Thursday, May 31, 2012

Mr. D's Zinfully Sweet B-Day

Mr. D. dropped by to see us and hear some vacay stories. Since his b-day was just around the corner, we invited him to stay for dinner. We haven't had a whole lot of weather for al fresco dining yet this year. So, this seemed like the perfect opportunity to give it a whirl. If it's warm enough for Mr. D. to sport shorts, we can probably handle an entrée and some wine.

1143. 2008 Rustico Farm & Cellars - Bonanza Old Vine Zinfandel (Okanagan Valley)

This is the second bottle of Rustico that I've added to The List after running across the winery for the first time during the BC Wine Appreciation Society's annual bus tour last fall. Since I'm under the gun to catch up with my posts, I won't repeat those first impressions of the unique winery on the Golden Mile. (My incredibly fascinating commentary can be found back at #932.)

That first visit to Rustico was prompted by a sign proclaiming "The Zin is In" on the side of Hwy 7. Zinfandel is not commonly grown in the Okanagan - there might be a dozen wineries that make a Zin; so my interest was piqued. Turned out the wine was just as flavourful as Bruce Fuller, the man behind the winery. We're not talking big California Zin here; the wine has a bit more restraint behind it. However, it still has some heft for a BC wine and there was lots of dark fruit on the nose and palate.

And, if we can put a little zin into Mr. D's b-day, all the better.

1144. 2008 Orofino Late Harvest Muscat (Similkameen Valley)

We didn't have a cake for the birthday celebration but we did have anothe bottle of wine to toast with. Orofino is found one valley over from Rustico and I've added a number of its wines to The List over the life of this blog. This is the first dessert wine I've tried from them though and, if Mr. D. hadn't come over tonight, we likely wouldn't have popped the cork (or, rather, unscrewed the cap) for awhile longer.

Good thing he came by because the Muscat was light (as opposed to cloying) and just sweet enough that it could pair with Boo's rhubarb-strawberry pie. The aromatics were nicely escalated and I think it might relate to the label's mention of "a touch of old vine Gewürztraminer."

I couldn't actually find much information about this wine online but I believe the grapes are sourced from Orofino's estate vineyard on the Cawston Bench. When John & Virginia Weber purchased the vineyard, they inherited a block of Muscat that had been planted in 1989, making them some of the oldest vines in the Similkameen.

I would have liked to find out about the steps John took in harvesting and making the wine before we drank it, but it was a spur of the moment kind of thing. I suppose I'll have to wait until the next time we drop by the winery.

The only sad thing about this bottle is that we might not be able to find it any more as the vineyard's Muscat is now going into Orofino's new Moscato Frizzante. If that's the case, a bottle of the Frizzante sounds appropriate for Mr. D's birthday celebration next year.

I think we'll likely see Mr. D's name in the blog a bit before then however.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Spot Prawns and Tantalus - Tantamount

We never throw any shrimps on the barbee during of visit Down Under. So, what better preparation of last night's leftover spot prawns could there be?

As a local resource, spot prawns didn't garner local praise until recent years. The Spot Prawn Festival and higher end restaurants starting to prominently feature and advertise exciting dishes has definitely changed that. I adore the spot prawn season and am ever-so-glad that virtually the entire catch no longer goes to Japan.

They can be prepared in so many delicious ways and they match up beautifully with so many BC wines. Throw on a little olive oil and garlic - the prawns, not the wine - BBQ them up and serve them with some chilled wine on the patio. It's a match made in heaven.

We might have gone with an Aussie wine last night, but we returned to our BC roots tonight.

1142. 2008 Tantalus Riesling (VQA Okanagan Valley)

One of my favourite dishes deserves a favourite wine as well. I've added a couple of Tantalus wines to The List already but that was some time ago at #230 and #872. It's not like I can add huge numbers to The List, however, Tantalus only makes five still wines - Chardonnay, Dry Rosé, Pinot Noir, Riesling and Old Vines Riesling and their total production, all in, is less than 2000 cases. (I won't even list the two icewines and sparkling wines because they make so little of it that it's almost impossible to find them.)

