Wine tasting in the Barossa Valley
Trip Start Mar 14, 2009
34Trip End Ongoing
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The road to Tanunda carves it's way through the Adelaide Hills, along the banks of a huge, navy blue reservoir and through tiny hamlets, where each house has vines creeping along the carved awnings of their porches. The whole of the Barossa has the rich scent of port-soaked oak barrels hanging over it, and the vines stand in orderly rows across the valley. We passed familiar names on signs driven into the parched, tan earth and actually drove over the creek of Jacob's Creek fame; sadly, it was boggy and over-run with bulrushes - far from the cool, sparkling stream of Chardonnay that I was expecting.
We arrived at our campsite, set up the tent, blew up the mattress and wandered into town to the information office. There we met a very pleasant lady who was not fazed in the least by our opening questions ('Where can we get some wine? Is it free?') and pointed us in the direction of the nearest cellar doors. For those who are not git dead cultured like me, innit, one goes to the cellar door of a winery for tastings and sales. Lots of wineries sell some or all of their vintage only at their cellar door, so to go to a wine region is to get a great opportunity to try wines you may not find anywhere else in the world. Unfortunately, cellar door crawling is a day time sport as most open between 10am-ish and 5pm-ish and since we had arrived at the Barossa quite late, we only had time to squeeze in the one, so we hot-footed it around to Chateau Tanunda.
Set in a listed building, surrounded by its vines, with a croquet lawn edged by a rose-garden, the Chateau was most definitely an auspicious beginning to our Barossa experience, as was Jody, the very helpful lady who worked there. She, like the lady in Tourist Information, seemed well used to the kind of pleb who wants to try everything on the list, spurns the use of the spittoon and who, after a few glasses, starts doing Jilly Goolden impressions before wobbling out of there, slightly pink of cheek. You would think, doing this job day in day out, that she would reserve her patter for someone more deserving, but she 'tropical-nosed' and 'hints of cinammoned' like we understood what she was talking about. We smiled and nodded knowingly, did some Jilly Goolden impressions and wobbled on out.
Back at the campsite the braver amongst us (me) went in the pool (Baltic, and about the size of you're average Royal Mail special Christmas edition postage stamp). Then, disaster struck. We became aware that the inflatable mattress, that blessed the five inches between us and cold, hard earth had deflated due to - cue dramatic music - a whopping big hole. After several minutes of general panic and much wringing of hands, we remembered the mattress had come with a puncture repair kit and so we dug it out. The puncture repair kit consisted of a small slip of self-adhesive vinyl and a hollow, plastic tube about two inches in length with no discernable purpose. We cut the vinyl to size, stuck it over the hole, wondered if the covering was adequate and used the remaining vinyl in a patchwork fashion on and around the original square. We waited a hungry twenty minutes (as instructed) before re-inflating the mattress, upon which the vinyl unceremoniously popped off in a poof of escaping air. This was not good news. We decided to go to the pub.
At this stage, we had to leg it up the road since it was nearly 8.30pm, the hour by which all inhabitants of Tanunda have most definitely eaten dinner, thus allowing all establishments serving food to close their kitchens. The foolish urbanite who expects to feed at 8.45pm will go hungry and we arrived in the nick of time. The massive lamb roast I had at the Tanunda Club, coupled with two Boots Sleep-eazee (purchased for the plane) meant the loss of the mattress did not impair sleep, although I did awake in the morning with more knots in my back than in my shoelaces.
I'm not sure that I can think of a way that Day 2 in the Barossa could have been improved. The sun was shining as we made our way up the main street, and while the sky was blue, a breeze kept the day from being unpleasantly hot. We passed the old Telegraph Station, now a second hand book store selling the sort of random range of books that could only have been collected through donations by very different people over many, many years. One particular the book I picked up was inscribed and had been gifted as a prize to a girl from her music teacher in 1944.
Our first stop was the Illaparra fortified wine store - not because we thought that drinks with a brandy spirit base were the best way to start our day, but because it was the first place we came to. We sampled some of their very old tawnies - no longer known as 'ports', possibly because of some EU authenticity thing? They were offered rather grudgingly to we unworthies by the lady who was serving. She glanced over the tops of our head as she asked us what we thought, as though there could be very few things in the world of less interest to her than our opinion of the 5 versus the 20-year old. By this stage, however, I couldn't care less, as I was holding forth about 'caramel notes' and photographing the mountains of liquor-filled barrels that lined the walls.
Next stop was Richmond Grove which, like most of the Barosssa, specialises in Rieslings and Shirazes. With perfect timing, we arrived just as a harried Groovy Grape tour guide was shepherding his merry charges onto their bus. The lovely lady who guided our tasting was incredibly friendly and we tried some fantastic wines, smiling smugly at each other if she agreed with us when we identified apricot undertones or a burnt toast aftertaste. The final thing she shared with us was a tawny that tasted like Christmas pudding doused in toffee sauce. Heaven.
A wonderful innovation that we should all be grateful to the Barossa region for is sparkling Shiraz; it's red wine and it's fizzy - who knew? - and makes for a winning combination in my eyes. We tried several as we made our way around the wineries. At our next stop, a short walk through the vineyards, I vowed that I would never again settle for a cheap bottle of plonk - not while there is such pleasure to be derived from the good stuff.
At the Peter Lehmann winery, we stopped for lunch, which consisted of an explosion of local flavours - thick-cut bread, brie, cheddar, pear chutney and beetroot relish, prosciutto and German sausage, almonds, olives and black pepper crackers. All this served to us on a veranda, overlooking the vines that gave us the wine we were sipping. As we continue our drive across the country, enjoying pasta and olive oil for lunch, olive oil and pasta for dinner, this lunch is the meal I shall fantasise about.
The last stop of the day was at the Langmeil winery where, fortuitously and unusually, their entire stock was open for tasting. This included the über-good-not-for-the-likes-of-you stuff which the wonderfully welcoming Lydia insisted we tried, one by one. Two very happy oenophiles stumbled back to their tent that evening and were tucked up, blissfully insensitive to their paper-thin groundsheets, by 10.30pm.