This region has 19th century ironstone buildings amidst the gum trees, rolling hills dipping to a sapphire sea, and more than 80 wineries to discover.
Nestled between the Mounty Lofty Ranges and the rugged coastline of the Fleurieu Peninsula, just 45 minutes from Adelaide, McLaren Vale is the birthplace of wine in South Australia. It is best known for its award-winning velvety shiraz, some of which is produced from century-old vines. Thomas Hardy – widely regarded as the ‘father of wine’ in South Australia – first planted vines here in the 1850s, laying the foundations for one of Australia’s greatest wine making dynasties.
While the region is rich in history, its winemakers and growers are renowned for innovation and experimentation, and the Vale is home to some of the most sustainable, environmentally conscious wineries in Australia. Big names such as Gemtree and Wirra Wirra lead the way with biodynamic and organic viticulture, water management and solar power.
Thanks to the warm Mediterranean climate, McLaren Vale shiraz tends to be a little softer than its bolder cousins of the neighbouring Barossa Valley, with a greater fruit intensity. Packed with dark cherry and plum flavours, Taylors Masterstoke Shiraz is a fine example, and pairs perfectly with a good cut of steak. McLaren Vale grenache and cabernet sauvignon are also notable, while the mild climate, rich soil and geological diversity means that Italian and Spanish varietals like tempranillo, vermentino, barbera, sangiovese, and nebbiolo also thrive. Try Freebird McLaren Vale Nebbiolo. Plush and full flavoured, it has delightful notes of rose, thyme and violet and makes an ideal accompaniment to a hearty spaghetti bolognaise with a generous grating of parmigiano reggiano.
As well as new varietals and techniques, the Italian immigrants who arrived in the Vale from post war Europe brought an enduring passion for food and hospitality, and the culinary scene here is an exciting one. Along with a Shiraz Trail that takes in some of the top McLaren Vale wineries, there is an Olive Trail to explore, and fabulous local produce to discover at the weekly Willunga Farmers market. Foodies (and art lovers) will also find much to indulge in when visiting the Vale’s enchanting historic villages like Old Noarlunga, Willunga and McLaren Vale.
Beautiful at any time of the year, summers here are decidedly celebratory, with food and wine events taking place at wineries most weekends, culminating in ‘Summer in the Vines’ an annual 10-day festival in late January. Looking to cool off after a day of wine tasting? The beautiful wide sandy beaches of the Fleurieu Peninsula are just minutes from the vineyards and provide idyllic swimming and snorkelling conditions.
For quality McLaren Vale accommodation, check out these stays.
Combine your wine escape with a seaside getaway when you stay on the clifftops at pretty Port Noarlunga. Suites and apartments all feature big ocean views and cater to everything from romantic getaways to fun family holidays.
Tucked away in a secluded valley, McLaren Vale’s newest micro-hotel is a luxurious adults only escape surrounded by vineyards. Built from recycled shipping containers, expansive suites feature private decks and decadent soaking tubs overlooking the vines.
Self-contained modern luxury apartments and historic farmhouse rooms have a retreat-style setting on a 15-acre biodynamic olive grove and vineyard. Start your day with a gourmet breakfast hamper or hearty cooked breakfast served in the licenced café which includes a providore and olive produce.
These McLaren Vale restaurants are well worth a visit.
With a stunning clifftop setting at Port Willunga, Star of Greece serves up artfully presented, modern Mediterranean influenced cuisine. The fresh King George Whiting sourced from nearby Kangaroo Island is legendary. For something more simple but equally satisfying, order fish and chips from the kiosk.
A local institution, Neapolitan-style pizza is made the traditional way here – hand stretched, and wood fired, using recipes and techniques passed down through generations. Everything is made in house, while the kalamata olives are plucked from the 80 olive trees on the property.
An atmospheric, refurbished 1851 homestead sets the scene for a sensational farm to table culinary experience, with a seasonal contemporary Australian menu driven by what’s ripe in the organic kitchen gardens. Choose your wine from the historic cellar. If gin is more your thing, there are more than 200 to choose from.
Make sure these McLaren Vale wineries have a place on your itinerary.
Explore the eco trail, learn about biodynamic viticulture on a ‘Being Dynamic’ tour, or relax on the deck for a personalised tasting while soaking up the soothing views of vineyards and the glistening sea beyond. For a lively aperitif try Gemtree Luna De Fresa Rosé. Light and dry on the palate, it has aromas of fresh strawberry orange blossom and guava.
The pioneer of sangiovese in Australia, this picture-perfect winery is set amidst beautiful gardens, with a renowned restaurant, Gather, that makes a dreamy setting for long lunches and events. From the cellar door, there is no going past the Coriole Sangiovese. Bursting with black cherry and blackberry, with just a hint of Italian herbs, it pairs particularly well with a mixed mushroom risotto.
Translating as ‘amongst the gums’ in the local Aboriginal language, Wirra Wirra – an atmospheric ironstone winery, dates to 1894. Try the ‘Shiraz Revolution,’ a tasting of five of the winery’s best shiraz paired with chocolate. Prefer Grenache? The Wirra Wirra Farmers Heart Grenache is a voluptuous, richly spiced tipple, fragrant with raspberries and cherries. Pair with Italian style pork cutlets seasoned with oregano and thyme.
You’ve booked your McLaren Vale hotel and your dining plans are sorted – now try these ideas.
No visit to the Vale is complete without a visit to d’Arenberg Cube. Resembling a giant Rubik’s Cube, this fascinating structure at d’Arenberg Winery offers a tactile experience created to enliven the senses. Five levels include a virtual fermenter, wine sensory room and the Alternative Realities Museum. Make sure to check out the Salvador Dali exhibition.
Framed by golden cliffs, the crystal clear water at Port Noarlunga provides enticing conditions for a swim. Or don a mask and snorkel to discover a flourishing underwater world of colourful fish, and the Star of Greece shipwreck which rests just off shore.
Leave the car behind and stroll or cycle the Shiraz Trail. The former rail trail stretches from McLaren Vale village to Willunga, and passes some spectacular scenery and some of the region’s top cellar doors. If visiting on a Saturday you can take a short detour to Willunga markets.
Products featured are available from 06/03/23 to 11/04/23, while stocks last. Some products or varieties featured may not be available in all stores.