McLaren Vale or Barossa Valley: Which to Choose?

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When it comes to embarking on a wine-tasting adventure, few destinations rival the allure and diversity of either McLaren Vale or Barossa Valley.

For visitors to Adelaide, it can be a challenge. With each wine region worthy of a visit, but only one day available in the itinerary, a choice has to be made. Which one of these wine regions is the best for a day of wine tasting, exploring and enjoying the area?

Both the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale regions have carved out distinct niches in the world of wine, producing captivating varietals that cater to both discerning palates and casual enthusiasts.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at a day trip centred around wine tasting in McLaren Vale and Barossa Valley, highlighting the types of wines, prominent wineries, and alternative activities that await visitors, to help you choose which one to include on your itinerary.

Feature image photo credit: Josh Geelen, Howard Vineyard, Adelaide Hills

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Barossa Valley vs McLaren Vale

McLaren Vale and the Barossa Valley share striking similarities that underscore their significance in South Australia’s wine culture.

Both regions boast a rich winemaking heritage, showcasing a deep-rooted passion for viticulture and oenology.

Renowned for its exceptional red wines, each area has carved out a distinct niche, with Shiraz reigning as a celebrated varietal.

Both McLaren Vale and Barossa Valley embrace a commitment to producing high-quality wines, often using traditional winemaking techniques that reflect their historical significance.

The warm climates of these regions contribute to the development of rich, complex flavours in their wines, resulting in vintages that captivate the palate.

Both areas offer not only outstanding wineries but also a plethora of complementary experiences, including gourmet dining, picturesque landscapes, and a warm, welcoming atmosphere that invites visitors to immerse themselves in the region’s culture.

Even distance from the Adelaide city centre does not clearly differentiate the regions, with both being around an hour away – although the McLaren Vale wineries are slightly closer on average than those of the Barossa Valley.

A box of quinces at a market
Photo credit: Josie Withers, Barossa Farmers Market, Barossa Valley

Types of Wine

McLaren Vale: McLaren Vale takes pride in its Mediterranean-style climate, which gives rise to an array of exceptional wine styles.

While the region’s Shiraz remains a standout, McLaren Vale’s offerings extend to exquisite Grenache and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Moreover, the area has made a name for itself in the realm of white wines, particularly Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, adding a refreshing twist to the tasting experience.

Barossa Valley: In contrast, Barossa Valley is renowned for its robust and bold red wines, particularly the iconic Shiraz.

Characterised by their full-bodied nature, these red wines boast notes of dark berries, spices, and a touch of pepper.

Alongside Shiraz, the region showcases elegant Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, and Mourvèdre, providing a rich tapestry of red wine options.

Top Wineries

With each region having around 150 wineries and 80 cellar doors, there is plenty of choice in either the Barossa Valley or McLaren Vale.

There is plenty of acclaim too, with d’Arenberg recently listed as the 17th-best winery in the world and Barossa’s Henschke and Penfolds also making the top 50. Here are some of the most popular cellar doors you may be partial to.

McLaren Vale

  1. d’Arenberg: Celebrated for its quirky wine names and exceptional varieties, d’Arenberg offers a diverse range of both red and white wines.
  2. Coriole Vineyards: Set against stunning garden views, this family-owned winery highlights McLaren Vale’s splendid Grenache and Shiraz.
  3. Wirra Wirra Vineyards: With a laid-back ambience, Wirra Wirra is a perfect spot to indulge in a wide array of wines, including their signature Church Block blend.
  4. Yangarra Estate Vineyard: Known for its commitment to sustainable practices, Yangarra Estate produces exceptional Grenache and Shiraz wines that reflect the terroir.
  5. Gemtree Wines: A certified organic winery, Gemtree Wines offers a range of handcrafted wines, including biodynamically grown varieties.

