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I’ve been to wine regions all over the world, but I’m convinced that South Australia’s wine regions are the very best. Biased? Perhaps! However, South Australia is considered one of the world’s ten great wine capitals – so it’s not just me who thinks so.
One of the best things about South Australia’s wine regions is that they are located all over the state. Whether you’re looking to try some South Australian wine in the heart of the capital, or venture way out into the outback, there are many options.
Even better? Most wine tasting in South Australia is free or very low-cost. While there are some fancier packages and experiences on offer, a simple tasting is often free. Even if there is a charge (usually $5 – $10), it’s generally redeemable on purchase. Therefore, even though wine tasting is often thought of a fancy pursuit, it can be very budget friendly.
To help you decide which wine region you want to visit (or, how many you want to visit), here’s my guide to Adelaide and South Australia’s wine regions.
Adelaide’s wine regions
There are a number of great wine regions which are within two hours of the Adelaide CBD. These wine regions can easily be visited on a daytrip from the city, and there are a number of tours to do so.
Full disclosure: I was born and grew up near the edge of the Barossa, so I am kind of biased here. But I absolutely love the Barossa. In particular, I love how despite its huge reputation, everyone is welcome at the Barossa.
It’s considered one of the best wine regions in the world, and chances are you may have heard of some of the famous Barossa wineries. Jacob’s Creek, Wolf Blass and Peter Lehmann are just some of the names that appear on restaurant lists and in supermarkets all around the world.
There are just as many small producers that also produce amazing wine. These are actually some of my favourite places in the Barossa. It’s always a thrill to get the chance to have a long chat with a winemaker, and they’ll usually treat you like an old friend.
The Barossa is known for its Mediterranean climate – warm summers, and modest winters. As a result, its best known for its red wines and especially Shiraz and Cabernet. Of late, however, some new producers have been doing some interesting things – so keep your eye out for interesting new varieties like Zinfandel.
Most tastings at the Barossa are your fairly standard stand-up experience, but there are a few exceptions. Murray Street Vineyards and David Franz Winery both fabulous outdoor tastings, while I love the cozy sit-down experience at my love, Charles Melton.
- Don’t miss wineries: Charles Melton, Rockford’s, Langmeil. Find out more about the best Barossa Valley wineries.
- Best known for: Red wine, especially shiraz.
- Distance from Adelaide: 1 hour
It’s so close to the Barossa that they are often referred to as one and the same, but I think it’s worth separating them out. This is mainly because Eden Valley has quite a different climate, which means the wine is quite distinct from its big brother the Barossa.
Eden Valley is a smaller place, in fact it’s a pretty modest town. However, it’s very beautiful, quintessentially ‘Australiana’ town. If you’re driving through, make sure to keep your eyes peeled for Aussie wildlife like kangaroos and koalas.
While the scenery is modest, there are some huge wineries headquartered in the region. In particular, Henschke’s and Yalumba are renowned all over the world. On the other hand, several smaller, family-run wineries are always a pleasure to visit.
If you want to taste a wider variety of Eden Valley wines, there are a few collectives that offer up a selection of wines from smaller producers. This is a good way to try a large variety, and can easily be added onto a Barossa Valley itinerary to try somethig else.
The climate of Eden Valley is cooler, so it is more renowned for its white wine. One of my favourite varieties from Eden Valley is riesling, a flowery and flavoursome white.
- Don’t miss wineries: Henschke and Yalumba
- Best known for: White whine, especially riesling.
- Distance from Adelaide: 1 hour
Another of Adelaide’s wine regions is the Adelaide Hills, which is located about half an hour from the city.
One thing I love about the Adelaide Hills is that several of the wineries (especially those in Hahndorf) are accessible by public transport. This means it’s a great choice if you’re on a budget looking to taste wine in South Australia.
The Adelaide Hills are really beautiful, with thick trees and winding roads that lead through the hilly landscape. There’s lots of pretty towns, including German-esque Hahndorf. As well as great wine, it’s also a hub for foodies, with lots of great restaurants, cafes and producers.
Although winemaking began in the Adelaide Hills in the 19th century, it really grew in the 1970s. Today, it’s one of South Australia’s ‘coolest’ wine regions. Many of the wineries in this region have done a great job in bringing wine to younger people, with fun events and quirky decor in the cellar doors.
Don’t let the young approach fool you, however. The Adelaide Hills is a big name in the wine world. As another cool climate region, it’s well-known for its whites including chardonnay and sauvignon blanc, as well as some lighter reds like pinot noir.
- Don’t miss wineries: Bird in Hand and Shaw + Smith.
