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The wine buff: Head for the Hills

The Adelaide Hills region produces a wonderful variety of top-quality reds and sparking wines

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Adelaide Hills produces some of Australia's top wines

Adelaide Hills produces some of Australia's top wines

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Tuffeau Blancs

Tuffeau Blancs

Veuve Monsigny Brut Champagne

Veuve Monsigny Brut Champagne

Jansz

Jansz

Corser Brut Rose

Corser Brut Rose

Granzamy Brut NV Champagne

Granzamy Brut NV Champagne

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Adelaide Hills produces some of Australia's top wines

It is hard to believe that the Adelaide Hills, one of the places in Australia which has suffered devastation from bush fires, is one of the country's cooler wines regions. It is also one of the oldest. In the 1850s, early settlers planted vines, but faced with a difficulty in ripening the grapes, many were uprooted in the 1930s. It wasn't until the late 1970s that interest in growing vines was revived, and a core group of a dozen winemakers, which included Brian Croser, planted vineyards and inspired hundreds more to follow suit.

Adelaide Hills is quite a large region, stretching 80km from north to south and about 30-40km in width. It touches the Eden Valley and Barossa in the north, and the McLaren Vale in the south. It can grow a range of grapes, with red varieties in the warmer valleys, and grapes for premium-quality sparkling wine in the higher vineyards.

Just 20 minutes' drive from the city of Adelaide, the region is popular for wine tourism domestically, yet it's a bit off the radar for tourists from outside the country.

On an early-morning visit to Mount Lofty Ranges Vineyard last November, the mist had just lifted and the air was cool and crisp. Standing on the timber veranda, looking out onto the steep vineyards, I could see the lush green vines stretching out, neatly choreographed into a tapestry of blocks, the direction changing to suit the different aspect as it followed the lines of the hills.

A few kilometres away, you reach Mount Lofty summit, a beautiful viewpoint that looks down from the hills to Adelaide, as long as it's not shrouded in spring fog, which it was when I got there.

Garry Sweeney, who owns Mount Loft Ranges with his partner Sharon Pearson, had invited Amy Hickling, the winemaker at Croser and Petaluma, and Hamish Laurie of Deviation Road to host a tasting. Garry's and Hamish's wines are low production, so you won't find them exported, but Croser is stocked by O'Briens.

Similar to Champagne, the grapes grown for sparkling wine here are Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The Pinot is grown at the highest altitude, up to 550 metres, and there can be four weeks' difference in ripening times between it and the Chardonnay down the slope. The orange-coloured soil has good water retention, so vines are dry farmed; but with slopes this steep, mechanisation is not possible, and pruning and harvesting is done by hand.

The wines here are made using the traditional Champagne method, which means the bubbles are created by a second fermentation in the bottle. Unlike Prosecco, this takes time, so a bottle of Adelaide Hills sparkling wine will have spent at least six months, and probably a year, allowing this second fermentation to happen. This makes it considerably more complex and interesting to drink - perfect for Valentine's Day.

Grapevine

Beverly Matthews of L'Atitude 51 will be hosting a Valentine's Day speed tasting evening at St Peter's, North Main St, Cork, on February 14, a fun way to learn about wine, and you don't need to be a couple, just a wine lover, €30, info@latitude51.ie. Or head to the Corkscrew in Dublin for their Valentine's-themed tasting of six sparkling wines from around the globe, paired with chocolate, €49, thecorkscrew.ie

Jansz Tasmania Premium Cuvée NV

€34.99 approx, 12pc, from Corkscrew, Baggot St Wines, Whelehan's, On the Grapevine, Blackrock Cellar and O'Briens

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Jansz

Jansz

Jansz
 

Tasmania is another cool climate region in Australia which is perfect for making top-quality sparkling wine. This Champagne-style offering is made from a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, with crisp citrus flavours mixing with brioche and nutty complexity.

Tuffeau 2017 Blancs de Blancs Brut Nature

€19.50-€19.95, 12pc, from various suppliers nationwide

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Tuffeau Blancs

Tuffeau Blancs

Tuffeau Blancs
 

For something a bit different, this sparkling Chardonnay from the Loire has a crown cap closure and is deliciously refreshing with zesty flavours of apple and a touch of citrus.

Veuve Monsigny Brut Champagne

€19.99, 12pc, from Aldi

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Veuve Monsigny Brut Champagne

Veuve Monsigny Brut Champagne

Veuve Monsigny Brut Champagne
 

No need to break the bank, this incredibly well-priced Champagne has a refreshing crunch of juicy apple, flecked with touches of lemon zest and a soft whisper of buttery complexity.

Granzamy Brut NV Champagne

€29.95 reduced from €34.95, 12pc, from O'Briens and obrienswine.ie

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Granzamy Brut NV Champagne

Granzamy Brut NV Champagne

Granzamy Brut NV Champagne
 

Made by a small, family-run Champagne house in the Marne Valley, this vegan-friendly, 100pc Pinot Meunier Champagne is rich and toasty, with flavours of apples, a touch of savoury cherry and a hint of spice.

Wine of the week

Croser Brut Rosé

€24.95 reduced from 27.95, 13pc, from O'Briens

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Corser Brut Rose

Corser Brut Rose

Corser Brut Rose
 

From the Adelaide Hills, the grapes for this 100pc Pinot Noir sparkling rosé are hand-picked and the fruit is whole-bunch pressed in the traditional manner. A small proportion of wine has skin contact. For added complexity and richness, some of the wine is fermented in old barrels. It is then allowed to age and rest on the lees for at least 12 months. The result is a sparkling wine with fresh lively flavours of just-ripe strawberries and peach, with a touch of ripe orange peel and a creamy shortbread note on the finish.

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