Barossa Valley

  1. Penfolds: An iconic establishment, Penfolds is renowned for its exceptional Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon blends, offering a taste of Barossa’s history.
  2. Henschke: A must-visit destination famous for its Hill of Grace Shiraz, Henschke embodies the pinnacle of Barossa’s winemaking excellence.
  3. Seppeltsfield: With a heritage dating back to 1851, Seppeltsfield allows visitors to sample fortified wines and even taste their birth year vintage straight from the barrel.
  4. Yalumba: As one of Australia’s oldest family-owned wineries, Yalumba showcases a wide spectrum of varietals, from traditional reds to innovative whites.
  5. Rockford Wines: Famous for its traditional winemaking techniques, Rockford Wines specialises in small-batch, artisanal releases that pay homage to the region’s heritage.
A woman on a balcony looking out over solar panels and vineyards beyond
Photo credit: South Australian Tourism Commission, Gemtree Wines, Fleurieu Peninsula

Other Activities

You could spend a week exploring each of the wine regions and still find more things to do. Here are just a few of the top activities and attractions you will find.

McLaren Vale

  1. Willunga Farmers Market: Delve into the local culture by browsing the stalls of this vibrant farmers market, offering fresh produce, artisanal goods, and homemade treats.
  2. Coast to Vines Rail Trail: Explore the picturesque countryside by embarking on a bike ride or leisurely walk along this scenic trail, which winds through vineyards, farmlands, and charming townships.
  3. 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.
  4. Aldinga Beach: Experience the scenic beauty of Aldinga Beach, known for its unique drive-on beach access and opportunities for beachcombing and nature walks.
  5. Bike Riding or Hiking: Discover the region’s natural beauty by embarking on a bike ride or hiking excursion along the Shiraz Trail, which meanders through vineyards, farmlands, and charming townships.

Barossa Valley

  1. Barossa Valley Farmers Market: Immerse yourself in the local culinary scene by visiting the farmers market, where you can explore a wide array of fresh produce, artisanal products, and gourmet treats.
  2. Barossa Valley Ballooning: Experience the stunning landscape from a different perspective with a hot air balloon ride, offering breathtaking views of the vineyards and rolling hills.
  3. Maggie Beer’s Farm Shop: Indulge in a gastronomic adventure at Maggie Beer’s farm shop, where you can sample and purchase a variety of gourmet foods, including cheeses, condiments, and preserves.
  4. Barossa Sculpture Park at Mengler’s Hill: Enjoy an art-filled outing by exploring this sculpture park, featuring an intriguing collection of outdoor artworks set against the backdrop of panoramic valley views.
  5. Barossa Valley Chocolate Company: Satisfy your sweet tooth with a visit to the chocolate company, where you can indulge in a range of delectable chocolates and treats, all made on-site.
A board with two oysters dressed with dill and two tiny tarts on it
Photo credit: HEY GENTS, The Currant Shed, Fleurieu Peninsula

Places to Eat

By now it will be no surprise to hear that both regions have fantastic dining options.

McLaren Vale

  1. The Salopian Inn: This historic restaurant in McLaren Vale presents a modern Australian dining experience with a focus on local and seasonal ingredients. The eclectic menu offers a range of flavours, reflecting the region’s diverse culinary influences.
  2. d’Arry’s Verandah Restaurant: Situated at d’Arenberg Winery, this restaurant offers breathtaking views of McLaren Vale’s vineyards. The menu features dishes inspired by the region’s produce, accompanied by a selection of d’Arenberg’s renowned wines.
  3. Maxwell Restaurant: Nestled within the Maxwell Winery estate, this restaurant provides a charming setting to enjoy a culinary journey through McLaren Vale’s flavours. The menu showcases dishes made with locally sourced ingredients, paired with Maxwell’s exceptional wines.
  4. The Barn Bistro at McLaren Vale Motel & Apartments: This relaxed bistro offers a family-friendly atmosphere and a diverse menu featuring classic dishes made from locally sourced ingredients. It’s a great spot to unwind after a day of wine tasting.
  5. The Currant Shed: Set in the heart of McLaren Vale, The Currant Shed offers a unique dining experience in a converted 19th-century barn. The menu focuses on showcasing seasonal and regional ingredients, allowing diners to savour the essence of McLaren Vale’s culinary offerings.