The winery's vineyard is considered one of the great Riesling sites in the Okanagan. The site was originally planted with grapes in 1927 - long before anyone had even thought of the Okanagan as a wine region - and is one of the oldest continuously producing vineyards in the the province. Those original vines weren't the vinifera varietals that we see planted today however. Tantalus has some of the oldest Riesling plantings in the province but even those only date from 1978.

Tonight's wine isn't the Old Vines Riesling though. Tantalus Riesling uses the fruit from the 1985 and 2005 plantings and, I think, is actually more approachable for drinking at earlier stages. This bottle had a bit of age on it as well though. We tried this '08 back at a BC Wine Appreciation Tasting back in 2009 when it was a favourite of the crowd in a blind tasting when it was paired with two Aussie Rieslings and a French Alsatian wine. I'm a little surprised, actually, to find that we still had a bottle.

It still held up nicely though. Tantalus is known for its bracing acidity and the extra years had softened that acidity up nicely.

The BCWAS is hosting another joint tasting with the French Wine Society and they're going to feature a blind tasting of Tantalus and French wines. You know I'll be there and will be looking forward to it.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

A Welcome Home Bottle

So, here we are - back home after 3 weeks of Aussie wines Down Under and in Hong Kong - and what bottle do we open first? An Aussie one.

Poetic? Not really; it wasn't even one of the bottles that we brought back from our vacation. It was simply a wine that we still had hanging around and I thought it would go nicely with the real focus of tonight's "welcome back" dinner - spot prawns. The local spot prawn season and festival had just opened; so, I took advantage of an extra day off and headed down to the docks to wait for one of the boats to come in. It was worth the wait.

1141. 2007 Tahbilk Marsanne (Nagambie Lakes - Victoria - Australia)

This is the second Tahbilk wine that I've added to The List. It isn't a winery that we see much in the Vancouver market, but the Marsanne is the most likely find. I added the Shiraz to The List rather a long ways back at #323. At that time, I was surprised to learn that it is the oldest winery in the state of Victoria and the fifth oldest in all of Australia. It was established in 1860 - old enough that they refer to a cellar, built in 1875, as the "new cellar."

Age also comes into play with the Tahbilk Marsanne. The winery claims the oldest Marsanne vines in the world - their oldest vines having been planted in 1927. With just over 100 acres of Marsanne planted, Tahbilk has the largest single planting of the traditional Rhône varietal in the world as well.

An unoaked white that is white capable of ageing, it was quite different from most of the whites produced in BC. It was more rounded and full, with softer acidity and more subdued fruit. But the taste of our spot prawns didn't seem to be hurt by the pairing.

My test, upon having finished all the posts on Oz, will be to see how long it will take me to catch up on all my late posts. I wouldn't hold my breath if I were you. But, I'll have to give it the old college try.

A Final Stroll in The Pearl of the Orient

Not much time left before we have to head out to the airport for the flight home but the flight's not until later in the day; so we actually have the morning and early part of the afternoon to run around.

Keeping it fairly local seemed like the way to go and both the Flower Market and the Fish Market were only a subway stop from our hotel. We hadn't been to either and they seemed like a good way to start our final hours. The Flower market was bright and beautiful - with exotic plants and colours galore. The Fish Market, on the other hand, was certainly a bit different than what I would expect to find at home it I was going to the fish market. This wasn't a series of stores to buy seafood. I suppose that, in a way, it was but these fish weren't destined for the dinner plate. They were displayed in order to catch your eye so that you'd take them home for your aquarium.

A relaxing coffee was next in line and we decided to live a little and sit back in the grand lobby of The Peninsula Hotel. There's no doubt we were paying for the location because they were easily among the most expensive cups of java that Boo or I have ever had. And they weren't anything special. The machine at my office isn't far off on the quality and Boo could easily have whipped up a tastier cup at home. If nothing else, we can say that we took in the atmosphere that is The Peninsula.

