The mofo guide to | Adelaide Hills
Adelaide Hills; another South Australian region with a reputation for producing world-class wines - though not quite the same full-bodied heavyweights as you might find elsewhere in the state. Elegant wines featuring as little intervention between vine and glass as possible are the focus for winemakers here, showcasing the potential of a whole heap of varietals.
So keen to begin sipping and exploring? Here’s a 1-0-1 guide to Adelaide Hills to get you started.
Adelaide Hills is one of the coolest-climate wine regions in South Australia, practically a lush and verdant oasis compared to the heat of its surrounding regions. What separates them from the neighbours? The clue is in the name - those hills it's perched on provide altitude, and with altitude you get cooler average temperatures year round.
At the risk of sounding like your local weatherman (it matters - we promise) being at elevation also provides something known as a diurnal swing - aka the difference between maximum day and minimum night temperatures. That shift between warm days/cool nights means that grapes retain a lot of freshness and acidity as they slowly ripen, producing premium expressive and vibrant fruit.
Originally planted way back in the 1840s, winemaking and viticulture all but disappeared from the region until a few intrepid makers and growers revived the industry here in the 70s, and we’re very much glad they did.
Image credit: Wine Australia
You’ll find an eclectic mix of big-names and smaller producers in the Adelaide Hills, but they’re all here for the same reason - the growing conditions that are capable of producing top-notch fruit.
Because of that evident fruit quality, winemakers in Adelaide Hills (both the big names and the boutique), tend to focus on minimal intervention techniques in the winery to produce drops that are expressive of place and provenance - and tell that story of terroir in every sip.
So which varietals are telling that story? Take your pick - sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, pinot noir, shiraz and riesling are the more familiar names growing in the Adelaide Hills, but because of those stellar soils you’ll also find grapes such as grenache, vermentino, nebbiolo, tempranillo, fiano, viognier, arneis and the Austrian new-grape-on-the-block, grüner veltliner.
The key wines
Adelaide Hills and sauvignon blanc are pretty much regarded as almost the perfect match for each other - those warm days helping the grapes ripen slowly and the cool nights locking in that acidity to produce wines that are aromatic and full of freshness. Typically light-bodied, crisp and full of everything that savvy b has in spades - notes of kiwifruit, lemon and cut grass, sometimes steering into more tropical passionfruit and pineapple territory.
Like Adelaide Hills sauvignon blanc, chardonnay here thrives in the relative cool-climate, allowing it to develop fully whilst retaining freshness and offering opportunity for both classic and innovative winemaking. Adelaide Hills chardonnay typically leans towards leaner-in-style, with flavours of peach and apricot backed up by some fresh acidity too. “Elegant” is often the word of the day for these wines, and they’re frequently capable of cellaring for a few years if you’ve got the discipline not to guzzle them before.
It’s a relative newcomer to these fair hills, beginning its rise to prominence around 2006 and rapidly gaining in popularity. If you’ve tasted it, you’ll know why - it’s a super versatile pairing wine, and made in a range of styles. In the cooler sites you find it full of lemon-citrus and lime, through to pineapple, pears and stone-fruits in examples where the fruit has seen a bit more of the sun. It’s also known for a characteristic white pepper spiciness (with some herbal and mineral notes sometimes in the mix too), plus a classic rich texture that’s sometimes given added oomph by some extended time on lees.
And like chardy, Adelaide Hills pinot noir finds the environment to express itself here too - though richer in style than your cooler-climate Yarra Valley pinot. Think medium-bodied and with riper red fruits (raspberries, cherries) coming through. Adelaide Hills pinot noir wears a few outfits too - you’ll see it dressed in its finest as a still wine, but also in something sparkling when blended with chardonnay (and it can even be found sparkling straight-up by itself as a “blanc de noirs”).
Unlike its bigger, bolder South Australian neighbours, Adelaide Hills shiraz typically finds a more restrained expression here, but without any compromise in flavour. Fine supple tannins and lower alcohol put the spotlight on bright red fruits, white pepper and elegant spice through considered use of oak.
You’ll find all styles of sparkling wines coming out of the Adelaide Hills, but where you’ll find the real value is in their traditional method sparkling (the same process used to make Champagne). That peaky altitude creates the ideal conditions for chardonnay and pinot noir grapes to lock in their racy acidity and delicate fruits - think apple and vibrant citrus - with time spent on lees contributing that yeasty-brioche complexity that’s all too familiar to lovers of fine bubbles.
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