I now live in the amazing Adelaide Hills of South Australia. The Barossa Valley is a quick 40 minute whizz through the hills, even in my beat up old farm ute.
The Barossa Valley is probably still the most recognised of all Australian wine regions, not least for the very favorable reviews by some highly influential wine critics, especially Robert Parker.
What also makes the Barossa Valley such an appealing wine region, apart from superior wines and vineyards, is its proximity to a major Australian capital city, Adelaide.
With a brand spanking new airport, no less than 5 major Australian wine regions are within an hour’s drive; the Barossa, Clare Valley, Adelaide Hills, the Flerieu Penisula, and the Clare Valley a little further on.
I heard a story of a very well healed Singaporean wine buyer, arriving in Adelaide 7am Monday morning, driving to the Barossa for tasting and tours, buying up big, and jumping back on a plane to Singapore that evening. It’s probably a very common occurrence these days, but you can’t do that in every wine region.
In the past the Barossa has developed a reputation for producing big ballsy reds or “fruit bombs”, that cannot hold a candle to the structured character driven styles of the highly sort after European houses. The reputation probably has some merit, however the new breed of vignerons and winemakers in the Barossa are altering this perspective around the world with some stunning examples of wines with finesse, structure, and complexity.
While the massive reds are still produced, some stunning wines are being made in higher areas of the valley, and even some on the valley floor, but with more attention to flavour ripeness and structure rather than sugar levels.
Two traditionally contrasting examples are Kalleske and St Hallet. St Hallet has been a foundation winery of the Barossa for a long time, and now is owned by a multi national conglomerate. While it has created massive Shiraz in the past, it now also focusses on other less overt examples, such as Faith Shiraz, and a few interesting trial wines only available at cellar door. The Old Block Shiraz is always big, but these days there is hint of more finesse and subtleness to the wine.
Kalleske of Greenock for the last 100 years or so have provided fruit for wine brands such as Penfolds, and some of their fruit is regularly included in Penfolds Grange. However with the new generation of family winemakers, certified organic production, and a focus on structured complexity in their wines, they have fast become one the most sough after brands from the Barossa around the globe. What they do best is allow the vineyards to produce the best fruit they can, with low inputs and letting nature and the environment do the work. It’s interesting that with this approach, they wines tend to be again subtler but still with presence and substance.
If you’ve written off the Barossa Valley as wine factory region, and been scared away by the vociferous folly of Robert Parker and others, it might be time to take another look. Best you start with these guys: