Tuesday, March 8, 2016

One Day Wine Tasting in the Barossa Valley, Australia

(Feb. 19, 2016) At the end of our 3 day conference, we signed up to attend the one-day private wine tasting tour in the Barossa Valley. Just like the McClaren Vale, I had visited Barossa several times previously, but this time there were some new wineries on the agenda.

Previous Evening Dinner at Hill of Grace Restaurant

Given the fact that we had enjoyed a 5-course dinner paired with wine at the Hill of Grace Restaurant in the Adelaide Oval Stadium the evening before, the 8am departure was a bit challenging. Especially since our dinner had started at 7:30pm with wonderful Henchke sparkling, and did not conclude until around 1am. We were treated to an amazing variety of Australian specialties, including lobster, prawns, quail, kangaroo, lamb, and chocolate all paired beautifully with Henchke wines.  Therefore the mood on the bus on the one hour drive to the Barossa was a bit quiet.

Dinner at Hill of Grace Restaurant at Adelaide Oval

Charlie Melton Winery

Our first stop was the Charlie Melton Winery, which I had never visited before. I was enchanted with the old wooden bar that served as his cellar door, surrounded by ancient vineyards, many over 100 years old.

At Charlie Melton Winery
Charlie himself welcomed us, and explained this was the earliest vintage in his 43 years of winemaking. He said if we didn’t believe in global warming, then we should!  We started in the winery, where we watched them emptying tanks of fermented shiraz into large plastic tubs that were transported via forklift to the press. A young Australian Shepard darted through our group of 20 to try to lap at the spray from the hoses washing down the tubs.

Then we settled down to a private tasting of 4 wines at a long table set-up on the veranda, overlooking a green lawn with the heritage vines just beyond. They were a magnificent site in their gnarled old bush vine glory, heavy with purple clusters of Grenache.

We tasted one rose and three shiraz wines, and all exhibited unique character and a natural reflection of the land. The wines were served with fresh baked bread, olives, and oil. Charlie described his winemaking philosophy as one of traditional Australian values, while the Australia Shephard roved around the table and tried to entice people to throw a toy to her.  It was a great way to start the day!
Old Vine Grenache at Charlie Melton Winery

Grant Burges Winery

Recently purchased by Accolade, Grant Burges Winery was in stark contrast to Charlie Melton. We were escorted to a shiny new private tasting room overlooking the vineyard, where we were invited to take a seat at a long elegant table. The Director of Hospitality and Marketing Manager reviewed the wines with us; beginning with a stunning sparkling that they said was one of the top selling wines in Australia.

We tasted through several different varietals, ending with the icon Mechas wine, which exhibited very good balance, firm tannins, spice, and a long finish. Another outstanding wine was the Eden Valley Riesling, which was quite affordable.

Tasting at Grant Burges Winery

Lunch at Jacob’s Creek

Like most Americans, my perception of Jacob’s Creek was one of cheerful value- priced wines. Therefore, it was educational to taste some of their higher quality wines over an excellent BBQ lunch served on a very long table in the garden, bordering the now dry Jacob’s Creek.

Relaxing on the Lawn at Jacob's Creek Winery
When we first entered the large and impressive winery grounds, we were greeted by servers offering us glasses of sparkling from a silver tray.  Then we were invited to relax on soft bean bags on a large expanse of green lawn, and nibble on fresh local bread and olives. We passed a delightful half-hour enjoying the sun and surroundings until summoned to lunch. 

The Director of Hospitality provided an informative overview of the history of Jacob’s Creek winery, while large platters of barbequed chicken, pork, potatoes, and fresh green salad were passed along the table. We enjoyed bottles of riesling, graciano, and shiraz, and enjoyed the high quality of the wines paired with the food. I left with a much better perception of Jacob’s Creek, and will remember our time spent there with fondness.

Lunch at Jacob's Creek Winery

Master Tasting at Yalumba Winery

Our last stop of the day was Yalumba Winery. I have long been impressed by this historic winery with its reputation for brilliant “stickies” – Australian dessert wines, as well as elegant shiraz and other varietals. Founded in 1849, Yalumba is one of the oldest wineries in Australia.

Yalumba Winery
The long yellow stone building with its distinctive tower is a Barossa Valley icon, and the grounds, with flowering shrubs and trees, are beautiful to behold. After wandering around a bit, we were ushered into the cooperage where we enjoyed a powerful exhibition of barrel building, where strong young men hammered the steel girdles onto the wooden staves to create a barrel.

Next we were invited to a seated master tasting for 4 viognier and 4 shiraz wines from different vineyards around Australia. The GM and marketing manager provided an information presentation on the family of Yalumba wines, which has a wide range of brands.  Then the winemaker led us through the tasting of wines.

Several of us were surprised at two of the viognier wines made with natural yeast that had a distinct note of sheep, or “wet wool” on the nose – rather like some chenin blancs from the Loire. The most impressive wine of the tasting was the Yalumba Signature Shiraz, which exhibited classic dark berry, spice, and pepper, and was made in a more elegant style with fine-grained tannins, aged in French oak.

Master Tasting of Viognier and Shiraz at Yalumba

Stopping to View the Albino Kangaroos

On the drive back to Adelaide, we drove through Eden Valley and the Adelaide Hills to descend on the winding road through the Gorge. Several people on our bus had never seen a kangaroo, and begged to stop at a small animal park along the route. While there, not only did we see kangaroos and an emu, but we saw a rare albino kangaroo and a koala in a tree-top.  Quite thrilling!

Dinner at Peel Street Café

Arriving back in Adelaide around 7pm, we relaxed at the hotel for a short time, and then met our relatives for dinner at Peel Street Café. This is a new, trendy restaurant where they serve delicious fresh local food with an Asian influence. The dishes were very creative, and we enjoyed banana flower with prawns and coconut, pork belly lemon grass salad, lamb shoulder with Greek vegetables, and a very spicy beef short rib.  I had a nice glass of Mornington Peninsula pinot noir for only $12 Australian ($9 US with exchange rate) – a very good value. The only down side to the restaurant were the uncomfortable bar stools.

Dinner at Peel Street Cafe

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