The morning in Clare started with the breakfast of eggs, bacon, and bread we cooked in a dense cloud of smoke in the ventilation-free room. Our final destination for the day was the Barossa Valley, but we started with an impromptu detour to the old copper mining town of Burra. We learned of the Burra copper mine as the primary source for Ayre’s wealth on the Ayre’s House tour in Adelaide.
For the tour of Burra, we paid 5 AUD at the information kiosk in the center of town and were provided with a key and a map. The key allowed us to unlock the gates and doors to gain access to the multiple sites along the self-guided driving tour. Included in the tour were the mine and smelter sights in the gorge above the municipality and important mining era civic buildings throughout the town. The open access key-tour system gave us the feeling of being kids exploring old, dilapidated buildings on our own. All in all, we were left with a strong impression of how life must have been during the copper boom in an area that had to be viewed as the edge of the explored world at the time, and, perhaps, close to the edge even now. Extra excitement on the tour was gained from a prominent “Caution: Summer is snake season” sign posted just as you were stepping into a dark, confined area. Left unstated by the sign is that Australia has more than its share of poisonous snakes.
From Burra, we headed to the Barossa Valley (“The Barossa” to the Aussies). We stopped at the quaint town of Mintaro and Mintaro Cellars for some education about the vinicultural history of the area and tasting of their satisfying wine offerings. Mintaro Cellars is a small operation whose wines, unfortunately, do no make it far out of the region.
From Mintaro, we headed to the town of Nurioopta in The Barossa. Nurioopta is the type of place name that just rolls off your tongue. At least that’s what we assume. We never figured out how to pronounce it. No pronunciation of “N…” was ever attempted. It was just a place that was pointed to on the map, referred to as “here”, and gave us a good feeling of a quiet, tree-filled, small town in the wine country while we were there.
The Barossa Valley is considered to be the preeminent wine region in Australia. Australian Shiraz (or Syrah, if you are not in Australia) is considered to amongst the best, if not the best in the world. In Australia, the very best Shiraz producing region is The Barossa.
Arriving in the Barossa Valley we happened by the mega winery Penfold’s and went in for a tasting. Penfold’s Winery is one of the largest wineries in Australia and their wine is available internationally. They are best known, like most Australian wineries, for their reds. Penfold’s tasting room is like the large, corporate tasting rooms in Napa, complete with a charge for the tasting for their better wines (very uncommon in Australia where you can often taste the wineries best and most expensive offerings for free).
As we sipped, spitted, and dribbled our way through Penfold’s wine selections, we noticed that they offered tastings of three of their flagship reds, all Shiraz—St. Henri’s (2004), RWT (2002), and Grange (1998, rhymes with “range”). These wines, particularly the Grange, are the wines that put Australia on the world wine scene. Even today, Penfold’s Super Premium wines have cult status and are sought after worldwide. The RWT and, particularly, the Grange, are extremely expensive, especially given their relatively high case productions. The Grange 1998 (a very good year) was offered for sale at the winery for over $800 USD for a 750 mL bottle! Intrigued by the tasting possibility (we had not tasted the RWT or the Grange before) we decided to give our taste buds a little treat and opted to spend $70 AUD for a shared taste all three of the wines.
The staff pulled out the shiny, Penfold’s label embossed, Riedel stem wear and we were off and running on our tasting. We received three generous pours of the wines. The inky dark purple wines virtually clunked into the glasses. The three wines were all excellent, superbly constructed, and well-balanced efforts. The RWT and the Grange both had incredible intensity of dark fruit flavors that exploded and lingered on the tongue seemingly for minutes after our sips. Neither of us could bring ourselves to spit these wines out. Our favorite, of the three, was the Grange. It was one of the best wines we have ever tasted and foreshadowed the other incredible Shiraz we tasted while in The Barossa. As we left the winery after the tasting, we could still taste the wines as they continued to linger on our palates.
After the auspicious start to our visit to The Barossa, we wound our way to Blickinstal, our B&B tucked on a rise in the vineyards near the town of Tanunda (which we can pronounce!). We arrived just in time for a pleasant afternoon tea. Cricket on the TV in the room inspired yet another afternoon nap before we rolled back to Tanunda in search of dinner.
The Barossa (and The Clare, for that matter) are surprisingly limited in their fine (or even finer) dining establishments. The best restaurant in Tanunda was fully committed, as they say, for the evening of our arrival, so we chose the pub food at the local hotel. The food was decent and edible and being in The Barossa, the wine selections, even at a humble pub, were truly amazing. We finally got wise and started to split the large Australian portions lest we need a shoehorn and a gallon of Vaseline to take our seats on the 747 on the trip back. It seemed to us that what was considered good food in Australia usually meant huge portions particularly for “tasting” menus.