McLaren Vale, South Australia

It’s all about the Shiraz

McLaren Vale and South Australia in general is known for its Shiraz, so what better thing to do there than bike the Shiraz Trail!

A visit to Australian wine regions wouldn’t be complete without visiting a region knonw for its Shiraz. A Syrah in winter clothing, the Australian Shiraz is as big and bold as its southern hemisphere sun, and about as shy as its inhabitants (ie not at all). So what better final stop to make on my Australian adventure than biking the Shiraz Trail, in the McLaren Vale region of South Australia.

With over 80 cellar doors and a few hefty hills in this pretty part of the country, just 45 minutes out of Adelaide, we weren’t planning to visit all of them. Nor buy many bottles to take home. But it didn’t matter, because, regardless of what any Australian might tell you, visiting wineries is about so much more than the wine. Wine tourism is slick and polished, with every taste catered to. So, while you won’t likely find yourself in any impromptu tastings with the wine maker, or even meet one at all, you will have a nice time, with your tastebuds and tummies well satisfied.

The Shiraz Trail is just a mere 8kms of bike path from McLaren Vale to Willunga, but there’s plenty along the way to make a day of it. Starting early, our first stop was the Willunga market, where we purchased strong coffees and home baked cakes to fuel us for the pedalling ahead. We then headed to our first tasting of the day in what is actually a wine bar, or cellar door, just because we liked the name.

Over there

Hither and Yon was once a butcher’s shop and is now a cute little outlet where you can taste the wines of the winery with the same name. While the waitress couldn’t tell us all that much about what we were drinking, there were some surprising tastes and colours that made for a lasting impression.

Called Hither and Yon because of the Scottish roots of its owners, it translates as ‘here and over there’ which is somehow meant to relay their laid back nature. Whatever they may mean by it, we found it an appropriate companion to its wines, evoking images of Scotland, bleak landscapes, icy wind whipping, stone houses warming and all you want to do is sit in front of the fire with a mighty glass of shiraz.

Except it was 30 degrees the day we arrived, so we started with some whites like their Greco, an Italian grape, that had quite marked flavours of ginger (not usually my favourite, but it worked) and orange blossom and pears.

We skipped the rosés and went for the very very purple Grenache Mataro (fruity, herby, strong), the Nero D’Avola (lighter, spicier, reminded me of Sicily) and the Termpranillo (easy to drink). The conversation was so cheerful and the waitress so happy to share what she knew about the wines and the brothers who founded the winery that we forgot all about the shiraz.

When in Rome

Next, with our palates and legs warmed up, it was time to get back on the bikes and head to lunch in search of Shiraz. Despite the landscapes and voices being very typically Australian, there is a strong and reverent European influence in these parts, with many Italian grape varieties planted and featuring on virtually every wine list.

So, ‘when in Rome’ and all that, we opted for an Italian restaurant on an Italian family-run winery, Vigna Bottin. If I closed my eyes (and ears), I was in Tuscany. Big juicy Italian dishes such as meatballs, pastas and thick tomato sauces adorned their food menu, while the wine list was filled with all those wonderful Italian classics such as Montepulciano, Fiano, Vermentino, Barbera and their flagship wine, the Sangiovese, which was as fruity and warm as the South Australian sun.

Several hours later, with stomachs full and hearts warmed by the Sangiovese (to taste the others required a formal, paid-for tasting which we declined) we found ourselves back on the bikes in the direction of the Battle of Bosworth. The Australians are certainly not short on creative names for their wineries. All day I had been insisting we head here for their famous ‘barrel fermented chardonnay’. Just the description gave me nostalgia thinking of the days when I knew nothing about wine but adored the oaky, buttery chardys that were all the rage. My expectations were higher than the sky, and of course I was disappointed (it wasn’t that oaky!) but the cycle up the tree-laden driveway was worth it alone, with the late summer sun tumbling onto the leaves all around us to leave a warm, sultry glow.

And here we had a different experience. Their little cellar door tasting room was plonked in front of the vines near the winemaker’s house, and had all the charm of a little local wine bar. It was like having a chat with old friends. We tried several Shirazs and Shiraz blends, all of which were earthy and rich and warming. This included the Wild Boar, a rich Shiraz made so thanks to their viticultural method of cutting the fruiting canes before harvest so it dries and shrivels on the vine, thus condensing the flavours. We tried their Pinot Poir, surprisingly delicate given the climate.

And before we knew it the day was drawing to a close and it was time to pedal the last few kilometres back to base, our backpacks stocked with a few bottles to help push us down the hill. And while the tastings didn’t stop there – the following day we enjoyed the wines and museum at the quirky d’Arenberg Cube and a tasting at the picturesque K1 – it will be the Shiraz Trail that I’ll remember. And not even for the Shiraz.