The mofo guide to | Barossa Valley
Famed for its shiraz and riesling, the Barossa in its entirety is incredibly diverse, extending from the warm, low altitude Barossa Valley region to the cool and elevated Eden Valley region next door.
So what’s so great about the Barossa Valley region? Here’s a quick guide to all that’s good in a glass…
The Barossa Valley region is an OG when it comes to winemaking in Australia - with grenache, shiraz and mataro vines dating back to the 1840s that are still going strong today! Generations of winemakers have called this stunning place home, and the area’s also become a hotbed of smaller, innovation focused producers looking to make their mark too.
Typically the Barossa Valley is known for experiencing cool and wet winters - generally this is then offset by a warm dry summer with lots of sunshine that ensures grapes ripen fully and consistently.
Being a valley, the undulating hills give a range of aspects and soil types for the winemakers here to work with - plenty deep and fertile, there’s been work done to properly classify different “grounds” (e.g. the growing environment) within the Barossa Valley region and how they contribute to the resulting fruit profile and wines - especially when it comes to their big-gun shiraz. So, if you hear people talk about where the fruit is sourced in the Barossa, it might be worth keeping your ears out (and palate tuned in) to the differences in style.
It’s probably no surprise to hear that shiraz is the biggy in Barossa Valley - accounting for two-thirds of vines in the ground, followed by next Aussie favourite: cab sav. Grenache, chardonnay, semillon, mataro (“mourvèdre”, si tu parles français) and merlot all call the Barossa Valley home too - and that’s not even all. Wine Australia estimates that there’s over 40 varietals in the ground in Barossa Valley (and extending into the Eden Valley) due to the area’s capability and reputation for producing high quality fruit.
The Barossa Valley is also free from the phylloxera mite, a little pest that wreaks huge havoc in vineyards across the world by doing their best to destroy vines. South Australia was lucky (and worked hard) to keep this pest at bay, and the vines are the proof in the pudding. and you’ll find the vines here are amongst some of the oldest in the world - so old that the Barossa Old Vine Charter was created in 2009 to keep special track. It created regional designations of “old vines” (35yr +), “survivor vines” (70yr +), “centenarian vines” (100yr +) and the practically biblical “ancestor vines” (125yr +!) that winemakers will proudly display on bottle.
Whilst old vines are no rubber stamped guarantee of fruit quality, they have proven themselves to be robust, experienced, and will take almost anything mother nature throws at them: producing fruit consistently, in lower, more concentrated yields. It’s also incredibly cool to think that you’re drinking the product of something that was placed in those dry soils by weather-beaten hands more than a century ago - in some cases by the great-great grandparents of the winemakers that continue in the region today.
The key wines
While famed for its reds, you shouldn’t sleep on Barossa Valley whites either. Here’s the major players in the region, and what you can expect from a drop too.
The biggy in more ways than one - full of rich fruit and body, with a generous level of alcohol to boot. It’s the warm, dry growing season in the Barossa Valley that helps shiraz find its unique richness and expression here, with a lot of winemakers choosing to focus on showcasing that fruit profile and purity, with big flavours of blackberry, rich plum, black pepper and chocolate backed up by some structured tannin.
And you know those “grounds” we talked about earlier? Fuller shiraz examples are generally coming from the red-clay soils of the Northern Grounds, with medium-full shiraz coming from the soils of the Central Grounds, and medium-full bodied, more elegant shiraz from the Southern Grounds.
You’ll also find Barossa Valley shiraz blended with cab sav to bring bright aromatics and firmer tannic structure, making the wines set to age (this is famously the same blend you’ll find in Penfold’s Grange). Barossa Valley shiraz is also found as a fortified (kind of in the style of port) to produce a sticky and stunning dessert wine - in fact, fortifieds were pretty much the only wines produced here until the 1960s. And of course, you can’t forget the sparkling shiraz around here too - seriously, this is shiraz country.
Cab sav in the Barossa Valley generally does better in the cooler sites and vintages - and when it’s at its best, you’ll find it similar to how shiraz presents itself here, with rich and ripe black fruits that stand out proud on the nose and the palate. You’ll get a little more chocolate and mint characters than your classic eucalypt driven styles of Coonawarra or Margaret River cabs, and generally softer tannins.
We love a grenache from this part of the world - robust and versatile, you’ll most typically find Barossa grenache presented as a single varietal in all of it’s plush and juicy red-fruited glory. Increasingly you’ll find it blended with some shiraz and mataro to produce an Aussie spin on the classic GSM blend most notably employed in the Southern Rhône - think Châteauneuf du Pape, but much more wallet friendly. You’ll also stumble across grenache being used in Barossa rosé and fortifieds too - honestly, what can’t it do?
Check out: Torbreck The Steading GSM 2021
Chardonnay might be more widely grown, but it’s the newcomers Marsanne, Roussanne and Viognier that are really getting our tastebuds excited. Another formidable flavour combo originally hailing from the Rhône, when blended together you’ll find them making a medium-full bodied white which delivers citrus and stone fruits when young, and develop complexity with age.
Barossa Valley semillon is one of the oldest varietals planted here, and continues to deliver to this day. Traditionally aged in oak to deliver a sem that’s rich, ripe and full in bodied, more contemporary winemaking has seen a move to making lighter, crisper, more chatty styles of semillon that are fantastic when paired with fish. Of course, semillon is great with a bit of age to wear down the ripping high acidity and citrus driven qualities, so keep an eye out for any bottle with a couple of years behind it.
Barossa is renowned for big fortifieds too, though today they make up a much smaller percentage of the wines coming out of the valley. Think rich, bold tawny styles of fortified reds, premium quality and perfect with a big fat wedge of blue cheese.
So there’s a quick guide, but there’s absolutely heaps of new delicious wines to discover coming from the Barossa Valley.
Ready to make a start? Right this way to browse the Barossa…
And if you're planning on making a visit, be sure to check out our guide to 24 hours in the Barossa Valley.