South Australia: Party for the palate

By Dennis Knill

Dennis Knill celebrates gourmet food and wine at one of the biggest events on the South Australian calendar.

Australia's premier vineyards in Barossa welcome visitors for tastings and overnight stays. Photo / Getty Images
Australia's premier vineyards in Barossa welcome visitors for tastings and overnight stays. Photo / Getty Images

Vineyard stays are always a treat, but this time we're here for the Barossa Vintage Festival. Wine and food tourism is all the go in Barossa: in any brochure, there's no mention of anything more strenuous than lifting a glass.

Our accommodation is a converted church at the Charles Melton vineyard, absurdly romantic and peaceful, except for the squabbling lorikeets that arrived each morning as we breakfasted on the terrace.

Barossa, an hour's drive from Adelaide, is arguably Australia's premier wine-producing region, renowned for its finely crafted shiraz, dense Bordeaux blends of cabernet sauvignon and elegantly rich grenache. It's also a foodies' paradise, thanks to its remarkable climate - the sun intensifies the flavour of everything that grows here: grapes as luscious as candied jewels, tomatoes and peppers as if they've been coated in red lacquer, and olives the size of plums.

For nine days, Barossa throws a party and becomes a food and wine mecca. It is hosted by volunteers with events that include lazy breakfasts, long lunches and dinners, cooking classes, winery tours, cellar door tastings and meeting the winemakers, all with a montage of live musical entertainment.

The festival itself revolves around the small towns of Tanunda, Angaston, Lyndoch and Nuriootpa. A good place to start is at Yalumba, the oldest winery in Australia, and together with the farmers' market it reflects the atmosphere of a true country fair where Barossa's freshest, finest foods are showcased. The main attraction this year is chef Poh Ling Yeow; unpretentious and funny, she whisked, chopped and tasted her way through green papaya, pineapple and poached chicken, pears and kingfish carpaccio - simple but delicious dishes enhanced with subtle Asian flavours.

Appetites sharpened, we filed downstairs into a cavernous wine cellar where oysters with wasabi creme fraiche were served with a sparkling rose. As the wine flowed, a clear line was drawn between those still standing and others sitting at the long table for the feast to follow.

The next day we joined the locals for some fun at Tanunda. With the main street closed off, the villagers were dressed to the nines in 19th-century Bavarian heritage costumes. Maypoles, magicians, grape treading and mettwurst tossing were in full swing. Then we headed down the back roads, past picturesque Lutheran churches, historic farmhouses built from ironstone, and an avenue of mature date palms at Seppeltsfield with rows of grape vines as far as the eye could see.

Winemakers live for the Vintage: it's in these few weeks when the quality of the wine is largely determined. Legends Behind the Barrel gives the connoisseur a chance to chat to the winemakers, who are convivial hosts.

Barossians have a tradition of working hard, and when Vintage is over they're ready to party. The revelry is apparent at the Grand Cellar Dinner, held at the Angaston Town Hall. Presented by the Barons of Barossa wine fraternity, this is wine tasting at its best.

Established in 1974, the fraternity's objectives to promote their wines alongside philanthropic and charitable works.

Rockford's is a small artisan winery built around a century-old stone cottage. A bad drop from them is rare.

Their festival brunch is packed as our large table of 40 settle in for the afternoon. We could have stayed for the rest of the day, but we promised ourselves an easy drive back to Adelaide - but that's another story.

BAROSSA CHECKLIST

Getting there: Air New Zealand flies from Auckland to Adelaide five times a week Book now

Events: The Barossa Gourmet Weekend runs from August 16-18.

Further information: See barossa.com and southaustralia.co.nz.

Find out more at Australia.com

Dennis Knill travelled with help from Air NZ, Southern Cross Travel Insurance and the South Australia Tourism Commission.

- NZ Herald

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

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