in early, you’ll brush shoulders with plenty of winemakers popping in for a Coopers after work.
The best route back to Adelaide is the way you arrived, with a little detour. Pop into Paulett Wines (Polish Hill River Rd, Sevenhill, 08 8843 4328) to enjoy an Aged Release Riesling and budget sweetie (Late Harvest Riesling) while taking in the sprawling view over the Polish Hill River. Then on to the historic little hamlet of Mintaro, a sleepy little village with the grand Martindale Hall, a 19th-century Georgian mansion.
As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Live in the sunshine, swim the sea, drink the wild air.” After an escape to the Clare Valley, you certainly won’t be in need of any fresh air from a bottle.
WORDS TYSON STELZER PHOTOGRAPHY JIM BARRY WINES
This article is from the August/September 2010 issue of Gourmet Traveller WINE.