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Raise Your Glass: The McLaren Vale

21 Mar

Cellar Door – widely used in the English language to exemplify a term that is beautiful in phonaesthetics (sound) but without regard for semantics (meaning).” – how.. odd. After witlessly repeating the word to myself in varying intonations (all strangely British), I arrive at the conclusion that the World Wide Web is sadly mistaken.

Here in South Australia, the word “cellar door” is more than a pretty roll-off-the-tongue. It is, in definition, where one goes to sample wines from a specific wine-making establishment. It is the representation of a winery – the face, if you will.

On a particular sun-splashed afternoon, we took to the McLaren Vale, one of the jewels of SA’s wine regions. Just short of an hour’s drive south of Adelaide – we escape the drab monotony of the city and find ourselves amongst some of the most established vines in Australia. It’s nearly harvest season – a carpet of green. Our taste buds can wait no more..

Maximus Wines

Only 2 years on since releasing the label, this spruicy boutique winery is already churning out some lip-smacking fare. I returned after sampling their Tempranillo a while back, a restrained yet prominent ovation of fresh berries and floral notes. We made our way through three whites and seven reds – mulling the characteristic vein of elegance/playful wit that flowed similarly throughout. Their wines are priced with incredibly good value. Pulling out a carton seems almost feasible.

The sweeping views from this hilltop cellar door was breathtaking to say the least. In my mind, the word  “potential” is written all over their walls.

Note: The Maximus Cellar Door is only open every weekend (11am-4pm), but if you ring up beforehand, you may be able to secure a tasting with the amiable Rowland Short sometime throughout the week.

Pertaringa Wines

We made a quick stop at Pertaringa and picked our way through their collection; all of which held beautiful florals, whilst displaying hints of character and depth. Like dating a brainy blond. I particularly fancied the shirazs. Inky, dignified, yet not overbearing. Many take to their sweets and fortifieds, which I agree, are rather enjoyable.

Samuels Gorge

Undisputedly one of the quirkiest, quaintest cellar doors ever put together. Dusty islands of antique machinery, sideboards formed from wood and metal scraps, and sensitive touches of old knick-knacks make for an endearing setting. Unfortunately, they only had two whites and a single red available for tasting. Drops have sold out quite quickly we were told. But those that we did try (the whites) were crisp and clean. Simple, and ready for food.

Perhaps we may return when their new lot comes out in the coming months.

In essence, it was a visitation of humble heroes. There is nothing more satisfying than discovering a boutique label that produces mind-boggling work. Whilst the McLaren Vale has its share of  grand household names (d’Arenberg remains  a favourite) we never tire of exploring the craft of small, passionate makers.

For together, they make South Australian wines great.


Cellar Door Wine Festival 2011- Adelaide

28 Feb

The people came in droves. Tongues salivating. Cases of wine piled on top of one another, anxiously peering at the crowds . Eagerly awaiting their hour of glory. This, was the 2011 Cellar Door Wine Festival Adelaide officially in full swing.

South Australia saw its first state wine festival at the Adelaide Convention Centre this past weekend. Throughout the two and a half days, over 100 wine representatives from all corners of SA congregated under one roof and drank to its local pride. Sectioned according to wine region, it was essentially a massive gathering of “cellar doors” hailing from wineries throughout the state.

The sheer variety of wine on offer was dizzying and each one was faced with a grave dilemma; of wanting to taste absolutely everything, yet realising the impossibility of appreciating them all. Ah, the perpetual tension between desire and practicality.

Upon arrival, each entrant was presented with a “passport” (our exhibition bible), a $5 token for a full glass of wine and a Smart Car competition entry – all curled up into a Riedel glass purposed for the days’ tastings. And with that, we were off – touring the wine  regions of SA, free to taste to our hearts’ content. We started off with whites, which slowly evolved into rich reds. Sampling the Reislings of Clare Valley, then ambling through the Langhorne Creek. Learning of the Riverland’s yield, and through to the Southern Fleurieu. Relishing Coonawarra, and the Limestone Coast. Then finally, picked our way through the Adelaide Hills, Eden Valley, McLaren Vale and Barossa.

Big labels rubbed shoulders with obscure wineries and it made for an extremely educational outing (think Wolf Blass, Penfolds and d’Arenberg standing alongside the likes of Battle of Bosworth and Tomfoolery). How gratifying it was to experiment the offerings of smaller producers as well as converse to the characters behind the counters.

The only real issue of the day: that spittoons (where you empty out your wine or spit after tasting) were not getting emptied out. Halfway through the afternoon, we were experiencing some serious splash-back action. How refreshing.

The “Regional Farmers Market” (food court) was a saving grace as the appetites of many were stirred after tastings. We gave our tastebuds a much needed rest and settled our bums on milk crates amongst the fleet of communal tables, all adorned in full country fashion with sackcloths and potted plants.

Many spent much of their day attending Masterclasses held by industry/wine gurus. These were small classes of about 30, and were unfortunately sold out very early. But some of the interesting ones that caught my eye were the chocolate & wine pairings, microbrewery glass tastings and SA’s Regional Classics with Tony Love.

But no matter! There’s always next year, and the year after, and after, and after… So if you missed out on this year’s event, keep an eye out for the next Cellar Door Wine Fest Adelaide!

We wait, with bated breath and expectant goblets.

Tasting Notes: Clarendon Hills Brookman Merlot 1999

22 Feb


This brick-red coloured drop (showing gentle tinges of brown) travelled a short one hour from Blewitt Springs, SA, into a particular writer’s thirsty glass – a fortunate cause.


This McLaren Vale neighbour did not disappoint. Dusty, savoury, briny on the nose with whiffs of sundried tomato and dried muscatels – an inquisitive start. The palate held up excellently and what impressed the most was its balance. Having the desired smokiness of an aged merlot, whilst a surprising element of freshness still present. Dried red berries lingered amongst savoury notes; a medium-bodied wine.


Best enjoyed stag (the wine, not in company). Partly serious, exceptionally easy.

*Retailed at around A$70. Buy online or scour specialty bottle shops.

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