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Day four of Andrew Catchpole's Regional Heroes blog from Australia

Published:  17 August, 2010

To South Australia, the undisputed 'engine room' of Australia's wine industry, producing 66% of the annual Australian crush and home to Barossa, its most famous region. In terms of regional identity, these legs of the Regional Heroes trip, taking in McClaren Vale, Adelaide Hills, Care Valley, Barossa and Eden Valley in quick succession, would perhaps be most instructive in terms of identifying both similarities and differences in Australia's best know regions.


Coming hot on the heels of cooler climate Victorian Pinots, Chardonnays and even Shirazes a McLaren masterclass at Chapel Hill proved something of a relief and revelation. Relief because after the fresh, cooler climate wines of Yarra and Mornington, there was expectation that McLaren's wines, and especially its Shirazes, would appear impenetrably dense and chunky by comparison - and precisely the sort of blockbuster vinos that has lost favour for Australia - but this was not so.


Yes, the wines were intense and concentrated. But, notwithstanding a couple of exceptions, the Shirazes of our 10-strong flight showed a freshness and aromatic intensity born of reigned in oak and, Chester Osborn of d'Arenberg suggested, this was indicative of a general move away from Parker-pleasing blockbusters to a more restrained, balanced way of making wine. The was as evident in the opening wine, Nick Haselgrove's Old Faithful, as it was in the big, chewy but still striking aromatic Battle of Bosworth that closed the flight. Both vintage variation and sub-regional differences where also examined and discussed in the masterclass tasting.


Better yet, though, was the tasting to come at the Kitchen Door at Penny's Hill, where many of McLaren's best known producers rolled out a whole host of varieties proving that The Vale is far from a one trick pony. Our group was seduced, with wines ranging from a citrus-fresh, youthful Chenin and nicely-textured Fiano from Coriole, by way of a soft fruit and mineral-lined Viognier from Mr Rigg's, to a cream and peach late release Chardonnay from Geoff Merrill.


A superb, but way to short Grenache flight followed, with wines including '08 Pertaringa's Two Gentlemen and '07 Penny's Hill stealing the show with uplifted, raspberry and cherry aromatics and juicy yet savoury fruit at their core, showing how supreme this variety can be in the hands of the right Australian producers. A Coriole and a Chalk Hill Sangiovese, both showing good varietal character, plus a Chalk Hill Barbera, bouncing with bright cherry-ish fruit, finished off an insightful taste of McLaren Vale.


Team UK also voted top marks for McLaren's producers who presented the most friendly, united and relaxed front of the trip so far - and with Aussie winemakers being pretty laid-back and informative anyway this was pretty high praise from the journeying Poms.