These fertile hills are a foodie's dream
Australia: Adelaide is famous for its wine. Now new varieties are being explored and paired with local produce. Sarah Barrell reports
Sunday 23 January 2011
If there's kangaroos in them there hills, I can't see them.
What I can see, from the terrace of Lane Vineyard's bistro, is a landscape rolling towards the horizon, thick with mist and neatly dressed with bales of hay. It's not just the gentle farmland or threatening drops of rain that force me to blink and remind myself that this isn't Devon. In the hour's drive from Adelaide to get here, I passed a 19th-century water mill, market gardens, fruit orchards and a number of woolly-tailed sheep. But looking closely at the corduroy-green fields, patch-worked between the golden grain, I can see rows of vines running vein-like across the valley, some of which are among Australia's oldest.
Wine is a great way to trace the heritage of migration to Australia. The nearby Barossa Valley, the country's premier cool-climate wine region, was the first place that Silesian immigrants settled in during the early 1800s after making the tortuous journey from Prussia, farming families who are today the cornerstone of Australian wine-making. With the arrival of British governors to South Australia in the 1830s, settlements spread out across the region. Today, old-name Barossa winemakers such as Bethany and Penfolds still dominate the market, but there is an awful lot more to choose from. The Adelaide Hills, one of four wine regions around the city, is lately making a big noise for the new varieties it's producing.
There are more than 90 wine labels and 30 cellar doors (tasting rooms) in Adelaide Hills. I start with a stomach-lining lunch at Lane Vineyard's bistro, which specialises in pairing local produce with its home-grown wines. Lois, its new sparkling blanc de blanc proves prosecco-like and ever-easier to drink as the sun burns off the cloud and heats the decked terrace. I eat Port Lincoln seafood (South Australia's oyster peninsula), vegetables from the nearby market at Hahndorf (Australia's oldest surviving German/Prussian settlement), and tender cuts of prized Coroong Angus beef, raised on rich farmland fed by the vast Murray and Darling rivers.
Against my anti-oak principals, a persuasive waiter has me try Lane's 2010 chardonnay and I'm more than happy with its crisp finish. At neighbouring wineries, including Shaw & Smith, and Nepenthe, you get a real sense of the way local vintners are leaving the stereotypically heavily-oaked chardonnays and palate-pounding Pinot Noir behind. New "region specific" varieties such as viognier and tempranillo are Adelaide Hills' rising stars, growing in a varied terrain that's often called "Europe in miniature".
This region's undulating altitudes and climates range from Burgundy and the Loire through Bordeaux to the Rhône. And if, personally, I wasn't convinced by, say, some of Nepenthe's experimental vintages, many wine experts are. Like several vineyards in this region, it's picked up prestigious Decanter Awards.
But this compact region doesn't produce in bulk. Lane, for example, sells its harvest on to Hardys, keeping select vintages for the house label. "It's still pretty hard to find a wide variety of local wines on Adelaide's restaurant tables. Most sell, through mailing lists, cellar doors or are exported," says Mark Gleeson, my guide on a tour around Adelaide's Central Markets, the following day.
This seems to be a bit of a theme. Much of the best Australian produce is exported and the trend for buying local is still far from mass market. "South Australian food tastes are changing," says the woman behind the market's Smelly Cheese stall. "It's still difficult to sell European styles, though." But they do very well with creamy goat's cheeses made by pioneering Adelaide Hills' producers such as Woodside Cheese Wrights.
This pretty, 19th-century covered market is one of the southern hemisphere's largest, with more than 100 stalls selling everything from artisan bread, to plump local cherries, seasonal Suffolk lamb to bullet-strong espresso from landmark café, Lucia's. It's now 10am, I've barely digested breakfast but I can't resist trying a slice of smoked crocodile from Wild Oz meats, followed by some Smokey Bay Oysters from Samtass Seafood: silky, dense and astoundingly fresh.
Produce from the Adelaide environs ranks among Australia's best but it has not traditionally been matched by the calibre of its chefs. This is changing. Among other things, the state has started to produce a disproportionate number of MasterChef Australia finalists, including Andre Usini who has now opened his own restaurant, Cucina & Polenta, in central Adelaide.
"People are much more interested in where their food comes from," says Mark, as we conclude the market tour with the scent of O'Connell Meats' onsite smokehouse lingering seductively in the air. Mark has just launched a trip geared to serious foodies: a seven-day "Flying Food Safari" offering private jet access to South Australia's top culinary spots.
But I don't have to go that far to sample a jet-set atmosphere. At Kenji's, a downtown Japanese restaurant, I find the stars of surf and turf – local rock lobster, blue-fin tuna and abalone – transformed into superlative sushi, plus several of cricket's biggest celebrities.
Stuart Broad, Paul Collingwood and Michael Vaughan are sitting at a table next to me, filling up on premium protein after a stellar Ashes performance. But with two tests still to go, the boys hold off on the wine. Pity is not something the English team has contended with recently but sitting with a glass of crispy local Riesling in front of me, I almost feel sorry for them.
How to get there
Qantas (0845 7 747 767; qantas.com .au/uk) flies from London Heathrow to Adelaide from £759 return.
The Adelaide Hills (crushfestival.com .au) annual food and wine harvest festival takes place this Sunday. Mark Gleeson food tours (central markettour.com.au). Tourism Australia (australia.com).
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