Monday, April 16, 2012

A Bubbly Reception

After months of waiting - and an 18 hour flight over the Pacific, Equator and International Date Line (somehow we managed to leave on the 12th, arrive on the 14th and avoid Friday the 13th) - Boo and I have finally set foot in Oz. Melbourne, to be exact. And, we couldn't have asked for a more delightful reception. My old high school confidente, the lovely and talented Sheila, met us at the airport and briefly played tour guide as she whooshed us off to our hotel so that we could settle in and ready ourselves for the upcoming evening's extravaganzically swellegant cocktail party that our old drinking bud, Merlot Boy, had conjured up with Sheila to welcome us.

Merlot Boy had rounded up a dozen of his closest friends - at least those that were willing to play welcome wagon to a couple of old Canucks - and, in true Aussie style, readied himself to ply us with booze and appies.

In amongst all the revelry, I learned an interesting facet of Aussie life. As much as you think that stereotypical Australia is a nation of beer-swilling, back-slapping, sports-loving dudes (which I'm still not convinced it isn't), they love their sparkling wines. I was rather gobsmacked by the fact that every single guest brought along a bottle of bubbly to the party - and Merlot Boy swears it wasn't a pre-announced theme. Sure there was plenty of beer and vodka, but I'd be somewhat surprised if a single person brought along a bottle of bubbly to a Saturday night soirée back home - let alone every person.

I suspect there are going to be more than a couple bottles of wine added to The List during this little vacation. So, I might as well get started.

1101. N.V. Sir James Pinot Noir/Chardonnay Cuvée Brut (Australia)

First sip and it's a wine I've never seen before - something tells me this is going to happen a lot on this trip. Sir James is apparently produced by Australian juggernaut, Hardy's, and while I'm intimately aware of them, it's probably more because of their higher end wines that are often served at Australian Wine Appreciation Society events back home. This might be more of a local bottle but it is a classically made sparkler that is classic enough in its flavour profile that I could see it filling a nice niche if they could bring it into our market at the $14 price point it seemed to go for here.

1102. N.V. Omni Classic Sparkling (South Australia)

I'd never run across this next bottle before either. I subsequently discovered that Omni is produced by Accolade Wines - and I think Accolade must have been Constellation in an earlier lifetime because Canada's own Inniskillin and New Zealand's Kim Crawford are part of the almost forty brands that make up Accolade's portfolio and I know they were Constellation wines. And surprise, Hardy's is also part of the same family. My guess is that Omni is as much a marketing product as it is a serious wine for Hardy's since the website for Omni consists as much of girly tips and bachelors of the year as it has anything to do with wine. Not that there's anything wrong with bachelors of the year, mind you.

On the other hand, the site does say that their Classic is made from "traditional" varietals - not that they mentioned what they were traditional for. I also found another site that says the wines are bottle fermented which isn't that common for wines at this price. Finally, a third site states that the winery is based in the Southern Flerieu region in South Australia. That area is located right below McLaren Vale and Boo and I will be there in a little over a week from now. Perhaps this wine will be even more "Omni"-present in that area.

As a bargain wine - it comes in at under $10 - I suppose I can see how this might be an easy grab for warm weather on the patio. I very much doubt that we'd find anything equivalent back home in BC. I might be tempted to save it for Mimosas if some of the other bottles we tried tonight make a concurrent appearance though.

1103. 2007 Seppelt Original Sparkling Shiraz (Great Western/Grampians - Victoria - Australia)

Mere hours into our first day in Oz and here we are running into our first Sparkling Shiraz. Gotta love that! Now Seppelt I've heard of before - although I think I've only ever run across their fortified wines. If I remember correctly, they were also bought up by one of the big consortiums (not Accolade by the looks of it) and there have been number of changes ongoing with the Seppelt brand.

We are starting to see Sparkling Shiraz on more of a regular basis back home, but they tend to be higher end bottles (like Barossa Valley Estates Sparkling E&E) or basic introductory guzzlers. If we can continue to run across bottles like this at approximately $25 throughout this trip, I'll be a happy Bob.

Sparkling Shiraz isn't going to be everyone sip of choice, but I think it works nicely in big Aussie temperatures. I'm looking forward to sampling my fair share and the Seppelt website states that it "has had more experience with this unique Australian wine style than any other winemaker. Although there are no precise records, it appears the winery was experimenting with sparkling red wines as far back as the 1890's." I think we got off on the right foot here.

1104. N.V. Pirramimma Eight Carat Chardonnay/Pinot Noir Cuvée Reserve (South Australia)

I saw no mention of Pirramimma winery on the bottle (but then I didn't take the empty home with me) but I saw a number of references to the connection online - not that Pirramimma's own site refers to this brand. The winery does have several ranges and labels; so it's entirely possible that Eight Carat belongs to the well-established family winery. I'm familiar with the winery's big reds but had no idea that they delved into bubbly.

As mentioned, this trip is going to a bit of an eye opener.

1105. N.V. Grant Burge Pinot Noir/Chardonnay Brut (Eden Valley - Australia)

Last but not least is the Grant Burge. Another sparkler made in the traditional method, it was yet another example of a classically noted wine - without having to go the full Champagne route. Priced in the mid-$20's, I could easily see my grabbing a bottle of this at home as well. Not that I've ever seen it in Vancouver. We do have some Grant Burge wines at home but, like all of the other bubblies, this one just doesn't seem to cross the Pacific to our shores.

Each of the bottles was opened in succession. So, I never did taste any of them side by side or take any tasting notes. It had been a long journey getting there after all. Who takes notes? I vividly remember the Shiraz though and know that I poured myself a little extra helping of the Grant Burge.

With all these bubbles, it would seem that sparkling wine isn't just for weddings, landmark birthdays and special occasions Down Under. Unless, of course, our arrival was like a national holiday or something similar. With all the attention and spoiling we received today, I'm thinking "royal visit" or something like that. If the rest of the country proves as welcoming as Merlot Boy, Sheila and the gang have been, we're in for one helluva trip.

Bring it on.

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