Rumpole, this is a re-post from an OZ trip I took in 2005. It might be useful to you. I agree with Jenise, the Halliday book will be really useful to you in terms of noting cellar door hours, overall quality of wineries, etc.
"I had a great time in Oz, of course. I spent 3 weeks there, spending a lot of time visiting wine regions, mainly in South Australia, but a bit in Victoria too. Over 100 wineries were visited from seven regions. Whew - it's a dirty job, and not only TORB should get to do it!!
I've been to Oz ever since 1985, and of course there have been lots of changes. The thing that struck me the most was the growth in the quality of food on offer. In 1985, meat pies and fish & chips were the culinary highlight, and ethnic food didn't exist, with the exception of chinese takeaway. Their meat pies and fish & chips still rock, but I ate very well while I was there, even in the wine regions.
Of course, there has been an explosion of wineries too. But even better is the noticeable and welcome appearance of a wine culture. This is something that Canada (or even the U.S.) hasn't accomplished yet. References to wine was common in the media, and it just seemed that wine had secured a new place in the country's heart (in the cities, that is). They are justifiably proud of their wines.
Just to show you I'm not a complete wine dork, I did manage to spend a few days on Kangaroo Island (not as exciting as I'd hoped) and the Flinders Range in the SA outback. The latter was wonderful.
Of course, the wine regions were also normally very beautiful places too. The Clare Valley is tops in my book, with the Mornington area and McLaren Vale also being rather nice. The weather was amazing the whole trip, with a real warm, dry Fall season throughout. Most wineries were still picking, but at a very unhurried pace. It was a great time to visit. Most said the late Fall weather made it a potentially great vintage. The summer was fairly cool.
OK, I'd better stop babbling and get on with it, otherwise it will be 20 pages long. Sorry in advance for the spelling errors!
First up was two days in McLaren Vale. I'd been there once before, but have to say it really impressed me a lot more on this trip. Shiraz was king here, of course. The cabernets are OK, but just don't have enough varietal characteristics for my palate. Of the about 20 wineries visited, Coriole, D'Arenberg, and Wirra Wirra stand out for the high quality of a large range of wines. Coriole's Lloyd Reserve Shiraz 2002 was a standout of this visit and of the whole trip. The Wirra Wirra 2002 trio of Grenache, Shiraz and RSW Shiraz were all great. BTW, all these wineries opened up every bottle they had, including the premium wines. This was the norm in Oz, and I really appreciated the opportunity to try these wines. Good on 'em!!! Kay Brothers is my kind of cellar door - rustic, laid back with an owner/winemaker pouring, but unfortunately they were out of both the Hillside and Block 6. But their Tawny and Muscat almost made up for it! The 2000 Balmoral (Rosemount) was also a standout. New finds were Hugh Hamilton, Richard Hamilton (their Centurion Shiraz 2001 was a seamless, earthy, outstanding wine), and especially Kangarilla Road. They seem to fly under the radar in Oz, but Parker (quite rightly) raves about them. Their range of wines were uniformly excellent, and their prices were even better! Their 2003 shiraz (all of $19) was one of the top shiraz I tasted in the region, and I took a BYO bottle of that to an amazing restaurant in Willunga. "Russell's Pizza" is only open 1 day a week (Friday), and they make from scratch some of the best pizza I've ever tasted. The veltvety smooth shiraz went down a treat with the killer pizza.
BTW, another 'good on ya' to Oz for having BYOs!!!!! God, I wish we could do it here...
Coonawarra was next. For me, this is the pinnacle of Oz cabernet. although I hasten to add that we don't get many WA cabernets here yet. Sixteen wineries visited here, with Punters Corner being the best all round for me. They seem to be getting better and better. Don't pass up their 2001 or 2002 cab if you see it. The Majella range was also excellent, with the 2001 'The Malleea' a standout. More than a few wineries (e.g. Bowen Estate) has too much of a green note to their cabs that was offputting to me. The find of this trip was a small winery called Ladbroke Grove. Again, a uniformly outstanding range of wines, with their flagship 2001 'Killian Vineyard' cab a real gem. I brought one of these home. This was the one region where good food was hard to find.
The lovely Clare Valley was next. Overshadowed by its near neighbour the Barossa, this region deserves a visit. About 17 wineries were visited. We stayed in a winery-based cabin for two nights; a beautiful setting, with the Kookaburras serenading us at sundown each night. And the Sevenhill Hotel just down the road had excellent food and a great wine selection. Pricing was suberb: $1 above winery prices, with an additional $7 added on if you wanted it for BYO that night. The [Annie's Lane] 2000 Copper Trail SGM was excellent, and the 2001 Copper Trail Shiraz was even better. The Jeanneret cellar door was wonderful, and so were their wines: the whole range was great, and this place was a real find. Mount Horrick's range was excellent too. Our hosts managed to get us into Kilikanoon, and their range was great. They also got us into O'Leary Walker, and their wines were great too: their 'Claire' Shiraz 2002 was a highlight of the Clare, and indeed of the whole trip ($90). A great QPR winery was Sevenhill Cellars: great shiraz, cab and blend at great prices. The Leasingham Classic Clare range was excellent, and I brought a bottle of their Sparkling Shiraz 1995 back. Their 2002 Bin 61 Shiraz was a great QPR wine, one we get here that I'd recommend. We drank a LOT of Clare reisling; my partner and I really developed a love of this extremely austere, dry, citrus fruit style. It needs 2-3 years to soften up a bit, though.