Our next stop was a plaza just off the waterfront to have a little picnic - and finish off a bottle of wine so that we'd have one less bottle to take through Customs.

1140. 2009 Bowen Estate Shiraz (Coonawarra - Australia)

Bowen Estate was one of our stops during our afternoon in the Coonawarra. It wasn't a winery that I'd known anything about but a couple of the tasting room staff we'd run across mentioned it as a small, good producer. Family owned and operated, Bowen Estate only produces around 10,000 cases a year and only offers a Chardonnay, Cab Sauv and Shiraz, with the bulk of production being the Cab. Considering that the Coonawarra is best known for its Cab, it was somewhat surprising that both Boo and I gravitated towards the Shiraz after our tasting at the winery.

The winery's vineyard is located on Coonawarra's famous red, terra rossa soil and it did feature more red fruit on the palate that the Barossa Shiraz we tend to see in Vancouver. That's not to say, however, that there still wasn't some big fruit and plenty of spice there. We might have opened it earlier than we would have normally. The winery suggested holding it for 5-7 years - but that wasn't really an option with Canada Customs looming. We needed to pick one of purchased wines to be sacrificed and this was one of the more economical of our purchases.

I'm not sure that picnicking is all that common in urban Hong Kong. We didn't have much luck in finding shops that sold the treats that we usually pick up back home. We also felt that we needed to be as circumspect as we could with the wine - hoping that no one of authority came by to question us. I'd be surprised if drinking a bottle in public is permitted - tourist or not. Luckily, we didn't run into a problem at all though.

The end of lunch left us with one last stop and that was the Hong Kong Museum of Art. The Museum was featuring a show of Fantastic Animals in the Arts of China and there were plenty of magical creatures, legends and historically interesting pieces on display. This crown was only one small piece and it featured dragons, pheasants, butterflies, carp and kingfisher. It seemed like a good half of the museum was closed as new shows were being set up but it was still an interesting way to spend our final hour or so.

Hard to believe to everything was coming to a close on the vacation and that all that was left was for the long flight home.

And to see how Canada Customs was going to treat us when we reported that we had a dozen bottles with us - eight more than we were technically allowed. Fingers crossed.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Buddha, Bar & Monsoon

The good news, starting the morning, was that I woke up feeling a whole lot better than I did yesterday. The bad news was that it was our final full day in Hong Kong. There was no way that we'd be able to fit as much in as we'd have liked to, but we gave it the old college try and decided to focus on just a couple of activities.

Our first task was to take in one of the best known attractions in Hong Kong - the Tian Tan Buddha - or Big Buddha - on nearby Lantau Island. Boo and I were both struck and surprised in the enormity and scope of the project. Our journey started by taking a 20-minute gondola over the bay and up the side of one of the tallest mountains in Hong Kong.

Started in 1990, the Buddha was completed in 1993 and, at the time, was the largest outdoor buddha in the world. It is also unique among the massive Chinese Buddhas in that it is the only one that faces north. Apparently, the difference from the other south-facing statues is that the Tian Tan Buddha looks north to watch over China and the Chinese people.

The statue gets its name from the fact that the three levels forming its foundation are modelled after the base structure found in the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests at the Temple of Heaven, or Tian Tan, in Beijing. The 34-metre (112ft) tall, bronze buddha houses a museum and giant bell that is rung 108 times a day to symbolize a release from Buddhism's "108 troubles of mankind."

Po Lin Monastery is a short walking distance from the Big Buddha and was established in 1906 - a long time before the Big Buddha was erected. Originally a remote monastery, largely hidden by the green of the surrounding mountain, it was known as the "Buddhist Kingdom in the South" and served as an international retreat. Nowadays, it's likely visited more by tourists, like Boo and I, than by monks, it was awash with colour and incense.

