We are spending a bit of time virtually in Australia this year with the World Wine Travel Writers. It makes me nostalgic for our 2019 trip when we visited New South Wales. But…now I get to virtually explore the rest of the wine regions in this part of the Southern Hemisphere.
This month we are diving into red wines from South Australia, led by Gwendolyn Alley of WinePredator. You can read her invitation post here.
You will find my colleagues forays into the subject with links at the bottom of this piece and if you want to chat about it, join us on Saturday, February 26th at 8 am PST or 11 am EST on Twitter. Just follow and use the hashtag #WorldWineTravel to join the conversation.
The Wine Region of South Australia covers the middle section of southern Australia, bordered to the West by Western Australia and to the East by Victoria and New South Wales. While the area is large, the wine-producing regions are small and sit in the southeast corner of the region.
Australian regions are broken into States, Zones, and Region. Within the South Australia State, you have the Zones and (Regions) of:
- Barossa (Barossa Valley & Eden Valley)
- Far North (Southern Flinders Ranges)
- Fleurieu (Currency Creek, Kangaroo Island, Langhorne Creek, McLaren Vale, Southern Fleurieu)
- Limestone Coast (Coonawarra, Mount Benson, Mount Gambier, Padthaway, Robe, Wrattonbully)
- Lower Murray (Riverland)
- Mount Lofty Ranges (Adelaide Hills, Adelaida Plains, Clare Valley)
- The Peninsulas
There is a Super-Zone called Adelaide (after the largest city in the region) that includes Mount Lofty Ranges, Fleurieu, and Barossa.
Of these, there are a few that are more well-known regions, that include Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale which are both known for Shiraz, Clare and Eden Valleys, known for Riesling, Riverland which is known for volume wine production (like Yellowtail), and Coonawarra which is known for its terra rossa soils and is famous for its Cabernet Sauvignon.
We will explore two of these regions; Coonawarra through a bottle of wine from Penley Estate and McLaren Vale through a bottle of wine from d’Arenberg.
Coonawarra has a long history of winemaking. In the late 1800’s they were exporting fortified wines. Then in the 1960s things began to take off as the Cabernet Sauvignons of the region were recognized.
The region is known for its Terra Rossa (that’s Italian for red soil). This red clay thousands of years in the making is made from weathered limestone that has lost its calcium. It gets its color from iron oxide. This soil is found in the Mediterranean. It is well-drained compared to most clay soils and the iron in the soil gives structure and tannin to a wine, which is great for Cabernet Sauvignon.
This soil is found on a ridge that is just 27 kilometers long and shaped like a cigar. The soil is 30% clay but drains like sand. The limestone bed restricts the root growth.
The region also has a maritime climate (well…that is similar to Bordeaux so this is making sense for great Cab). Breezes from the Southern Ocean temper the climate of the area.
The region boasts one of the most recognizable landmarks in the wine world, the humble Coonawarra Railway Siding (the Aussie term for the station) is located on the outskirts of Coonawarra. The railway track here was built in 1898 to transport Coonawarra’s fruit and while the tracks are no longer in use, this landmark still draws attention with its reminder of where the region began.
You might be familiar with the name Penfolds. Penfolds began in 1844 in Adelaide and today many of their wines sell for hundreds of dollars a bottle.
The Penley story comes a bit later. In 1947, when Reginald Tolley (of the Tolley winemaking family) and Judith Ann Penfold Hyland met and sparks flew, the two married two created the name Penley for a business.
In 1988 their children, took that name as they decided to create their own wines. Ang, Bec, and Kym Tolley, bought a plot in Coonawarra and named it Penley estate. Brother Kym, who was the winemaker, retired in 2015 and the sisters hired Kate Goodman and Lauren Hansen to make their wines, moving the brand in a new direction and bringing new life to the wines.
I love that they are celebrating women in wine here. You have 2 sisters continuing to respect the women of their winemaking family. Mary Penfold was the force behind the Magill Estate in 1844 the original home of Penfolds. Gladys Lethbridge ran Penfolds after the passing of her husband Frank, and their mother Judith was a remarkable socialite in her day.
“ Our history is a rich mix of endeavor, passion, and vision with a touch of scandal and madness thrown in for good measure. We could write a book about it. Instead, we’ll leave you with the words of our glamorous mother; words that we hope you’ll taste in every bottle of our contemporary Coonawarra wine… “Grow up and be fascinating.”
From their website https://penley.com.au/pages/about
2017 Penley Estate Phoenix Cabernet Sauvignon, Coonawarra
Their Phoenix Cabernet was a show stopper in 1989, winning gold at the Adelaide wine show in its first showing. While the wine has evolved it is still stunning.
