A Taste of Australian Wine: The Barossa Valley
By Gavin Trott
There wouldn't be much doubt that
if I asked people around the world to name just one Australian wine region,
most would say "The Barossa Valley".
Why is this? Well, some excellent promotion over the years has helped, it
is the home of Penfolds Grange, plus there are a myriad of other reasons.
An important factor in this is the fact that the Barossa Valley is our most
important wine region. Just look at the names based there, a who’s who of
large quality producers, mixed with some of our most stunning boutique
wineries. Any list would have to include Wolf Blass, Penfolds, Orlando,
Seppelts, Peter Lehmann, Yalumba, and Krondorf, who between them produce
some 50% of all of Australia’s wine!
Add to this the important boutique producers like Charles Melton, Rockfords,
Henschke, St Hallett, Greenock Creek, Torbreck and others and you can see
that this is the region most people start with when discovering Australian
However, the real reason lies in the wines themselves, as they offer a
unique style of wine coupled with remarkably consistent quality.
… well, the Barossa producers all make wines designed to please. Pleasing
the customer should be obvious, but it appears that not all wine producers
aim to please the consumer all the time! In the Barossa they take all those
many hours of sunshine and clean air and turn it into wine, all flavour,
ripeness and health in a bottle. Many of the wines are made not for deep
thinking and considering, but for enjoying. They are fun wines, upfront,
tasty and enjoyable, made to be slurped down with good food and good
friends. A generalisation … of course, but not far off the truth I think.
The style does emphasise two things however, very ripe fruit (indeed its
hard to grow fruit there that does not get fully ripe) and American oak. At
its best this produces wines chock full of fruit flavour with hints of
chocolate and vanilla, often at great bargain prices. It can occasionally be
overdone, over ripe and over oaked, but these wines are slowly lessening in
number I think, most producers seem to get it about right most of the time.
… at the top end the quality is amazing, Grange, Old Block, Nine Popes,
Run Rig and many others prove that the Barossa makes world class wine.
However the valley makes wines of an extremely high standard across the
board, and at almost every price level, from Grange down to Krondorf Shiraz.
Indeed, it is hard to find a Barossa Valley wine that is not clean, well
made and enjoyable, and the range of exceptional quality wines is expanding
… the Barossa Valley is some 45 minutes drive north west of Adelaide,
and just far enough inland to be away from the moderating effect of the sea
enjoyed by McLaren Vale. On average it is also a couple of degrees warmer
than Adelaide and has long, dry summers. It is a climate suitable for grape
ripening, ..so ripe grapes is what you get, cool climate varieties do not
work, and you can safely ignore most Riesling, all Pinot Noir, all Sauvignon
Blanc and look for wines emphasising fruit and flavour.
… look for flavour, richness and ripeness, so Semillon, Chardonnay on the
riper end, Grenache, Shiraz, Cabernet, Merlot and ports are the staples.
… Semillon is a surprisingly successful variety in this region.
However, do not look for wines like those from the Hunter Valley, these are
on the riper end of the spectrum, often oak aged, and designed to be enjoyed
while young. They are in the main excellent, and make a terrific alternative
to the ever-present Chardonnay! Enjoy them with richer seafood dishes, they
are great with poultry and can handle the rich sauces that other wine styles
… the Chardonnays from the Barossa are wines of richness and
ripeness, often barrel fermented, and they are designed to be enjoyed young.
You should expect flavours in the riper peach and melon range, often with
buttery flavours and usually in American oak. Very attractive drinking when
young, and again, able to cope with rich seafood and poultry, even some char
Orlando St Hilary
… this is Grenache country, indeed the Grenache revolution started
here with Charles Melton and his Nine Popes, and continues strongly today.
The Barossa has some of Australia's, indeed the world's, best and oldest
Grenache vineyards. These are mostly bush vines and un-irrigated providing
small crops of very intensely flavoured grapes. Most of these used to be
blended with Shiraz and sometimes Mourvedre, but increasingly they are 100%
Grenache. Terrific wines full of rich upfront flavours, most of which won't
cellar, or at least do not need to be cellared. Nine Popes is a notable
exception. Drink these with rich meat dishes, casseroles, hearty dishes,
game meats and char gilled meats and barbeques.
Charles Melton Nine Popes
Turkey Flat Grenache Noir
Yalumba Bushvine Grenache
Penfolds Old Vines
… Barossa Valley Cabernets really have more to do with their region
than with classic Cabernet flavours. The sunshine wins out against the
variety I think. Don't expect many of these wines to mimic Bordeaux, they
can't, indeed I don't think they want to. The wines will be all about rich
fruit, flavours in the blackberry and plum group, American oak usually, with
ripe tannins and medium term cellaring life. The best of these create a
lovely chocolate/mocha edge to the wine, very attractive and appealing if
not overdone. Drink with lamb, beef, your favourite red meat dish really.
Henschke Cyril Henschke
… the Barossa Valley and Shiraz go together. Many vineyards of very old
vines, dry grown grapes, small yields and American oak create richness,
flavour, length, aging ability, spice, chocolate and much more. These wines
are identified by their personality, fruit and more fruit, noticeable oak
and aromas that leap out of the glass, they are real 'in your face' styles
of wines. Drink these with red meats, they are great with beef particularly.
Try (well, where do I start and end?)
St Hallett Old Block
Henschke Mt Edelstone and Hill of Grace
Grange (although these days this is much more a multi regional blend)
Rockford Basket Press
Veritas Hanisch Vineyard
Greenock Creek 7 Acre Shiraz
Torbreck Run Rig
Dutschke St. Jakobi and Oscar Semmler
… a recent arrival as a varietal wine but it shows great promise.
Again expect rich upfront flavours and designed to be enjoyed while young.
..these are tawny port styles; solera blends most of them. However
they have been made for generations and so the stocks of older wines are
outstanding. Tawny brown in colour, these wines are amazing value for money,
incredibly complex, rich yet often light, and the perfect end to a meal
Seppelt DP 90
Yalumba Galway Pipe
Gavin is the manager of the
Australian Wine Centre (a large
collection of affordable, rare and cult Australian wines) and hosts the very
popular Auswine Forum (An
online discussion forum about Australian wine).