Contrary to the sprawling, arid plains of Australia’s Outback, the “sunburnt country” is home to many a thriving green vineyard. This is particularly true in McLaren Vale, where more than half of all Australian Shiraz is produced.
Located in the South Australia wine state just a short drive south of Adelaide, McLaren Vale is considered to be among the most significant viticultural areas in the world. For a relatively small region, it’s impressively diverse. A number of different red and white grape varieties thrive here thanks to the varied terroirs that coexist within this one appellation. The producers themselves also come in many shapes and sizes; McLaren Vale is home to both industry giants and small, high-end wineries alike.
Regardless of variety or producer, the McLaren Vale wine region produces some of the most coveted high-quality wines in all of Australia.
Growing Grapes in McLaren Vale: Value in Variety
Traditional European wine wisdom prescribes a simple equation: to produce high-quality wine, you must acquire grapes from only a few specific, high-quality terroirs. While some Australian vintners subscribe to this tradition, many more—especially in McLaren Vale—prefer to achieve a greater depth of complexity by extensively blending grapes from a variety of vastly different terroirs.
This should, perhaps, not come as a surprise for a region so rich in options. While there are no formally recognized subregions of McLaren Vale, winemakers recognize 19 different geological districts within the appellation. These are sometimes used to distinguish between wines sourced from different terroirs within the region.
- Sellicks Piedmont. Sandy, gravelly, with some clay in the soil, located along Sellicks Beach.
- Delabole Piedmont. More clay and less gravel than Sellicks, just north of the beach.
- Willunga Piedmont. Similar to Delabole Piedmont, but further north and inland.
- Aldinga Plains. Gray and mottled clay mixed with calcrete, located along the coast and encompassing Silver Sands, Aldinga, and Port Willunga.
- Whites Ridges. Just north of (and similar to) Aldinga Plains, but at a higher elevation with more calcrete near the surface of the soil.
- Gloucester Sand. Pebbly sandstone, located slightly more north and inland than Aldinga and Whites Ridges.
- Maslin Coast. Varying types of sand mixed with some clay and capped with limestone and sandstone.
- Noarlunga Embayment. One of the larger districts, located partly along Christies Beach. Features a wide mix of clays, sand, sandstone, and gravel.
- Onkaparinga Rocks. Slaty siltstone, sandstone, and limestone to the east of Noarlunga.
- Beautiful View. Sand, limestone, and scattered sandstone on high ground to the south of Onkaparinga Rocks.
- The Gateway. Rocky to fine siltstone located just off the coast between the previous four districts.
- Blewitt Sands. Coarse sand and sandstone area around Blewitt Springs.
- Bakers Flat. Silty clay, sand, and gravel; one of the smallest districts in the region, located just north of Blewitt Springs.
- Clarendon Rocks. A huge district spanning much of the South Mount Lofty Ranges, with Clarendon at its heart. Mainly siltstone with some patches of pebbly sandstone and clay.
- Range Escarpment. Varying types of siltstone, limestone, and dolomite. Another large district encompassing most of the eastern side of McLaren Vale.
- McLaren Alluvium. Sand and gravel mixed with silty clay, sprawling unevenly around McLaren Flat.
- McLaren Sandhills. Nine distinct sections of pebbly sandstone surrounded by the McLaren Alluvium district.
- Kurrajong Landslide. Rocky clay and silt with silica east of McLaren Flat.
- O’Halloran Rocks. High coastal ground north and east of Happy Valley Reservoir, composed mainly of siltstone and sandstone.
In general, the McLaren Vale wine region is considered to be a Mediterranean climate. It features mild winters that rarely dip into freezing temperatures and summers dry enough to ward off most vine diseases. Cool winds from over the Gulf Saint Vincent and the Onkaparinga River help give the grapes grown here some structure and acidity, and the overall stability of the weather contributes to the consistent quality of this region’s wines. Most vineyards, regardless of soil type, drain quickly, which results in smaller grapes with more concentrated flavors.
