McLaren Vale or Adelaide Hills: Which to Choose?

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When it comes to having a fantastic wine-tasting adventure close to Adelaide, you’ve got two awesome options: McLaren Vale or Adelaide Hills. They both have their own special things, but let’s dive in and see how they’re different.

Imagine spending a day in each spot, sipping on unique wines, checking out the best wineries, and even trying some cool stuff beyond just tasting wine. Ready to take a closer look?

Let’s roll up our sleeves and explore the tasty world of McLaren Vale and the charming Adelaide Hills – it’s like comparing apples to oranges, but way more fun!

Feature image photo credit: South Australian Tourism Commission, Mollydooker Wines, Fleurieu Peninsula

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McLaren Vale vs Adelaide Hills

The Adelaide Hills and McLaren Vale wine regions each offer a distinct and alluring experience for wine enthusiasts.

While McLaren Vale boasts a Mediterranean climate that brings forth robust red wines like Shiraz and Grenache, the Adelaide Hills embraces a cool-climate elegance with its focus on delicate Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

McLaren Vale’s coastal landscapes and proximity to stunning beaches provide a unique backdrop for wine tasting, while the Adelaide Hills’ artistic charm and cultural immersion offer a different kind of allure.

Both regions showcase top wineries, such as d’Arenberg in McLaren Vale and The Lane Vineyard in Adelaide Hills, and provide opportunities for activities beyond wine tasting, from scenic trails to charming villages.

Whether your palate leans toward bold reds by the coast or elegant whites amidst artistic landscapes, both destinations promise an enriching exploration of South Australia’s diverse wine culture.

Types of Wine

McLaren Vale boasts a Mediterranean climate that works its magic on the grapes. If you’re a fan of robust and bold red wines, you’re in for a treat.

The region’s signature wine is Shiraz, known for its rich flavours and deep character. Grenache and Cabernet Sauvignon also shine, delivering diverse red options.

But don’t be surprised by the vibrant whites – Chardonnay and Vermentino bring a refreshing twist to the tasting experience.

Adelaide Hills, with its cool-climate charm, is a paradise for those who love elegant and delicate wines. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir take the spotlight here, offering vibrant acidity and a lighter touch.

Sauvignon Blanc is also a star, showcasing crisp and zesty whites.

But don’t let the cool climate fool you – Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon hold their own, presenting a different side of the region.

Five bottles of wine sitting on a rustic timber table
Photo credit: Gemtree Wines, Gemtree Wines, Fleurieu Peninsula

Top Wineries

Let’s uncork the adventure and explore the top wineries that make McLaren Vale and the Adelaide Hills truly stand out on the wine map.

McLaren Vale

  1. d’Arenberg: Renowned for its quirky wine names and exceptional varieties, d’Arenberg offers a diverse range of both red and white wines. The winery’s innovative approach and historic charm make it a must-visit.
  2. Coriole Vineyards: Set against stunning garden views, Coriole Vineyards is celebrated for its splendid Grenache and Shiraz. With a long-standing reputation, it captures the essence of McLaren Vale’s wine heritage.
  3. Wirra Wirra Vineyards: Known for its laid-back ambience, Wirra Wirra offers a wide array of wines, including their signature Church Block blend. The winery’s welcoming atmosphere and quality wines make for a delightful visit.
  4. Yangarra Estate Vineyard: Committed to sustainable practices, Yangarra Estate produces exceptional Grenache and Shiraz wines that reflect the terroir. The winery’s dedication to environmental responsibility adds to the experience.
  5. Gemtree Wines: A certified organic winery, Gemtree Wines presents a range of handcrafted wines, including biodynamically grown varieties. Its commitment to organic practices and flavorful wines make it a standout choice.

Adelaide Hills

  1. The Lane Vineyard Restaurant: Offering fine dining with panoramic vineyard vistas, The Lane Vineyard specializes in a menu inspired by locally sourced ingredients. The winery’s elegant setting and cool-climate wines create a memorable experience.
  2. Shaw + Smith: Known for its cool-climate elegance, Shaw + Smith is a go-to for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The winery’s dedication to quality and refined flavours make it a top choice.
  3. Bird in Hand: Exemplifying the region’s commitment to excellence, Bird in Hand crafts wines with finesse. Its artistic approach and award-winning varieties add to its appeal.
  4. Howard Vineyard: With a relaxing atmosphere and award-winning wines, Howard Vineyard is a welcoming destination. Its picturesque setting and diverse wine offerings make it a must-see.
  5. Nepenthe: Known for breathtaking views and a variety of cool-climate wines, Nepenthe captures the essence of Adelaide Hills. The winery’s serene ambience and quality vintages create a memorable wine-tasting experience.
A group of emus with a family in the background looking on
Photo credit: South Australian Tourism Commission/Adam Bruzzone, Cleland Wildlife Park, Adelaide Hills

Other Activities

Don’t spend all of your time wine-tasting when you visit the Adelaide Hills or McLaren Vale. Here are some of the other activities and attractions to get out and enjoy.

McLaren Vale

  1. Coastal Strolls: Take a leisurely walk along the picturesque coastline, breathing in the fresh sea air and enjoying the serene beauty of the beaches.
  2. Bike Riding on Shiraz Trail: Embark on a bike ride along the scenic Shiraz Trail, meandering through vineyards, farmlands, and charming townships.
  3. Willunga Farmers Market: Immerse yourself in the local culture at this vibrant farmers market, offering fresh produce, artisanal goods, and homemade treats.
  4. Aldinga Beach: Explore Aldinga Beach, known for its unique drive-on beach access, and enjoy beachcombing, swimming, or simply soaking in the sun.
  5. McLaren Vale Olive Oil and Olive Centre: Learn about the olive oil production process, sample various olive oils, and explore a range of olive-based products.

