South Australia was one of the last Australian wine regions to be established, but has made up for lost time. It is now the largest region, accounting for almost half of all the vineyard planted area and also over half of total production, and covers a wide variety of climates and growing conditions. Most of the biggest wine producing companies in Australia are based in this area.
About South Asutralian Wine
It does not just produce the most wine of any other region, it produces arguably the very best that Australia has to offer, with some of the most premium, and internationally recognised names, such as Penfolds Grange, produced in this area.
Vines were first planted with the settlers in around 1836, in and around Adelaide, and the South Australian industry has branched out to the north and the south from here. Adelaide is at the heart of the South Australian wine industry, and there is still one, historic vineyard, the Penfolds’ owned Magill estate, which still exists, vineyards and winery, in a suburb of Adelaide.
The region produces a wealth of different wine styles, which truly demonstrate the vast differences in climate and land across this large region; from the coolest, most elegant Rieslings, to the boldest of ripe Shiraz, and stylish Cabernet Sauvignons, from world renowned sub-regions, South Australia seems to have it all.
Before exploring these individual sub region, a mention needs to be made to the vast area, which produces the high volume of grapes that go into the swathe of lower priced wines, and entry level brands on the market; and that is the Riverland and Murray River. Back in the 1880s, the Chaffey brothers, from California, who had successfully established irrigation systems in the US deserts , arrived in South Australia and over the course of the years, established a similar system for the ever-flooding Murray river. With a system of dams, pumping stations and irrigation channels, they were responsible for one of the most important changes to Australian vinegrowing and vineyards. This region now produces a huge volume of grapes, which are mainly used for blends and brands.
The main, quality sub regions of South Australia, fan out north and south from Adelaide.
Wine Regions of South Australia
See our full guide to Barossa Valley.
Eden Valley borders the Barossa, yet produces very different styles of wine, due to its altitude. Up in the hills, it benefits from a much longer growing season, and whilst the days are hot, the nights are cool, and the winters colder. This had led to Eden Valley becoming famous for some of the most acclaimed Riesling wines in the world, let alone Australia. The Riesling thrives in this climate and area, producing lime- fresh, floral wines, with incredible freshness and complexity. The region also produces a more fruit-driven, restrained style of Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz, with the impact of the cooler climate resulting in a more structured, softer style of wine.
Clare Valley – arguably THE best region for Riesling is the Clare Valley, lying north of the Eden Valley, at around 130km north of Adelaide, and the most northern of the South Australian vineyards. Once again, it is set much higher up, with rolling hills, and a far cooler climate; like the Eden Valley, the cooler nights, colder winters, and longer growing period result in supremely elegant, well-crafted Riesling, with stylish Chardonnay, and Cabernet Sauvignon also being produced.
Trecking back south to around 50km south of Adelaide, travellers will find the premium wine region of McLaren Vale, situated in the Southern Vales. This is an area that was discovered for its vine growing potential by pioneers such as Thomas Hardy in the 19th century , and is now responsible for some of the highest quality wines produced in the region.
Benefitting from the cooling breezes of the nearby coast, this area has an altogether more Mediterranean climate, with long warm , dry summers, but cold winters, and produces elegant, refined and deeply complex styles of wine. Shiraz is in its element here, but a more restrained style than in the Barossa, and it is here that some of the great Rhone style ‘GSM’ blends ( Grenache, syrah, mourvedre) really come into their own. As well as the ubiquitous Cabernet and Chardonnay, this region is now also growing some top quality wines from a host of grape varieties including merlot, zinfandel, Sangiovese, Tempranillo and Viognier.
Close to McLaren is the more heavily irrigated and water-rich area of Langhorne Creek, which produces high quality Cabernet Sauvignon.
See our full guide to Adelaide Hills.
One of the most important regions in South Australia, situated on the Limestone Coast, about 400km south of Adelaide, and probably the one region most famous for its soil, the unique ‘Terra Rossa’. This was an area discovered in the 19th century by settler John Riddoch, but did not come to fame until the 1950s, when Wynns put their wines firmly on the international quality map. Bordering the southern oceans, it can be cold, foggy and downright continental in its climate.
It’s a tiny area, with the strip of terra rossa soil, measuring no more than 12km by 2km, a thin area with rich red topsoil, covering a thick layer of limestone, with good drainage, which now produces some of the very best and unique Cabernet Sauvignon wines in the world, with an intensity, yet structure and almost incomparable depth, reeking of blackcurrant and mint, and simply unique.
40km north of Coonawarra, and in a flat area, the coastal influence continue the cooler feel, and this area is now home to some of the best Chardonnay’s in the region, elegant, and structured, and frequently showcasing their true varietal character without the use of oak.