I'm sure we could have spent a lot longer wandering around the site but Boo had another mission to accomplish - finding a chop to take home. After finding the chop market - there are markets for virtually everything here - he finally found one that will remind him of the vacation for many years to come.

Our final evening in Hong Kong started off with our meeting up with Whaler and Dane, our new friends thanks to Axel's and Tyrant's introduction. We were to convene in Central Hong Kong for drinks and dinner and - wouldn't you know it - a torrential downpour started just prior to the appointed hour. Naturally, we did not have an umbrella. Their familiarity of the area allowed us to skip the better part of the rain by cutting through various buildings and malls, but we were still rather drowned by the time we ordered our first cocktail.

I'd be had pressed to determine whether this rain was coming down harder that the storm we encountered in Margaret River earlier in the week but it was certainly longer lasting. We decided to wait out the rain and lightning show, but the intended one or two drink happy hour lasted a good two to three hours as I think a veritable monsoon was hitting the city. At least we had a window seat for the show, but by the time we left the bar, we had a bit of difficulty finding a restaurant that was still open for dinner. Luckily, the boys had a favourite that was willing to keep the kitchen open long enough for us to order dinner.

1139. 2010 d'Arenberg The Stump Jump (McLaren Vale/Adelaide Hills - Australia)

Facing Thai cuisine and a limited - and unknown - wine list, I stuck with d'Arenberg's white Stump Jump, a unique blend of Riesling, Sauv Blanc, Marsanne and Rousanne. Here we were on our last night out on the other side of the world and I was ordering a bottle of wine that I know pretty well from home, but I was pretty sure that it should match up nicely with the mix of spices on our plates. Plus, ordering it was a bit of a tip o' the hat to our recent visit to the winery when passing through McLaren Vale. We were so over our limits on buying wines that we couldn't pick up a bottle at d'Arenberg.

The boys were game to keep playing but Boo and I were sensing the end at hand. We opted to try and catch the last train back to Kowloon side and bid them "Adieu." As coincidence would have it, Whaler and Dane were going to be passing through Vancouver in the very near future. We agreed to do our best to meet up with them when they arrived. In the mean time, any further introduction to Hong Kong's famed nightlife would have to wait for another trip. Surprisingly, Boo enjoyed the city far more than he'd expected to and he'd already stated that he'd be willing to return somewhere down the line.

Asian Flu?

Today was pencilled in as the day we might take a side-trip over to Macau and see the Vegas of the Orient. I don't know if it was just the earlier parts of the vacation finally starting to catch up with me or whether there really was something to all those Asian flus that always hit the news in Vancouver, but there was no way I was up to a ferry ride to Macau. Making my way back to bed after breakfast was about as adventuresome as my constitution was ready to handle.

Ultimately, I wasn't about to spend a quarter of our time in Hong Kong flat on my back and I managed to wander a few streets in the afternoon. So, under the weather or not, we took in another couple of street markets - including the famous Jade Market - and made our way to the Hong Kong Museum of Art - only to find that it was closed.

We wandered around a bit in the Tsim Sha Tsui section of town and took in a shop that featured jade pieces worthy of any museum. Tiffany's should shut its doors when compared to this place. We didn't last long trekking about, however, particularly since we found out that our hotel had a complimentary Happy Hour. Nothing like a little tipple to pick you up from the flu.

1138. N.V. Louis Perdrier Brut Excellence (France)

Boo and I had taken quick looks in the wine shops that we'd run across in Hong Kong and it was abundantly clear that the city's residents appear to be in love - almost monogamously so - with French wines. The wines that we saw for sale must have been 90% French - and many of them were high end Bordeaux and Burgundy. There were no doubt many bottles of Champagne as well. But weren't served that this evening - despite the wine's being French.

I couldn't find out much about the winery itself and I no longer have the bottle to see if there was any additional information (such as a web site) on the back label. That was a bit of surprise. There's plenty of reference to where you can purchase the bottle - and it appears to be available worldwide (although not Vancouver) at a very reasonable price. (I saw a number of listings for around $10).

