Monday, 6 August 2012

A Winter Escape

Emerging unscathed from first semester exams having sacrificed another birthday to the God of SWOTVAC, Nins and I decided to celebrate with a sneaky two night escape to the winter-wonderland that is the Barossa Valley. Without realising, we struck it lucky from the get go, managing to sneak a last minute reservation at the highly aclaimed and extremely popular fermentAsian in Tanunda. Even on an icy June Wednesday the restaurant was a buzz by the time we arrived mid-evening.

Having heard great things, we embraced the sharing menu philosophy by ordering all but a few dishes. We went to work on the wine list but having spent the past month with my head in the books I was really hoping for some guidance on the expansive 35 page offering. Unfortunately 
Tuoi Do's partner Grant, fermentAsian's wine guru wasn't around to give personal recommendations but his well documented notes steered us towards a Gerard Boulay Sancerre to go with our initial courses.

A feast for the senses

We started with the betel leaf wraps and a selection of the traditional Hanoi spring rolls and were instantly taken with the freshness and finesse of the flavours (Tuoi Do's parents tend an enviable selection of fresh herbs in the restaurant garden). This was closely followed by the sugar cane prawns, Black Angus beef salad, red duck curry and orange ginger pork belly which were simply excellent. The Sancerre provided a masterfull backdrop for these simple and light asian flavours, with fresh clean fruit, texture and delicate oak meeting in perfect harmony; I'm rapidly developing a long distance love affair with the Loire Valley! Sadly our attempt at a 1996 Rockford Dry Country Grenache was sabotaged by the cork fairy but then again it's a great excuse to go back for another attempt at this and others from the back page vintage list.

'Thousand watt smiles' all round

In a way it was fate because we compensated with a breathtaking Clos Du Bourg Vouvray Sauterne with dessert. This was like nothing I have had in a French sticky before, with its sublimely delicate burst of nectared fruit which just danced around the palate. A great match for the spiced caramel pear with chilli choclote icecream, the sticky rice pudding, the chocolate and lemongrass mousse and the lime brûlée. Tuoi, the charming star of the show somehow escaped the kitchen to welcome new faces and the knowing looks from local diners and staff gave you a sense you'd been let in on a local secret. Not often do you stumble upon a place with a such a welcoming and cheerful ambiance. We'll certainly be back to do it all again soon!

Nosh - Breaky of champions

Waking the next day to a bright blue winter sky we headed to Nosh, our favourite and trusty breakfast spot on the Tanunda main street; fuelling up with the house meusli, bacon and egg panini, freshly squeezed juices and coffee in preparation for a full days tasting.

Nins at Rockfords - A regional standout

We kicked things off by heading out of Tanunda to Krondorf, arriving at Rockfords where the small and unassuming cellar door belies its big reputation. The complex of rustic buildings could be mistaken for a tourist village, except nothing is contrived … it's an intact regional icon that prefers hand-picked, hand forked fruit processed in a vintage crusher, original basket press and open top fermenters. Whilst the quality that results from sourcing limited fruit from local growers and labour intensive, uncompromising wine making values has given them an enviable reputation, you should visit the winery for a first-hand impression ... it will so enhance the appreciation and enjoyment of that special bottle of Basket Press Shiraz. We had a great yarn on the cellar door bench sampling the current vintages with the lovely Jess and will be back for more reds soon!

Feeling at home at Charles Melton

Travelling all but a few hundred metres further up Krondorf road we found ourselves enveloped by legions of gnarly old bush vines at Charles Melton. Drawn to the crackling cellar door fire, we felt like old friends by the time we’d made it through the extensive line up of hearty reds. A wonderfully hospitable place with superb deep red secrets to match - we were particularly taken with the Grenache and GSM offerings which characterise the richly developed dark and delicious fruit of the old vine approach - truly. We wandered back to the car weighed down with more reds for the cellar and a smile of contentment from the whole experience.

Getting our groove on at Tscharkes

With the afternoon sun dwindling, we decided to finish with a local recommendation, finding our way to the funky cellar door of Tscharkes in Maranaga. The feel of modern European varietals and the quirky vibe are interestingly juxtaposed against the historical setting of Maranaga. The cellar door is beautifully complimented by the organic appeal of hand-made pottery and we absolutely loved the 05 Tempranillo and the Garnacha! We will certainly be back to do one of the underground tastings.

Kicking back to Thursday Jam night at Bibu

Having exhausted our palates across the entire range of three wonderful cellar doors we needed culinary CPR. I don’t know if there was ever the equivalent of a vine pull scheme for mock Bavarian restaurant menus but happily the force of generational change, marketing savvy and emphasis on the visitor experience is driving a renewal in the Barossa that also extends to food.

Thankfully Bibu (in the main street of Tanunda) had been recommended for a casual tasting menu and accompanying local producers wine list. We were lucky enough to be in on a Thursday ‘Jam’ night and settled back with a dip plater, home-made pate and grazing board that still celebrated old world traditions that  live on in the dried, pickled, fermented and smoked offerings of numerous fine local producers.

It’s great to see the support and enthusiasm for Bibu as a spring board for local producers, seasonal food and live entertainment. Soul Growers, Diggers Bluff and Tim Smith wines topped off the day beautifully as we sat back and enjoyed the music. It truly is a region to support and cherish!


  1. I am glad they had the fireplace up and running for you at Charles Melton. That was the highlight of my trip to the Barossa. It was so warm and welcoming there:)

  2. A really enlightening post, with some great narrative.
    Our Perth catering companies have also enjoyed taking a trip to the Barossa Valley