“The best piece of wine advice ever given to me was to drink promiscuously,” says Jason Miller of Rich & Lingering, our tour guide for the day. “Try different styles, flavors, grapes.”
We’re departing the Hilton Adelaide for a day spent in South Australia’s lesser-known wine country. While most people head straight to the Barossa Valley, Adelaide Hills is right on the way and is home to myriad experiences for the epicurious traveler.
“Morning is the best time to taste wine as your palate hasn’t been influenced yet by other things,” Jason continues.
Rich & Lingering specializes in personalized tours, whether you want to experience South Australia’s best cool climate Shiraz, are interested in wine and cheese pairings or just want an overview of some of the different wine regions.
Adelaide Hills differs from the Barossa Valley due to its cooler climate. Known for its Chardonnays, Pinot Noirs and Sauvignon Blancs, the region also produces an unusual type of Shiraz for the area. Medium bodied, it’s much more estranged and spicy than what’s found in the Barossa or McLaren Vale.
Jason brings the group to Mount Lofty to give us a visual overview of the region. We see the city of Adelaide, a cluster of skyscrapers surrounded by parklands, Forrest’s and rural landscapes. We also see Piccadily Valley, a subsection of Adelaide Hills, with a ridge of hills full of colorful flowers and lush green. Because of its cool climate and high humidity, people did not believe wine would grow well; however, brave growers tried their luck anyhow. In 1979, Petaluma Wines came out with a sparkling Chardonnay that led to the revival of wine industry in Adelaide Hills.
Chocolate & Wine: A Match Made In Heaven
Our first stop is Hahndorf Hill Winery, a biodynamic enterprise offering a range of sustainable vinos.
“We work with nature as opposed to against it,” says Bethany, our tasting guide.
The main reason to visit is their ChocoVino Experience, an epicurious journey focused on wine and chocolate pairing. There are different options on the menu, and we opt for the $25 per person “Discover Chocolate + Wine,” featuring a Cape Grim water as a palate cleanser, HHE White Mischief 2010 and a HHW Shiraz, Haigh’s Milk from Ghana and Papua New Guinea, Daintree Estates Mill from Queensland, Amedei “Chuai’ from Venezuela, Pralus ‘Papouasie’ from Papua New Guinea and Pralus ‘Madagascar’ from Africa. We also add on a Madagascan Trio for $20 per person to add even more wine and cocoa to the experience.
Like a fine wine, gourmet chocolate can also reflect terroir, or a sense of place. Looking out the floor-to-ceiling windows of the tasting room at rows upon rows of vines, I definitely feel immersed in place.
Bethany places a treasure box in front of me.
“This is your chocolate box to help you learn how to experience the chocolate,” she explains. The box contains a cocoa bean, apple slices, a piece of creamy Haigh’s Chocolate and a square of enticing Daintree Estates.
We’re instructed to first look at the chocolate, as a good chocolate should have a rich and even sheen. Then touch it to feel the silky, cool and dry exterior. Next, break it next to your ear and listen, as a fine chocolate should have a distinctive snap.
“The sound should remind you of the laughter of a small child,” Bethany explains.
Afterward, it is proper to smell the chocolate before tasting it, letting it melt on your tongue as it slowly reveals its many layers.
A certified chocolate scarfer, I’m skeptical; however, tasting the chocolate in this manner allows me to really identify the flavors. While the Haigh’s tastes smooth with creamy vanilla, the Daintree is much more exotic with a fruity tang.
While the chocolate alone is an experience, pairing it with wine is something else. Although they’re pre-paired, Bethany encourages us to mix and match, as ultimately it’s about what works best for your palate. For me, the best pairing is the Amedai ‘Chuao’ with the HHW Shiraz 2007. The chocolate is a blend of mainly Criollo beans with some Forastero from the Chuao region in Venezuela with flavors of red berries, prunes and molasses, while the cool-climate Shiraz is smooth with berry fruits and spices. The flavors linger with a tantalizing splendor even after I’ve I’ve finished my plate.
From the Madagascan Trio, the Menakao Dark Chocolate from Madagascar has 72% cacao but is oddly not bitter, but instead flavors of red fruits and citrus. Paired with the classic Italian HHW Pinot Grigio it gives it a crisp and refreshing twist.
After we’re satiated and a bit tipsy, Jason takes the group to Hahndorf, a heritage-listed German village. While I was expecting it to be touristy, it’s actually very authentic with many of the locals being part of the original German settlers from 1839.
A major philosophy in Germany is to locally source food and goods, and this is evident by the many artisanal and sustainable shops and eateries lining the streets. There are also numerous smoked meat shops, coo coo clock makers and nutcracker sellers. For example, at Harris Smokehouse you’ll find carefully smoked meats like hot smoked salmon, hot smoked barramundi and smoked eel. Their cold meats are salted for 12 hours then slowly cured in cool 20 degree oak smoke. On the other hand, the hot smoked meats are brined and salted to retain moisture then cold smoked, before cooking in hot smoke. Each method produces a subtle, sweet taste for the meat. For more German-style meats Max Noske & Son Country Meat Butcher smoke their own meats and sell fresh free range products. Feel like you’re in Germany with black & white pudding, munchner weisswurst and Hahndorf viennas.
In Farm Gate Providore, we’re immersed in colorful macaroons, chocolate-dipped fruits, fluffy cake and fresh, dense breads.
“We go organic as much as we can, and most of our ingredients come from the area,” the girl behind the counter explains.
Just down the street, we sample 99% all-natural beauty products, like creamy lotions, silky balms and scented salts at Coco Marie. My favorite is the natural Emu Oil & Goats Milk Cream, which feels lush and milky and leaves my hands velvety soft.
A Picnic In The Vines
Now for some more Adelaide Hills vino, we stop at Lobethal Road, a charming mud-brick cellar door. The small winery, which produces about 2,000 cases of wine per year, has been producing hand-crafted, intensely-flavored wines since 1998. The charm of the place is validated further as Flynn, the winery’s overweight Jack Russell, rolls over onto my feet.
We take our Pinot Gris, with scents of Nashi pear and cinnamon and tastes of orchard fruit, outside to enjoy a charcuterie plate meal outside in the vineyard.
The spread is rich. Varieties of cheese – Udder Delights Brie cheese, Adelaide blue, Pepato, aged cheddar and peppercorn cheddar – adorn the plates, along with anchovies, olives, pickles, chèvre, salmon pâté, mackerel, prosciutto, salami, sausage, hummus, skordalia, fresh garden vegetables, crackers and fresh bread. Now I realize why Flynn is so fat.
For my next wine, I switch to their 2011 Shiraz with tastes of pepper, spice, berry fruits and plum, noshing on some orchard-picked cherries for dessert. Looking out into the vineyards, sipping award-winning wines and eating a quality local meal with friends, I’m reminded of how fulfilling the simple pleasures in life really are.
In fact, looking back on the entire day, from pairing fine chocolates with flavorful wines to browsing artisanal goods to enjoying fresh baked bread topped with a rich skoralia spread has allowed me to slow down for a second and just enjoy. To enjoy a place where lunches last longer than 15 minutes, locals value quality over quantity and the simple pleasures in life like food and wine are all you really need. I think all of us could use this reminder a little more often.