How I chose where to taste.
There are a few different wine regions near Adelaide, just like in Northern California, France, Spain, and Italy. So it is important to take into account what kind of wine you like before deciding what region to go to.
(This photo specifically outlines the Adelaide Hills region but I thought it was a good image for the location of the other ones too)
I included links to the regions’ websites, they have more information and some of the wineries located there.
Barossa Valley: Known for Shiraz, as well as other bold reds. It has a hot climate so lighter varietals don’t grow as well there
Eden Valley: Higher elevation than Barrosa, so makes great whites. They do make shiraz but it tastes very different to Barossa ones.
Adelaide Hills: Cool climate, so better suited for white wines, sparkling, and lighter reds, like Pinot Noir.
McLaren Vale: Mediterranean climate, known for Shiraz but also grows Cabernet Sauvignon, and other Italian and French varietals.
Langhorne Creek: This area is cooler than McLaren Vale and also grows Cab, Shiraz and other full bodied red wines.
Kangaroo Island: Located off the coast, this area is very large compared to the other regions, so you will be able to find all sorts of styles and varietals.
Clare Valley: Also grows Cab and Shiraz but is most well know for Riesling.
My favorite wines are the fuller bodied reds: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Zinfandel, Merlot. I also knew I wanted to try Shiraz, so I took all of these things into account and decided on the Barossa Valley.
The Tour Company.
Unless you are staying in one of the small towns in the wine region, you have to think about how you are going to get from Adelaide to whichever place you chose. Since I chose Barossa Valley I was going to have to travel about an hour. To get the most of the day and try as many wineries as I could (i.e. about four), its a better idea to use a tour service or a personal driver. If I decided to rent a car and drive myself, I would only be able to taste at two places before I started to feel incapable to drive.
I went to the easiest place to find a tour company, TripAdvisor. They ranged in price from $50 AUD to $200 AUD. If the tour company looked really great, I would have been willing to spend more but I came across Trailhopper. For a weekend tour it would be $70 AUD for the day and you get to chose which places to stop at. You can hop on and hop off from the list of wineries they go to. This looked great for me, since I have a background in wine and didn’t want to be stuck going someplace that catered more to the masses.
Where Did I Taste?
My first stop was St. Hallett Wines. They’re tasting was free, and you can try up to 13 different wines. I skipped over a few that I figured I wasn’t going to like, like the “sweet” Riesling. I don’t like many white wines to begin with, and I definitely don’t like sweet ones so I chose the dry one over the sweet.
I was surprised to learn that the wineries were also using and advertising that they used American oak barrels as well as French. At St. Hallett we were able to taste two different Shiraz one aged in American oak and the other in French oak. The American oak one was my favorite but they were pretty different and I liked both. The one aged in French oak was their Old Block Shiraz, so the average age of the vines were 100 years old. I liked this stop a lot and felt my day was off to a good start.
Next I went to Lambert Estate. Our bus driver told us that the owner was from the USA and fell in love with Australian wine. So he switched careers and moved to the Barossa. This is a story we hear all the time in Napa. I found out by my host during the tasting that Lambert, the owner, was actually from Napa and that they made Zinfandel because of that. Of course the Napa native flies all the way to Australia and ends up tasting at a winery owned by a Napa native.
The tasting here was also free and you could choose what you wanted to taste. I started with their oak-aged Chardonnay and then Rose. I enjoyed both, I prefer buttery Chardonnay and they make their Rose in a French style, also my preferred style. I didn’t like a lot of their reds, but liked their Silent Partner Shiraz and their Chocolatier tawny. I usually don’t like dessert wines but my bus driver told me I had to try it and I am so glad I did.
I ate lunch here and the food was so good. They were very helpful in finding a vegan option for me, the hummus appetizer and the roasted cauliflower were what I chose, and it was so delicious. They have great balcony seating overlooking eucalyptus trees and their vineyards. I could’ve stayed there all day.
My third stop was Penfolds. They do have a $10 tasting fee here, but my hostess didn’t charge me (I think because she overheard that I worked in a winery too). This winery is probably the most well known, so I felt I had to stop here. Everything was alright, nothing really blew me away. I met some people visiting from Seattle, Washington so it was fun chatting them up and talking about wine. He was a sommelier, so it was interesting talking to him about Washington wine.
Next to the tasting room is a gin distillery and Stein’s Taphouse, so you can really hit multiple places on this stop. I don’t like most liquors so I opted for the taphouse and had a really good local beer as a little palette cleanser.
My final stop was Kaesler Winery. They also have a tasting fee of $5 but you can do a $20 tasting of their old vine wines. I recommend doing the old vine tasting, but if you’re not as picky as me the $5 one is fine. I tasted all of the “cheaper” wines, and they were alright but nothing was wowing me so I asked if I could try two of the old vine ones. I was blown away. My favorite was the Altereben Shiraz and the Old Bastard Shiraz.
Review of Trailhopper
If you have no idea where to go, or how to get around this service is amazing. There was a good balance of different wines, and other spirits, and included wineries that also served cheese plates or full lunches. If you didn’t already know, eating is essential when tasting wine.
My tour bus driver was a really sweet young girl (probably in mid-late 20’s), who knew a decent amount about wine. I went on a Sunday so my group was only 5 people, including me. We were a few minutes early to most places so we got a little extra time. You get about an hour at each place if you want to hit four, or you can spend 2 hours at lunch and do 3 wineries if you want to slow down a little. Since I was alone I was able to fit in a lunch in just an hour.
If I had more time I would have used Trailhopper again to add different region in my trip too because it was so efficient and enjoyable. It was nice not worrying about having to drive, and I was able to take a little nap on the drive back.
I do want to go back to Barossa (some locals gave me recommendations for next time) and I think I would stay at a B&B to be closer. If you were like me and had no idea where to go, definitely use Trailhopper. It makes it so easy to plan your day tasting.