I am finally not working every minute so hope to post a little more often
I have spent this week in a haze of nostalgia hankering for the land of Oz. It’s the Vancouver Wine Festival, one of the world’s best. I have been going for a very long time – since the Aussies taught me about wine and I came back to Canada with all this wine knowledge and a sophisticated palate. Back in those days, wine was mostly the province of men over 50. I searched the yellow pages and found a wine society I could join only to discover there was only one other person in the room who looked about my age – she was there with her mother. Vanessa became a great friend and I owe a lot of my social life in my 30s to that chance encounter.
But this is about Australian wine! I was especially moved because it was the birthday of my best friend from my Sydney days just last week so Australia was already on my mind. Each year the Vancouver International Wine Festival has a feature country and this year it is Australia. So I had lots of opportunities to taste wine and chat with people with genuine Aussie accents. The first winery I hit last night was Longview. Mark was going to explain where Adelaide Hills was but I said, “I’ve been there. That’s why I am here”.
For those who don’t know Adelaide Hills, it is a coolish climate region in South Australia near Adelaide. Australia is the land of sunshine so getting the evening temperature to 9 degrees is not easy. It’s what makes the wines of Adelaide Hills a little more special. They taste less “Australian” and more “European”. I discovered Adelaide Hills as a by-product of my friendship with Elizabeth. I always promised I would come back for her wedding but appreciated that is not the ideal time to spend time with friends so I came early and told her I would disappear for 5 days a little ahead of the wedding so she wouldn’t feel responsible for entertaining me and take myself on a wine tour of South Australia.
I hired some lovely gentleman off the internet (before doing this was common) who had grown up in the Barossa. Trevor squired me around South Australia and treated me like I was his daughter. I have the mindset of an engineer so naturally I arrived with a gigantic list of all the wineries I wanted to visit. He is very gracious so did not tell me I was crazy… We devised a plan. I would learn to spit and we would try to do seven or eight wineries a day. Some would be from my list and some would be his suggestions.
We would spend two days in the Barossa Valley, one day in the Clare Valley, a day in Adelaide Hills and a day in McLaren Vale. Five of the best days of my life. Drinking the different regions side by side allowed me to really see the differences and decide what I wanted to buy from which region. Since I live in Canada where wine has a sin tax that exceeds gasoline (seriously, these are plants – they are GOOD for the planet 😉 it was challenging to drink and not buy. I had already quizzed Elizabeth and her soon to be husband in Sydney so decided their wedding present would be a case of wine – different types so they could be opened at different times in their marriage. Trevor had lots of contacts at the wineries so it was organized it could be a mixed case and would be shipped from the winery where bottle 12 was purchased.
That was Peter Lehmann. I have quite a few wonderful Australian winery experiences but I have a special place in my heart for Peter Lehmann – and Trevor. When we arrived, not only did I try a bunch of different wines but each was paired with a snack. I really wished I could have shared it with someone. I was so wowed by the experience that I bought more than one wine there and finished the case.
If you would like to learn more about wine, there is no better place to go than Australia. As I was informed last night, you don’t talk about “terroir” 🙂 You will taste it but keep that word to yourself. I have spent a lot of time this week gushing to Australian winemakers or marketing reps and recounting some of my winery experiences.
Not all aspects of aging are welcome but sometimes being old works in your favour. I was extremely fortunate to meet an Aussie in Toronto who was determined to teach me about wine. Then I moved to Sydney with him. I went to people’s houses where they had BOXES of wine! They went to the Hunter Valley and stocked up as they tasted the wines at the actual wineries. In the early 90s it was like being Alice in wine Wonderland.
There was no Yellow Tail. Monty Python was still making fun of Australian wine. Mostly it was just drunk by the locals. And the locals drank wine out of 2L boxes from Riverina (which was very drinkable). I caught a lot of grief for my extravagance. I was willing to pay $10 for 750 ml of wine when I could get 2L for $6 – what was I thinking? 😉
As a novice, it was a transcendental experience. The Aussies are the most unpretentious people I have met so you just rocked up to the winery and they said, “ya wanna try them all”? In those days, there was no marketing. It’s a wonderful place to grow grapes so most wineries did a bunch of different varietals. There was a Riesling, a Gewurtztraminer, a Sauvignon (no blanc), a Semillon, a Chardonnay, a Merlot, a CabSav, a Shiraz and possibly even a Port. You learned the difference between varietals by trying them all!
The Chardonnays were really oaky and I couldn’t drink the Shiraz – I felt like I was chewing wood instead of drinking wine. I was a newbie wine drinker. Riesling and Gewurtztraminer were just my speed. It was how I discovered Gewurtztraminer – it took me ages to be able to pronounce it like a German instead of an Australian 🙂 I have so many memories of hanging out in bottle shops, drinking wine I purchased in restaurants and finding hidden gems in obscure wine shops (buying a ten year old Cabernet in a bottle shop at Circular Quay and hoping it was still OK – it was magnificent!)
My interest in Australian wine scored points with my boss who was a connoisseur. And the Aussies like to drink 😉 It was a very freewheeling place back then at least. I didn’t go back to the office to try to work after the News Corp audit completion LUNCH but it was incredible. Wonderful Aussie produce paired with (I think) five different wines… I still remember the Petaluma white, one of his personal favourites.
I also remember when Grange was $64 a bottle. I never got to drink it! I bought it for my Australian boyfriend for his birthday. When Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc costs $12, $64 is an astonishing amount. Of course, it needs to be aged and our relationship didn’t last that long. In 2000, Elizabeth and I searched Sydney trying to find a bottle of Grange so I could try it… without success, even though it cost over $300 a bottle by then. I finally scored some by random accident in Canada where I think I paid just over $200. I know it was a bargain! I drank it with my friend Iain who has spent time in Australia for work and could appreciate the significance of drinking a bottle of aged Grange… we decided it wasn’t that great. I mean, it was great… but not $200 great… so I would encourage you to try something else.
There is a cornucopia of wonderful wine from the land of Oz. DO try to go there and drink it with the locals. I’m not even sure if I would be drinking wine if it wasn’t for the Aussies. They certainly made my virgin wine drinking experiences an absolute delight. And they taught me how to introduce others to wine. Start with Riesling, not Cabernet Sauvignon.
So, a shout out to Aussie winemakers and all the people with whom I have shared the pleasures of Aussie wines 😉