the big barossa

A free hire car upgrade is always a good way to start a weekend away. Satnav on and away we go, out of Adelaide, up the Main North Road to wine country. Shiraz country, to be precise: the Big Barossa.

Once past the outer suburbs the landscape becomes more and more sun-scorched, all browns, ochres and straw-yellows. An hour later we round a bend in the highway and there they are: vineyards stretching as far as the eye can see. “Hello vines!”, I call excitedly.

Off the main highway we meander towards the town of Nuriootpa. I welcome each winery sign like an old friend: Torbrecks; Richmond Grove; Peter Lehman. We locate our guesthouse and head straight to the cathedral of wineries. Penfolds seems the perfect place to worship on an Easter weekend.

I queue to buy some tawny, then join the crowd at the tasting bar. Never mind the pinots, or the affordable Koonunga Hill: I ask the pourer to start me on a shiraz-grenache-mourvedre mix. The first sip is divine, and so it begins.

On down the list I go, past an interesting shiraz-mourvedre and a very lovely cool-climate shiraz, but predictably it is the big Bin 28 that has my eyes rolling back in my head as the deep purple liquid hits home.


The big hitters of 2010 – Bin 408 cabernet sauvignon and Bin 389 cabernet shiraz, the Baby Grange – are tempting. But it’s the last pour, the 2010 Bin 150 Marananga shiraz that is the very best of all. As the last drops trickle down, I thank the lord for those first pioneering Barossa winemakers who made their home here way back in the mid-1800s.

Back in our guesthouse, we open a bottle of the farm’s own 2008 shiraz and lower ourselves into the waiting hot tub on the verandah. We sit and gaze over the vines as the sun sets, moving on to a decent local tawny as we put the world to rights.


Back inside we curl up on the sofa with a platter of local pates, cheeses and salamis as darkness settles and the countryside falls silent.

Another day in wine paradise.


culture shock 3 – wine

Some of my favourite trips have been to the wineries of Victoria and beyond. It took quite a while before I even wanted to try anything but Victorian wines.

A trip to McLaren Vale with Noela earlier this year turned my head to South Australian wines. Wirra Wirra earned a star in my firmament, and I have a handful of other lables laid down for a special occasion.

A couple of bottles of Hurley vineyard 2005 pinot noir are just about to be cracked open, I think, whilst we are holding onto a couple more bottles of vintage Chandon bubbly for a really special occasion.

Hanging Rock winery’s winter luncheon is a landmark on the social calendar, especially if I keep winning magnums of their best-selling Heathcote shiraz.

City Wine Shop is my “local” bar, a place where I am happy to pop in alone for breakfast, coffee or a drink after a meeting – not to mention their legendary wine tasting evenings.

That all said, I managed a birthday trip to Rutherglen – home of amazing fortified wines and wonderful reds – without so much as one purchase. Orlando was proud of me. At last his plea to write the names down and buy them at a discount in Dan Murphy’s has been listened to.

visiting noela & the mclaren vale wineries

My friend Noela moved back to Adelaide in the New Year. We miss her! So much so in fact that I went to visit her for the weekend about a month after she had moved there. 

We ate at an amazing Italian restaurant in the city, Rigoni’s, where I was actually served one of the best Spanish paellas I have ever tasted. This Adelaide institution has been open for almost 30 years and it is a real institution.

Next day we spent the evening at the market – what a civilised way to do your weekly shopping. Strolling aisles through cheeses, deli items, good coffee and fresh fruit and vegetables, followed by a fantastic and ridiculously cheap dinner of noodles in the laneways of Asian restaurants surrounding the market.

The highlight, of course, was the day spent wandering the wineries of McLaren Vale on the Saturday. In Noela’s little Fanta can of a car, we buzzed down the freeway to the McLaren Vale region – only about an hour away from the city and overflowing with good wine. Starting at the very first place we came across, the wine flowed and the people welcomed us.


Simon Hackett is a great little winery with a friendly lady in the tasting room who pressed an open bottle of red wine on Noela for free because she loved it so much and it was the last one. We could have stayed there all day in the cool air, putting the world to rights. The crowds of weekend tasters had not yet descended and it seemed like we were the only two people in the McLaren Vale. We left with about six bottles between us, which is not too alarming until you remember that the car was TINY, we were only at the first winery and I had to carry all my purchases onto a plane later that day…


My favourite winery had to be Wirra Wirra, where the red wines just kept coming. For months now, my mid-week regular has been Wirra Wirra’s Scrubby Rise – a shiraz cabernet petit verdot which should cost lots more than the $17 they charge me at Dan Murphy’s. The Church Block cabernet shiraz merlot is a slightly more robust and sophisticated wine, but my heart still goes back to the Scrubby Rise again and again.

