As the capital of great winemaking South Australia produces the majority of the nation’s wine, and boasts some of the oldest vines in the world. The venerable old vines found in Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale, Clare Valley and Adelaide Hills, through their isolation, survived the great phylloxera plagues that wiped out the vines of North America, Europe and Australia’s eastern vineyards.
South Australia also has a diverse range of regions from the relatively warm temperate climate of the Barossa Valley; to the maritime precincts of McLaren Vale; the cooler areas of the Coonawarra and the warm sun drenched climate of the Riverland region on the Murray River.
The region has a Meditarranean climate ideal for full-bodied red wines, and robust white wines. The climate ranges from warm on the valley floor to cool at the higher altitudes in the hills surrounding the Valley. The region has a large diurnal temperature range, high maximum temperatures, high sunshine days and low humidity and rainfall.
The complex system of valleys and twisting hills results in a variety of slopes, aspects and sites. The soils vary widely, but fall in a family of relatively low-fertility clay loam through to more sandy soils, ranging through grey to brown to red. As in so much of south-east Australia, acidity increases in the subsoils, restricting root growth and vigour.
Shiraz is recognized universally as the Barossa Valleys signature wine. The wines are lush, velvety and mouth-filling. The flavours range from black cherries to blackberries and the tannins are generally ripe and soft. Many of the wines have great ageing potential.
There is substantial climatic variation throughout McLaren Vale, due to moderating influence of the nearby ocean. There are also significant changes in altitude as the region merges with the Adelaide Hills to the East and the Fleurieu Peninsula to the South. Selection and the marriage of site to variety are all-important; Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache and Chardonnay all do very well in the appropriate location.
There is a wide variety of soil types, a reflection of the varied terrain – red-brown sandy loams, grey-brown loamy sands with yellow clay subsoils interspersed with lime, distinctly sandy soils and patches of red or black friable loams are all to be found.
The balance, power and grace of McLaren Vale Shiraz has ensured it is the region’s signature variety. Generous, textured and complex, McLaren Vale Shiraz combines intense fruit flavours with unique savoury characters. The opulent Cabernet Sauvignon of McLaren Vale is renowned for its varietal character and layers of flavour. This combination has ensured that these wines continue to win accolades domestically and abroad and the variety’s profile within the region is constantly on the rise.
The terra rossa of Coonawarra is Australia’s most famous soil, although it is not unique to the region (many parts of the Limestone Coast Zone have similar soils. Vivid red in colour, it is either friable subplastic clay or a shallow friable loam derived from and lying on top of a bed of soft limestone. There are two other soils present in the region. The first is the groundwater or black rendzina clay lying to the west of the limestone ridge and because of its poor drainage this soil is less favourable for the production of quality red wine fruit. The other is the brown rendzina or “transitional”, as it is called in the region. This is has similarities to terra rossa in all respects and is planted to red grapes quite successfully.
Coonawarra produces some of Australia’s finest Cabernet Sauvignon. The fruit flavours are very concentrated and luscious, covering a broad spectrum from black currant to plum to red cherry to prunes. As Coonawarra has achieved growing success with Cabernet Sauvignon, the high quality of Coonawarra Shiraz has tended to be overlooked. Coonawarra Shiraz produces medium bodied wines exhibiting pepper and spice fruit characters. There are many fine examples of shiraz, both as straight varietals and blends with Cabernet Sauvignon.
The Riverland is Australia’s largest wine-producing region and is located on the banks of Australia’s largest river, The Murray River, nurturing the region’s grapevines, which produce warm, fruit-driven styles of wine that have underpinned much of Australia’s success in recent decades.
Riverland winemakers are encouraging style development and making full-flavoured, generous and approachable wines that are popular the world over.
The Riverland climate is Continental, resulting in long sunny days and noticeably cooler nights. Long sunshine hours ensure fruit ripens fully and low relative humidity results in little or no disease pressures.
Riverland Chardonnay often exhibits vivacious and ripe flavours. Oak is often used, and this supports the richness of the wines as well as adding further complexity. Shiraz is currently the most significant red variety. It responds well to the region’s conditions and the resulting wines are often very approachable. Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are also grown extensively. The region’s warm temperatures tend to bring out the richer raspberry characteristics in the wines, while in cooler years the overall profile can demonstrate mint and blackcurrant.