A Guide to Australia's McLaren Vale Wine Region: The Vineyards to Visit and Best Bottles to Try
Journey to this coastal region—less than an hour’s drive from Adelaide—for heavy hitters like Grenache and Shiraz, but also grape varieties from around the world.
I’ve long believed that Grenache has the potential to rise to the top of the worldwide oenological charts, if only more consumers had access to the best bottlings. Its greatness and potential ageability are display in top Châteauneuf-du-Pape and many Garnacha-heavy Spanish blends, but the Grenache and Grenache-based blends of McLaren Vale are every bit as successful.
Wine has been produced in this coastal region less than an hour’s drive from Adelaide since at least the mid-1800s, and the varied (and postcard-ready) topography means that in addition to Grenache and Shiraz, it’s a hotbed of grape varieties from around the world. Over the course of just few days there, I tasted wines that incorporated Tinta Mencia, Tempranillo, Sangiovese, Montepulciano, Cinsault, Arneis, and many more.
The Grenache from McLaren Vale, however, is what still haunts me. Chapel Hill’s 2016, produced from grapes grown on bush vines, was all brambly fruit and spice, whereas the High Sands Grenache 2014 from Yangarra Estate showed the sleeker side of the variety, with lots of violets and mixed berries. Wirra Wirra, on the other hand, crafted a more perfumed and lifted Grenache with its 2016; the raspberry, red cherry, and goji berry were strikingly fresh and alive.
Sun-drenched and kissed by the weather of the nearby sea, tasting here is likely to be accompanied by fabulous fish and seafood—a good thing, since the whites and rosés form such an important part of the local wine culture. Of particular note was the Mitolo Jester Sangiovese Rosé 2017, with its seashell crispness and red berries. It would make a refreshing gulper right out of the ice bucket, and a more complex glassful with a bit less of a chill.
This spectrum of grape varieties and styles is perhaps most viscerally embodied by the wines produced by d’Arenberg: A multi-hour tasting there only scratched the surface of what they are doing: The 2014 “Conscious Biosphere” Petite Sirah - Aglianico blend, all savory and spicy with gobs of black licorice, is typical of their fascinating, gutsy, exciting wines. And the names of them are phenomenal; if any producer has come up with a better one for a wine than D’Arenberg’s “The Cenosilicaphobic Cat,” a blend of Sagrantino and Cinsault named for the fear of an empty glass, then I haven’t seen it yet.
Bottles to Try
Yangarra Estate Vineyards High Sands Grenache 2014 ($90)
Wirra Wirra The Absconder Grenache 2016 ($59)
Mitolo ‘The Jester’ Sangiovese Rosé 2017 ($22)
d’Arenberg “The Cenosilicaphobic Cat" 2011 ($29)
Hickinbotham “The Revivalist” Merlot 2015 ($77)
Brash Higgins NDV Nero d’Avola 2014 “Amphora Project” 2016 ($34)