There is nothing like a day spent in McLaren Vale. Yes, South Australia is blessed with many beautiful wine regions, but nothing feels more like home than the Vales. And there you will find an inspiring sense of community and local camaraderie. You’ll feel it every time you step into a cellar door or local eatery. It’s elegant without being pretentious, and above all truly dedicated to authentic regional produce. If the opportunity arose, I would move there in a heartbeat.
First Stop – White Wine Experience with Dowie Doole Winery
The day began at Dowie Doole Cellar Door with its modern homely decorated feel and lovely long patio. The winery began in the mid 90s and is now headed by Chief Winemaker and Managing Director (and all round nice fellow) Chris Thomas.
With an impressive swag of trophies and awards under his belt gained during his time working in various top wineries in the Vales, he is a force to be reckoned with. In fact, the winery was just named a ‘Top Ten Dark Horse Winery in Australia’ by famous wine writer James Halliday in his recent Wine Companion release.
Dowie Doole produce both premium reds and whites, and today we had a flight of 4 whites each matched to local cheeses, guided by our Cellar Door host Beth. The most interesting part was that these whites were all the Chenin Blanc variety (sourced from specific 80 year old vines in Blewitt Springs).
Wine Critic Phillip White recently wrote an article (view here) on the Dowie Doole Chenin’s and their ability to age. Prized in the Loire Valley France as a premium white variety, the Chenin grape shines particularly bright in the McLaren Vale light.
The best place to fully experience all that the versatile Chenin grape has to offer is right here. The first two wines in the flight were the Dowie Doole Estate Chenin Blanc 2014 then 2015. Both had bright aromas of passionfruit & guava jumping out of the glass, with tangy citrus notes and stunning length on the palate. I always try to encourage friends to discover new wine varieties, and this one is a sure fire hit every time (even for the loyal Sauv Blanc lovers).
The two aged premium Tintookie Chenin Blanc’s were next, and they showed further complexity and creaminess thanks to the added use of French oak barriques and lees fermentation. Creamy fruit salad aromas and flavours of apple and pear, with a touch of honeysuckle – I was in heaven.
The 2008 Tintookie was matched with a strangely delicious and unique, semi-hard Italian farmstead cheese dipped in Raspberry Tart Ale. This was my favourite. Wine and cheese matching is quite an art form, and Dowie Doole have overwhelmingly succeeded.
Second Stop – Red wine Experience with Shingleback Wines
Next stop only a few minutes away was the Shingleback Cellar Door located next to the McLaren Vale Visitor Centre. While they too produce all colours of grape varieties, they have a heavy focus on reds. Started by the Davey brothers in the late 90s, Shingleback has gone from strength to strength with John Davey’s attention to detail as Chief Winemaker and Viticulturist paramount.
Here we were given a gourmet platter of meats and cheeses, a cute mini loaf of fresh bread and by far the best duck pate of my life, sourced from the Elbow Room restaurant next door (we’ll get back to that later!).
Cellar door manager David ran us through a line-up of 4 Shiraz’s (the hero red variety of the region) from entry level right up to ultra-premium.
The first was the highly quaffable, fruit forward South Coast Shiraz, followed by the Davey Estate Reserve Shiraz with its enticing blackberry waft laced with spice and dark chocolate. This estate grown wine receives a mixture of both French and American Oak maturation and will easily please any Shiraz lover.
These two wines exemplify why the winery was recently awarded ‘Top 10 Best Value Winery in Australia’ by James Halliday. Then we tasted a long time personal favourite of mine, The Gate Shiraz, with its sumptuously rich and complex flavours of plum, mulberry, blueberry and mocha oak.
The ever impressive single vineyard D-Block Shiraz (a previous Jimmy Watson Trophy Winner) was last with its classy thick glass bottle. David pointed out that the thick glass not only looks good but actually helps insulate and protect the wine.
Designed to showcase the absolute best Shiraz from the McLaren Vale region, the D-Block Shiraz is luxuriously seamless with a mix of blackberry, strawberry and toasted French oak on the palate. After tasting the 4 red wines it was abundantly clear that Shingleback are one of the benchmark wineries for McLaren Vale Shiraz!
Third Stop – Ellis Butchers
To appreciate the strong food culture and ethic of McLaren Vale, we visited the Vales famous gourmet butcher Ellis Butchers, renowned for their massive range of locally sourced and produced products.
