The top 10 reasons why McLaren Vale is Australia’s most exciting wine region

The Wine Wankers recently went to McLaren Vale in South Australia – and to say we were blown away by the wines we tasted is an understatement.  These are our top 10 reasons why we believe McLaren Vale is Australia’s most exciting wine region right at the moment.

McLaren vale, sweeping vines from samuels ridge winery
The sweeping views of McLaren Vale

1 – Because Uncle James said so….

James Halliday is one of the world’s most influential wine writers. He’s big, cuddly and has the world’s most awesome eyebrows – so us Wine Wankers like to refer to him as Uncle James.  You know he’ll never lead you astray, especially when it comes to good wines.  We begged James to talk to us Wankers, and he did….

“McLaren Vale has it all. The ever-changing scenery; the choice – indeed over-choice – of restaurants in wineries and in the towns; and the vignerons, rightly proud of their region and their wines, ever-welcoming visitors. McLaren Vale Grenache is its secret weapon, not merely Australia’s best, but every bit as good as that of the Rhône Valley. McLaren Vale Shiraz exudes its sense of place with its distinctive streak of dark chocolate, and the maritime climate underpins the controlled generosity of its Cabernet Sauvignon.”

Best regards, James650-James-Halliday-for-Rosie_648x365_2418171298-hero

2 – Hickinbotham wines – it’s the new Penfolds

Bold claims, I know, but when you consider the Clarendon Vineayrd, now owned by Hickinbotham Wines, is regarded by the wine industry as being one of the country’s best vineyards – these claims can be backed up.  Even though the vines are only relatively new, being planted in 1971, the vineyard’s grapes have long gone into Penfolds Grange and Bin 707, as well as Hardy’s Eileen –  Australia’s more well known premium drops. No longer will these grapes be blended away however, they will now proudly become single vineyard wines for the first time.  And if the first release 2012 wines are anything to go by, these will instantly become cult classics; especially with the 2013 and 2014 solid McLaren Vale vintages in the pipeline.  And with Hickinbotham Wines, along with Yangarra, being the new playtoy of American giant, Jackson Family Wines, you know money will not be an object when it comes to producing the absolute best wines from this soil. Chief juicemaker Charlie Seppelt couldn’t stop crowing about the juggernaut’s commitment to producing exemplary wines.

3 – The Vale Cru – big things packed into small packages

I’m not talking about the Wine Wankers ill-fitting undies, I’m talking about 15 McLaren Vale winemakers who’ve turned their noses to convention and are churning out small batch, high quality wines of distinction.  The Vale Cru are a diverse mob embracing diverse grape varieties as well as winemaking methods while also shining the light on the region does best.  These guys are so god-damn lovable, the Wine Wankers even partook in an afternoon of speed dating with the ‘Cru.  Let’s just say they got me very drunk and tried to take advantage of me.  Expect a full ‘Speed Dating with the Cru’ report in the not too distant future.

4 – Yangarra – McLaren Vale’s ‘it’ winery of the moment

When James Halliday recently gave seven 2012 Yangarra Estate wines ratings between 94 and 97 points, Australia took notice and Yangarra’s phone wouldn’t stop ringing!  Such endorsement is very high praise for such a new winery. But that’s only half the fun.  Winemaker Peter Fraser is now using big ceramic eggs fermenters to really twist things up, making unconventional wines to really assault the senses.

One of the most impressive aspects of winemaking here is the mechanical sorting bench; and it’s the only one in all of McLaren Vale. “So what?”, I hear you ask.  Well, this table sorts each and every grape berry into size groups, and this in turn ensures only the right sized grape then goes into making the wine.  Size does matter, after all and the wine tastes sensational as a result.

Pete’s proud of his ceramic eggs!

5 – Mollydooker – the outsiders

I’ve never met a winery that is so polarizing as Mollydooker. On one hand, its wines are literally killing it in the US – having recently been awarded the 2nd best wine in the world by influential Wine Spectator magazine.  And then on the other hand, some experts believe their style of winemaking is setting the industry back by 20 years.

