An insider's guide to eating and drinking around McLaren Vale

An insider's guide to eating and drinking around McLaren Vale

By Sean Baxter

Never Never Distillery

As South Australia's borders relax, Australia's premiere wine region McLaren Vale — just 45 minutes from Adelaide — should be at the top of your interstate travel hit list.

As well as being home to a thriving cellar door scene of over 80 wineries and a burgeoning distillery and dining scene, the Vale also enjoys an eviable position between the Mount Lofty Ranges and the Gulf St Vincent beaches — and well, that's quite the home base!

9Honey caught up with Never Never Distilling Co's brand director Sean Baxter for some insider getaway inspo for thirsty travellers. Here's how to tick off the famous vino district like a pro.

Sean Baxter, Never Never director
McLaren Vale insider Sean Baxter [pictured] shares his must-visit spots in the region. (Meaghan Coles)

Chalk Hill

Comprising of Never Never Distilling Co, Chalk Hill Wines and Cucina Di Strada, Chalk Hill has become one of the hottest destinations in South Australia. The architecturally-designed corrugated structure is home to Never Never's Distillery Door, delivering gin flights, distillery tours and cocktail experiences. Chalk Hill Wines offer fabulous wine tastings with chocolate and cheese pairings to boot.

Never Never Distillery flight
(Meaghan Coles)

Cucina Di Strada offer an incredible selection of Italian treats, including their already famous 'Pinsa' — a Roman pizza variation that's light and fluffy and smothered in generous toppings. It has some of the best views of the Mt Lofty ranges and it's sprawling lawns, hands down.

Lino Ramble Wines Cellar Door

Known locally as Sparrow's Cottage, this tiny little cottage house built in 1887 serves as an intimate tasting space by appointment only. Another hidden gem in McLaren Vale, Lino Ramble are also champions of lighter, novella-style Italian varietals, chosen with a focus on sustainability, intrigue and above all else, drinkability. Tasting groups are extremely small so be sure to call Andy and book ahead.

SC Pannell Cellar Door

The Pannell name is highly regarded in the McLaren Vale region. Steve produces wines to suit the food we grow, cook and eat, by pioneering new varieties, styles, and blends that better fit our Australian lifestyle. Their cellar door should attract anyone who enjoys smaller Italian wine varieties like nebbiolo, nero d'avola and fiano. These are quickly growing in popularity in South Australia, which has always been a pace- and taste-maker when it comes to pushing the palates of Aussie wine drinks forward.

The d'Arenberg Cube

D'Arenberg Cube
Designed to look like a giant Rubik's cube, the D'Arenberg Cube needs to be seen to believed. (Supplied)

The d'Arenberg Cube is something that needs to be experienced to be believed — both architecturally and conceptually. The idea to build 'The Cube' came to head winemaker Chester Osborn in 2003. Inspired by the complexities and puzzles of winemaking, each of the five levels have been carefully designed to entice and excite the senses, including features such as a wine sensory room, a virtual fermenter, a 360degree video room, and many other tactile experiences.

Visitors are encouraged to explore the Alternate Realities Museum, located on the ground floor, and view the many art installations on display. It even played host to a Salvador Dali Exhibition in 2019.

Swell Brewing Taphouse

It's not all about the jammy Grenache and clean Fiano in McLaren Vale. Dan Wright has been in search of the perfect wave since he first waxed a surfboard. He's also been in search of the perfect beer. While trekking the world on a two-year surf and snowboard odyssey, an idea brewed. Swell Brewing Co. is the result. The Taphouse opened it's doors in 2019 with a stunning, modern bar and restaurant that still maintains the laidback, relaxing atmosphere you would expect from a surfie.

Salopian Inn

The food at Salopian Inn, McLaren Vale
Chef Karena Armstrong serves up an eclectic mix of unpretensious food, some grown onsite. (Salopian Inn)

The Salopian Inn is a Mclaren Vale institution, knocking out banging food without pretension. The cuisine is varied, mirroring owner chef Karena Armstrong's own eclectic food inspiration with dumplings, steamed buns and noodle dishes comfortably sitting alongside pies, tagines and confit duck. The garden onsite grows a fair whack of the produce used, with the rest sourced locally within the region.

Hugh Hamilton Wines

Another of our favourite Mclaren Vale gems is definitely Hugh Hamilton Wines. Perched atop a small hill with a panoramic view of expansive vineyards, every element of the Cellar Door has been designed to enhance your tasting and give you permission to settle in and engage with the wines and the surroundings. We love what they're doing with new and exciting wine varieties - if you can get your hands on their Black Ops Shiraz Saperavi you'll see what we mean.

Down the Rabbit Hole Wines

Down the Rabbit Hole wine bus, Lennon
This photogenic cellar door is a retro bus named Lennon. (Facebook: Down the Rabbit Hole)

McLaren Vale has a history of pushing the boundaries when it comes to its wine experiences, and Down the Rabbit Hole Wines have one of our favourite contemporary cellar doors.

In fact the cellar door has a name — Lennon, the blue double-decker bus lovingly converted into an intimate tasting space. With sprawling lawns and some cracking wines, it's a great place to spend a balmy summer evening with friends.

Down the Rabbit Hole, McLaren Vale
Down the Rabbit Hole Wines have plenty of breezy, outdoor spaces to relax with a vino. (Facebook: Down the Rabbit Hole)

Pizza Tecca

Pizzateca is from the same operators as Cucina Di Strada and are one of the most popular venues in the Vale. Their authentic Napoli-style pizza is widely celebrated as the best in South Australia and no wine tour is complete without first mopping up the remnants of a few local bottles of red with some pizza and red sauce. It's very popular on weekends, especially in the warmer months, so if you're trying for a walk in, try later in the afternoon after 2pm.

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