· Riesling? In Australia?
Yes, there’s a ton of Riesling here, in a country otherwise known for its robust reds. That’s because the growing conditions here are just right for this finicky grape. Just like the hotter Barossa, Clare has those lovely, long, gently sunny South Australian summer days that are perfect for the main growing period. But the Clare Valley cools off sharply at night, giving the grapes an almost sparkling acidity that makes the wines fresh and lively in the mouth, and perfect for pairing with light dishes like grilled fish.
One of the most qualified guides in the area is Jason Miller, the man behind Rich + Lingering wine tours. He’s connected with wineries all over the area, and can sneak guests into otherwise inaccessible or by-appointment-only wineries for one-on-one tastings with winemakers.
Our other favorite operator is Mary Anne Kennedy of Taste of South Australia. Friendly, energetic and outgoing, she puts together bespoke individual itineraries for clients, and everything is up for discussion so that plans can change according to whim.
· Daytime Drinking
Start your day out amongst the vines tasting at one of the wineries that put the region on the map: Sevenhill Cellars. The winery is actually the oldest existing one in the Clare Valley and was founded in 1851 by Jesuits, originally to make sacramental wines, which it still produces today. These days, though, Sevenhill also produces a variety of white, red and fortified wines that have won accolades and awards both nationally and abroad. Take a tour of the historic cellars and look at the distinctive blue slate fermentation tanks that are peculiar to this region. You can’t leave without trying their citrusy signature Inigo Riesling, but also tipple some of the other whites they produce, like the tropical yet spicy Verdelho and the melony Semillon, then finish with the amber Light Tokay fortified wine to end with some caramel-nutty goodness.
Next on your list should be another well-known producer in the area, a small family-owned winery called Skillogalee. Just a couple minutes’ drive from Sevenhill, Skillogalee’s tasting room and restaurant are also in a historical building, a beautiful 140-year-old stone settler’s cottage surrounded by the winery’s terraced hillside vineyards. Just be sure that, in addition to the famous Riesling and chardonnay they bottle here, you try some of their reds as well, like the Shiraz and the Bordeaux-style Cabernet blends.
For your third stop, try something different at O’Leary Walker Wines, founded by David O’Leary and Nick Walker in 2001, where they produce small-batch hand-crafted wines sourced from specially chosen vineyard sites around the area. Taste their two Rieslings alongside a Semillon, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, then move on to their range of Pinot Noir, Shiraz and Bordeaux blends.
These are just three of our picks, but visitors can stop in at many more wineries and historical buildings along the well-marked Riesling Trail, which runs along an old railway line and that is great for biking or walking.
· Boozy Beds
As we mentioned, Clare Valley is about a 90-minute drive from Adelaide, so you could make a day-trip out of it, though it would be a very long day. So think about spending a night out in the country. A good budget choice is the nearby Clare Country Club, though for a little more character (and a home-cooked gourmet dinner), try a B&B called Thorn Park By the Vines where owners David Hay and Michael Speers have created an idyllic little inn among the vineyards.
Travelers needing to get back to Adelaide early the next day, but who don’t want to venture totally into the city, can consider a new boutique property in another small wine region just 25 minutes from Adelaide called Adelaide Hills. The Stirling Hotel opened recently with just five rooms decorated in a whimsically chic style that mixes urban cool with country cozy, a casual bistro and a more upscale grill.
For anyone who thinks that all there is to Australian wine is Shiraz, the Barossa’s smaller neighbor provides a beautiful, zesty, Riesling-soaked counterpoint.
Disclosure: Eric Rosen visited the Clare Valley as a guest of the South Australia Tourism Commission, but all opinions expressed are entirely his own.