After five days in Sydney, five days in Melbourne was the next stop on our Australian vacation. After my time in Melbourne, I found that it was very similar to Toronto with its many cultures and global food scene. I was quite at home since I'm Canadian. However, if I had to choose a wine region, it would definitely be Victoria over Niagara. Our first wine region to visit was the Mornington Peninsula, just south of Melbourne on Port Phillip Bay. We had the most fantastic guide from Elevate Tours who designed the most perfect day that took us from boutique wineries to the large corporate type!
Our first stop of the day was at Yabby Lake Vineyards, which make wines from their own vineyards, and also from the ones they have in Heathcote. From the Mornington Peninsula vineyards we got to try their Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. From their Heathcote vineyards, we tried their Grenache Rosé and Shiraz. Although it was the middle of winter in Australia with the fireplace roaring that morning, the Grenache Rosé stood out as my favorite. One thing I've noticed about Australian vineyards is their use of local artists. Many of them use local artists to design their wine labels and to provide sculptures for their gardens that are part of their restaurants. Like it Hunter Valley, they had just finished their winter pruning. However, I was able to find a photo of their vineyards from their website to see the difference between the summer and winter months.
The second stop of the day was at Moorooduc Estate, which ended up being my favorite vineyard that we visited during our time in Australia. I can finally say after visiting this vineyard that I like Pinot Noir now. For the longest time, I never cared for the variety even though I should since I've been told during my studies that Pinot Noir is always one of those varieties that people like in the wine industry. However, I always found it too earthy for my taste until I tried Australian Pinot Noir, which is very fruit-forward, but still has some earthiness to it. One our way out, Ric pointed out the winery's unofficial mascot, a peacock. He said the it just showed up one day because it had been cold and raining, and it needed some shelter. However, the peacock never left, and has made its home in the outdoor café.
After our day in Mornington Peninsula, I looked for Moorooduc on restaurant wine lists, and did find it as part of the wine list of fine dining establishments. Though it's a small boutique winery, it definitely has a premium reputation in the region.
Our third vineyard was Quealy Wines, which was the most interesting stop we had made during our tour. In addition to tasting the wineries Pinot Noirs, Muscats and Pinot Griogios, we also got a private tour of the winery. The age their wines in either oak barrels or concrete vessels. Some of the wines are even aged in amphorae, a container that the ancient Romans used to store their wines. It was the first time for me to see these type of vessels.
As usual, I took photos of the vineyards so that I could remember the type of pruning methods. Although I thought I was far enough from the vines, the winemaker came out and told me that I needed to be further away. This is quite understandable since Australia has some of the strictest quarantine measures for entering the country. Vineyards are especially worried about contamination since visitors can easily contaminate the vineyard with simply the soles of their shoes. After this visit, I noticed that the other places we had visited often had fences to make sure visitors don't walk through the vineyards.
Although the Pinot Noirs were among the best I had in Australia, the highlight of the visit was the resident koala, Kooki, who has been living in the eucalyptus tree outside the tasting room for the past 13 years. Ric told us that she is incredibly protective of her tree, and has chased out numerous suitors over the years who have tried to share the tree with her. This was the very first time for me to see a koala in the wild, and since then I've been watching way too many koala videos on Youtube.
In addition to the Youtube videos, I've become very interested in the loss of habitat for the koalas in Australia. On our way home while we were waiting for our flight back to Tokyo in Sydney, I came across the Save the Koala foundation at a gift shop that was selling hoodies to raise money to protect these endangered animals. One of the first things I'm going to do once I get a full-time job in the wine industry is to become a sponsor for a koala that lives on one of the protected reserves throughout Australia. The organization allows you to "adopt" a koala for a year, and your adoption fees pays for the koala's food and medical care. You can even visit your adopted koala!
The last stop of the day in the Mornington Peninsula was Port Phillip Estate, which is one of those mega estates that has holdings in many different regions. It started out as a very small winery, but it now has 20 estate and single vineyard wines. There's a hotel with fining dining and a top-class tasting room that makes up the estate. Despite the size of the estate, it uses biological farming and everything is hand-pruned and hand-harvested! It was a cloudy and drizzling when we visited since that's typical winter weather in the Mornington Peninsula, but in the summer, you can see all of Port Phillip Bay from the restaurant! I bought a bottle of their flagship wine, the Ferrous Pinot Noir, which I'm supposed to lay down for about 10 years. It'll definitely be a challenge to keep it for that long in my cellar!
