Once again the weather gods smiled upon the winemakers and food producers of South Australia and blessed them with yet another mild and sunny autumn weekend, enabling them to best show off their enviable lifestyle and wares. After an unscheduled visit to the dentist (sob) and fondly kissing the dogs and patting the kids, The Husband and I motored (fabulous word, should have more exposure) off up the road for a little indulgence in the Clare Valley.
Our first stop was to deposit our toothbrushes and pj’s at the Chaff Mill Serviced Apartments in the main street of Clare. Built two metres above the ground (thus providing for car parking below) these apartments nestle amongst a profusion of pepper trees. They are beautifully appointed, with generous living areas, spa baths, wifi, a balcony and the kind of thoughtful management that remembers to turn on the heating prior to one’s arrival – Clare can be quite nippy at this time of year. A cup of tea, a quick change into the glad-rags and we were off to our first, and hugely anticipated, event – a seven course degustation dinner presented by Kirrihills Wines and Roger Graham’s Artisans Table Wine Bar and Bistro.
Kirrihills is one of the Clare Valley’s largest wineries, crushing 6,000 tonnes of grapes per year and sourcing their grapes from both the Clare Valley and the Adelaide Hills – two premium cool-climate grape areas. Their commitment to value, quality and consistency has paid off handsomely. Their 2008 Single Vineyard, Tullymore Vineyard Clare Shiraz has been voted Best Bargain Shiraz and No. 1 on the “Top 100 Reds of outstanding value for money” in “The Big Red Wine Book 2010/11″ and James Halliday has named them as a five star winery in his current edition of the “Australian Wine Companion”. For a more personal opinion, I can tell you that they produce stonking great wines that would retail for significantly more in any other country in the world – just another example of the extraordinary quality we sometimes take for granted here. And a further suggestion – if you know of or can find anyone who has a stash of the, now unavailable, 2002 Kirrihills Estates Slate Creek Riesling I advise shameless obsequiousness and excessive geniality in order to convince them to share some. It will be worth it.
But – back to the dinner. The seven courses were each paired with an appropriate wine and such is Roger Graham’s skill with food and wine that this was an exercise in sheer happiness. As we made our way through each of his artfully prepared and presented dishes I was amazed at how his wine selection so perfectly complimented each of them, and vice versa. We were served, in order, Coffin Bay oysters with squid ink noodles – with Serendipity Pinor Noir Rose Brut, prawns served with three different fruits – each with a Riesling from 2010, 2005 & 2002 vintage, scallops with macadamia, rocket and lemon – with Pinot Grigio and a triple treat of Artisans pate, arancin, and smoked ocean trout with the 2008 Chardonnay.
The mains consisted of Lamb shank with tapenade, chorizo and capsicum paired with both the Kirrihills Single Vineyard Tullymore Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 and 2005 and was followed by what I believe to be possibly the best duck I have ever eaten. It was twice cooked and served with shitake, cashew, fennel and quince and majestically paired with the Tullymore Shiraz from both 2008 and 2003. I realise this is a very big call, and certainly my experience was enhanced by the wines served with the dish, but this was an extremely well crafted dish.
The meal was finished off with a delightful Passionfruit mousse served with mango, lime, a deliciously different sago pudding and honey dew and accompanied by the Celestial Riesling 2009. Happily, we were seated with the two winemakers from Kirrihill which gave us insight into the wines which we may otherwise have missed in our enthusiastic enjoyment. Both Donna Stephens and Marnie Roberts were very generous and happy to share their considerable knowledge and we were only too happy to take advantage of their skills – thanks ladies!
The following morning found us up bright and early to head off to the annual Gourmet market in the centre of town. A small band of dedicated food producers feature at this event and The Husband’s initial dismay at my refusal to allow him a cooked breakfast was quickly forgotten as he tucked in to one of the fabulous sausages available at the market. Mathies Meat Shoppe in Clare boasts that it is the sausage king of Australia, having won national awards for their high-quality gourmet snags and they will get no argument from us. We came home with a large bag of them which was quickly inhaled by the resident teens. Sausages in rolls were very shortly followed by the brilliant gourmet lamb and rosemary pies available from Savannah Lamb. Produced by Michele and Phil Lally, of Clare, Savannah Lamb produces premium lamb that is raised using stress-free techniques and in an environment free from preservatives, hormones or chemicals. This results in very high-quality meat rich in flavour and extremely tender. Keep an eye on the name Savannah Lamb – I suspect you will be seeing it around more often quite soon.
Other producers attending the market included not one, but two local pasta makers. Both Southern Supreme and Pangkarra produce pastas made from the local wheat. Southern Supreme offers a wide range of pasta styles and Pangkarra produce wholegrain pasta made from premium durum wheat which is sustainably farmed and stone milled.
After contributing to the Clare Valley economy by purchasing plenty of the local goodies to take home, it was time to get down to the serious end of the weekend – some Riesling drinking. Unfortunately we had limited time so we had mapped out our afternoon carefully. Our first stop was at Pikes Wines in the Polish Hill River area on the eastern side of the Clare Valley. Henry Pike originally settled in Oakbank in the Adelaide Hills in the late 1870′s and in 1984 his descendants established Pike’s in the Clare Valley, very quickly gaining a reputation for their fine Riesling which is badged, as is all their wine, with the famous fish first used by Henry. There we settled in for a bowl of soup and a glass of that famous Riesling – neither of which disappointed.
From Pikes we made our way to Paulett Wines, still in the Polish Hill area. Established in 1983, Paulett Wines stands on land that has grown wine grapes for well over 100 years and has what is reputed to be the very best view of any winery in the country. In December last year, Neil Paulett’s 2005 Aged Release Polish Hill River Riesling took out four individual trophies at the 11th Canberra International Riesling Challenge. There is no doubt that the view is stunning – looking far out across the Clare Valley – and after taking it all in and fortifying ourselves with another Riesling we were soon back in the car heading to our final stop for the day.
With dessert in mind, our last port of call was Skillogalee in Penwortham, just south of Clare. Established in 1970 and releasing their first Riesling in 1976, Skillogalee has been nominated by Gourmet Traveller “Wine” Magazine as one of Australia’s Top Ten Riesling producers. Now with a noted restaurant and well appointed self-catering accommodation they have developed an enviable reputation both nationally and internationally. As I was already on the outside of two quite generous glasses of Riesling, I was seriously contemplating a cup of tea by the time we got there to peruse their dessert options. I settled back with an amazing chocolate mousse to contemplate my decision and quickly found myself rallying enough to decide on “one more for the road” – a decision I didn’t regret for one single delicious sip. Their restaurant chef, Dave Johns, was providing the meals for the Gourmet Weekend and the smell of his Slow Cooked Pork Neck was almost enough to make us want to tackle one more feed but, sadly, wisdom prevailed. Next year I think we will have to remember to leave much more room for our visit to Skillogalee.
Happily replete and (mostly) sober we both agreed that we would have really liked to stay another night in the beautiful Clare Valley, but family responsibilities called so one of us drove back home while the other dozed. And I felt quite refreshed by the time we got home.
Lambs’ Ears and Honey was a guest of Kirrihill Wines and Clare Valley Winemakers Inc.
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