100% Cabernet Sauvignon, this wine begins with a stunning label and the quote from Galileo “Wine is sunlight, held together by water.”
The wine is aged in French oak (just 5% new) for 12 months and then spends 6 months in Stainless before bottling.
Michael and I don’t drink Cab often, but this wine was really delightful. It was nuanced and approachable.
On the nose, I smelled fresh woody herbs, black plum, eucalyptus, black currant, and black cherry. There was also a savory umami note, and a bit of stewed fruits. It opened to more cedar notes. In my mouth, it was tart cherry and cranberry & slightly unripe blackberry. there was definitely a tart note. There was also a touch of salinity.
We easily finished this bottle. It was a wine that made you want to go back for more.
We paired it with our Valentine’s dinner of bacon-wrapped filet mignon, potato stacks, and zucchini ribbons. Sorry, no photos. We kept with the romance and put the phones away.
With its Mediterranean climate and accessibility to nearby Adelaide, McLaren Vale definitely has a draw for wine lovers.
Named for John McLaren who surveyed the area in the 1830s. Grapes were planted here in 1838 with wineries popping up in the 1850s. Through the 1950s production of fortified wines increased and the Mediterranean climate drew Italian immigrants who brought olive oil production to the region.
Small cellar doors began popping up and in the 70s we saw Shiraz, Cabernet, and Grenache become the driving varieties in the region.
Now there are 80 cellar doors and almost 200 producers and this is considered one of the most environmentally-friendly wine regions in the country with over 72% of the area under vine using the Sustainable Australian Winegrowing Program.
The region also boasts diverse geology, with “40 unique geological units…ranging in age from less than 10,000 years to over 650 million years.” From this, in the future, you could potentially see 19 unique districts in the region.
They also have an Old Vine Register, with plantings that are over 100 years old. The state as of 2021 remains Phylloxera free.
I got a look at d’Arenberg a few years ago when my dear friend Dean visited the winery. He was touring with Cirque du Soleil and was in the region when friends tossed him in the car for a wine country adventure.
Here’s a bit from my research for the piece I wrote then.
Established in 1912 when Joseph Osborn and director of Thomas Hardy and Sons, sold his stable of prize-winning horses to purchase this property. Funny thing is, Joseph was a teetotaler! (Okay, if you are not familiar with Australian wines, this probably doesn’t mean squat to you. Here’s the deal: Thomas Hardy is known as the Father of South Australian Wine. He planted ¾ of an acre of Shiraz back in 1854. Thomas Hardy and Sons was the largest wine producer in Australia in the last 1890s)
His Son Frank joined them and they acquired more vineyards and when Joseph died in 1921 and Frank took over the business.
In 1927 they built a winery to make their own wine, shortly after Francis Osborn (known as d’Arry) was born.
In 1943 d’Arry left school at 16 and worked full time in the winery since his father Frank was ill. He took control of the winery in 1957 when Frank died and launched his own label d’Arenberg in honor of his mother Helena d’Arenberg who died giving birth to him. d’Arry’s son Chester joined the biz in 84 and is the Chief Winemaker.”
Chester is quite a character, you will find him dressed in bright colors and trippy patterns, a bit psychedelic hippy, meets jester. It is understandable then that he would not want a typical cellar door. The d’Arenburg Cube opened in 2018 (that was a year after Dean’s trip). It is a building/art installation in the middle of the vineyard in McLaren Vale. Inside it is a blend of art gallery, fine dining restaurant, and tasting room with quite a bit of personality.
“Each of the five levels have been carefully designed to entice and excite the senses, including features such as a wine sensory room, a virtual fermenter, a 360degree video room, and many other tactile experiences.
Visitors are encouraged to explore the Alternate Realities Museum, located on the ground floor, and view the many art installations on display.”
From their website https://www.darenberg.com.au/darenberg-cube/
Okay…Alternate Realities Museum (yeah, I want to see that)
They have two wine clubs, one is called the Cenosilicaphobic club (for people who fear an empty glass).
2008 d’Arenberg Vintage Fortified Shiraz
Dean brought back two wines for me, one we enjoyed when he returned at a gathering together, the other is this 2008 Vintage Fortified Shiraz.
This wine is made from the same vines as their first declared vintage back in 1928.
“These old vines are stumpy, gnarled and deep-rooted, distinguished by their small bunches of highly coloured and intensely flavoured grapes” (from the d’Arenberg site)
This wine was dessert for us, along with individual molten chocolate cakes topped with fresh blackberries and raspberries.