While shiraz (syrah) grapes make up the majority of McLaren Vale grape varieties, the region is also well known for producing mouthwatering Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, Chardonnay, and Riesling wines, among others.
Top Producers and Vintages from the McLaren Vale Wine Region
Though it attained its GI (Geographical Indication) status just over two decades ago in 1997, visionary vintners Thomas Hardy and John Reynella planted the first grapevines in McLaren Vale as early as the 1800s. Since then, the region’s viticultural prowess—and output—has only continued to grow.
Today, McLaren Vale is home to over 150 different wineries, many of which stand among the highest-lauded in the country. Perhaps the most important of these include the following:
|Clarendon Hills||Known for Shiraz (or, as they prefer to call it, Syrah), but also produces quality Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Mourvedre wines. All are highly acclaimed single-vineyard, single-variety biodynamic wines.|
|Coriole Vineyards||Experiments with combining traditional and modern techniques to produce a wide variety of red and white wines, with a primary focus on Shiraz.|
|d’Arenberg||Shiraz, Grenache, and Cabernet Sauvignon are the main focus. Produces over 30 different wines each vintage.|
|Hugh Hamilton||Specializes mainly in Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon. Hugh Hamilton’s Ewell winery boasts the largest wooden winemaking vat in the Southern Hemisphere.|
|Fox Creek||Their flagship wine is Shiraz, but they have been known to make red, white, and sparkling wines of international acclaim.|
|Oliver’s Taranga||Best known for Shiraz, this winery’s portfolio also includes Mencia, Vermentino, Fiano, Grenache, and more. They are among the founding members of McLaren Vale Sustainable Winegrowing Australia.|
|Primo Estate||Specializes in novel takes on classic Italian variety wines, such as the “Primo Secco” (Prosecco) and Shiraz Sangiovese. Best known for their JOSEPH label wines, they also produce their own olive oil.|
|Two Hands||Once dubbed “the finest negociant operation south of the equator” by Robert Parker, this winery focuses heavily on Shiraz in the hopes of highlighting the diversity of the wine through their products. They are also known for their Grenache and Cabernet Sauvignon.|
If you’re looking to begin or expand a collection of top Australian wines, you could hardly do better than a few bottles from any of these producers. When buying, keep an eye out for the following best vintage years in the region (ordered from highest to lowest ratings according to Wine Advocate):
These years offer an excellent starting place for collectors not yet fully familiar with Australian wines. However, keep in mind that this list is only a soft guideline—there are plenty of wines that received excellent ratings outside of these vintage years.
Collecting and Enjoying McLaren Vale Wines
The McLaren Vale wine region is lauded not only for the quality of the wines produced, but also for the longevity of those wines, with some ranking among the longest-lived in the world. As they also tend to appreciate significantly over time, these wines are not only delectable—they are extremely collectible.
The best way to find the wines you’re looking for is to shop online. You can easily compare different tasting notes, ratings, and prices, and you are more likely to find rarer bottles this way than by trying your luck at a brick-and-mortar shop. In general, the fewer bottles released, the greater the likelihood that a wine will only be available online.
Purchasing winery-direct wines helps guarantee provenance since shipments are delivered straight from the winery.
Shopping online also makes it easy to find retailers that offer the added benefit of professional storage facilities and winery-direct stock. By taking advantage of professional storage, you can ensure your wines are kept in top condition, no matter how many years they will need to reach full maturity. Purchasing winery-direct wines, meanwhile, helps guarantee provenance since shipments are delivered straight from the winery. If you’re looking to collect the best of the best—especially from a region as beloved as McLaren Vale—it only makes sense to treat them as such.
Whether you are starting your high-end wine collection or adding to an established portfolio, Vinfolio is your partner in buying, selling, and professional storage. Contact us today to get access to the world’s finest wine.