You see, these guys make big, ball busting, new-oak driven, fruit bomb flavoured reds with soft tannins that the Americans LOVE, with a capital L.  A far cry from what many in McLaren Vale believe the region’s wines should be renowned for – refined wines made with grapes from dry grown vineyards with deft handling of oak.

Oh, and one last thing, when you do venture to cellar door to taste the wines, you need to shake their hands with YOUR left hand.  Crazy!  A mollydooker is in fact Australian for left handed.  You have been warned!  🙂 

6 – Victory Hotel – it’s the pub you wish was your local

Don’t get me wrong, the North Bondi RSL does have one of the best views in the world, but considering it’s my local, the wine list is a bit shit!  The Victory Hotel is THE pub every winemaker in town calls his or her local.  As a result, the wine list is massive, and not just with a huge selection of hard to get McLaren Vale wines, but an exemplary collection of wines from overseas to keep the winemakers interested and their palates educated.  Oh, and the food – excellent.  I can also recommend the cottages at the Victory for accommodation.  Very affordable and no need for expensive taxis after dinner!


7 – The Star of Greece – because it’s the Star of Greece!  Sunsets, Sunsets, Sunsets!!

Give me a decent glass of wine, good food, and the sun melting in to the ocean and I’m a happy man.  Welcome to the Star of Greece, a ‘must do’ for everyone visiting McLaren Vale.  Don’t come expecting Greek food however, this beach-shack vibed fine dining restaurant is named after the shipwreck that it overlooks from the cliff.  Come for a sunset drink and stay for dinner. And because it’s owned by the same guy that owns the Victory Hotel, you know the wine list is damn good.

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8 – #WinesAndGrinds – it’s a thing!

Just because you make ridiculously good wine doesn’t mean you’re also into the opera, symphony or ballet.  Truth be known, I hate these things, and so do most of my friends who also love really good booze. So it excites me when a winemaker who churns out excellent wines also has a real edge. Wes Pearson from Dodgy Brothers Wines invited me to a private wine tasting at Wilunga Skate Park; or as he called it – #winesandgrinds!  Dodgy Brothers sums up the reason why I fell in love with McLaren Vale.  Small production wines that are super delicious and a winemaker that doesn’t take himself too seriously.  The Australian wine industry should take note of guys like Wes.  Believe it or not, there is a real community out there of people who make wine and love skating.  Check out his skater mate in the Adelaide Hills, Brendon Keys of BK Wines.  Another 5 star James Halliday winery that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

9 – Grenache – it’s better than Shiraz

Everyone talks about how amazing McLaren Vale Shiraz is (and it is), but for me, the region’s real hero is Grenache.  The vines are super old and they’re bush vines – so they look super manky and unkempt.  But don’t let their looks deceive you, these unirrigated veterans produce berries that are super concentrated and stacked with flavour.

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10 – Cabernet – it’s just as good as Margaret River, Coonawarra or Yarra Valley

McLaren Vale Cabernet is going through a renaissance.  Detractors used to say the variety was too overblown in McLaren Vale, too ripe and fruity and the wines too oak driven, thereby overshadowing the variety’s regal appeal. Well, the Emperor has new clothes; more subtle handling of oak, often using older barrels, fruit sourced from the cooler climates of McLaren Vale and meticulous work in the vineyard has given this variety a new lease on life – you will be amazed!

Author: Drew



  1. Hey thx for the update on Mclaren vale haven’t been there for quite a few years as found their wines overly big, ripe & alcoholic. Looks like I should get back down there for a visit by the sounds of it. Cheers !