- Best known for: Whites such as chardonnay, reds such as pinot noir
- Distance from Adelaide: 30 minutes
Allegedly, the McLaren Vale was the birthplace of the South Australian wine industry… as a Barossa-ite, I simply cannot confirm that. There’s a pretty fierce rivalry between the two regions, you see, as they’re generally considered Adelaide’s best.
What I can confirm is that their wine is pretty epically good. There are over 70 cellar doors in the McLaren Vale, including some big names that are sold all over the world. As with the Barossa, however, there are also plenty of family-run wineries that have that laidback, inviting feel.
One recent addition to McLaren Vale is the d’Arenberg Cube, which has managed to generate plenty of buzz for this region. It does look pretty cool, although sadly I haven’t made it there just yet.
The conditions in McLaren Vale are perfect for wine making – as well as warm, Mediterranean-esque weather there’s a huge variety in the types of soil. This can influence how the wine tastes, meaning there is plenty of variety. This is great for novice wine tasters as you can learn about the different styles and flavours, and what to look out for when you’re tasting.
All in all, the McLaren Vale is certainly one of the best wine regions in South Australia, and well worth a visit. Plus, it’s by the sea!
- Don’t miss wineries: d’Arenberg (for the cube), Chapel Hill Winery, Alpha Box & Dice
- Best known for: Shiraz, followed by Cabernet Sauvignon
- Distance from Adelaide: 45 minutes
Adelaide and Plains
Are you based in the Adelaide CBD but still wanting to taste wine in Adelaide? Fair enough – and we’ve got you covered. Although the choices aren’t as plentiful as the outer regions, there are still a number of places where you can taste wine in Adelaide.
Right in the centre of town, there are a number of wine bars that are linked with specific producers. Then there’s the National Wine Centre of Australia, which runs frequent wine tasting events. Whether you are a connoisseur or you can’t tell the difference between a Sauv Blanc and a Shiraz, there will be something for you.
There are also a few wineries out in the suburbs close to the Adelaide CBD. Perhaps most notably there’s Penfolds Magill Estate, which is one of Australia’s most premier wine producers.
One thing is for sure – if you’re looking for great wine and trying to stay near the city, you’ve got some excellent options.
- Don’t miss wineries: Penfolds Magill Estate, Five O’Clock Somewhere (bar), National Wine Centre of Australia
- Best known for: Varies
- Distance from Adelaide: N/A
The other South Australian wine regions
If you’ve got access to a vehicle and/or a little more time on your hands, there are even more regions to visit that bit further out in South Australia. While a couple are accessible as an action-packed day trip, you might prefer to stay at least one night to really make the most of it.
Not too far from the Barossa lies the Clare Valley, yet another of Australia’s oldest – and best – wine regions. While the Clare Valley is a highly regarded region, it’s a bit more off-the-beaten-path – so you can expect to have a little longer to linger over the vino.
I’ve always found producers in Clare to be exceptionally friendly, without any pretentiousness. For this reason, I think it’s a great option for newer wine drinkers who’d like a basic introduction to the art of wine drinking/guzzling. Of course, “more experience palettes” are welcome too.
There are more than 30 cellar doors in the Clare region, ranging from big names to tiny producers set up in historic farm sheds. In recent times, a couple of breweries and distilleries have also set up shop, so there’s a bit of variety.
Another point of difference with the Clare Valley is that it is mainly famous for its white wine and especially riesling. In particular, there’s a trail that’s known as the “Riesling Trail” and will take you to sample some of the best Riesling in South Australia.
Plus, the town of Clare is a picturesque, quintessential Australian town with a friendly pub and plenty of gumtrees.
- Don’t miss wineries: Pikes Wines, Grosset Wines, Claymore Wines
- Best known for: Riesling (white)
- Distance from Adelaide: 2 hours
It’s no secret that I love Kangaroo Island. I mean, what’s not to love – in addition to the adorable animals, there are also plenty of wineries. Basically, my idea of heaven is basically Kangaroo Island.
Since Kangaroo Island – also known as ‘KI’ – is a fairly quiet place, there isn’t quite the huge variety of other regions like the Barossa and McLaren Vale. However, there are about a dozen good quality wineries that are super friendly, and produce fabulous wine.
My personal favourite is False Cape Wines, but there are a number of great options to enjoy.
Kangaroo Island is a newer wine producing region. While some wine snobs might turn their nose up at this, I think it’s a good thing – it can mean they’re more willing to try new things and test out new ideas. There’s certainly more on offer here than your typical big, bold Shiraz (not that there’s anything wrong with a big, bold Shiraz).