Owner Ian Shaw spoke with pride about his store and how he works closely with the region’s highly regarded restaurants such as the Elbow Room, d’arry Verandah at d’arenberg, The Salopian Inn and the Current Shed just to name a few. Other than being completely spoilt for choice with such an incredible variety of meats, another key point of difference is Ian is one of only a handful of butchers in the state that dry age their own beef. The specially designed aging cabinet can even be viewed up close in the store, with meats swapped in and out regularly every 3 weeks or so.
Ian explained the reasons for dry aging are firstly that it helps to remove moisture and hence increase the flavour profile, and secondly it allows the natural enzymes with the beef time to break down tough tissues and therefore increase tenderness.
If you are serious about the meat you buy and supporting local produce, please make sure you pay Ian a visit.
Fourth & Final Stop – The Elbow Room Restaurant
And just like magic, the days adventures all came together at our last stop of the day, the stunning Elbow Room Restaurant. Owned and operated by highly regarded celebrity Chef Nigel Rich, well known in the industry for his work with numerous high end restaurants around SA over many years (including d’Arrys Verandah), the Elbow Room has already garnered critical and commercial success over a relatively short period of time since its opening.
The moment we stepped inside, he welcomed us with a big smile and proceeded to show us around his establishment. The origins behind the restaurant’s name he told us, came from a night in Vietnam spent with his good friend Ian (of previously mentioned Ellis Butchers). They were discussing over a few beers how they miss the notion of classic old fashioned dining where the tables aren’t jammed into a small space, almost to the point of feeling like you’re on an airplane.
Instead, a place where each table has its own space to breathe and a little bit of privacy. This concept embodies the Elbows Room’s ethos and further carries through with several separate areas and private rooms provided.
The function room with its antique furniture is housed in one of the oldest built cottages in the Vales, and has an amazing old vinyl player that I might try to buy from him one day! He then showed us his beautiful veggie and herb garden adjacent to the outside dining area and we were particularly taken with the Lemon Verbena leaves which oozed a scent of Lemon Icy Pole.
Inside the kitchen, he showed off a large old fashioned cast iron grill over a fireplace and a wine barrel he’s cleverly turned into a meat smoker.
Our first dish was the Soft Shell Crab & Papaya Salad matched with a glass of Dowie Doole Chenin Blanc. The refreshing crispness of the white wine worked so perfectly with the delicately battered Crab, that Chenin Blanc will be my go-to for Seafood wine matches from now on.
Soon after we had devoured our plates, came the Dry Aged Rump supplied by Ellis Butchers of course, with Colcannon (mashed potatoes mixed with Kale) and served with a glass of Shingleback Davey Estate Shiraz. While it’s hard to go wrong with a tender rump steak and Shiraz combination, the firm but fine tannins of the Shingleback Davey Estate Shiraz harmonised fantastically with the lovely grilled beef flavours.
The day had come to an end, and I was now armed with so much new found knowledge and a deeper appreciation for McLaren Vale and everything it produces.
It’s a beautiful thing when you can truly appreciate every single aspect of the wine you are drinking, or the food you are eating. It is also a beautiful thing when everywhere you go you are welcome with open arms and people eager to passionately tell you stories about their wineries, stores or restaurants. All I can say is take a weekend (or a week) and visit these sensational cellar doors and restaurants and discover everything on offer in front of you.
We often forget how lucky we are in Adelaide to live so very close to such an incredible region. Thank you to all the amazing people that made my adventure so special, I will be seeing you again soon!
Try for yourself!
- The Elbow Room Restaurant – December Wine & Food Package Specials
- Soft Shell Crab with Papaya Salad & a glass of Dowie Doole Chenin Blanc $29
- Dry Aged Rump with Colcannon & a glass of Shingleback Davey Estate Shiraz $39
In-Store Wine Tastings at Fassina Liquor during December
Featuring Dowie Doole & Shingleback Wineries
Dec 3rd – Fassina Walkerville – 4-7pm
Dec 4th – Fassina Somerton Park – 4-7pm
Dec 4th – Fassina Glenelg – 4-7pm
Dec 10th Fassina Pennington – 4-7pm
Dec 11th – Fassina Camden Park – 4-7pm
Dec 12th – Fassina Mansfield Park – 3-6pm
Dec 18th – Fassina Para Hills – 4-7pm
Available from Fassina Liquor Stores
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