Australia ♯9 Clare Valley
We left the Barossa early next morning to drive the two hours North to reach Clare Valley. North here means hotter and drier. The Barossa already seemed pretty damned hot and dry but Clare has a reputation as a cool climate area? Hmmm. Well, the solution to this conundrum is topography. The Clare is a valley in the middle of a plateau surrounded by dry hot plains. Westerly winds coming over the plains meet the plateau and drop their water in the valley. The altitude also makes it a crucial few degrees cooler, especially at night. Driving from the Barossa it really does feel like arriving in an oasis of green. Our first stop was Taylors wines they are one of the larger producers here. We had time to look round the vineyards and even look at soil profiles in a couple of pits dug for the purpose. The conclusion was that the soils are actually pretty low fertility and this, coupled, with the relatively dry conditions naturally limits vines yield – good for grape quality. The second part of the visit could not have been – a tutored tasting of Rieslings. This is an absolutely classic Clare style. The fact that the tutors were Kevin Mitchell of Kilikanoon and riesling legend Geoffrey Grosset made it all the better. Young Claire Riesling has really fresh acidity a sharp texture and delicious bright limey fruit. It is an intense experience. But for me these wines really come to life with some time in bottle. Five or even 10 years seems them round out and gives them a broader softer palate with smokey toasty lime marmalade and lemon curd flavours. I love the aged style but the young ones are great too. We tasted wines from these producers from both 2012 and then the same wines with some age, so a mic of 2003, 2004 , 2005. These were the producers: 1. Groset – Polish Hill, the most expensive but consistently excellent though always a no holds barred full dry style 2. Skillogalee – from Watervale 3. Knappstein - Ackland 4. Jim Barry - Florita Watervale 5. Pikes – The Merle Polish Hill 6. Taylors – St Andrew Generally wines from the Watervale subregion showed lighter more floral notes on the nose, those from Polish Hill, the coolest area, showing linear electric lime fruit. After lunch and an eventful ten minutes cycling the Riesling trail we moved on to A Shiraz tasting at Mr Mick wines. We were taken through the tasting by David O’Leary of O’Leary wines and Bret Shultz of Tim Adams. Shiraz is the other big style in Clare. The wines have a lot of power and body and a key feature is ripe and fine tannins. The best of them also have a nice aromatic edge and freshness of fruit. It seemed to me that the cooler sites were producing the best wines and those with the most aromatics and slightly less body were my favourites. We tasted wines from these producers: 1. Tim Adams, the 2010 was great in the lighter fresher mould 2. Jim Barry- maker of the legendary Armagh Shiraz 3. Tim McNeil 4. O’Leary Walker 5. Mitchell Wines – loved the 2004 McNicol Shiraz, a bit of Blue Gum mint but restrained, spicy, lots of good tannin. It was interesting to taste the older vintages too back to 2004 and 2003. I found it amazing how young these wines were, still plenty of youthful fruit and deep colour. Clearly they are made to last a long time. We also had chance to explore a bit the landscape driving up to a hill to look West at Sunset beyond the edge of the plateau surrounding the valley. It was incredible to see vast dry looking plains stretching away to the West, it is such a big country. The next morning, in the company of John Barry, chief vine grower for the famous Jim Barry wines we looked from a different hill across the middle of the valley. The contrast is amazing, with green trees, vines and crops dotted all over. It showed again what a vital resource water is here. The difference is about 200mm per annum between the valley and the plains but it’s enough to make all the difference. The final stop in Clare was a visit to the Jim Barry Armagh vineyard. The Armagh Shiraz is another top Australian wine and it was fantastic to see the place it comes from and look at the gnarled old shiraz vines. Again the vineyard is phyloxera free and the vines are own their own roots. Many thanks to everyone in Clare for being such generous and interesting hosts - a great experience.