Barossa Valley

  1. Vintners Bar & Grill: Located in Angaston, Vintners Bar & Grill offers a delightful blend of modern Australian cuisine with a focus on locally sourced ingredients. The menu showcases a range of dishes that celebrate the flavours of the region, paired with an impressive wine list featuring Barossa Valley’s finest.
  2. Appellation at The Louise: Nestled within The Louise resort, Appellation provides a luxurious fine-dining experience. The restaurant’s seasonal menu highlights the best Barossa produce, offering a harmonious fusion of flavours that captivate the palate.
  3. Maggie Beer’s Farm Shop: Indulge in a true Barossa experience at Maggie Beer’s Farm Shop in Nuriootpa. Sample a variety of gourmet delights, from artisanal cheeses to delectable jams, all while enjoying the serene ambience of the farm.
  4. Fino Seppeltsfield: Situated within the historic Seppeltsfield estate, Fino offers a rustic yet refined dining experience. The menu features locally sourced ingredients crafted into inventive dishes, perfectly complemented by Seppeltsfield wines.
  5. 1918 Bistro & Grill: Located in Tanunda, 1918 Bistro & Grill offers a warm and inviting atmosphere, serving up modern Australian cuisine with a creative twist. The restaurant’s seasonal menu showcases a variety of dishes that highlight the region’s flavours.
A man walking past racks of wine barrels at least twice as tall as him
Photo credit: Josie Withers, Coriole Vineyards, Fleurieu Peninsula

Choosing McLaren Vale or Barossa Valley

So how to choose whether to visit the Barossa Valley or McLaren Vale? If you don’t already have a clear favourite from above, these might help.

Choose McLaren Vale if:

  • If you’re a fan of Mediterranean-style wines, McLaren Vale’s diverse selection will charm you. From the renowned Shiraz to exquisite Grenache and lively whites like Chardonnay and Vermentino, the region offers a captivating array.
  • If you prefer a coastal backdrop to your wine journey, McLaren Vale’s stunning beaches and the Coast to Vines Trail present a unique opportunity to blend wine tasting with the serenity of the coast.
  • If you’re seeking a fusion of creativity and tradition, McLaren Vale’s innovative winemaking techniques and commitment to sustainability will offer a dynamic and contemporary wine experience.
  • If you’re captivated by the prospect of exploring boutique wineries and meeting passionate winemakers, McLaren Vale’s intimate cellar door experiences provide a personalised and engaging encounter.
  • If you value accessibility and proximity, McLaren Vale’s location, just a short drive from Adelaide, ensures you can embark on a delightful day trip, allowing you to savour wines and scenery without venturing far from the city.

Choose Barossa Valley if:

  • If you’re a fan of robust and bold red wines, Barossa Valley is your paradise. The region’s iconic Shiraz, with its rich flavours and depth, will satiate your love for powerful reds.
  • If you prefer a deep connection to wine heritage and tradition, Barossa Valley’s historic wineries and charming cellars offer a journey through time, allowing you to savour wines with a sense of history.
  • If you’re seeking a blend of wine and culinary excellence, Barossa Valley’s gourmet experiences and farm-to-table dining options will delight your palate with exquisite flavours and carefully crafted pairings.
  • If you’re captivated by the allure of rolling vineyards and picturesque landscapes, Barossa Valley’s scenic beauty, with its sprawling estates and idyllic countryside, will transport you to a vinous wonderland.
  • If you’re interested in immersing yourself in the region’s culture and festivities, Barossa Valley’s vibrant events calendar, featuring festivals, markets, and cultural celebrations, ensures there’s always something captivating to experience.

In the captivating rivalry between McLaren Vale and Barossa Valley, both regions offer unique and unforgettable experiences for wine aficionados and travellers alike.

While McLaren Vale impresses with its diverse wine portfolio and picturesque coastal landscapes, Barossa Valley stands out as a red wine haven, boasting hearty Shiraz and historic wineries.

Whether you’re drawn to the Mediterranean allure of McLaren Vale or the bold flavours of Barossa Valley, a day trip to either of these wine-rich destinations promises a delightful exploration of Australia’s winemaking heritage, complemented by a plethora of activities catering to all interests.

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

And for more things to do in each region, try these
27 Awesome Things to Do in the Barossa Valley that Aren’t Wine Tasting
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.