By Jacqueline Alanne
September 15, 2020 | 6 minute read
Ahhhh, wine country - is there anything more romantic? And not in a fickle ‘rose petals on the bed’ kind of way – rather a practical, ‘let’s take in these views, have a great time and take home these wines’ way! With it’s sweeping hills and ocean views, Mediterranean climate and bustling local community, McLaren Vale is the perfect couple’s getaway between the city and the sea, just 45 minutes out of Adelaide. So here are my top tips to make sure your weekend away is fab!
* At the time of writing, activities and places mentioned in this guide are at varying stages of recovery from COVID-19. Please check government and business websites for specific details on opening times and any restrictions before you travel.
One of the very distinct regional trends that you’ll notice in the Vale is the emphasis on long lunch dining as opposed to dinner. While there are a number of restaurants and cuisines on Main Road that are available for dinner, my advice is to take advantage of the beautiful lunch offerings, and if you’re still hungry later, grab some takeaway to enjoy in your little love nest.
To find out where long table lunches are happening head to the McLaren Vale Events page. Or if your day really is structured so that a nice dinner suits you better, you can’t go past Karena’s team at The Salopian Inn (open for lunch everyday, dinner Thursday, Friday + Saturday).
For coffee and breakfast dining, I head to Mullygrub cafe. Set on the corner of Main Road and Field street, this corner joint is open obscenely early, bakes delicious ciabatta on the premises, and makes everything from scratch, every day. Quality, hearty fare for breakfast and lunch every day of the week.
If a degustation is on the agenda, check out the offerings at d’Arenberg - an icon of McLaren Vale. Choosing your d’Arrys degustation option is completely a matter of personal taste - if you like the creative, scientific Heston Blumenthal-esque style of cooking, choose the degustation at the Cube. If you want a more classic piece of the Vale, for an equally stunning experience utilising local produce, a degustation on d’Arry’s classic restored verandah is for you.
Whichever you choose, no visit to the Vale is complete without a tour of the Willy Wonka-vibin Cube, the brainchild of McLaren Vale icon Chester Osborn, or choosing one of their range of activities, from educational tastings, blending benches, and vertical masterclasses.
Of course this is likely to be a big part of why you're visiting the Vale. And while all cellar doors provide a great experience, there are some that are a definite must-see. For me these are
Samuels’ Gorge – For views, serenity, and some of the loveliest crew going around – not to mention great reds!
Alpha Box + Dice – The rule-breakers of the Vale, head to their Olivers road shed-cum cellar door for great banter, décor, and wines that push the boundaries.
Kay Brothers– A taste of true, deep McLaren Vale. Still using traditional methods, these guys are old hat, and in the best possible way.
Primo Estate – One of many who champion Italian varietals in the region, Primo’s cellar door is slick, and their stories well-versed. Enjoy a truly polished experience.
Woodstock Wines – Recently completing the build on their new cellar door, visit this family winery to witness a transition from old-school to new Vale. (image above)
If you love food along with great wine, Pannell is the place to visit. Offering a tapas style menu in the Cellar Door for the warmer 10 or so months of the year, you can order as much or as little as you like in a casual setting on the deck with one of the best views of McLaren Vale and some of the best wines, created by three time Bushing King winner Stephen Pannell.
The chefs here are incredibly passionate and talented, and grow as much as possible on the two Pannell properties. Equally as welcome in flip flops and shorts as heels and a collar, kick back with your love and enjoy delightful fare, views and vino. Cellar door open 11-5 everyday.
If the sky is clear and the weather is warm, take a morning drive South West to Port Willunga. Along the way, stop at Goodness Coffee Co. for the best coffee South of the city. Park at the Star of Greece (above) and enjoy a walk right to left and back along the beach to take in the bright blue water, the desecrated old Pt Willy jetty, and the cool musty caves set into the sandy cliffs. Another option is to hire a bike in McLaren Vale and ride along the Coast to Vines Rail Trail. Do it on a Saturday morning to make the most of the Willunga weekend markets.
If you're looking for something a bit structured, try the fabulous Wine + Wander tour from Gemtree wines (top image). Beginning at the cellar door, guests choose a wine, and take a stroll along the eco trail through the lovingly maintained native wetlands, where they will find a gourmet picnic set up and ready to go, courtesy of produce from The Salopian Inn. You even get a fancy bottle to take home too!
Finally if you're keen to witness some large-scale wine magic, visit Wirra Wirra and take their Trott's Tales tour ($25) where you'll go behind the scenes to view the stunning barrel room, and enjoy a BTS tasting in Trott’s cellar, stories and all. Alternatively, choose their Shiraz Revolution ($60), and taste a vertical of old Shiraz in the cellar, all matched with a Four Winds Regional Chocolate Platter.
With such a wide range of activities to enjoy in McLaren Vale, it's clear to see what a welcoming, rich and vibrant region and community this is. Ideal for a romantic weekender’s getaway between the city and the sea.
Top image From Wine + Wander tour Gemtree
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