Pink Mink and Rubber Duckies: Wine Tasting in the Barossa

After escaping death’s watery clutches, mastering the art of koala whispering, and rubbing elbows with popstars, there really was only one thing left to do: Drink a bunch of wine.

Wine of Australia's Barossa Valley

We headed to the Barossa Valley, a wine region in southern Australia. It’s kinda like Napa but without the crowds or the tasting fees.

Barossa is an hour drive from Adelaide and was settled in the mid-1800s by Europeans, mostly Germans and the British. Almost immediately, it seems, they began producing wine. Some of the vines at one winery (Langmeil, which also happened to be our favorite) are 169 years old, which is pretty crazy when you consider that after 20 years, vines start to produce smaller and smaller yields (something I learned during a tasting at our second favorite winery Turkey Flat – where our extremely attractive hostess claimed that they had the oldest vines. This would become a common theme throughout our visit).

Turkey Flat, Barossa Valley

The region is made up primarily of three communities – Angaston, Tanunda, and Nuriootpa (which is the Aboriginal word for “getting your swerve on with good wine.” Actually, that’s not a literal translation. It really means “meeting place.”  All three towns are relatively close together (within miles of each other) and there are tons of little communities dotted in between, including Bethany, which was one of the oldest settlements and had a lovely winery built into a rock quarry. It also claims to have the oldest vines in the region. Shocker.

The Barossa is visually stunning – lots of rolling hills and expansive vistas. It wasn’t at all crowded when we were there – generally there were a few other people at any particular tasting room, but nothing crazy.

Almost all of the tastings were fully inclusive, meaning you could try absolutely anything they had. Anything. It was crazy. A wine free-for-all. My wine-for-life-partner XFE and I shared tastings to keep the tipsy at bay, but the generosity of the pours overall made this a challenge.

The tastings were free almost everywhere, or $5, reimbursable with a purchase. And in the couple of cases where there was supposed to be a fee (for example, the wonderful Seppeltsfield Winery – which ALSO claims the oldest grapes!), the shopkeepers even waived that small fee because we were American and couldn’t really buy much to take with us.

Seppeltsfield Winery

(Seppeltsfield was very interesting because they specialize in fortified wine, which are things like sherry, port and tawny. What makes it fortified is the addition of a liquor, in this case brandy. I’ll tell you, I was learning stuff all over that valley.)

Even the big guys like Penfolds and Peter Lehmann didn’t have fees. These were the two largest, most commercial wineries we went to, and we actually bought a very, very nice bottle of wine at Penfolds to have with dinner that night, but we generally like to seek out the smaller, lesser-known wineries. Needless to say, we avoided Jacob’s Creek and Wolf Blass.

Penfolds Shiraz, Australia

But the Barossa specialty is the Shiraz and I swear, we didn’t have a bad Shiraz the whole time we were there, including the sparkling Shiraz, which was wonderful.  They also have a popular blend GMS, which is Grenache, Mataro or Mouvedre, and Shiraz that I liked.

On the white front, they had some very interesting Rieslings, which were for the most part very dry. Not sweet, like the German versions. And, surprisingly (since it’s so popular here in Virginia) we tasted a few Viogniers. We also had some great, great roses, including the above mentioned Turkey Flat, and at a small winery called Rockford.

We went to 14 wineries over the course of two days, which seems like a lot, in retrospect. But we were generally out the door at 10 am and back by 5 pm, so they were pretty spread out. And, like I said, we did share tastings and we didn’t go through the whole list at each winery, instead, picking and choosing a few that we wanted to try.

Plus, we had nice long lunches each day, including lunch in Angaston twice at a place called Wanera Wine Bar. They had this octopus and chorizo dish that was to die for. XFE and I both shared a tapas sized portion the first day we went and then two days later, went back for the larger portions. Just thinking about it right now is making me crave it.

Octopus at Wanera Wine Bar

Mostly we stood around talking to the shopkeepers and winemakers, who were a very gracious and helpful bunch. I really did learn a lot. For example, at Whistler Wines, I learned that kangaroos like apples. That’s because the owner keeps kangaroos and gave us some sliced apples to take out there.

Winery kangaroos

We bought a few wines, including a couple of wonderful Tawnys, one of which, Mr. Pickwick’s Particular Tawny from Saltram Wine Estates, which we had had during my birthday dinner at Ochre. We also bought a small bottle of Tawny from Langmeil.

But our best purchase had to be a lovely sparkling concoction we bought on our way home one night at a winery that was just down the street from where we were staying in Lyndoch.

Kellermeister Wines has quite a distinguished billboard – very understated and regal – that proclaims that its wines have received a whole bunch of stars from renowned Australian wine critic James Halliday. This is apparently quite the big deal, according to the very posh young man who was serving us that day. And, according to the Kellermeister website:

We’ve been quietly handcrafting Kellermeister wines in small batches at our boutique winery in the beautiful Barossa Valley for a long time now. But in true Aussie fashion, we’ve managed to keep just how exceptional the wines are pretty quiet. Well, until recently that is, when Australia’s leading authority on all things wine, James Halliday, spilled the beans in his definitive Australian Wine Companion.

James classified our winery with the highest possible winery rating – five bright red stars. This prestigious designation is only bestowed upon a handful of wineries across Australia in recognition of the consistent production of wines of “exemplary quality and typicity” – just the sort of wines that we’ve been making for over 30 years.

We tried a few of the Kellermeister wines, including, of course, the Shiraz, nodding and murmuring our appreciation, when two intriguingly named Moscatos caught our eye. “Could we try the Black Fire and the Pink Mink?” we asked.

Pink Mink Moscato

It may not be from the oldest vines in the Barossa (although the label hasn’t changed since the 1970s), but that Pink Mink sure did taste good after dinner while we gazed out over the dark hills and impossibly starry skies from our uber large Jacuzzi bathtub, pink rubber ducky included.

Australian duck