03/07/2009 85 °F
It is another beautiful day, so we decided to head up to the Hunter Valley to sample some Australian wine.
The Hunter Valley is about a 2 hour drive north of Sydney. The river valley contains ample water and the cooler climate provides a great environment for grape vines. Red grape vines dominate the hills (they do better in the drier weather), but white grape vines are also abundant. Over 100 wineries are located in the area, some family-owned wineries having surviving 5 and 6 generations. At 10:30am we arrived at the first winery, time for the drinking to begin!
Our tour group only had 9 people, so we were a pretty intimate group (especially when 5 of us already knew each other). We started off in true fashion, as the first winery had 9 bottles for us to sample. One of the nice things about doing wine tasting is that you are free to try wines you normally don't drink. I typically shy away from white wines, but since the samples are free, I took one of everything they offered. We tried 3 whites, 3 reds, and then moved to the desert wines. The first winery was known for their port wines, so they had several for us to sample. I wasn't too familiar with port wines, but they are a wine that has been fortified (brandy was added) to stop the fermentation and boost the alcohol content. Port wines are usually sweeter and are served as a desert wine. Typically ports are red, but this winery had made a white port as well. They were excellent, a nice strong finish to complement the smooth tasting wines sampled previously. Downing 9 wine samples in 25 minutes had greased our wheels, and we were chomping at the bit to get to the next winery.
The next winery was only around the corner, so we were there in 5 minutes. Knowing the routine now, we lined up along the bar for the tasting to begin. The second white we tasted was called The 'O', which stood for "over ice". Immediately I thought of Office Space. Jason and I kept making our 'O' faces after every sip and making the 'O' sound.
We moved on to the reds, eventually getting to a Shiraz called GSM. Shiraz is generally regarded as the top type of wine that comes out of the Hunter Valley. The environment is very well suited for the grape (or so I was told). Throughout the day, the Shiraz wines were actually the most diverse and best tasting wines. The GSM was the best wine I had tasted at that point on the tour. The girl behind the bar explained that it stood for "gimme some more", but then whispered to us that it also stood for "great sex making". Dawn, Greg, and I each bought a bottle.
Since we were making such great time, our tour guide suggested we go to an extra winery before lunch. Of course he got no objections from us. 6 more samples later, it was time for a break from wine and to get some food in our bellies. We got some food from a line of cafes, ate in the sunlight of the absolutely gorgeous day, and then lounged on the grass while the rest of the crew finished their meals.
After lunch we had a sit down tasting where we were actually served wine (the other places had all been a walk-up bar). It sounded like a nice idea, but I preferred being able to move at my own pace instead of waiting for everyone to chit chat about the wine after trying it out. After completing the tasting at this winery, it was time for a different type of tasting—a cheese tasting.
I love cheese. I have missed the cheeses of the US. In Australia there is no American cheese, no Monterrey Jack, no Colby Jack, no Pepper Jack, no Munster, and I could go on for all day. The tour guide said that this place had every type of cheese imaginable, so I couldn't wait to finally get something other than Australian 'Tasty' Cheddar. The cheese tasting followed the same pattern as the wine tasting as we all stood along a bar while a lady passed out the samples. We tried a varierty of cheeses, each one seemed to be even better than the next. She also passed around a sample of chocolates. As I tried each cheese and chocolate, I could easily see why certain types of cheeses and chocolate compliment wine very well. After the cheese tasty, we wandered around the cheese hut trying other samples of cheese and bread. Eventually we made our way to the gelato where Jason found his perfect ice cream—"it's a gay time!"
Unable to pass it up, Jason and I each got a cone. The girl didn't understand why we thought the name was funny. After finding out we were American, she explained that Gaytime is an ice cream sandwich in Australia. We finished our ice cream, hopped on the bus, and made our way to the next wine tasting.
After one more winery, it was time to start making our way out of the Hunter Valley. On the way out, we stopped at a beer brewery to do a little beer tasting. The brewmasters only made a small amount of beer, enough to pay the bills and allow them to experiment with new recipes. The beer was very full flavored, a nice relief from the typical Australian lager. Jason took extra tasting samples while I prayed the beer prayer. We snapped a few more pictures and got back on the bus. Our day through the Hunter Valley was over and we headed back down into Sydney (although having to stop every 30 minutes for bathroom breaks).