Ideas for Australian Vacation - Printable Version

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- Bob Allen - 03-26-1999 05:28 PM

On Friday, April 9, wife and I arrive in Adelaide, South Australia, where we spend four nights. We will rent a car and drive southeast to Mt. Gambier, then Ballarat in Victoria, Melbourne, Rutherglen, Canberra, Cessnock in Hunter Valley and Sydney.

On Valentine's Day at Garibaldi's Restaurant in San Francisco, we enjoyed a bottle of Tim Adams '97 Fergus Grenache (from the Clare Valley). I know the Biennial Barossa Vintage Festival concludes on April 11. From Adelaide, we are well situated to check out Clare Valley, Barossa, McLaren Vale and Langhorne. We will drive through Coonawarra. In Victoria, we could choose among Mornington Peninsula, Yarra Valley, Macedon, Ballarat, the Pyrenees and Rutherglen. In New South Wales, there is Riverina and the Lower and Upper Hunter Valley.

What are your suggestions for visiting wineries, restaurants, and purchasing wines to bring home? We wouldn't want to buy wines there that we can find in California (even though the Tim Adams at Beverages and More is $20 (US) compared with $15 (AUS) or about twice as expensive in the USA).

I would appreciate any suggestions you might make.


- Randy Caparoso - 03-27-1999 03:42 PM

Bob, I'm sure Jeneroo who lives in them thar parts can give you some advice. On my part, my advice is to check out the geography. Driving from the Hunter to Adelaide is a helluva haul -- equivalent to going from Miami to Dallas, if memory serves me right. Consider domestic flights as much as possible (making Sydney, Melbourne & Adelaide the cross points). They have lovely, comfortable, pointy nose planes just for that.

By all means, visit Tim Adams. However, he and his wife run an extremely small family operation there in the Clare Valley. E-mail me at and I'll provide all the information. Meanwhile, as a warmup, have you tried the Tim Adams "Aberfeldy" (black, huge, succulent old vine Syrah)? The Tim Adams Semillon, also, is crisp, zesty, extraordinarily silken and perfumed (tobacco, figs, citrus peel) -- really one of the finest in Australia (and therefore the world).

Tim's brother, by the way, is Simon Adams -- a principal oenologist at Yalumba, and the "traveling winemaker" behind Voss in Napa Valley (dynamite Sauvignon Blanc and rich, supple, extraordinarily well priced Merlot). An extremely talented family.

Here's some other highlights that I personally would not miss intentionally:

HUNTER VALLEY: In my opinion, Rosemount has the best facilities -- large, and manned with friendly, internationally minded people. They can point the way down the road to their famous Roxburgh estate. Holy ground for Oz Chard. Philip Shaw, their winemaker, is a strong believer in 100% natural yeast, barrel fermented, Burgundian treatment; which also explains the immediate hits of fruit you get in his Syrahs as well. You'll also find a number of fine cuvees that are not imported into the U.S. For food, you should check out the Casuarina, which although a little fancy, presents solid regional Hunter Valley cooking.

SYDNEY DINING - The hot spot is Rockpool (in the Rocks district) for lunch or dinner. Tetsuya's has the finest (albeit fusion) cooking, but is small (reservations could be extremely tough) and strictly prix fixe. The Pier has possibly the greatest range and touch with Australian/Tasmanian seafood, and Milson's and Cicada are also very cool, innovative places to eat.

GOULBURN VALLEY - A couple hours out of Melbourne, where you'll find the venerable Chateau Tahbilk (great, chunky, old style Syrah), and Mitchelton (more contemporary style, French oak aged reds and perhaps the best barrel fermented Marsanne in the world). Mitchelton is very visitor friendly, a strangely Asiatic tower with an breathtaking view of the country, and an adventurous winery restaurant as well.

