There's no better place to start your Australian wine-tasting journey than the McLaren Vale area, where Michael Van de Elzen finds long-established wineries and some wonderful olives and cheeses

As the day dawns on my stay in South Australia, McLaren Vale's stunning vineyards and olive groves await me just 45 minutes' drive south of Adelaide.

I love how passionate and professional these South Australian vintners are. At Coriole Vineyards they crack open a jar of Coriole olives and goat cheese for us to sample. I try a blend of five olive oils, with the dominant flavour coming from the kalamata and the spicy koroneiki olives, often used by olive oil blenders to give their oils a grassy, peppery finish.

I almost forget it's only 9am as we launch into tasting some of the full-bodied wines and more tour groups start to crowd into the little tasting shed. The noise increases tenfold and it could easily be a Friday night in a bar. They do love their wines over here.

After sampling a couple of whites and a few reds I finally taste the wine that put Coriole on the map in Australia, the Lloyd Reserve made from shiraz grapes planted in 1919.


The fact that these vines have weathered close to 100 winters, summers, harvests and prunings tickles my fancy. Wine importer Vintners brings Lloyd Reserve to New Zealand, and it's well worth giving them a bell and stashing a couple of bottles under the house.

Just down the road is the Ekhidna Kitchen and Winery and the pulled-pork spring rolls with spiced plum and chilli sambal they offer are too good to pass up.

This is the area of the McMurtrie Mile, housing some of the superstars of Aussie wines - Wirra Wirra vineyard, Hugh Hamilton Wines and Primo Estate.

Primo's Joseph label is named after the vineyard founder and includes the light, refreshing pinot grigio, the nebbiolo variety with earthy flavours, the shiraz that South Australia does so well and the complex cabernet merlot moda. I also try Primo's fortified wine, similar to the fine Spanish sherry called fronti. It is very sweet, 20 per cent alcohol and, when combined with a sip of espresso and Amaretto, it's superb.

The Mediterranean climate of McLaren Vale offers ideal conditions to grow not only wine but olives. Through sustainable practices, Primo Estate handcrafts all its olive oils - and you can taste the difference. Between wine tastings, I try the Joseph cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil with local cheese and ciabatta. Bright green in colour with some yellow hues, it's a generous, richly flavoured oil with a clean finish and a peppery bite.

Down the road, Lloyd Brothers has been growing grapes and olives since the 1960s. Today the 24ha property has an even proportion of vineyards to olive groves, with the well-known kalamata olives the main variety.

Lloyd Brothers is not alone and at farm gates around McLaren Vale you'll find producers selling hand-picked olives, delicious olive oils and tapenades.

You may be getting the impression I'm a bit of a wino as I'm heading off to another vineyard, Wirra Wirra, which is one of my favourites. Big Aussie reds are what they do best and they sum up McLaren Vale: laid-back and humble, with a fascinating hidden history.

I say farewell to this fantastic wine area and return to Adelaide to check out a tapas bar called Mesa Lunga for dinner.

There is a great atmosphere in this busy bar as I order a selection of tapas, rich and seasoned perfectly and include goat meatballs and the not-so-mini Spanish mini-burgers.

The next day I wander along Adelaide's cultural boulevard, North Terrace. There's so much history here, including the university, a museum of modern art, Parliament House, and the railway station.

Adelaide is pedestrian-friendly and, as I make my way to the Adelaide Central Markets, I'm impressed with how tidy and clean everything is.

The markets are humming as passionate stall owners entice people to try the fresh veges, cuts of aged meat, cold meat and wonderfully smelly cheeses.

The early Italian settlers have certainly made their mark. Imported whole parmesan wheels are everywhere, weighing a hefty 20kg, and there are also Barossa-wine-washed smelly cheddars.

I can see why the markets are the top tourist destination in Adelaide.

Right, it's lunchtime and great excitement for me as I've discovered Adelaide has a fantastic food-truck scene with more than 30 trucks broadcasting their daily location on social media.

Today's treat is a food-truck called BurgerTheory. Oh, how it brings back memories, four cooks jammed into a little hot kitchen banging out burgers as fast as they can to a never-diminishing queue of hungry patrons.

The owner, Canadian Dan Mendelson has been up since 4am and made 400 burgers.

The menu appeals despite its simplicity with just two burgers. One is a stock standard cheeseburger and the other a slightly more gourmet offering with pancetta, onion and blue cheese. Both are made with 100 per cent South Australian Coorong Angus beef and the rest of the ingredients are sourced from the Adelaide Central Markets.

Within 10 minutes out comes my burger, with its thick meat patties, shiny sweetened burger bun with cheese, a crisp lettuce cup and sliced tomato. It is moist and flavoursome.

Back to the hotel for a quick kip and I'm back out to the Apothecary 1878 Wine Bar, with its stylish interior of stained wood and cobbled floors.

I've tasted so many wines on this trip that I opt for something different - rum to go with bruschetta of goat's cheese whip and pink peppercorns. Divine.

After four days in South Australia I have only high praise for this part of Australia. Being a 20-minute city is a big part of Adelaide's appeal and it offers everything from culture to magnificent buildings and parks.

You can base yourself in Adelaide and travel to the Barossa and McLaren Vale in less than an hour, burn off some energy with the great mountainbiking opportunities in the Adelaide Hills or grab a book and chill on a houseboat cruising the Murray River.

Adelaide has it all, but most importantly it is personable and laid-back in a distinctive Aussie way.

Off the beaten track

Looking for a bit of adventure? Get off the beaten track with Off Piste 4WD Tours. The guided day tours depart Adelaide and cover the captivating elements of the Fleurieu Peninsula - from landscapes to native bush tracks, wildlife encounters and wine and food experiences. Meet producers and visit hard-to-reach locations along thrilling off-road tracks.

Tours can link up with other activities such as camel riding, bi-plane and helicopter joy flights, hot air ballooning, sailing, food and wine tasting, walking tours, visits to local farmers' markets and more.

What's nearby: Kangaroo Island

Just an hour's drive and a 35-minute ferry ride from McLaren Vale, Kangaroo Island is one of the world's great pristine wilderness destinations. If wildlife and nature are what you're looking for, Kangaroo Island is regarded as one of the best places in Australia to see it. Nowhere else on the continent features such a concentration of pristine beaches and abundant flora and fauna. You'll need at least two to three days to traverse its 155km length and explore the soaring cliffs, towering sand dunes, fantastic food producers and wineries.

Kangaroo Island Top 5:

• Visit the Remarkable Rocks in the Flinders Chase National Park.

• Go quad biking and sandboarding with KI Outdoor Adventures.

• Visit the island's oldest winery - Dudley Wines in Penneshaw.

• Drop a line off the pier at Kingscote Wharf.

• Explore the region's farm gates and local food producers.

Getting there: Fly there with Air New Zealand.

Find out more at: and

Michael Van de Elzen travelled to South Australia with the assistance of Tourism Australia, the South Australia Tourism Commission and Air New Zealand. For more information visit Explore - Food and wine.