Go into almost any restaurant today and the wine list probably
includes a number of choices from Australia. Savvy diners know that
these wines often mean good quality and decent value (relative to
Californian or European selections). Increasingly, connoisseurs
head Down Under to visit the better wineries in person, bringing
home an assortment of vintages that would be hard to find in the
The wine industry was a major lure for me when I visited South
Australia last December. The state produces more than 50 percent of
Australia’s wine, and although South Australia is also famed for
its Outback and the wildlife of Kangaroo Island, I found a lot for
visitors interested in the viticulture experience.
A tour of wine country logically begins in Adelaide, South
Australia’s capital and home to two-thirds of the state's
1.5-million population. A charming city with an English air,
Adelaide was colonized in the 1830s by the British. "They arrived
and they wanted their library, their rose gardens, their culture,"
said Sandy Pugsley, the cheery owner/guide of Tourabout Adelaide,
who showed me around town for a day.
The National Wine Centre of Australia opened in 2001 in
Adelaide, a beautifully designed facility that gamely attempts to
bridge the gulf that separates the novice from the connoisseurs of
fine wine. Interactive exhibits allow visitors to "question"
winemakers, wine critics and chefs, while another exhibit
challenges guests to make a virtual wine visitors choose the
production techniques, the grapes and other elements, and then the
"wine" is graded on its probable quality.
The centre’s excellent restaurant, de Castella’s, takes a novel
approach to menu ordering: It’s organized by wines, followed by a
recommended dish crafted to accompany that glass. Open for lunch
only, the restaurant overlooks the lovely Adelaide Botanic
I spent the evening exploring Rundle Street, where several
blocks are lined with cafes and bistros, most of which spill onto
the sidewalk. Greek, Italian, French, Spanish and more were
represented. It was easy to see why Adelaide claims to have more
restaurants per capita than anywhere else in Australia.
To get a feel for wine country, I spent the day with Mary Anne
Kennedy, who runs a touring business called A Taste of South
Australia. Kennedy’s tours focus on not only the wines of South
Australia, but the food and lifestyle as well. Her full-day private
or shared excursions are $175 per person (minimum two passengers),
hourly rates are $43 and a 10 percent commission is provided to
As we drove out of Adelaide, Kennedy described the 13 wine
regions of South Australia, most of which are within 100 miles of
Our first stop was Adelaide Hills, just seven miles out of the
city, and an area well regarded for Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay
especially the one created by Petaluma Wines, a winery situated in
an old water-powered flour mill. The Chardonnay was stylish and
complex, but lacked the heavy oak flavor common in California
Adelaide Hills is also known for its Devonshire tea, which is a
light meal with freshly baked scones served with jam and fresh
cream; and for the Lyndoch Bakery, an authentic German shop. At
Kennedy’s suggestion I tried the bienenstick “bee sting” a
delicious custard pie topped with almonds.
The German bakery was a good way to segue into the Barossa
Valley, Australia’s most famous wine region.
Today, the Barossa has dozens of medium and small producers, but
the marquee name is Penfolds, which crafts the Grange Hermitage,
one of the world’s most prestigious red wines. Yalumba was another
Barossa estate with stateside recognition and a roster of fine
sparkling wines. Shiraz is the primary grape planted in Australia,
and it’s the Barossa’s specialty the wines have a reputation for a
long shelf life.
Heading north we soon entered Clare Valley, which Kennedy
suggested is more like “the real Australia”: eucalyptus trees
splayed majestically along the hillsides, and rural landscapes with
paddocks checkered by vineyards and bed-and-breakfasts.
We passed by the cellar door for the boutique label Grosset,
only to find a “sold out” sign (as Kennedy predicted). Fortunately,
Jeffrey Grosset’s specialty wine, Riesling, is also made by his
wife Stephanie Toole at her winery, Mount Horrocks. Her Cordon Cut
Riesling had a bountiful bouquet and was a good buy at $20 a
Not far away was Thorn Park Country House, a stone homestead
built in the 1850s. Doubles at Thorn Park are $211 including a
roaring breakfast feast.
Though decidedly pastoral in setting, I found Thorn Park’s
reputation for fine dinners at a private or family table to be more
than justified. My meal was shared with a family from Brisbane, and
we dined happily on prawn and papaya salad, grain-fed beef and wine
from Seven Hills Cellars, sharing great conversation throughout the
Good food, good company and great wine. It was a fitting end to
the day in South Australia.