GEELONG & MORNINGTON PENINSULA - This southern coastal region is Chardonnay and, believe it or not, Pinot Noir country. The Geelong's Bannockburn, for instance, makes them rich and earthy -- dead ringers for medium range Burgundians. The Mornington Peninsula is as cool as it gets for South-East Australia. A small, family winery, Stonier's makes the best Chard (crisp, snappy, opulently textured), finely textured Pinot Noir, and an interestingly concentrated Cabernet Reserve (say hello to proprietor Sir Brian Stonier, and winemaker Tod Dexter if you go). Down the road, Dromana has a much more professional tasting room and tours; and while their Pinots and Chards are a little lighter and more commercial, you may be surprised by their sleek, friendly Cabernet-Merlot.

MELBOURNE DINING - The wine bars are the thing to do, and both Blake's and Walter's offer a great range of Oz wines by the glass, friendly staff expertise, as well as fun, contemporary, light (or heavy) eating. Do 'em both! For super-fine dining, Stephanie's is still sort of the Chez Panisse of the city, I guess.

COONAWARRA - Miles from nowhere, and not really a place for visitors (mostly vineyards). So you better pick your spots. I'd go for Bowen Estate, which makes the least timid -- in fact, big and muscular -- Cabs and Shiraz's. Wynn's Coonawarra Estate is the obvious second choice; where maybe you'll find some legendary, luxuriously concentrated "John Riddoch" Cabernet Sauvignon. But call ahead!

BAROSSA VALLEY & ADELAIDE HILLS - This is home of the good-sized Yalumba and Penfolds facilities, and visits here will uncover astounding ranges of wines, with Chard, Shiraz, and Cab-Shiraz blends being the obvious classics. The reserve bins from both houses are hard to get anywhere, and so if you see 'em, buy 'em. But if you want to see where real, family handcrafted wines are made, a visit to Steven and Prue Henschke's winery is well worth the climb into the Adelaide Hills; they have a modest visitor's and tasting room, but where else can you pick up the monumental Mt. Edelstone and maybe even Hill of Grace Shiraz's? Almost nowhere in the U.S., mind you. If possible, at the state-of-the-art Petaluma you'll find the legendary Brian Croser's astounding range of sleek, elegant Chards, Rieslings and reds -- things you just won't find stateside. My fifth choice to visit would be Wolf Blass, although it's not exactly the most innovative (while wonderful, their highly successful style has been pretty much set in stone for two decades, and most likely you won't find wines that aren't already available across the U.S.).

CLARE VALLEY DINING - On the way or back from Tim Adams', visit Rising Sun -- a casual roadside cafe for no b.s. wine country food and a well chilled Sparkling Shiraz.

McLAREN VALE - Miss this region at your own risk! This is the home of the biggest, most rambunctious Shiraz's and Rhone style blends. D'Arenberg has been legendary, and Wirra Wirra is no b.s./no-holds-barred. Chapel Hill is state of the art,and Woodstock is solid as a rock. For a larger, more elaborate winery experience, Hardy's would be the choice, although their range of cuvees is almost as daunting as Penfolds these days.

ADELAIDE DINING - Red Ochre is the thing to do for regional cooking utilizing "bush" ingredients; not just interesting, but also nicely done. For cash dining, I like Caffe 48 (order the Yalumba Sparkling Burgundy with oysters!).

Don't forget to e-mail me for further questions and details!

- Randy Caparoso - 03-27-1999 10:37 PM

Forgot to mention Rutherglen... Do look at Chambers -- one of the grand old houses using 50+ years old mother cuvees (solera style) to make the most incredibly concentrated, thick, treachly sweet Tokays and Muscats in Australia.

And if you stop to eat in the Barossa wine country, two winemaker hangouts are the 1918 Bistro and Crackers. Be sure to try the lamb's brains or filets of roo!

- Randy Caparoso - 03-27-1999 10:38 PM

Forgot to mention Rutherglen... Do look at Chambers -- one of the grand old houses using 50+ years old mother cuvees (solera style) to make the most incredibly concentrated, thick, treachly sweet Tokays and Muscats in Australia.

And if you stop to eat in the Barossa wine country, two winemaker hangouts are the 1918 Bistro and Crackers. Be sure to try the lamb's brains or filets of roo!