It’s time to explore more of the wines of this region with my fellow wine writers at #WorldWineTravel!
- Cam of Culinary Adventures with Camilla shares “Beyond Shiraz in South Australia with Dagwood Dogs, Rissoles, and a Limestone Coast Cabernet Sauvignon”
- Wendy of A Day in the Life on the Farm shares “Visiting South Australia; Home to one of Australia’s Oldest Wineries”
- Cindy of Grape Experiences shares “Powerful, Prestigious Barossa Valley Shiraz”
- Allison of AdVINEtures shares “The Great Australian Red Wine: Cabernet-Shiraz”
- Jeff of Food Wine Click! shares “Riverland Surprises in South Australia”
- Terri of Our Good Life shares “Penfold’s Koonuga Hill Shiraz Cabernet and Busy Day Soup”
- Linda of My Full Wine Glass shares “Barossa Shiraz from ‘All the Land Around'”
- Susannah at Avvinare shares “Barossa Valley Memories”.
- Nicole at Somm’s Table shares “Splurging with a Penfold’s Bin 389 and Oxtail Stew”
- And our host this month Gwendolyn Alley of Wine Predator shares “Celebrate Family Fun with Eight at the Gate: 2 Shiraz with Pie Floaters”
Need more information on these regions and wines!
Here are some great resources!
For more details on Australian wine visit https://www.wineaustralia.com/
For more information on Coonawarra wines visit https://coonawarra.org/
For more information on Penley Estate visit https://penley.com.au/
For more information on McLaren Vale https://mclarenvale.info
For more information on d’Arenberg https://www.darenberg.com.au/
More on Crushed Grape Chronicles on Australian Wine
- Walsh & Sons – Next-Generation Wines from Margaret River in Western Australia #WorldWineTravel
- Swift – Delicious Traditional Method Sparkling Wines from Printhie and the High Altitude Vineyards in Orange Australia
- 2 days in Orange? Too little time for this beautiful Australian wine region!
- On Australia – fires and wine
- Nashdale Lane – Great People, a Rainbow of Wines and the Perfect Glamping Experience in the Orange Wine Region
- Angullong in Millthorpe – Wine, Welcome to Country, Indigenous Dances and bush Tucka in Orange NSW
- Digging into Biodynamic farming with Rod Windrim of Krinklewood
Discover our new video series “The Scenic Route”
A few years back we started taking extended trips driving to wine country. While wine country was the draw, the fact is that to get to wine country, you often have the opportunity to drive through some beautiful places. We planned our travel on the scenic highways and byways along the way, allowing us to soak in some beautiful scenery.
In 2018 we attended the Wine Media Conference in Walla Walla and did a Pre-Conference Excursion to the Yakima Valley. We met Barbara Glover who runs Wine Yakima Valley and she introduced us to many of the local winemakers. The visit was just enough to whet our appetite, and we made a plan to return.
Here begins “The Scenic Route”.
This two-week road trip was packed with multiple wineries and some amazing scenery as we traveled from Las Vegas to Washington State. We found delicious local food, stunning scenery, and our days were filled with Wine and stories.
Our Scenic Route trips have allowed us to visit so many wineries with stories to tell and we wanted to tell them in more depth. So we decided to create an expanded version of “The Scenic Route” visiting and exploring the area in and around wine regions.
These are beautiful places because good grapes enjoy a view.
Join us as we take
“The Scenic Route”
Find the teaser video on The Crushed Grape Chronicles YouTube Channel
What a lovely trip down memory lane…we were lucky enough to dine at the Cube and meet Chester in person, what a character! Sadly, I believe it’s no longer a restaurant since COVID. Hopefully they resurrect it as it was among the great meal experiences of our lives.
I remember reading about your trip to the Cube and meeting Chester! I do hope they are able to reopen the restaurant.
I don’t often drink Aussie or NZ wines as they’re hard to find here except for well-known producers. The Penley CS sounds delish, and with your Valentines meal… on my ‘see if I can order it’ list. Wonder if Penley Estate is anywhere near that Coonawarra railway sign, love it?!?
It looks like it is a 5-minute drive from the Winery to the Railway Siding. Not a very big town, with a population of 137.
These are all such great stories. I particularly liked the Penley story as it was cool to see where a thread of the Penfold’s story continues in a different direction.
Indeed! I love that they are channeling the spirit of Mary Penfold, with Women driving the business!
Thanks Robin for a great article and for sharing your knowledge with us. I hadn’t realized that one of the Penfolds had broken off onto their own. I’m anxious to try Penley’s.