What separates the Adelaide Hills from Clare Valley?

Published by Sally on March 1, 2012

Clare Valley

Clare Valley

Both geographical indications lie in the Mount Lofty Ranges which run from south of Adelaide, not quite due north, petering out north of Clare.

At a tasting masterclass in London, Clare Valley’s Wakefield/Taylors chief winemaker Adam Eggins joined forces with viticulturist Marty Edwards, of The Lane in the Adelaide Hills, to expound the differences and evolving styles.  Chardonnay and shiraz were the focus of the tasting.

Adelaide Hills Clare Valley
Altitude 400-500m 400-500m
HDD 1270 1770
Growing season rainfall 300mm 200mm
MJT 19.1°C 21.9°C
Harvest mid March to late April early March to late April
Winkler Zone 1 3
Signature grape sauvignon blanc riesling

Source: James Halliday Wine Atlas of Australia, 2006, with Winkler zone added.

Despite their overt differences, these two regions are the highest and coolest parts of South Australia.  Eden Valley has similar altitude, but more degree days (1390), though its MJT is only 19.4°C, so it may not be that simple.  Eggins also said the weather data suggest a warmer region than he experiences, as cool afternoon breezes are an important retardant of ripening.

In the Adelaide Hills, vines must be above 400m, overlooked by South Australia’s highest peak, Mount Lofty, at 729m. Edwards explained “the hallmark of Adelaide Hills is natural acidity. We still have warm days, though Barossa is generally 5-6°C warmer than the Hills.”  Additionally, he said “the diurnal temperature ranges up to 20°C as we get near vintage, 30°C in the day, 10°C at night, which gives pure, fresher, vital wines.”

“The hallmark of Adelaide Hills is natural acidity”

Where Adelaide Hills is a region 70km by 30km, Clare Valley is just 22km by 7km.  Eggins explained “the four things that drive quality in Clare are the altitude, the diurnal temperature variation, soils and sunshine hours.”  The added “wind is the biggest viticultural problem in Clare. It comes from the west. You don’t want to be on one of the two exposed ridges” that comprise Clare. Big ripening season diurnal swings, up to 27°C (35°C à 8°C) and shallow soils on weathered old rock and limestone are cited as quality factors.

A new wave of Aussie chardonnay is coming in for a lot of attention (see future piece), and of the ones here, Edwards said “these are not overworked.  They have a spine of acidity off which the flavours hang.  Ours has authenticity and a sense of place, with wild fermentation. Whereas older Clare chardonnay is a bit more solid; it doesn’t have the delicacy of Adelaide Hills wines.”

To counter this weight, Eggins said “with the Jaraman chardonnay, we started bringing in Adelaide Hills and Margaret River fruit. Though if we were too big and heavy in the past, we need to make sure we don’t make them too lean and green in the future.”

Shiraz also showed the comparative warmth and lushness of Clare Valley. Edwards said “Clare is a more traditional style, richer, bigger, rounder, with more alcohol. The Adelaide Hills is a more Rhône style, more textural, perfumed, floral, less concentrated on the palate … it dances on the tongue rather than drives straight through it with a truck!”

Tasting, London, January 2012

Jacob’s Creek, Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Adelaide Hills, £10
Pale colour, lemon sherbet, tart and angular. In the zesty New Zealand mould, but this is limey and sherbet, with notable CO2 spritz and front of mouth intensity.

Grosset, Polish Hill Riesling 2011, Clare Valley, £27
Lime and steel, huge intensity and volume of fruit, and rapier-like linearity. Vg

Shaw and Smith, M3 Chardonnay 2010, Adelaide Hills, £25
Creamy and lemon toasty nose, with silky oatmeal notes on the palate attack, and fresh yeastiness mid palate. Intense and concnetrated, with elegance and modishness of seamless sophistication. Long. Vg

The Lane, Beginning Single Vineyard Chardonnay 2009, Adelaide Hills
Warm peachy fruit on the nose, fresh-cream attack and medium-full bodied sweetness of fruit. Plenty ripe, pure lemon, peachy fruit, and with restraint of toasted oatmeal. Vg

Wakefield, St Andrews Chardonnay 2008, Clare Valley, £20
Cream and a hint of butter on the nose, smooth, rounded, supple texture, sweet peach compote and vanilla ice cream, hint more fatness in this wine. Sweet and forward and lush with vanilla ice keeping it all in perspective. Long and luscious style.

Petaluma, Piccadilly Valley Chardonnay 2006, Adelaide Hills, £15
Creamy and yeasty-sweet fat.  Richly toasted, smooth, peachy, showing little sign of maturity. Long and vg.

Wakefield, Jaraman Chardonnay 2011, Margaret River, WA and Clare Valley, SA, £18
Fresh melon, peach, acacia blossom. Floral and light and young, with good intensity and balance. Still needs to put on a bit of weight.

Knappstein, Enterprise Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Clare Valley  £15
Red berry and  menthol nose, youthful texture, high alcohol attack at front. Big and bold upfront fruit, with a bit of angularity to the texture. Perhaps lacks a bit of refinement, with a grainy texture of warmth.

The Lane, 19th Meeting Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Adelaide Hills
Smoke and blackcurrant fruit on the nose, more moderate attack (younger and lower alcohol). Sweet red berries attack, with youthful, smooth and sweet yet defined tannins. Sweet bowl of fruit mid palate, then a fresh finish, creating a nice mouthful, overall.

Wakefield, St Andrews Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, Clare Valley, £29
Menthol-spiced blackcurrants on the nose, smooth and rich, sweet fruit, with big concentration. No sign of age t all. Very good in a big style which has very good definition and boundaries.

Petaluma, Shiraz 2004, Adelaide Hills, £20
Menthol and broad, prematurely mature, for sure. Developing some fruitcake, earthiness and dried biscuit.  Bottle issue we’re thinking.

Jim Barry, The Lodge Hill Shiraz 2009, Clare Valley, £11
Bright, ripe red fruits, sweet and spicy plums on the palate. Very smooth texture with fine tannin silkiness. Bright, fresh, refined. Lovely.

Tim Adams, The Aberfeldy Shiraz 2008, Clare Valley, £27
Spicy gorse and vanilla toastiness. Sweet plum and aromatic spiced fruts. Huge, sweet wine, quite Barossa-like with its sweetness and warmth. A big wine and good for that.

The Lane, Reunion Shiraz 2009, Adelaide Hills
Hints of leafiness on the nose here. Black peppercorn attack with red berry fruits, very smooth tannic texture, bright and focused. Not picking up the star anise that Edwards mentioned. But definitely medium bodied with elegant mid palate profile. Vg.

Shaw and Smith, Shiraz 2009, Adelaide Hills, £25
Spice, black pepper nose. Smooth and silky texture, medium body, pretty seamless integration here. Warmth of alcohol at the finish a positive feature. Black plum fruits. Long and vg.

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