Journey Through Australian Wine Regions Aboard the Ghan

A journey aboard the Ghan, Australia’s iconic train ride between Adelaide and Darwin, provides passengers with a means to explore the country’s vast interior in a luxurious setting. The experience offers excellent service, gourmet meals featuring regional cuisine, and off-train excursions. But a journey on the Ghan also allows guests to taste Australian wine from many of the country’s most famous wine regions.

So come aboard and join me as I sip on wines in the Ghan’s Outback Explorer lounge and pair Australian wine with delectable dishes.

All Aboard

Named after the Afghan cameleers who once transported supplies along this route, the train began in 1929. It is the longest passenger train in the world. Designed in Edwardian décor, the train also offers modern accommodations with ensuite bathrooms.

For many passengers, a journey aboard the Ghan fulfills a bucket list wish. Therefore, it makes sense that everyone here feels excited to board the train. And for my husband and fellow travel writer, Gary, we are equally thrilled to be here. The anticipation in the train station is palpable, so it’s fitting that our journey would kick off with a glass of crisp, delicious sparkling wine. Dozens of glasses line the table alongside two large silver, footed bowls filled with chilled bottles of bubbly. I take this as a good omen for the wine we can expect to taste once onboard the train.

Bucket of sparkling wine bottles
Coueslant sparkling wine at the start of the train trip ©Pam Baker

The non-vintage Tahbilk Coueslant, a Chardonnay Pinot Noir sparkling wine from the Nagambie Lakes region in central Victoria, is chosen for this sendoff celebration. This wine provides a refreshing morning drink with subtle peach, melon, and ripe berry notes. Its crisp minerality and biscuit flavors follow through in the taste. We meet two sisters traveling together on the train and toast our new adventure.

Two sisters celebrating the start of the trip
Two sisters celebrating the start of the train trip ©Pam Baker

Outback Explorer Lounge

To accommodate all Gold Level passengers, the train provides three restaurants, each called Queen Adelaide, and three lounges named after heroic pioneers who explored Australia. Platinum Level passengers have their exclusive restaurant and lounge.

Once onboard, the first activity involves lunch. But savvy travelers know the fun begins in the Outback Explorer Lounge. After dropping off our luggage in the cabin, we head to the lounge, the train’s social hub, for a glass of wine before our seating.

The lounge on the car
Enjoying a beverage in the Outback Explorer lounge car ©Gary Baker

White Australian Wine

I’m fond of Margaret River wines, a lovely region on the coast of Western Australia, best known for its Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and Shiraz. So naturally, my first glass of wine will be from that region. The Vasse Felix Filius 2021, the only Chardonnay on the menu, more than meets my expectations. A modern-style Chardonnay with mouth-watering acidity, it proves well-balanced. Aromas of Granny Smith apples with hints of lemon and herbs fill the glass, complemented by a clean, bright palate and lighter, elegant fruit flavors.

Glass and bottle of chardonnay
Vasse Felix Filius Chardonnay ©Pam Baker

Gary prefers a more crisp and lively white wine. Therefore, he orders the Serafino Goose Island Sauvignon Blanc from McLaren Vale in South Australia for his aperitif. McLaren Vale’s natural beauty, Mediterranean climate, close proximity to Adelaide, and incredible wines draw visitors to the birthplace of wine in South Australia. Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Grenache are widely planted here. But Sauvignon Blanc does well here too. The Serafino represents one of the best. The aroma is vibrant with notes of lemongrass, tropical fruit, and citrus. This bright, refreshing wine with zesty fruit flavors follows through with a crisp finish.

The Wine List

The wine list includes two sparkling wines, six white wines, one rosé, six red wines, and four fortified and sweet wines. Some of the best Australian wines are on Ghan’s specially curated wine menu. In addition to the Margaret River, choices include wines from the world-acclaimed Barossa Valley and the famous Hunter Valley north of Sydney in New South Wales. Wines from the Clare Valley, Adelaide Hills, Coonawarra, McLaren Vale, and Eden Valley, all in South Australia, are also well represented. With just two nights and three days onboard the train, it’s going to be a challenge to try them all!

Hentley Farm Villian and Vixen Shiraz

Today’s lunch menu offers a choice of three starters, three main courses, and three desserts. Having travelled previously on the Indian Pacific train, another Journey Beyond luxury train ride in Australia, I anticipate the meals will be outstanding.

For lunch, I ordered the roasted chicken ballotine served on a pumpkin purée with steamed greens and fresh herb salsa. When in Australia, one must try the Shiraz, the Australian name for Syrah. Australian Shiraz wines tend to be lush and fruit-forward.

