Appellation Appreciation: McLaren Vale

As the nights get shorter and temperatures fall, we start dreaming of sandy beaches, salty air and seaside paradises as far as the eye can see. While planning an island getaway probably isn’t on most of our fall/winter agendas, being transported to said locations via a glass of wine most definitely can be. This chilly season, we’re looking to the land down under to fulfill all of our warm, saline-tinged dreams, specifically, McLaren Vale, Australia’s answer to dry reds, crisp Chardonnays and an array of international varieties dominating the fertile, red-hued soils.

Over the last few decades, McLaren Vale has become one of the most sought-after regions for high-quality Australian wine. Located just 35 kilometers south of Adelaide, this South Australian hot spot has become a mecca for viticulture. The first grapes were planted in 1838, with the first operating wineries jumping into the game just 12 short years later. Today, over 120 wineries flourish within the region, most of which are small, family-owned estates, with a quality over quantity mentality.

McLaren Vale exemplifies an ideal Mediterranean climate, with four distinguishable seasons. Summers are warm and dry, with long days and short, chillier nights. Rainfall is heaviest in the winter, and frost/snow hardly ever come, thanks to the region’s location beside the sea.

McLaren Vale is characterized by many various soil types, creating an array of terroirs and microclimates within the rather small appellation. Terra Rossa, sand and dark clay dominate, each creating their own optimal conditions for various grape varieties. Above all, most soils are extremely well-draining and retain minimal water, making drip irrigation systems necessary and common. Vineyards that do not drip irrigate produce small amounts of concentrated fruit, rich and powerful in juicy fruit-forwardness.

Full-bodied, dry reds are definitely the specialty of McLaren Vale, specifically those crafted from Australia’s signature red variety, Shiraz. GSM (Grenache, Syrah/Shiraz, Mourvedre/Mataro) blends are also popular here, as well as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot. As the wine region continues to flourish, experimental plantings with various international varieties, such as Tempranillo and Cinsault, are also coming about – though it’s Shiraz that will most likely always reign king.

Accounting for approximately half of McLaren Vale’s vineyard plantings, Shiraz occupies an astounding 3,200+ hectares of vines. For whites, Chardonnay and Semillon dominate, as well as Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling. The region’s Chardonnays are particularly known for their juicy, stone fruit flavors and notes of ripe melon. Sauvignon Blanc also tends to lean on the tropical side, marked with herbaceous undertones and lychee nuances.

For an immediate getaway to the land down under, pour a hefty serving of McLaren Vale wine into your glass – vegemite and kangaroo burgers optional.

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