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I was in the McLaren Vale last year. Dont miss the Hardy cellar door in the middle of town. They will pour the whole range. You might even get lucky (like I did) and find a cancelled export order of the Tintara 2006 shiraz and cab – it’s a great buy at $10 a bottle.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Yay, so happy you guys love my stomping ground. And I was only there on Saturday enjoying the delights of Molly Dooker and Ekhinda Wines. My friend enjoyed the local beers as we enjoyed the Winter sunshine at Red Poles while I sipped a delightful glass of bubbles.
    We left it too late for dinner at the Victory but it really is one of the best pubs around.
    Hope you come back and enjoy our lovely region again. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’d love to visit this amazing wine region. I’ve only been to Australia once, and that was to the Gold Coast, further north. Perhaps sometime in the future we’ll manage another trip out there (I’m in the UK). All the wines you describe sound wonderful, particularly that Grenache.Shiraz Mataro. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Its great to see the rest of the world is noticing Australia’s best wine region. Its sad to see the the same old faces getting the publicity. Dig a little deeper people there is so much more. Its nice to mention places like the Victory and the Star…… They are great, but there is sooooo many other adventures to be had. The Salopian inn and its amazing collection of gins, to Nigel at the Elbow room, to the iconic Fino’s (yes so good the Barossa had to get one), The Current Shed, Blessed Cheese, Three Monkeys, The Vine Inn, d Arrys Veranda, just to name a few.

    Winemakers of McLaren Vale make award winning Shiraz and Cabernet, but they have Grenache in their blood. It doesn’t get any better, any where else, no matter what the say up north. The best Grenache grows on a vine, bush or no bush, you cant tell the difference and dont believe the bullshit. In the end it doesn’t really matter. What really turns McLaren Vale winemakers on is all the alternative varieties, like Nero, Monty, Fiano, Graciano , Tempranillo, and just about any other variety that ends in O. Every one in the Vale is having a go and by all accounts, smashing it….! Look for producers like Coriole, S.C Pannell, Jeff Hardy, Beach Road, Wirra Wirra, Oliver’s Taranga, and even the bigger producers who have exceptional award wining wines like Angoves, and Rosemount. The last producer has even won international recognition with its alternative variety blends.

    The best thing about the vale is you can eat and drink it all on the beach.


    • Glad to see you’re so passionate about the region. Im coming back to the Vale 1 August – we should catch up and try some of these places. As it was – when i was there i did 3 solid days of tasting – and had to leave so many stories out. It’s a region that has too much to offer for it to be crammed in to one small article.
      And youre right about the beach – perfect place to end a long day of wine tasting.


      • No problem Drew. Always happy to show people around and give them a different look at things. Just send me a email.


  6. Here Here!

    And that just scratches the surface of it 😉

    Little wonder I moved to the Vale and fell in love so much that I started my food, wine & travel blog as well as set about establishing our own wine label using premium Vale fruit.

    I tell everybody – McLaren Vale is not only the Mediterranean of the South, but also truly paradise!

    Cheers for spreading the good word,



  7. Great article lads! I have long been a strong advocate for “Team McLaren Vale” and this made for a great read! I have spent many wonderful dinners at The Victory Hotel. Not too many places you can have a nice bottle of Wendouree Shiraz Mataro with dinner that you don’t have to bring yourself. Also, great call on the McLaren Vale Grenache. Some stunners coming out of the region and if you haven’t yet, have a crack at Lost Buoy Cliff Block Grenache. Boasts the closest vines in Australia to the ocean. Great drop!

    Keep up the good work lads! Love the articles!


  8. I love McLaren Vale! I was first introduced to it about 10 years ago during my initial wine education and loved the Rhone blend of Marsanne Rousanne Viogner. I was hooked from then on. Thanks for the update on the goings on over your side of the world lads!


  9. The world is a wonderful place to live, if we take away violence and crime tearing our society apart today. It baffles me sometimes how great we get wine from grapes, a common fruit we love. That means McLaren Vale in South Australia has the best wine press in the world?


  10. Great article! McLaren Vale is my new favourite there’s so many more reasons to list, including the location. Southern beaches are simply the best.

    The main reason though, would have to be the Grenache!

    posted by Matthew – Chief Everything Officer @ SmallBatch WineTours


  11. Mollydooker shouldn’t be able to put Australia on their label. Shame to promote this irrigation and a benefit. Drew, educate people, don’t excite them when it comes to unsustainable practices and terrible wines.


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