Adelaide Hills

  1. Mount Lofty Botanic Garden: Discover the stunning beauty of this botanical garden with its diverse plant collections, walking trails, and breathtaking views.
  2. Hahndorf Exploration: Wander through the historic village of Hahndorf, known for its German heritage, charming streets, and unique shops.
  3. Cleland Wildlife Park: Get up close to Australia’s native animals, from kangaroos to koalas, and have the opportunity to feed and interact with them.
  4. Art Galleries and Studios: Explore the vibrant arts scene of the Adelaide Hills by visiting local galleries and studios showcasing a range of artistic creations.
  5. Mount Lofty Summit: Hike or drive to the summit for panoramic views of the surrounding landscape, and enjoy a relaxing picnic in the midst of nature.
Looking down onto a table filled with plates of food
Photo credit: Meaghan Coles, The Haus Hahndorf, Adelaide Hills

Places to Eat

It’s not just about wine here – these places have some seriously tasty food too. From cozy cafes with great views to fancy restaurants with the best local ingredients, you’re in for a treat.

Let’s dig into the top places to fill your belly and make your taste buds dance in McLaren Vale and the Adelaide Hills.

McLaren Vale

  1. The Salopian Inn: Delight in modern Australian dining with a focus on local and seasonal ingredients, set in a historic and charming atmosphere.
  2. d’Arry’s Verandah Restaurant: Experience breathtaking vineyard views while savouring dishes inspired by the region’s produce, paired with a selection of renowned wines.
  3. Maxwell Restaurant: Nestled within the Maxwell Winery estate, enjoy a culinary journey through McLaren Vale’s flavours with locally sourced ingredients.
  4. The Barn Bistro at McLaren Vale Motel & Apartments: Relish classic dishes made from locally sourced ingredients in a relaxed bistro setting, perfect for unwinding.
  5. The Currant Shed: Indulge in a unique dining experience in a converted 19th-century barn, featuring seasonal and regional ingredients.

Adelaide Hills

  1. The Lane Vineyard Restaurant: Savor fine dining with panoramic vineyard vistas, offering a menu inspired by locally sourced ingredients.
  2. Bridgewater Mill: Dine in elegance at an iconic waterwheel-powered restaurant, serving modern Australian cuisine.
  3. Summertown Aristologist: Immerse yourself in a unique culinary experience, exploring seasonal and foraged ingredients.
  4. The Haus Restaurant: Discover modern German-Australian fusion dishes in the heart of charming Hahndorf’s historic charm.
  5. The Stirling Hotel: Enjoy contemporary Australian cuisine in a stylish and welcoming heritage-listed hotel, nestled in the scenic Adelaide Hills.
Photo credit: Wirra Wirra, Wirra Wirra, Fleurieu Peninsula

Choosing McLaren Vale or Adelaide Hills

Choose McLaren Vale if:

  • If you’re a fan of Mediterranean-style wines, McLaren Vale is your playground. From the renowned Shiraz to exquisite Grenache and lively whites like Vermentino, the region offers a captivating array that captures the essence of the Mediterranean.
  • If you prefer a coastal backdrop to your wine journey, McLaren Vale’s stunning beaches and the enchanting Coast to Vines Trail provide a unique opportunity to blend wine tasting with the soothing serenity of the coast.
  • If you’re seeking a fusion of creativity and tradition, McLaren Vale’s innovative winemaking techniques and commitment to sustainability offer a dynamic and contemporary wine experience.
  • If you’re captivated by the prospect of exploring artisanal produce, McLaren Vale’s bustling local markets and gourmet food offerings allow you to complement your wine journey with delectable regional flavours.
  • If you’re excited about exploring boutique wineries and engaging with passionate winemakers, McLaren Vale’s intimate cellar door experiences provide a personalised encounter that reveals the heart of the region’s winemaking.

Choose Adelaide Hills if:

  • If you’re a fan of cool-climate wines, such as elegant Chardonnay and vibrant Pinot Noir, Adelaide Hills is your haven. Its unique terroir produces wines with finesse and freshness that will enchant your palate.
  • If you prefer a blend of culinary and outdoor experiences, Adelaide Hills offers a harmonious balance. Explore scenic trails, botanical gardens, and indulge in gourmet dining experiences that celebrate locally sourced ingredients.
  • If you’re seeking artistic and cultural immersion, Adelaide Hills’ galleries, craft shops, and the charming village of Hahndorf provide a creative exploration of the region’s vibrant artistic scene.
  • If you’re captivated by the allure of charming villages and historic towns, Adelaide Hills’ quaint townships exude a timeless charm, inviting you to stroll through heritage streets and discover local treasures.
  • If you value convenience and proximity, Adelaide Hills’ location just a short drive from Adelaide ensures you can embark on a rewarding wine and culinary adventure without straying far from the city.

Ultimately, your choice between the Adelaide Hills and McLaren Vale will be shaped by your wine preferences, desired experiences, and the atmosphere you seek.

Whether you’re drawn to cool-climate elegance and artistic charm or intrigued by Mediterranean-style wines and coastal allure, both destinations promise an enriching exploration of South Australia’s diverse and captivating wine culture.

Do you now need to choose a wine tour? Read these next
Best McLaren Vale Wine Tours
Best Adelaide Hills Wine Tours

And for more things to do in each region, try these
33 Things to Do in the Adelaide Hills
25 Things to Do in McLaren Vale that Aren’t Wine Tasting

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About the author

Josie Kelsh is South Australian, born and bred, living here for her whole life. Travelling all over the world has shown her exactly how amazing South Australia is to live and travel in and she uses her passion to show it to you the way a local sees it.