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Postcard from Australia 6: The McLaren

Emily O Hare from the River Cafe is the winner of the James Busby Travel and Imbibe Sommelier 'Blog your way Down Under" competition

On land, with glass in hand, you might for a minute believe yourself to be in Southern France, or Spain rather than the Southern Hemisphere. There is something of the med about the McLaren - the warmth, the sea breeze, the light. But when you are at sea, and looking to land you might mistake the rugged coastline for that of Northern Scotland, the cold, the sea breeze, again that brilliant light.

At a lunch at the Victory hotel we met with the winemakers from Gemtree, Cascabel, Noon, and Rudderless. Mike from Gemtree presented his Shiraz – big, inky reds that filled the mouth with bold berry fruit tempered by acid and firm tannins that carried thoughts of church to the back of the tongue. A cool stone, candle smoke and faded incense character that calmed all thoughts of flamboyant fruit. I particularly loved the “White Lees”, a refreshing Shiraz that is aged on Chardonnay lees, and that draws a white peach tea scent and flavour from those dead yeast cells.

Cascabel came next, Susana Fernandez and Duncan Ferguson make wines from predominantly Spanish varieties-Tempranillo, Graciano, Monastrell and Grenache, with plans to plant Albarino in the future. Their reds were fascinating, all glossy and bright, with attractive fruit and floral notes and the most intriguing black pudding savouriness that seemed to run through each wine. A cold blooded meatiness that injected a bit of darkness and shadow to the lightness and brightness of the fruit.

Drew Noon makes wines from Shiraz and Graciano, Grenache and Cabernet Sauvignon. Like Cascabel his wines play on that tension between light and dark. Wines with weight and power–they are unashamedly big, but beautifully balanced. Fleshy fruit wrapped with muscular tannins, pronounced veins of acid that had me visioning the arms of the Incredible Hulk (a purple coloured version). But that finish - the muscles lengthen, the weight lifts, the wine seems to float off up to the back of the throat leaving via the ears, puffs of purple that pull the mouth into a Joker's grin.

Rudderless wines are made by the proprietor of the Victory, Doug Govan. His wines had dark centres too, black cherries and plums, new leather, balsamic. Govan has recently planted some Malbec and we tried the 2011. It was blue and purple, super vivid and lively – the colour of the sea and the ink of the squid that I would see that next morning. I am so interested to see how this grape develops in the McLaren. It could prove to be an exciting cross between the savouriness and burliness we are used to from Cahors, with the high spirits and generous fruit of Mendoza.

We left the Victory for the beach, to refresh with a dip at Port Willunga and to play cricket at dusk. Dinner was at the Star of Greece, which must be one of the most beautiful restaurants in the world. With wet hair and sandy feet, we sat down to seafood and steaks. Our host was Zar Brooks and his winemaker “trophy” wife Elena (“she wins loads of medals for her wines”). Their Lion’s Tooth of Mclaren Vale Shiraz was pretty exciting – Shiraz is co-fermented with 5% Riesling which seems to streamline the Shiraz, heightening (as one would expect) the acidity and tarting up the fruit.

That night was boozy. The next morning I couldn’t recall the wrestler's masks, or our downing from bottle, Dandelion’s Pride of the Barossa – a 30 year old Barossa PX. Such behaviour played havoc with our numbers. There were a lot of no-shows for squidding at 6 a.m.

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