A handy guide to South Australia's wine regions
The historical heartland of Aussie wine, South Australia, produces around half of the nation’s annual wine output. It is home to our best-known regions and some of the oldest vines in the world, which were hardy enough to survive the great phylloxera plagues that wiped out vines in North America and Europe. Measuring 750 miles from east to west, South Australia is the engine room of the Australian wine industry and home to a diverse mix of climates, soil types and wine styles. Here’s our handy guide to the wine regions of South Australia.
South Australia’s top five wine regions
Revered around the world for its characterful, complex Shiraz and ravishing Rhône blends, the Barossa Valley is home to an impressive collection of gnarly old Shiraz vines, some of which date back to 1843. Under an hour’s drive northeast of Adelaide, the Barossa Valley boasts over 150 wineries dotted among its postcard-worthy rolling hills, alongside some seriously good farm-to-fork restaurants and artisan bakeries. With 11,609 hectares of land under vine, due to its complex formation of valleys, twisting hills and slopes, soil types vary wildly in the region, from clay loam to red sand. The Barossa’s Mediterranean climate, an abundance of sunshine and low rainfall make it ideal for nurturing full-bodied reds, robust whites and exemplary fortified wines.
McLaren Vale is South Australia’s oldest wine region, having first laid down roots in 1838. A mere 45-minute drive south of Adelaide along the coast, the area is nestled between white-sand beaches and epic mountain ranges. It is home to a host of exciting eateries and charming villages, in addition to one of the country’s most progressive and green-minded wine communities. Boasting 7,438 hectares of land under vine on sandy soils, grapes benefit from the cooling effect of coastal breezes, allowing a diverse mix of varieties to thrive here, from classic Cabernet and Shiraz to Grenache and Vermentino.
With its patchwork of vines on rolling hillsides, sheep-dotted meadows and apple orchards, the Adelaide Hills, 20 minutes east of Adelaide, is one of South Australia’s crown jewels. The cool climate and high-altitude region have carved a niche for its elegant, oak-aged Chardonnays, Sauvignon Blancs, and earthy Pinot Noirs. With just under 4,000 hectares of land under vine across its various valleys and sub-valleys, the region is best suited to early ripening varieties, which thrive in the sandy soils. However, some of the west-facing slopes in the north of the area are warm enough to ripen Cabernet Sauvignon.
This small but mighty wine region perfectly encapsulates the concept of ‘terroir’, as you can taste the aromatic minty flavour imbued by nearby eucalyptus trees in the region’s show-stopping Cabernets, alongside heaps of cassis and hints of tobacco and spice. A four-hour drive from Adelaide, Coonawarra is found along the Limestone Coast in the southeastern corner of South Australia. With just under 6,000 hectares of land under vine, the famously flat region is just 398km2 in size and is influenced by its maritime climate. What sets Coonawarra apart is its wealth of iron-oxide-rich, flame-red ‘terra rossa’ soils, which create Cabernets that can age gracefully for decades.
While South Australia is best known for its reds, the impossibly lush Clare Valley has made a name for its racy Rieslings, which can compete with the best in the world. An hour north of the Barossa Valley, the region is no one-trick pony and has also won acclaim for its silky Shiraz and beautifully balanced Cabernet. Peppered with gum trees and stone cottages, it’s an excellent area for scenic hikes if you want to walk off a busy morning of wine tasting. With just over 5,000 hectares of land under vine, the first of which was planted in the 1840s, cooling maritime breezes significantly slowed the ripening process here, lending the reds and whites their signature acid backbone.
South Australia’s lesser-known wine regions
As these three more under-the-radar regions illustrate, there’s more to South Australia than rich, ripe Barossa Valley Shiraz.
Located in the Barossa region, nestled next to the Barossa Valley, the enchantingly named Eden Valley is a hilly, cool climate haven for great whites and has won applause for its outstanding Riesling and Chardonnay. However, its red output is no less impressive, with the classic duo of Cabernet and Shiraz ruling the roost here. Much cooler than its famous neighbour, Eden Valley grapes across its 2,169 hectares of vines ripen at much cooler temperatures due to its higher altitude, imbuing the whites with their signature bracing acidity and giving the reds excellent ageing potential. Due to the varied terrain, Eden is home to various soils, from sand and loam to quartz-rich gravel, leading to multiple styles.
Dwelling in a peaceful, gum tree-peppered pocket of the Fleurieu Peninsula less than an hour’s drive southeast of Adelaide, the pretty Langhorne Creek region is the birthplace of some of the finest reds in Australia. Spanning just over 6,000 hectares, the region’s fertile soils are generally deep, alluvial sandy loams that vary in colour from red-brown to dark grey. Its grapes benefit from cooling southerly winds blowing from the Southern Ocean across Lake Alexandrina, which promote the even ripening of Shiraz, Cabernet, Merlot and Chardonnay.