One of the first wine regions I wanted to visit during our two weeks in Australia was the Hunter Valley, which was just over a 2 hour drive. Along the way, we could see just a bit of the blue mist coming off of the Blue Mountains to the west of us. The blue mist is actually a fine mist of oil that comes off of the eucalyptus canopy covering the mountains. It was winter in Australia while we were visiting the vineyard areas, so most of the vineyards we saw had just finished up their winter pruning.
Our first stop of the day was at Audrey Wilkinson, the oldest vineyard in the region that was established in 1866. That was one of the main reasons we wanted to visit, but also to try their flagship Shiraz and Semillon wines. The tasting room staff were fantastic, and I had such an incredible experience there. Since I had my notebook, one of the staff asked me if I were studying wine, so I mentioned that I was planning on taking the WSET3 exam. Well, out came a flight of Semillon wines that were not part of the tasting menu. The staff had just had a special Semillon training, so they gave me the same experience where I got to taste both young and aged Semillons to see how they evolved over the decades. The young ones were typically neutral in character while the older ones developed beautiful honey and toasty notes. Near the end of my Semillon training, the manager came into the tasting room and the staff told her about my studies. She then told them to give me a blind tasting with their red wines. I was able to give the profiles of both of the wines, and even pick out one of them as their Shiraz, but I wasn't able to guess the other variety, which was their Malbec. It was my first time to try an Australian Malbec, so I couldn't compare it with anything in my "wine memory." After such a fantastic experience, I couldn't imagine how the other places on our itinerary for the rest of the day could live up to the one at Audrey Wilkson Vineyard!
The next stop was at Peacock Hill Vineyard where I had one of the best Chardonnays I've ever tasted in my life. I was quite lucky since our guide had arranged for me to meet the owner/ winemaker who did the tasting with me. I had told him the I was preparing for the WSET3 exam, and he then started to quiz me on my knowledge of the vine cycle and tested me on the impact of the vineyard cycle on each stage on the wine. He also took me out to his vineyards, and explained how they had done winter pruning this year, and told me to keep a lookout for the kangaroos near the entrance gate. I had asked him if they caused any damage to his vineyard, but he said that they most just use the vineyard as a napping place during the day, and that they only eat the grapes during the droughts when they can't find water. I can definitely say that the Australians like the New Zealanders roll out the red carpet to any guest who visit their tasting rooms and vineyards! Truly incredible hospitality!
The last stop of the day was at Pepper Tree Wines, which was absolutely beautiful with its guesthouse and tropical gardens filled with bird of paradise and poinsettia flowers. Pepper Tree is a little different from the other places we had visited in the morning since it produces wine from its vineyards as well as vineyards from other regions, like Orange, Coonawarra and Wrattonbully regions. This type of sourcing is indeed one of the benefits of producing wine in the New World. The cellar door was one of the best I've ever visited with its high-rise wood beam ceilings. Again, once the staff knew I was studying of the WSET exam, they brought out other wines that weren't on the regular tasting menu to help with my studies. I've noticed that in Australia and New Zealand that tasting room staff and winemakers really want to share everything they know about with their visitors, and to make them feel comfortable at their vineyards since wine can been intimidating if you're just starting out.
I've heard a little about celebrity wines - those who are wealthy enough to invest in their own vineyards and wineries. However, I never gave them much thought until I read Mike Veseth's, Extreme Wines, a book that "seeks out the most outrageous wine people and places." There was no mention of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie's Miraval wine from Provence, but it's one of the few celebrity wines I've seen in Tokyo. I decided to picked myself up a bottle and try it out. I was a little worried about the price since I had seen the average price as ¥7,000 on the Vivino wine app, but I was able to get for the bargain price of ¥3,000 - a ¥2,500 to ¥3,000 price tag gets you a decent bottle of wine in Tokyo. I absolutely loved it, especially since it's been scorchingly hot and humid all week!
For those who've requested my Sunday luncheon recipes, here they are for you to try on your own. I find many of my recipes from the Food Network, Martha Stewart and the New York Times, but I always end up tweaking them, especially when it comes to adding more pepper or decreasing sugar.
I type up my recipes in a simple format so that they're easy to read and print out. For photos of the plated dishes, you can see my previous post. Enjoy!