Barossa was next. Lots of good wineries amond the 27 or so we visited. Lots more recognizable names here: I enjoyed Turkey Flat, Charles Melton, Grant Burge, Glaetzer, Elderton, Kaesler, Langmeil (very friendly cellar door), Veritas, Torbreck and Two Hands. Once again, Penfolds and Seppelt cellar doors suck. Penfolds in particular is rather galling: they only serve up to the Bin 389 level (the only wine I'd buy from the 2002 vintage, BTW). At least Seppelt offered a taste of their 'Grand' level fortifieds for a fee. Speaking of fees, they are almost non-existent in SA. Two Hands ($5) and Torbreck (both $5) wre the only two in the Barossa, and they may be the thin end of the wedge. I don't begrudge a tasting fee, but I do fear the Napafication of wine cellars. I refuse to visit Napa now, as cellar door visits have merely become a revenue generator for many wineries. I know it's a difficult issue, with lots of pros and cons on both sides, but I sure hope the Barossa doesn't become another Napa. You certainly can't complain about a tasting fee of $5 at Torbreck, where they opened up EVERY wine, including The Runrig (now $225). Top wines include the Torbrck 2002 Runrig, 2003 Descendant and 2003 Struie; the Veritas 2003 'Pressings'; Two Hands Samantha's Garden 2003; Langmeil's Freedom Shiraz 1999 (the 2003 Valley Floor is a great QPR wine); Kaesler 2003 Old Vines Shiraz; Orlando St Hugo 2001 Cabernet; Grant Burge Meshash 2000; Burge Family Dracott Shiraz and Olive Hill GSM 2003; and Glaetzer Bishop Shiraz 2001. I drank two bottles of the latter wine while I was in the Valley (BYO again), and brought one home - an excellent shiraz!!!; brought a St Hugo cabernet back too (but it's Coonawarra fruit). Find of the visit was Leibich wines; I'd never heard of them, but they had a rustic, old fashioned cellar door, and their wines were all made in a take no prisoners kind of style; good prices too. They even had a drinkable Merlot!! Food highlights here were Vintner's Inn (it was fun seeing Peter Lehmann there!) and 1918: Barr Vinum was full/closed, unfortunately. Don't miss visiting the Kaiser Stuhl Conservation Park after visiting cellar doors here: there are great walks there through lovely forests, with lots of friendly 'roos to see up close and personal.
OK, this is way too long already, I'll condense the remainder (famous last words). I finally got to visit Rutherglen. I had to do it as a day trip from Melbourne - this shows great dedication people, as it's almost a 4 hour drive each way!!! I visited the 6 classic houses: All Saints, Buller, Campbells, Chambers, Morris and Stanton and Killeen. I was very lucky, as 4 wineries had at least one 'Rare' level wine open for tasting. Again, a hearty 'good on ya' to these wineries for pouring their liquid gold. Chambers was my first and favorite visit. A friendly and generous host, and an amazing range of wines- about 30 in total. I didn't taste them all, and I didn't love all I tasted, but they can make some great non-fortified wines too! Their rare Muscat was an A+ wine: multiple wows here! Just an incredible depth and cacaphony of flavours. The All Saints Classic Muscat was great too, as was the Buller Rare Tokay and Muscat, the Stanton and Killeen Rare Muscat and the Campbells Classic Tokay and Muscat. Oh, on the way there, I stopped off at two Goulburn valley wineries: Tahbilk and Mitchelton. The latter was nice, but visiting Tahbilk is a real experience. Living history, really. Frankly, their reds aren't really my style, though I've never waiting long enough to really try one at peak (the 1840 Shiraz -yes, that's when the vines were planted is incredibly backward). But, oh, their aged Marsanne!!! This and the aged Hunter Valley Semillons are wines only made in Oz. I bought a 1997 at the winery (for all of $20!!!) that at was joy to drink - one of the top wines of the trip. Wish I could have brought a case or two home...
I'd never visited the Mornington Pennninsula either, and that was interesting. The top chardonnays there are amazing. My visit to Main Ridge Estate was one of my favorities of the whole trip: a tiny (8 acre) property, the incredibly passionate and committed owner/winemaker greeting you and answering all your questions, getting a personal tour, and tasting wines that almost made me fall off my chair. His chardonnay is mindblowing. All the good Mornington chards have this amazing nutty characteristic, reminiscent of a Meursault, and they have the power of a grand cru. His Pinots were the best I've tasted in Oz too (although an Ashton Hills was close). Frankly, Oz and Pinot don't really mix all that well, but the Mornington is one of the best sites for it. I brought a bottle of their chardonnay ($47) home. Why don't we hear more about this winery?!?! Stonier was another great lineup and visit here, as was Eldridge Estate.
Lastly, 7 wineries in the Yarra Valley were visited. Probably the most 'commercial' wine region, as it's the weekend playground of Melbournites. Nothing too exciting here, although some nice chardonnays are being made, and an occasional nice shiraz. Coldstream Hills manages to make nice, ripe reds here somehow".