To pair with my lunch, I select the Hentley Farm Villian and Vixen Shiraz, a wine from the Barossa Valley. Barossa, one of Australia’s largest and most well-known wine-producing regions, is less than an hour’s drive northeast of Adelaide. The region is best known for red wine. The top varieties grown include Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Grenache.

Bottle of Villian and Vixen wine
Henley Farms Villian and Vixen Shiraz ©Pam Baker

The Villian and Vixen Shiraz sports an unusual label. A bearded man appears on one side (the villain) and a young woman (the vixen) on the opposite, but it belies the elegance of this well-balanced wine. Its notes of plum, peppercorn, raspberries, and soft, even tannins pair beautifully with the dish’s pumpkin flavors, a common ingredient in Australian dishes.

Tim Smith Wines MGS

Australia’s population consists of just 26 million people. But the number of sheep in the country is four times that, currently estimated at 104 million. So, it’s no wonder that roast lamb rump is a popular dish in this country. Feeling like a local, I ordered lamb for my dinner the first night onboard. Our server recommends a glass of the Tim Smith Wines red blend to pair with the lamb, and I’m mighty pleased that I did.

Plate of roasted lamb and vegetables
Roasted lamb rump and grilled vegetables ©Pam Baker

The MGS 2021, a blend of Mataro, Grenache, and Shiraz, is a Rhone-style wine from the Barossa Valley. A light twist on the classic GSM blend, the Mataro, aka Mourvedre, is the dominant variety. Even as young as this 2021 vintage was, the wine tasted luxurious and well-structured. This particular wine turned out to be so popular with guests on the train that by Day Two, it was gone!

Stage Door Front and Centre Shiraz

Buffalo was introduced into Australia from eastern Indonesia in the 1800s. Now about 30,000 domesticated buffalo are raised for meat in the Northern Territory. My choice for lunch today is fragrant Massaman-style buffalo curry. Served with jasmine rice and roti bread, this dish should pair nicely with another Shiraz. I order a Stage Door Front and Centre Shiraz 2016 out of Barossa Valley for this meal. Crimson red with cherry liqueur on the nose with chewy dark fruits on the palate, this wine pairs perfectly with the flavors of coconut, cinnamon, and sweet anise in the dish.

Bottles of wine in the wine rack
Bottles of red wine behind glass enclosure in the lounge car bar ©Pam Baker

Black Duck Cabernet

With twice as many million kangaroos in Australia than people, it’s also no surprise that grilled kangaroo shows up on the next day’s dinner menu.

Leaner than beef, kangaroo has a bold, earthy taste. Served with a sweet corn puree, pickled cucumber salad, and a rosella flower chutney, the dish calls for a Cabernet Sauvignon. I choose the Black Duck Cabernet 2021 out of McLaren Vale to pair with the meal. This wine displays mild spice with hints of fresh fruit, pepper, and chocolate and complements the mild gamey hint of kangaroo meat.

Eldredge Sangiovese “Kitty” Rosé

After lunch on our last day aboard the Ghan, I find myself back in the Outback Explorer Lounge. Rosé feels like the perfect afternoon wine. Therefore, I order the Eldrege Sangiovese “Kitty” Rosé to enjoy as I relish my last few precious hours of the journey. The wine hails from the Clare Valley, another South Australia wine region about two hours north of Adelaide. This fertile wine region, best known for its Riesling, is also one of Australia’s oldest wine regions.

Glass and bottle of rose wine
Eldredge “Kitty” Rose wine ©Pam Baker

The wine’s cherry, berry, and plum flavors provide an initial sweetness that follows through with a crisp, dry finish. Its cheery pink color and bright acidity make a delightful afternoon sipper to enjoy as I gaze out the panoramic windows for one last time. And the Ghan slides into the Darwin station.

A Journey Through Australian Wine Regions

The journey proves to be a remarkable one with plenty of vivid scenery. Traveling past the rusty hues of the Red Center to the tropical splendor of the Top End, I’ve also imagined visiting many of the wine regions in Australia. From Hunter Valley on the East Coast to the Barossa Valley in the south to the Margaret River on the West Coast, it’s been a delightful introduction to Australian wine. So, the next time you find yourself in Australia, consider a journey aboard the Ghan. It’s a great way to sample Australian wine alongside regional gourmet food while exploring the vast outback in the “Land Down Under.”

Pam Baker

Pam Baker is a freelance wine, food, and travel writer based in Northern California. She has written for local, national and international publications including Via Magazine, Porthole Cruise, Northwest Travel and Life, Upscale Living, Inspired Senior Living, Food Wine Travel Magazine, Edible Sacramento, Europe Up Close, Australia and New Zealand, and Washington Tasting Room. She is also the former editor for Sacramento Lifestyle Magazine.