Notable for producing Shiraz, the grape is by far the most important variety for the region, accounting for about 50% of the total crush. The area’s thin soils, limited water, and warm summers harness Shiraz’s natural vigor and produce intense flavored fruit, and wine with a deep purple color that can last decades in the bottle.
McLaren Vale wines are distinguished by their ripeness, elegance, structure, power and complexity. McLaren Vale has 3,218 hectares of Shiraz under vine. Other major varieties include Cabernet Sauvignon with 1,288 ha planted, Chardonnay with 722 ha planted and Grenache with 402 ha- much of this dry-grown (non-irrigated) bush vines. (Statistics taken from the Phylloxera and Grape Industry Board’s vineyard register as of May 2005.)
Shiraz is harvested from late February to early April. McLaren Vale Shiraz displays pronounced berry and spice characters with some dark chocolate and liquorice, while Shiraz from cooler sub-regions exhibits defined ripe raspberry characters. McLaren Vale Shiraz is renowned for its great softness and rolling palate. Many winemakers in McLaren Vale choose to blend their final Shiraz from a variety of sub-regions to add complexity. McLaren Vale naturally produces Shiraz that has very small berries. Smaller berries have a higher skin to pulp ratio. Berry skin contains flavanols (Anti-sunburn in grapes, ‘flavour’ in wine), Anthocyanins (colour) and other complex molecules that add to wine complexity. Grape pulp contains sugar and water. Therefore the more skin to less pulp the more complex the finished wine. Small berries make more intense Shiraz wine. Within McLaren Vale and its subregions there is a diversity of soil types, clones and winemaking philosophies, which has led to a huge range of Shiraz wine styles being produced. Most winemakers produce at least one Shiraz wine
Cabernet Sauvignon is harvested in late March. Less famous than McLaren Vale Shiraz, but equally enchanting, Cabernet Sauvignon from McLaren Vale continues to display the rich ripe characters that typify wines from this region. Violet and blackcurrant flavours, vibrant plum, mint and edges of liquorice and a touch of McLaren Vale’s trademark dark chocolate character are common.
Grenache is harvested in late April. It is the ancient type of vine widely planted in France and Spain. It is the backbone of many of the worlds red and fortified wines. Grenache vines were removed from McLaren Vale in the 1980s when demand for fortified wines fell. Since the late 1990s Grenache has been enjoying a resurgence of popularity as table wine. The soils of McLaren Vale are particularly suited to this variety. However in wet years it can be difficult to grow well as it can produce big bunches of grapes which make a less concentrated wine. In the best vintages Grenache displays nuances of plum, mulberry and tobacco leaf, spice and mint characters with earthy overtones.
Chardonnay is harvested in mid March. This is the major white variety of McLaren Vale. The most pronounced and distinctive feature is ripe peaches, with the wine from cooler sites displaying white peach. These wines maintain elegance and generally have long cellaring potential. Some McLaren Vale Chardonnay also features ripe melon, banana, fig and cashew nut flavours – rich and generous with pure elegance.
Sauvignon Blanc is harvested in early March. Sauvignon Blanc from McLaren Vale has distinctive varietal characters of tropical fruit, green olives and asparagus, and a full-flavoured palate with a clean, fresh acid finish. Sauvignon Blanc grown in McLaren Vale reaches relatively high sugar levels compared with other wine regions growing this variety. The variety shows herbaceous, gooseberry, passionfruit and lychee aromas.
Petit Verdot is one of Bordeaux’s classic red grape varieties. It is a very thick-skinned grape that produces a wine of considerable depth, peppery, spicy and fragrant. Geoff Johnston of Pirramimma planted the first Australian plot at McLaren Vale in 1983 and it is only now that this wine is being recognised elsewhere. Demand for cuttings of this variety has expanded rapidly and more wines will be presented to the market in the future. Petit Verdot grapes produce wine that has the colour intensity and spice of Shiraz, but with added fragrance of violets, which makes the nose very attractive.
Sangiovese is an Italian variety that does well in low fertility soils and a warm dry climate. It is slow to ripen and produces wine high in acid and tannin. The wine is deep in colour and aroma, and good for long cellaring. Sangiovese is harvested in McLaren Vale in late March early April.
Tempranillo is a Spanish variety that produces a red wine that matures quickly and can be ready for drinking in the year of vintage. In Spain Tempranillo is one of the most popular reds and when blended with Carignan it makes the best red wine of the Rioja region.
Verdelho is a Portuguese white wine variety that likes low vigour soils and a warm dry climate, Verdelho has been around for some time and is enjoying an increase in popularity. It produces wines that are vivacious, fruit salad-like, dry, and best when drunk young and fresh.
Viognier is an exotic variety introduced from France where the best wines are produced in the Condrieu region. This variety exhibits exotic aromas of apricot and musk, and light oak and malolactic character; with rose, nectarine and white peach, McLaren Vale Viognier is spicy and complex with a huge spectrum of flavours.
Zinfandel is a thin-skinned grape that needs dry conditions to avoid rotting. Bunches ripen unevenly, requiring careful picking to ensure the true character is available to be further developed by the winemaker. Zinfandel is spicy in character without being particularly heavy.
The McLaren district has many different soil types and this contributes to the wines from the area having different terroir. The vineyards are planted on soils including fertile red-brown earths, terra rossa, rendzina, soft sands and dark cracking clays. Each of these soil types contributes to the rich diversity of wine produced by the winemakers of the region. Overall our soils have one common trait; they are free draining which means they hold very little water. This is, in fact, an advantage, as it allows the accurate control of moisture to the vines through the use of state-of-the-art drip irrigation. Because of reliable winter rain, irrigation can be kept to low levels and manipulated to achieve the production of superior fruit.
Some soil types allow grapes to be dry-grown. Approximately 20% of the total crop is dry-grown. These dry-grown vines are renowned for small fruit size, which is sought after for the intensity of its flavour. Most vineyards are found on gently undulating land at about 100 m above sea level. In the foothills of the Mt Lofty Ranges to the east, where there is a scattering of vineyards, elevation rises to 320 m. In the north around Blewitt Springs elevation is around 200 m. These variations in elevation have a significant impact on the terroir and fruit produced in the vineyards.
Author: David KellarThis author has published 2 articles so far. More info about the author is coming soon.