The headline on the Barossa brochure you get from information says “Australia’s most famous region”. We figured there must be a reason for that fame so naturally we put Barossa on our schedule. This is a bit redundant really as every region is on our schedule, but nonetheless we made the not-so-arduous journey from McLaren Vale to Barossa. I consider it not-so-arduous as we decided to spend a week on the Murray River in a house boat first. This could be considered our visit to the Riverland region but not a drop of cask wine was tasted – oh well.
So here we are in Barossa. Tanunda to be exact. On first appearance it fits the standard country town mould, only one street of shops, a couple of pubs, a few restaurants, 1 IGA supermarket, some shoddy clothing stores and 2 wine making supply shops – ah right, we ARE in he Barossa after all. It’s once you get out of the campervan and stroll around that you notice that the restaurant menus are quite refined and varied, the clothing stores are quite fashionable and the pubs have had a face-lift since WWII. You also notice that there is a boutique wine tasting shop in town and a bottle shop with an amazing range, decent prices and even a whole section devoted to museum wines – mmmm, yum. Here you can get various years of Penfolds Grange as well as a sprinkling of Henschke Hill of Grace.
So the town itself has some hidden gems, next we wondered if we would find some hidden gems in scattered around the 60+ cellar doors in the region. We set off on a hot day, but seeing as every day here is 33deg or more, it wouldn’t matter what day we set off. We tend to find that hot days sap our tasting energy a little quicker so we saw less than we wanted…
This is probably on everyone’s list for tastings so normally we would avoid it, but on weekends it also hosts the small winemaker centre and THAT was on our radar. The Chateau Tanunda tasting list is fairly extensive with 4 different ranges on tasting making around 30 wines in total. The deal of the day was the Grand Barossa Classic Crisp Dry White. On special, it was down to $7 from the $18. At $7 it is a bargain, at $18 it is a rip off. This is good for making icy cold and qwoffing down on a day that is 33deg or more, hmm, maybe we should get some. It is a nice place to play some croquet and get a cheese platter though.
Small Winemakers Centre (in Chateau Tanunda)
There are “80 or so” wines on offer at the desk out the back of the main Chateau Tanunda tasting room, but only representatives of each winery can give a tasting of their wine. On our day there was only 2 of them. Boring. What a disappointment. Neither of them particularly interesting. If you’re going, I suggest calling in advance and find who is going to be there.
This place is most famous for it’s foods and sauces and yep, some of them are delicious. There is also wine available here from Beer Bros winery.
The wines by themselves are nothing worth mentioning, but have glass with the Maggie Beers lunch and they pep up a bit. But in the long run the wines are just a way for them to make more money – we didn’t sense or taste any passion about them.
This little place is on the main road of Tanunda a couple of doors down from the Tanunda Pub. The word on the street is that the owner of the Tanunda pub (who also owns the 2nd pub in Tanunda and the pub in Angaston) did everything he could to stop this little venture from opening. He wouldn’t stock the wines on offer here, but also wanted to prevent them from opening their collective cellar door. Anyway, determination, public opinion and help from some wine journos helped get this place going and their official opening is just after 2010 harvest when they have time to breathe. There is 4 family wine labels available here: Karra Yerta, Gumpara, Kurtz Family and Small Fry Wines. Small Fry Wines received an excellent write up by Halliday in his 2010 book being listed as one of the 10 dark horses to look out for. If you like giving the finger to big business and want to try some nice wines at the same time, make sure you visit these guys when you come to Tanunda. Ah, wine drinking with a conscience, you gotta love it.
Grant Burge Wines
Grant Burge is a large, corporate run cellar door and on the weekends has about 6 staff behind the counter – indicating just how busy they get. There are 19 wines on tasting daily and on the day of our visit they also had the 2 Icon Wines on tasting. In addition to these, they sometime taste the extensive range of museum wines they have available. I love it when wineries have back vintages available, it’s too rare and for that reason alone I would suggest coming here. Wines range from $16 to $35 with most priced appropriately to quality. Miamba Shiraz rates a mention at $22 but the winner is the Filsell Shiraz at $35. This is normally $40-$45 at bottle shops so for a change, you can get a decent wine at the cellar door for LESS than what you get it at a bottle shop. You could drink this now, but you would do better to cellar it for 5 years.
Schild Estate Wines
This place was a wild card for us. Only 3 ½ stars from Halliday and not recommended by Robert Geddes “Australian Wine Vintages” book we sort of stopped in here on a whim. Prices are pretty low here and fairly accurately reflect the quality of the wines. Chardonnays as low as $13.50, Reisling $16 and a GMS (Grenache Mataro Shiraz) at $16. I’ve been looking for an awesome value for money Grenache or GSM for the last couple of regions and this one will not be it. It’s a little too fruity and lacks development leaving the mouth wondering where the fun in the ride was. Kind of like going to the easter show and just going on the ghost train – dark and full of potential, but come out the other end and wonder why you went on that boring old ride when the zipper was just around the corner. However, kudos must be given to the Ben Schild Reserve Shiraz. Whilst not the zipper ride, it certainly gives you the smile and buzz of the Mad Mouse. Acceptable at $35.
Charles Melton Wines
I had heard many a good word about this place. As we walked in, we passed a couple carrying a box going out – a good sign. Cellar door is beautifully laid out and spacious enough with a nice solid timber table running down the middle. Asked to take a seat at the table we plonked down in to some calico fold out directors chairs. Not the tall, bar height, but the low BBQ table height. This was when I realized the marketing dept had had their way in here. As soon as we sat down and the lady stayed standing I felt we were in a position of submission and I was instantly uncomfortable. The chairs are a bit too low for the table, which makes you feel stood over by your teacher and also makes it doubly hard to get up high enough to spit in spittoon. The whole sit down at the table thing is designed to make you feel at home and more relaxed. The thing is, I am not at home and not here to have a chat. I am here to decided whether I want to do business with these guys based on the quality of their product. With the exception of the Rose, every wine here is $50. Now that’s a big call in the Barossa as far as I am concerned. That’s a big call anywhere in Australia these days as so many wine labels are striving so hard to make quality wines. Not all succeed but many are succeeding with prices less than this. To cut a long story short I didn’t think any of them were worth $50. They were good wines, yes, but not that good. Favourite was the Grains of Paradise Shiraz using fruit from the valley floor, but as usual, you should check them out yourself.
I know that this isn’t a video (duh), but sometimes you just gotta drop the camera and taste the wines. There’ll be some more video action in the Clare. Hope this helps if you are visiting Barossa.