McLaren Vale (Nov. 23)
Peter had to go back to work on Thursday, so I ventured out on my first solo experience with right-hand driving, securing a rental car in Adelaide and heading south, somewhat shakily at first but with rapidly improving confidence, toward the scenic wine-producing valley called McLaren Vale. Only an hour south of Adelaide and hardly out of the city's suburbs, it's an easy trip for wine-loving visitors to the region, and it houses dozens of wineries, many of which have become quite familiar names in the States.

Fox Creek
Americans who know Fox Creek primarily as a pricey "cult" Shiraz popularized by the critic Robert M. Parker Jr. might be surprised to see its modest tasting room in a historic farm cottage.
Fox Creek
I chose just three visits for my day's tour, starting with a winery that I approached with some skepticism because its wines have been popularized in the U.S. by the critic Robert M. Parker Jr., a man whose apparent preference for monolithic, highly alcoholic and oaky "fruit bombs" don't always coincide with my own. I was pleasantly surprised, though, not only by the casual, friendly and unassuming tasting room but also by the style and finesse of the wines, particularly the 1999 reds, which seem to be a bit more balanced and finessful than the massive hot-season '98s that the critics loved.

Fox Creek 1999 McLaren Vale Sauvignon Blanc - excellent citric flavors, crisp and fresh. $15.50

Fox Creek 2000 McLaren Vale Sauvignon Blanc - ripe green olive, firm and intense.

Fox Creek 2000 McLaren Vale Semillon Sauvignon Blanc - fresh olive and crisp citrus. $15.50

Fox Creek 2000 McLaren Vale Verdelho - citric, fresh and tart. $17

Fox Creek 2000 McLaren Vale Chardonnay - fresh apples. Fruit-focused, balanced and fresh. $14

Fox Creek 1999 McLaren Vale Grenache (65)-Shiraz (35) - Strawberry and subtle white pepper. Good juicy fruit and snappy acidity. $17

Fox Creek 1999 McLaren Vale Merlot - dusty cherries, a bit shy. Ripe cherry fruit, fresh, soft finish. $32

Fox Creek 1999 McLaren Vale JSM - Taking its acronym from the initials of the 19th Century sea captain who once owned the little building that houses the winery tasting room and who cut his initials in the stone lintel over the door, this approachable wine is a blend of Shiraz and Cabernet. Dark ruby in color, it offers forward peppery and plummy aromas. Full, juicy and ripe in flavor, it's a bit closed when the cork is first pulled but soon opens up in the glass to full, fresh and long flavors that are elegant and easy to enjoy. $22

Fox Creek 1999 McLaren Vale Short Row Shiraz - plums, a hint of Port, warm and ripe. Flavors follow the nose, big but accessible. $26

McLaren Vale seen from d'Arenberg.

Although it's one of the larger and more commercial wineries of McLaren Vale, I wanted to visit d'Arenberg because its wines are widely available in the U.S. and I've tasted most of them there; and because its winery, "cellar door" and elegant dining room, d'Arry's Verandah, are sited on a beautiful hilltop location offering good views of the Vale.

d'Arenberg The Peppermint Paddock non-vintage Sparkling McLaren Vale Red Chambourcin - Inky purple with a bright-pink froth. Earthy scent, bubble-gum and weedy herbal notes. Tart and fruity, a bit odd; not my favorite sparkling burgundy. $15

d'Arenberg 1998 McLaren Vale Red Ochre - light ruby; fresh berry nose and palate, crisp and fresh. Easy drinking. Aus$10, widely available in the U.S. in the single-digit range.

d'Arenberg 1999 The Peppermint Paddock McLaren Vale Chambourcin - Dark garnet. Earthy, "tree bark," bright red fruit, juicy and crisp. Vaguely interesting, but raises the question why anyone in Australia is taking the time and effort to grow this rather forgettable French-hybrid red grape. $17.50

d'Arenberg 1998 High Trellis McLaren Vale Cabernet Sauvignon - Very dark garnet. Open and forward, cassis and weedy oak; fruity and soft, a big mouthful, crisps up with acidity in the finish. $17.50

d'Arenberg 1998 d'Arry's Original McLaren Vale Shiraz Grenache - Dark garnet; minty berry aromas. Juicy and ripe with a fresh, crisp finish. An easy quaff. $17.50

d'Arenberg 1998 The Footbolt McLaren Vale Old Vine Shiraz - Dark garnet. Black fruit with subtle meaty and gentle pepper aromas. Warm, plummy, soft fruit and fresh acid. $17.50

d'Arenberg 1999 The Custodian McLaren Vale Grenache - Full strawberry fruit and juicy, fresh red-fruit flavor, clean and long. $20

d'Arenberg 1998 Twentyeight Road McLaren Vale Mourvedre - Clear ruby, full scents of flowers, earth and spice. Complex and balanced, earthy spice and juicy berry fruit, fine wine. $35

As late spring segues into summer in the Southern Hemisphere, Coriole's cozy "cellar door" is surrounded by banks of flowers.
I had occasionally seen Coriole wines for sale in shops in Louisville, but the bottlings offered were pricey enough to put me off, so I didn't know quite what to expect when I came to this pretty little "cellar door" toward the northern edge of the Vale. But it didn't take me long to warm up to the place under the friendly tutelage of Judy Scott, the knowledgeable cellar door manager. We tasted through a number of Coriole's wines, and I found the unexpected Italian varieties of particular interest. It's also worth noting that, as with some of the other top bottlings I saw at the wineries, the prices were quite fair - particularly in light of the 2-to-1 U.S.-Australian exchange rate. The profit-taking, it seems, is occurring after these good Australian wines leave the wineries.

Coriole 1998 McLaren Vale Sangiovese - perfumed, cherries. Firm, tart, loads of black-cherry fruit. $15

Coriole 1998 McLaren Vale Nebbiolo - perfumed, licorice, heady roses, remarkable. $20

Coriole 1998 Redstone McLaren Vale Dry Red Table Wine (Shiraz 55, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache) - Deep and perfumed, luscious floral. Full and bright, pepper and black fruit. Accessible and ripe.

Coriole 1998 McLaren Vale Shiraz - Dark garnet, peppery and plummy. Full and juicy fruit, soft and fresh. $30.50

Coriole 1996 "Mary Kathleen" McLaren Vale Reserve Cabernet Merlot - Dark garnet. Wonderful funky-barnyard-herbal aromas. Big and ripe, complex; I really like this. $30.58

Coriole 1998 "Lloyd" McLaren Vale Reserve Sangiovese Cabernet - Cherry-berry fruit and vanilla aromas, elegant and restrained. Beautiful fruit and balance, very approachable now but showing cellar promise. $38

All my wine-tasting reports are consumer-oriented. In order to maintain objectivity and avoid conflicts of interest, I accept no free samples from wineries or distributors, purchasing all the wines I rate at my own expense in retail stores.

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