I flew to Adelaide the next day and found myself suffering through one of the worst South Australian heat waves to date. It was 42 degrees C the day I arrived (about 107 F), and far too warm for anything other than cold pints and the beach. The beer is exceptionally cold here.
The next day I started exploring. The coffee in this country is superb, and after a real enjoyable morning cafe visit, I went looking for any kind of wine tasting venue I could find.
I stumbled into "East End Cellars," a nice wine shop off the main "Rundle St" outdoor mall in Adelaide. Here I met a friendly bloke named Gus [I should note at this point that the Australian expressions are terribly catchy, and I've found myself saying "cheers," "no worries mate," and "bloody hot" with extreme regularity.] East End didn't offer tasting, but Gus had a open bottle of OZ sparkling wine (pinot rose) that I enjoyed, but he thought a little hot at 13.5% alc. We had just began talking about some of the generalities of the Australian wine industry when a distributor sales rep walked in with some Tasmanian wines. I confessed I'd never had a "Tasi" wine, and they invited me to join them and taste. For those unfamiliar with geography and/or Looney Tunes, Tasmania is an island south of Australia and apparently it's quite a bit cooler than OZ. Pinot, chard, and riesling are their main grapes, and we were tasting 2 pinots and a pinot gris from the "Pirie" winery. While the hospitality and invitation to taste were very much appreciated, the wine quality wasn't.
General notes for the 3 wines: "thin, watery, unintegrated acidity, one dimensional." Granted it was hot as s**t and the wines were warm, but I walked away thoroughly under-whelmed.
I thanked them again, took my leave, and proceeded to a nearby Italian joint Gus suggested. "Amalfi" was quaint, very local, had the daily specials written in chalk on the wall, and served the kind of Italian food I love with simple uncomplicated ingredients and flavors. I ordered the linguini special of the day, with clams and mussels, garlic, and olive oil. I made some inquiries about the wine list and right away the server asked if I was in OZ for vintage. I was impressed with his spot-on read, and we started chatting about the unseasonable heat and the potential of the 09 vintage. I sampled several of their by-the-glass wines, and settled on the 08 Alan and Veitch Sav Blanc from Adelaide Hills (notes below). I liked the "minimal SO2" mention on the label, and thoroughly enjoyed the pairing with my linguini.
08 Alan and Veitch Sav Blanc 12.5%
"intensely aromatic, kiwi and tropical fruit, grapefruit, lively acidity throughout, lingering finish, brilliant color"
I left Amalfi very satisfied with a big smile on my face, and set out to do some more exploring. Prior to my departure from the states I downloaded about 2 dozen "Two Hands" podcasts off their website (www.twohandswines.com), and I wanted to listen through them before crush began. Michael Twelftree and Richard Mintz are the "Two Hands," and the podcast interviews are immensely entertaining and educational. I heartily recommend you check them out. I already have developed a love for the Two Hands story and what they're all about: "Quality without compromise." Now that's what's up. I especially enjoyed Michael's story about the "Gnarly Dudes" shiraz series, and how it was inspired by hours of watching the "Big Lebowski" after an extensive all day tasting with Robert Parker. Far out.
The next day I set out to find the Australian National Wine Centre (damn British influenced spelling:), part of the University of Adelaide. The day was saturated with blistering heat, and the wine centre was a far walk through the city and past Adelaide's beautiful botanic gardens. I finally made it, and inside was a cafe/tasting bar on ground level, and an extensive display of Australian wine history on the second floor. I immediately cooled off with a "top level" Sav Blanc flight. Notes below, and my rankings.
Argyle 08 13.5% (2)
Guava, limonada pellegrini, grassy, good acid, a little soft on finish
Pike and Joyce 07 13% (3)
Passion fruit, a little chalky, not much of a finish
Ravenswood Lane 07 13.5% (1)
Lemon zest, white nectarine, aromatic depth, lively on palate
I cruised upstairs next, a little happier due to the ever-positive combination of good wine and air conditioning. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but I was impressed and surprised by the extensive history of Australian wine. The "First Fleet" of 11 ships, and roughly 1300 people (ie British convicts and their military escorts) arrived in 1788 in Sydney Cove, and by day 2 of their journey vines were in the ground and plans moved forward for wine production. I spent a couple hours leisurely moving through the exhibit. The historical timeline was most interesting.
Some of my more noteworthy observations:
"Wowsers": term applied to those whos religious beliefs prohibit the drinking of alcohol.
(Neither an Adam West era Batman, nor an Inspector Gadget reference)
"Chardonnay Socialists": political phrase used to describe left-leaning intellectuals who speak for the working class.
*This may be an appropriate place to mention that I've been pummeled with questions about Obama. The optimism appears to be global, and Aussies are genuinely interested in how Americans have reacted to the "regime change."
"Love is kind, love is wine": popular 60's ad campaign in OZ
I returned to the cafe downstairs and elected to taste the "vintage" pinot flight (strangely titled, as it was 2 2006 and 1 2004 pinots). Notes and rankings below. Wines 1 and 2 were different, but equally unrewarding.
Barratt Bonythen 06 14% (3)
Great aromatic varietal character, but thin on palate, little color, lacking structure
O'Leary Walker 06 14% (3)
Reminds me of a bad Willamette Valley pinot. Herby and menthol in an unpleasant way. Spice and cola, some nice flavors on finish.
Golding 04 13.9% (1)
Crushed red fruit, elegant, earthy
The late afternoons/early evenings here are glorious, and later in the day I found a promising looking Oyster Bar with some outdoor seating half-occupied by some friendly looking women. I talked myself into stopping right quick, and found the oysters to be insanely delicious (and very well priced @ $8 US/dozen), and the sav blanc refreshing (producer unknown).
The high quality of by-the-glass wine, as well as the very reasonable pricing (about $5 US on average) have been a welcomed change from the typical over priced and sub-par quality of the by-the-glass wine found at home. This is especially true for the whites. I've only had one truly bad white wine so far. I was playing some late-night poker last night at Adelaide's popular casino (Australians are HUGE gamblers), ordered a glass of Riesling, and upon tasting it was unsuccessful at swapping it out for something different. It was a little late and I informed the bar-keep that their wine buyer should be shot, and then opted for a "Coopers Pale" instead (my favorite Aussie beer to date). The "direct" nature of Australians has rubbed off on me a bit:
Tomorrow morning Two Hands winemaker Matt Wenk is swooping me up bright and early and taking me with him to Barossa Valley. Accommodations in the valley are still being sorted out, and I'll have the weekend to explore the valley, visit wineries, and adjust myself to country life before moving into the harvest intern house and starting crush on Monday.