Five Classic Wine Varieties of the Clare Valley

Most wine regions of the world are defined as appellations due to the geological and geographical homogeneity that makes them ideal for one or just a few varieties. The Clare Valley is very different. The vineyard diversity of soil structures, altitudes, aspects and rainfall provides ideal conditions for a number of different varieties. It is all about site selection and also celebrating the diversity of styles. We are the “appellation of a thousand terroir”.  Five varieties have dominated the Clare Valley for over 100 years. They ripen ideally in almost every year and they define the regional reputation. Note that they do NOT align with any one European region. The reds are aligned to Bordeaux and the Rhone that share a 44 degree latitude.  There is truly a surprise around every corner when you visit the Clare Valley Cellar Doors.  

  1. Riesling. The Clare Valley is world renowned for Riesling. Our warm days in Autumn ensure Riesling develops ripe fruit character whilst cool nights provides long natural acid structure. Riesling is a variety that talks to you about its source vineyard from the glass. Watervale vineyards are terra rossa red clay over limestone and the Riesling has a definite lime character. We stock many of these but our best sellers are Crabtree Hilltop, O’Leary Walker, Vickery and Clos Clare. Riesling from the Polish Hill River region  has mineral character from the slate beneath. Treat yourself to a Grosset from Polish Hill, or the Pikes Merle to see this characteristic. Riesling from the cooler Skilly Valley are approachable and can be more textural. The Penna Lane is a great example. Riesling from the northern parts of the Valley Riesling can display tropical notes. I urge you to look for differences as you move around the Clare Valley and note what you really like.
  2. Shiraz. There is more Shiraz planted in the Clare Valley than any other variety. Clare Valley Shiraz tends to be more savory than peppery (which you might see in cooler climate Shiraz), and more elegant than jammy (a characteristic of warmer climate Shiraz). Balance between fruit intensity, acid, tannin and oak is the hallmark of greatness. Where-as Riesling tends to be defined by the vineyard, Shiraz style is more in the hands of the winemaker. For a treat try the 2014 Kilikanoon ‘Oracle’ rated best Shiraz in the world by the IWSC, or the more earthy Jim Barry ‘Armagh’. We sell a lot of the Claymore ‘Dark Side of the Moon’, and for those looking for a lighter more European style, the Bourke and Travers. The Sussex Squire ‘Thomas Block’ is great value.
  3. Cabernet. The warm days and cool nights combined with long dry Autumns is perfect for Cabernet with classic varietal character and elegance. Clare Cabernet can show a bit of eucalyptus or a hint of chocolate that adds complexity, and generally need 3-5 years to come into their own.  The O’Leary Walker, Reg and Co ‘Highside’, Farrell ‘Godfather 2’ are classic examples whilst the Good Catholic Girl is riper, richer and warmer.  Cabernet Franc is hard to find but when bottled on its own it is something special. We stock the delightful Gertie Cabernet Franc.
  4. Grenache. Some call it ‘Clare Valley Pinot Noir’ given its weight and structure. Grenache in Clare can be velvety supple and delicate. It is best when lightly oaked in large format or old barrels. The Tim Gramp shows this with good structure. Grenache compositions are common in Clare generally blended with Shiraz and or Mataro. The Jeanneret is a generous version of this style whilst the Woodvale is more elegant. Grenache is also often used for Rose – Shut the Gate a great example.
  5. Semillon. Clare Valley Semillon can be crisp and herbaceous not unlike Sauvignon Blanc, or display more ripeness and creamy oak treatment. Whichever, due to the acid structure it ages very well, like Clare Valley Riesling. The Tim Adams is a great example, and we like to serve one that is ten years old. The Eldridge Semillon Sauvignon Blanc is a lighter style.

Also check out my article on ‘The Alternative Grape Varieties re-defining the Clare Valley’ to fully understand the regions diversity.

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