Australia's fifth largest city, Adelaide enjoys a history of gentility and tolerance, never having been a penal colony. It is known for its elegant Victorian buildings on streets laid out in a grid with lots of greenery, its festivals, cuisine and wine.
Named for Queen Adelaide, wife of England's William IV, the city is the Capital of South Australia and was founded in 1836. Colonel William Light designed the city around the Murray River rather than the sea coast and surrounded it with parkland.
Sixty percent of Australia's great wines can be found in the highlands and valleys within a 50 mile radius of the city and I was out to explore them.
It was December and the weather was warm. The nighttime street scene was in full bloom with outside dinning at nearly every venue in town.
My guide to the city and the wine country was expatriate Ralf Hadzic, who had grown up in Ohio and Texas and had a distinct Dallas accent. He was also involved in the music business in the United States and Australia, hosting TV and radio shows, producing concerts and recordings and a confident and guide to many performers touring the country. In his spare time he is in demand as a popular DJ.
Ralf's company, "Life is a Cabernet Tours," has a number of vehicles that shuttle visitors through wine country allowing us to imbibe with careless abandon while they drive on the wrong side of the road through the beautiful wine valleys surrounding Adelaide (it's the English heritage and you spot quite a few old English automobiles driving the lanes, having survived well in the moderate climate).
Ralf seemed to know everyone in town, which is about 1.2 million people, and he certainly knew the restaurants and wineries. He even helped upgrade my flight home aboard the Qantas' super jet A380, a 13-hour flight from Sydney to Los Angeles. I recommend his services highly (www.lifeisacabernet.com.au).
One of our first stops was in the outskirts of the city where Penfold's Magill Estate offers a Heritage Tour of the original brick, stone and wood winery established in 1844. Penfold's is famous for producing Grange, a limited edition blend, every year since 1951. It's astronomically expensive, but amazing if you are lucky or wealthy enough to taste one.
I was lucky and had a taste of the 1984, spectacular complexity and deep fruit flavors with an average price of $650 a bottle
Now it was off to the Adelaide Hills, about a 20 minute drive from the city, for views of true wine country. The landscape is very similar to the California wine regions, golden undulating hills warmed in the summer air and doted by large oaks and eucalyptus trees, with the exception of some odd creatures hopping, running or flying by. I saw families of kangaroos, emus, the beauty of white cockatoos in flight, a wallaby and heard the manic call of the kookaburra during my visit
Some of the vineyards visited included Shaw & Smith and Lane winery, which has a lovely restaurant in the middle of the vineyard. Ralf and I had some delicious Coffin Bay oysters and I had Lane Vineyards lovely Sauvignon Blanc with lunch (www.thelane.com.au).
Then it was off to perhaps the most famous wine area in Australia, the Barossa, renowned for its Shiraz (Australian for Syrah) and Riesling among many others. Located about 40 miles northeast of Adelaide It was first settled by German immigrants in the 1840s and the German influence continues in the small tourist towns in the valley.
In Angaston visit the Barossa Valley Cheese Company for some samples of local goat and cows milk cheeses handcrafted in the back of the shop. Next door is the Italian Kitchen for homemade pastries, bread and pasta to go.
For a change of pace visit the beer garden at Barossa Valley Brewing in Tanunda. Owner Denham D'Silva studied at the University of Michigan and makes the best beer I tasted in Australia (www.bybeer.com.au). For commercial beer I liked the hoppy James Boag's.
The other great wine valley is McLaren Vale, about a 40 minute drive southeast of Adelaide. It's known for its red wines but also produces Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc among other white wines. Primo Estate Wines specializes in Italian varietals.
Coriole Vineyards has beautiful views down the hills to the sea and the tasting room also has a gift shop where you can purchase olives from the property, packed and cured, olive oil and wine vinegar (www.coriole.com
d"Arenberg Winery also rests on the top of a hill and has long views from the vineyard restaurant. Winemaker and owner Chester Osborn makes 35 different wines with labels by local artists (www.darenberg.com.su).
I had lunch at the Vale/Inn Taphouse & Kitchen and tried the full flight of beers, including cider, with my lunch. As they say in wine country, it takes a lot of beer to make good wine.
WHEN YOU GO:
In Adelaide I stayed at the Majestic Roof Garden Hotel (www.majestichotels.com.au), centrally located just off Rundle Street the main road for young Adelaide with access to a number of shops, cafes, restaurants, pubs and clubs, which are open well into the early morning
I had a lovely country house experience at the Kingsford Homestead (www.kingsfordhomestead.com.au). It was known as Drover's Run in the TV series "McLeod's Daughters." Built in 1856 the two-story sandstone Georgian structure is on a beautiful 225 acre property and offers seven luxury guest rooms. Managers Pat and Sally Kent are wonderful hosts and delightful people. Pat opened up his wine cellar and served me the best wine I tasted on my tour, The Barons of the Barossa 2008 Shiraz. Beg him for a glass.
They also have an extraordinary young chef from England, Dannielle Stone, who prepared my best meal in Australia. Famous wineries such as Peter Lehmann, Yalumba, Rockford, Hentley Farm and Greenock Creek are around 10 minutes drive from the property in the Barossa Valley. The wineries of Clare Valley are about 30 minutes north.
The largest non-British isles population in Adelaide is Italian, accounting for a number of Italian restaurants. I dined at the friendly and homey Amalfi Pizzeria Restaurant. Also popular is the Mesa Lunga (long table), a lively tapas restaurant with a preserved period interior and communal seating on the veranda at long tables.
For information on Adelaide and the surrounding wine country, brochures and guides to housing, restaurants and festivals, www.southaustralia.com
Story and Photos John Blanchette
John Blanchette is a freelance travel writer, television producer and owns a public relations company in Santa Monica, California