31 October 2011

I like this one, no this one ....

One of my favourite holiday past times is going wine tasting. I fancy myself a bit of a wine connoisseur and love going to vineyards and pretending that I can taste grass or green or mumbling knowingly about legs and good years. I suspect however, that it all ends up like an episode of Absolutely Fabulous. Me as Eddy or Patsy in a tasting room in France, completely paralytic, snorting and pointing to glasses saying "this is the one, no this one, no this one."

So over the years, I've pushed open (fallen through) the odd cellar door, and I thought I would write about a few of them here. These are not necessarily recommendations, rather they are a collection of experiences, from around the world which I hope to substantially add to over time.

Canava Roussos Vineyard, Santorini, Greece
September 2011

We went to this vineyard following the recommendation of the rather handsome barman at our hotel, Hotel 28, Kamari. If I'm honest, there are probably vineyards in Santorini that have more spectacular views. Santo Wines for example has a much more picturesque vista and I met a couple who got married there and the photos look spectacular. However, Canava Roussos was within walking distance of where we were staying in Kamari and it was owned by the family of the hot barman.
The Vineyard claims to be one of the oldest in Santorini, and uses many of the traditional methods of wine making they have for over a century. If you are after a glitzy, and polished experience, this probably isn't for you, however there was no hard sell and it felt like a very relaxed and earthy experience.

From Kamari, you reach the winery by walking up a long, dusty path past all the white washed buildings and blue and white churches you would expect in Santorini. The vineyard itself is small, has a nice tasting area dripping with vines and grapes, a small amphitheatre and an area where you can view the barrels and traditional production methods.

They offer two types of tasting, dry and sweet and I obviously did both! Each had four varieties of wine and cost a few euro. Santorini is known for its dry white wines, the most famous of which is which is often blended to make a Nykteri wines. This is perfectly suited to my taste as it is very dry, but has a distinctive and slightly misleading honey, sweet smell.
I ended up spending a fortune, which I always do, and one of the lethal errors of going to vineyards and making a purchase decision after a few glasses of wine. My favourite was probably a sweet wine made from the Assyrtiko grape or Vinsanto which had a lovely plummy-burnt caramel-figgy taste. Served perfectly cold and utterly delicious. It may be worth noting that the tasting rooms close fairly promptly at 7pm, so don't expect to hang around for the sunset in the summer.

Mudgee Vineyards, New South Wales, Australia
November 2005

I was a vineyard virgin when I went to Mudgee and it was perfect for a first timer. I went upon the recommendation of an expat friend of mine who claimed this was the less commercial sister of Hunter Valley and the one Sydney siders tend to choose for a more authentic experience. I guess it's about a three hour drive outside Sydney on a mainly fairly dull drive, although you can stop off at the Blue Mountains en route if you choose (which we did).

I went with my brother (Bordeauxboy) who was a wine tasting novice at the time but has since taken on wine tasting as a professional hobby. We were camping at the Mudgee Valley Tourist Park and hired bikes nearby, as you can reach a range of wineries by pedal.
I loved Mudgee for a number of reasons. Firstly because it was utterly unpretentious and very, very cheap. None of the wineries charged for tastings which I was later to discover is an absolute rarity (I'd love to know if this is still the case today as this was several years ago). Secondly, every person working the cellar door was friendly and knowledgeable and seemed genuinely grateful of the company. Thirdly, the measures were generous and free flowing.

This was also the first time I tried Ice Wine which is a fortified wine made from grapes that have been frozen while still on the vine. Before this day I had formed the opinion that I hated dessert wine, but drinking this delicious, cold, clean wine completely changed my mind for life.

The whole experience was perfect for me as I knew little (nothing) about wine. Wine tasting can be a slightly pretentious and snobbish affair, and sometimes the clueless can be sneered at. However, there was none of this here. Just friendly helpfulness, and wine that kept flowing.

The result was a very drunk Pinotnoirgirl and Bordeauxboy doing some rather Kamikaze cycling around Mudgee. We also got dive bombed by territorial magpies, adding to the immense gratitude for our cycle helmets.

Hunter Valley, New South Wales, Australia
November 2009

So I thought it only fair to include Mudgee's big sister, Hunter Valley.

An exceptionally full of life Kiwi friend of mine drove that day. So I was lucky that I had her company and also that I didn't have to drive. From Sydney, you can easily go there and back in a day. When we went, an art exhibition was taking place called Sculpture in the Vines. Which meant we could sup wine, beer and (not) champagne while looking at a range of slightly bizarre, but very fun, art. They also hold a Jazz in the Vines event which my brother has been to which he thought was excellent.
There are lots and lots of cellar doors to choose from, and although more commercial than Mudgee, the place still oozes with the friendly charm that Australia does so well.

A couple of highlights were having a "Sticky Experience" at the De Bortoli cellar door which merited a mention just for the name. I enjoyed six different types of fortified wine including a (not) Tawny Port and the famous Noble One Dessert Wine. We also supped some (not) champagne overlooking the vineyards at the Peterson House tasting rooms. It was called a Champagne House then, but I notice it has since been changed to sparkling wines, I assume due to champagne appellation laws. We had a delicious meal and enjoyed some delicious wines in a beautiful setting.

To make our tasting experience complete (and to cement the future hangover) we went to the Hunter Beer micro brewery which is located at the Potters Brewery and resort. As a lover of alcoholic ginger beer, it was great to find some spicy litre bottles here that we could try and buy.
Needless to say, my head was lolling all the way back to Sydney, with my very sober friend looking on disapprovingly. Until we got home, and proceeded to finish off most of the wine and beer we had bought during the day.

I'm going back to Syndey soon, and I definitely plan to make a trip here again.

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