There is also an excellent distillery (Kangaroo Island Spirits) as well as a couple of breweries, if that’s more your thing.
While it’s technically possible to see KI on a l-o-o-o-ng daytrip from Adelaide, I do not recommend it. I’d definitely advise staying overnight so you have enough time for the animals, and the wine.
- Don’t miss wineries: Bay of Shoals Winery, False Cape Wines, Dudley Wines
- Best known for: Varies depending on the part of the island
- Distance from Adelaide: 3 hours, including ferry ride
Southern Flinders Ranges
I love the Southern Flinders Ranges. I think it sums up the Australian attitude to wine quite well… even if it’s practically a desert, we’ll still find a way to grow grapes. And they’re some pretty good grapes to boot.
Like with Kangaroo Island, the Southern Flinders Ranges is just a gorgeous place to visit. I might be a tad biased because my family originally migrated to the Flinders from Scotland (ouch – talk about extremes), but I really think it’s one of the most beautiful parts of South Australia.
Interestingly, this region’s climate is actually considered ‘dry/warm’ rather than straight up roasting, which influences the flavour of the wine. The soil is also quite rich in limestone, which again leads to some unique tastes.
Like many of the wine regions in South Australia, the Southern Flinders produces mainly red wine, although there are a few white varietals as well.
Due to the Southern Flinders Ranges’ distance from Adelaide, it’s certainly not your average stop on the wine trail, but that’s part of what I love about it. You’re likely to have a lot more time to really stop and chat to the winemakers here, and find out about the wine in the region.
- Don’t miss wineries: Bundaleer Wines, Remarkable View Wines (appointment only mid-week)
- Best known for: Red, especially Shiraz, and some Riesling
- Distance from Adelaide: 3 hours +
If you ask South Australians what the largest wine producing region in the state is – chances are you’ll probably hear the Barossa or the McLaren Vale mentioned.
Nope. They pale in comparison to the Riverland, which produces over 65% of the grapes in South Australia and over 27% of grapes Australia-wide. In fact, the Riverland is the largest producer of wine in all of Australia.
This is almost certainly partly due to the fertile soil in this region – there are also many fruit and vegetable growers in the Riverland, thanks to the quality of the earth. Another reason is because this area is freaking massive – the distance between some of the cellar doors in the Riverland is over 150 kilometres.
For this reason, although the Riverland is ‘only’ 2.5 hours from Adelaide, I don’t recommend trying to do it all as a day trip… that’s too much driving and not enough drinking (also, please don’t combine those two things). Instead, it’s worth staying overnight so you can enjoy a more leisurely pace.
The climate here is also warm and dry, which leads to some fabulous red wine. The Riverland is also home to the Murray River which is a fun place to visit and explore, so it’s well worth staying a couple of days if you can.
- Don’t miss wineries: Angove Family Winemakers, 919 Wines
- Best known for: Red wines of all kinds
- Distance from Adelaide: 2.5 hours +
I haven’t hid my Barossa bias very well, but I have to admit that the Coonawarra region is a close second for me, when it comes to the wine itself. I’m awfully partial to a good Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon, and if wasn’t for the distance between Adelaide and this region, I’d probably be a stalwart at the cellar door.
The Coonawarra is a unique region in South Australia due to its “terra rossa” (red soil) and limestone. This adds a rich, earthy flavour to the wine and especially the Cabernet.
Although perhaps not as well known internationally as some of the other South Australian wine regions, the Coonawarra is certainly one of the best. It’s been producing wine since the late 1800s and in this time it’s built up a fantastic reputation.
Despite the reputation, the Coonawarra is one of the most laid back wine regions I’ve ever visited – you’re almost certain to be greeted by a big smile and a hearty laugh before trying some mindblowingly good wine. If you’ve got the time, I highly recommend the Coonawarra.
- Don’t miss wineries: Katnook Estate, Rymill Coonawarra
- Best known for: Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s all about the Cabernet.
- Distance from Adelaide: 4 hours
Tips for visiting South Australia’s wine regions
- It is free to taste wine at many wineries, although some will charge you a small fee that is refundable on purchase. If you’re travelling internationally, it pays to know about import restrictions so you know how much you can buy!
- As a general rule it’s best to taste wine in order from lightest white to heaviest red, with desert or fortified wines after. The tasting menu is usually in order and you can always ask your host if you’re not sure.
- To spit or not to spit? The choice is yours. Personally, I ain’t wasting any good wine – but you do you. Of course, you can always just pour in your wine if you don’t like it (unlikely).