At Dowie Doole (how could I drive past with a name like that) we sat in the courtyard in late afternoon, five glasses in front of us, and tasted our little hearts out accompanied by some rather good cheese. Marvellous.

Dowie Doole glasses

A coffee and a nice sit down in Market 190 finished off our day, along with the purchase of some wonderful condiments such as a decent chilli jam as we paid our bill. How sad that I had to run back to Melbourne so early. But I am already looking forward to my next trip.

culture shock – wine

We live surrounded by vineyards. It is heaven to live in a country where wine is a locally-produced item. Nowadays, even buying a South Australian wine seems pointless when there are so many Victorian wineries I haven’t tried yet. My personal favourite is Candlebark Hill up in the Grampians, in Hanging Rock country (about an hour’s drive from here). But the Yarra Valley and the Mornington Peninsula are no more than an hour’s drive from home, and we haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of these regions or Geographic Indications, the Australian version of “appellations controllées”. 

Grape varieties I have never heard of are enthusiastically embraced by boutique wineries. Petit Verdot, Arneis and  are wines I could select by the glass the other night in a small wine bar. Even grape clones are heralded as varieties in their own right: for example the MV6 pinot noir clone so beloved of the Hurley vineyard on the Mornington Peninsula. However I don’t think I will ever be able to bring myself to order a glass of “cab sav”, preferring to give cabernet sauvingnon its full title always, despite not being understood by many waiters.

All in all, food and wine here in Australia is so different in many aspects as to be a completely new experience. I cannot think of one way in which our lives have not been enriched by this aspect of Australian life.

Mornington Wineries

We cruised down country lanes with the colours of autumn all around us. We saw glorious red and golden vineyards through the trees, and tantalising glimpses of the bay and the Tasman Sea glinting on the horizon, as we hopped from winery to winery tasting the best of the Mornington Peninsula’s wines.

One was Eileen’s favourite winery restaurant. The Montalto vineyard and olive grove also has a sculpture exhibition dotted around the estate which allowed us to enjoy spectacular views across the vineyards whilst inspecting the exhibits. The restaurant terrace certainly looked lovely, and we will visit again one winter afternoon for a fix of sunshine with our food.

My personal favourite was the last place we visited, the Hurley winery at Balnarring, run as a hobby by two pinot noir enthusiasts, lawyer Trish and her QC husband Kevin. They have three vineyards surrounding their house, Lodestone, Garamond and all of which produce a wonderful pinot noir. We sampled the 2004 vintage before Trish gave us a tour of the vineyards, delivering the best short course possible on winemaking in 20 minutes. It was hugely educational, and I was fascinated to see how close together the three vineyards were (they are essentially right beside each other, just separated by wind-breaking trees) given the vast difference between the two wines I’d just tasted. The third vineyard’s wine had not been launched from the 2004 vintage as they were not happy with it.

Back in the tasting barn, Trish gave us a taste of the 2005 vintage which were sitting in oak barrels. This time the three vineyards were represented, and again I was amazed at how different they were. Despite Orlando’s protestations that I buy no more wine, I had to come away with just two of the Lodestone 2004 vintage. However I was eclipsed by Kelvin who bought 10 bottles to make up a full case between us!

The Hurley wines are available at a number of good restaurants across Melbourne, and you can get on their mailing list to keep track of their wines too.

Victoria Wineries: Vines, Wines and Views

One of the best things about Australia is the wine. And there are plenty of little wineries not too far a drive from the city, where you can fill the boot with great bottles and maybe catch a good bite to eat while you’re at it. Many of the wineries have outdoor eating where you can sit back and enjoy a perfect view while you sample their goods.

Domaine Chandon
“Green Point” Maroondah Hwy Coldstream 3775 Victoria
Every day 10.30am to 4.30pm
Guided tours of the winery at 11am, 1pm and 3pm

Yering Station
Yering Station 38 Melba Highway PO Box 390 Yarra Glen, Victoria 3775
Wine tasting, gift shop, lovely café and fine dining in the new wing
Cellar door 10-5 (6 weekends)
Restaurant from 10.00

Mooroduc Estate
501 Derril Road, Mooroduc 5971 8506
Cellar door 11-5
Dinner Friday – Saturday
Lunch Saturday – Sunday

Crittenden at Dromana
Harrison Road, Dromana 5987 3800
Cellar door 11-4
Café 12-3

Roundstone Winery and Bistro
54 Willow Bend Drive, Yarra Glen9730 1181
Cellar door 10-5 Wed – Sun
Bistro 10-5 Wed – Sun

Mitchelton Wines
Mitchellstown Road, Nagambie 5736 2222
ellar door 11-5
Café from 11.00

Candlebark Hill
Fordes Lane, Kyneton, Macedon Ranges 03 98362712
No cellar door but worth calling them for mail order or find them in Victoria Market – it’s one of my favourite wineries!!