For today's luncheon, we started off with a arugula salad with blueberries, pecans and feta cheese drizzled with balsamic dressing and a watermelon gazpacho. After, the pasta dish was a pesto linguini with zucchini and ricotta. The main was one of my favorite dishes to make, Chicken Provençal with red onions and lemons. Finally, we finished up with a peach-pecan torte with lemon glaze served with vanilla ice cream.
Here a list of the wines from my luncheon, as well as the tasting notes for them. I didn't think the five of us would make it to the Amarone della Valpollicella for after dinner, but we sure did without any trouble at all.
I love having friends over for wine pairing luncheons and dinners a few times a year. Since it's 35˚C in Tokyo now, I wanted to keep the luncheon and wines light. I never thought that a group of five would make it to a dessert wine, but I did finally get to pop open my Amarone della Valpolicella. It's not a dessert wine, but it did stand alone deliciously well after the peach torte.
One of my guests asked about the Amarone grapes, and there is always ones of the grapes from the blend that I forget! This time it was Rondinella. I definitely need to remember Corvina, Corvinone, Rondiella and Molinera for my upcoming exam!
Before I took my WSET2 course, I had taken a five-week wine tasting course at Temple University, an American university in Tokyo. One of the teaching assistants introduced me to the wine app Vivino since I was just starting out in wine. For those not familiar with the app, it allows you to scan a wine label and then it lists all the essential information about the wine, such as region, variety, average price, and evaluations from users. It's free to download, but you do have to pay extra for the 'premium version.' I found this incredibly helpful when choosing wine since I wasn't familiar with all the wine regions and grape varieties. The ratings and evaluations are hit-and-miss at times. You have expert evaluations that you would get from a professional wine taster, but at the same time, you also get "nice and fruity" comments and ratings from those who don't realize red and white wine are different. I find that I don't use the app as much now since I have more confidence in choosing my own wine, but I still do check it for second-opinions when I can't quite figure out a wine profile on my own.
If you want to read more about this app, Forbes Magazine had a feature article about it when it first came out in 2012. They coined it the wine app for 'normal people."
Since I've started to learn more about wine, I find myself with quite a few bottles at home now. To the point where I need to keep track of them. I found Vinoteka, a Prague-based software company, has an easy-to-use program that you can download from the Apple app store to use one you laptop. It's a little pricey at ¥4,200 (about $40 US) on the Japan Apple App store, but the graphics are definitely worth it. It's a lot of fun to use, especially since you can upload snapshots of your wine labels and attach them to bottles so that they actually match the ones you have at home! More importantly, you can type in all the necessary information about each of your wines, and the program backs up all of your information. Although this is supposed to be just for wines that you cellar, I also use it to keep track of all my tastings. There's even a 'wine tasting note' feature. My only concern is about transferring all the data when I have to get a new computer. The program does backup all the photos of your wine labels, but I'm not quite sure how the program backs up all the information you input for each wine, especially since there isn't a 'cloud' option for storage. In the meantime, I've made separate PDF files of all of my wines and tastings just as a back up.
I've found that all the tips WSET gives you to test appearance, nose and palate are very useful. You can find my WSET3 notes below if you're interested in these hints. Keep in mind, I've also add other information I've come across to these notes as well. Nevertheless, identifying aromas and flavors is a whole different story, especially if you've never comes across some of the aromas and flavors. For example, the first time I ever came across quince was just this year in Melbourne when it came with a cheese plate as a type of jelly. Quince, by the way, is a tart Asian apple that is often made into aromatic jellies and jams. Anyways, I found Wine Folly to be an incredibly useful source in helping me to identify aromas and flavors. The book list the aromas/flavor profiles for all of the wines covered in WSET2 and almost all of the wines in WSET3. When I do tastings at home, I turn to the profile of the wine I was tasting and read through all the possible aromas/flavors for the wine. I then smell and taste the wine to see how many of the aromas/flavors I can match to the ones in the book. What I really like about Wine Folly is that it points out the different profiles you'll come across for a variety in a cool, moderate and warm climate. I also often use the Wine Folly color descriptors since they offer more nuance than the WSET ones.
When I do tastings at my local wine shop, I try my best to get as many aromas and flavors as possible. When I get home, I check them against the Wine Folly profiles, and add any that I might've missed or couldn't recall at the wine shop. I've found that doing this again and again has been a great help in building my "wine memory."