The search for the best wines may certainly lead to the Barossa, Hunter, and Clare Valleys, but given that the whole of Western Europe’s viticulture landscape could fit inside Australia’s varied wine regions, we'll give a shout out to South Australia's McLaren Vale, Western Australia's Margaret River and Victoria's Yarra Valley.
You can eat kangaroo steak at McLaren Vale’s boisterous Victory Hotel, meet winemakers riding waves off Margaret River’s Prevelly Beach, and sip Darjeeling at Yarra Valley’s Giant Steps.
The regions range from dry to lush to beachfront ... and you'll find winemakers very eager to show off their vineyards.
Margaret River, Western Australia:
Margaret River is a surf town a 170-mile drive south of Perth ... and within five minutes of arriving you realize that you’ve never seen a wine region like Margaret River. Spend the morning tasting, the afternoon lolling at the beach, and there's no shortage of enticing restaurants to visit at night. This thin stretch of coastline is a mandatory destination for the wines themselves, Chardonnays and Rieslings and also cool-weather Cabernets. Brisk ocean breezes, a mild climate and the silty soil that come with this oceanfront, create wines that are measured, and packed with complex flavors.
In 1965, an agronomist suggested that Margaret River’s besieged dairy farms might actually be sitting on the country’s finest land for wine grapes. The locals took him at his word and established an industry. Cullen Wines Estate’s top releases are world-class - particularly the vibrant Diana Madeline Cabernet. They make wine bio-dynamically, gauging the progress of the grapes according to the schedule of the tides. The flavors of black olive and forest floor may lead to the Old World, but a rush of bright fruit will bring you right back to Australia.
Leeuwin Estate has an entirely different feel. Their sleek and lemony Chardonnays have been called Australia’s best. The winery will remind you of a modern country house, although vast; overlooking a bright green lawn used for cricket matches - and concerts featuring the likes of Ray Charles, Julio Iglesias, and the London Philharmonic since 1980.
Dine at an outdoor pedestrian mall in Dunsborough, a half-hour to the north. We recommend the scallops five ways and venison fillet.
Later, spend a night at a wellness retreat in Yallingup surrounded by old-growth jarrah trees and a didgeridoo meditation. In the morning, head out for a swim. And drive back to the hotel relaxed, and refreshed.
The world’s most far-flung fine-wine region is a 3 1/2-hour drive south of Perth.
Pre-Taste Margaret River
- Cullen Wines Diana Madeline 2005 (Old Bridge Cellars, Napa, Calif.; oldbridgecellars.com)
- Voyager Estate Chardonnay 2005 (Englebardt’s Liquor Mart, Schenectady, N.Y.; myfavoritewinestore.com)
- Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay 2005 (Wine Library, Springfield, N.J.; winelibrary.com)
- Howard Park Riesling 2007 (Apex Beverage Company, Apex, N.C.; apexbeveragecompany.com)
- Vasse Felix Heytesbury 2004 (Southern Latitudes Wines, Carmel, Calif.; solawines.com)
Just south of Adelaide, South Australia is the fabulous wine region of McLaren Vale. Its mild slopes are closely covered with plantings that, strolling from one vineyard to other, you may feel like Burt Lancaster in The Swimmer. Hidden among the leafy hillsides are some of the crispest, gentlest wines on the continent. Check out The Victory Hotel, a hyped roadside pub that has everybody from winemakers to rugby carousers holding a drink. The food — soft-shell crabs and schnitzels; spaghetti with cockles — is amazingly diverse, and the cellar includes all of the renowned local bottlings.
With luck you'll meet visit Chester Osborn, the fourth-generation proprietor of D'Arenberg - the region’s best-known winery He may take you around himself. Osborn is one of the great ambassadors of Australian wine, and one of the industry’s great characters. His winery is an extension of his inviting personality. Osborn introduced several dozen of the winery’s colorfully named wines to the world stage, from the Footbolt Shiraz and the three-grape Stump Jump red to the limited-release Dead Arm Shiraz. You may have had them around the globe, but never so entertainingly as on the porch of d’Arry’s Verandah Restaurant, with braised duck with kimchi and pickled cherries.
At the end, you’d wish that you’d have another bottle of Osborn’s wine at hand to pair with the Chile-and-squid pie from the Pik-a-Pie Bakery south of town.
A 40-minute drive from Adelaide.
Pre-Taste McLaren Vale
- D’Arenberg The Dead Arm Shiraz 2006 (Schneiders of Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C.; cellar.com)
- Coriole Lloyd Reserve McLaren Vale Shiraz 2004 (The Cellar Online, El Sobrante, Calif.; thecellaronline.com)
- Kay Brothers Amery Vineyards Block 6 2005 (Erickson Fine Wines, Eagle, Idaho; ericksonfinewines.com)
- S.C. Pannell Grenache-Shiraz 2005 (Wine Commune, Oakland, Calif., winecommune.com)
- Samuel’s Gorge Grenache 2006 (Amazing Grapes, Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif., amazinggrapes.com)
As soon as you step into Giant Steps, outside Melbourne, you can smell coffee. You can buy wine, of course, from Giant Steps and Innocent Bystander — a special Chardonnay that tastes like nectarines and the slenderest touch of cream. They just don’t think of it as anything exalted, which is the point.
The largest producer of Yarra wines, De Bortoli, too, strives for wines that taste of their place rather than their grape. That means they’d prefer that you couldn’t tell their Viognier from their Sauvignon Blanc.
Bailey Carrodus would be another story. His Yarra Yering ranks among the favorite Australian wineries. Carrodus’s life and the modern history of the Yarra are mostly alike. Into the 1900’s, the valley had made wines that were highly regarded. Then the industry vanished. Carrodus had studied botany, and decided to try making wine. His debut vintage, the 1973, marked the Yarra’s first commercial wines since the early 1920’s.
Fly to Melbourne, then drive an hour east from the airport.
Pre-Taste Yarra Valley
- De Bortoli Estate Grown Pinot Noir Yarra Valley 2006 (Shoppers Vineyard, Clifton, N.J.; shoppersvineyard.com)
- Giant Steps Sexton Vineyard Pinot Noir 2006 (Passport Wine & Spirits, Buffalo, N.Y.; passportwineandspirits.com)
- Yarra Yering Dry Red No. 1 2005 (Wally’s Wine & Spirits, Los Angeles; wallywine.com)
- Mount Mary Quintet 2006 (Canterbury Wines, Australia; canterburywines.net)
- TarraWarra Estate Yarra Valley Chardonnay 2005 (Cabrini Wines, New York; cabriniwines.com)
So, are you planning a wine tour in Australia?