The mofo guide to | McLaren Vale
McLaren Vale - famed for stunning reds, plus plenty more. Here’s an intro on what there is to know and love about the region, from the terroir through to its biggest hits.
And make sure you also check out our buyer Tully’s guide to McLaren Vale, including her top tips and hidden delicious gems.
Around 40km south of Adelaide, you’ll find McLaren Vale. It’s a rich tapestry of terroir - millennia of geological upheaval in the Vale forms a unique patchwork of soils; we’re taking over 40 different recognised types, with some of the oldest soils estimated to be over half a billion years old. That patchwork, coupled with micro-climates you’ll find here, produces some pretty spectacular regional variation in the wines.
“Innovation” and “sustainability” often run the risk of being relegated to buzzwords, but not in the McLaren Vale - the region is recognised worldwide for being a figurehead in the evolution of winemaking. World-leading water management means that irrigation here (when needed during the growing season), isn’t at the expense of the surrounding area. Organic and biodynamic practices thrive, and even where they’re not possible there’s a regional focus on trying to manage the vineyards using as little intervention as possible. And that philosophy of minimal intervention is often reflected in the wines too - with winemakers keen to capture and preserve the unique flavours in the fruit developed by that ancient, vibrant terroir.
Winemakers here are part of a tight community - comprising both the old guard and newcomers to McLaren Vale working together to lift the region’s capabilities – and its wines – as a result. It’s that spirit of collaborative innovation that has seen new winemaking techniques being widely adopted, plus ancient methods (like amphora fermentation) being revived.
Reds largely rule the roost in McLaren Vale when it comes to the numbers - shiraz, cabernet sauvignon and grenache between them account for just over 80% of what was crushed here last year.
But what was it we said about the location? That abundant variety of soils in the hands of winemakers who don’t shy away from experimentation, has meant that a huge number of other varieties call pockets of McLaren Vale home too, just in smaller numbers.
Deep breath - barbera, fiano, sangiovese, tempranillo, mataro, nero d’avola, zinfandel and vermintino love the mediterranean style climate of the McLaren Vale, and some grapegrowers are continuing to adjust what they plant as a response to the challenges of climate change.
The key wines
It’s a fool’s errand to try and describe what a “typical” McLaren Vale shiraz is like, given the variation in terroir you’ll find here, so forgive us for being reduced to some quite general descriptions. Broadly, you’ll find a delicious range, from medium-bodied and more red-fruited, to larger, more complex drops with dark fruit and spice. Winemakers will also play with blending shiraz from different pockets of the Vale to produce a wine that borrows generously from the sum of its parts, a unique expression of Australia’s favourite grape. It’s why Penfolds makes no secret of sourcing shiraz from McLaren Vale for Grange.
McLaren Vale cabernet sauvignon is renowned for its dark, delicious depth - wines are often full-bodied and rich, with structure that’ll keep them going for decades in bottle to develop further complexity. They’re wines that have won some serious plaudits internationally (but hey, we loved them first). It's best from the cooler pockets of the region to slowly draw out those dark fruits, and cooler vintages are also especially prized for the extra dimension they add too.
There’s some incredibly old, rich grenache vines that whisper stories of a bygone era here, their roots reaching back to the late 1800s. These vines are the guardians of tradition, lending their essence to the classic GSM blends of grenache, shiraz, and mataro/mourvèdre - but over the last decade single-varietal grenache wines, once overlooked and forgotten, have risen from the shadows to embrace a renaissance of their own. You’ll find a full spectrum of grenache - from younger, fresher fruit-forward styles to deeply concentrated and spiced too.
Thinking about heading the McLaren Vale? Make sure to check out our guide to 24hrs in McLaren Vale for our top spots.
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