That being said, this is clearly a mass market wine and the one reference (that I repeatedly saw) to the grapes being used would seem to indicate that the grapes are at least being sourced from the south of France. The is a blend of Ugni Blanc, Colombard, Chenin, Folle Blanche and Menu Pineau and they are all fermented separately then blended prior to the second fermentation. During second fermentation, the wine is aged on its lees (spent yeast cells) to add a bit of extra body and complexity, including that biscuity flavour note that is immediately reminiscent of an actual Champagne. There was bigger fruit than you'd expect with Champagne. There wasn't much mousse (profusion of bubbles in the mouth) but the bead of bubbles in the glass was very evident and was continuous.

Hardly a wine to knock you socks off, but it's nicely made and a decent value at the lower price point. Plus, I get to add three new varietals to my Wine Century Club tally - Colombard, Folle Blanche and Menu Pineau. I'll take that over Asian Flu any day!

I will say that, when I asked the server if she could leave the bottle for a bit while I took a picture, I was quite surprised that she never came back to collect the virtually full bottle. We took to sharing it with the duo of African businesswomen that were sitting at the table next to us. So, if nothing else, the wine did lead to an interesting conversation with some ladies that we would likely never cross paths with in regular times.

Following Happy Hour, Boo and I wandered a couple blocks from the hotel to sample what was supposedly one of the best noodle houses in Hong Kong. A light and simple dinner - with no wine in sight - at what would likely be called a greasy spoon back home. But it hit the spot and was definitely tasty.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Hong Kong in a Day

Flying on points can really deliver some incredibly nasty flight schedules. At first, Boo and I needed to book whatever flight was available and that was going to route us from Sydney to Beijing to Hong Kong to LA to Vancouver. How messed up is that?! Since we knew that Perth was our last planned stop, we looked at other options and found out that, if we just left out Sydney this trip (been there, done that), we could fly to Hong Kong and head home directly to Vancouver. Worked for me.

Since we had originally allowed for a couple days in Sydney, we just revised the itinerary and spent that time in Hong Kong. Neither Boo, nor I had ever been there before; so, a brief stopover sounded rather exciting. It was certainly going to be a world apart from the more bucolic surroundings of Margaret River, McLaren Vale and the Barossa.

Our flight arrived early enough in the evening that we were able to venture over to the famous Temple StreetNight Market that was, conveniently, found only a couple of blocks from our hotel. A quick wander amongst the myriad of Angry Birds anything and everything, Mao memorabilia (we had to pick up the Obama in iconic Mao jacket and cap t-shirt) and iPhone covers of all sorts and we were ready to call it a night. I didn't know that Hong Kong is in the same time zone as Perth. That made the travelling a little more palatable but we were pooped all the same.

Knowing little about Hong Kong, we figured we'd need to fend for ourselves and suss out some city highlights. Axel and Tyrant came to the rescue, however, as they lived in the Pearl of the Orient for years and still had friends in town. Hoping we might arrange to meet up with Whaler and Polo for lunch and and gather a few tips, we'd hardly expected to inherit a personal tour guide of the first degree. After a leisurely and entertaining lunch, we sent Polo on his way as he needed to get ready to catch a flight himself. Then Whaler took us on a tour that we could never have managed to put together on our own.

After a bit of a walkabout through Mid-Town, we made our way up the old funicular to the Peak for the panoramic views of the city. It wasn't the clearest of days but the ride and skyline were something to behold.

We arrived late enough in the afternoon that Whaler suggested we dally a bit to take in dusk and catch part of the city lights from on high. Being Hong Kong - one of the world's most noteworthy shopping cities - there was, naturally, a little shopping mall at the top of the tramway. This would have been a marvellous location for a surreptitious bottle of wine; however, not having expected this to be part of the afternoon's planned events, we weren't prepared for such an eventuality. We and to settle for some Starbucks (yes, they're everywhere here as well).

The city did take on a whole different persona as the sky dimmed and the lights started to come on. Being from Vancouver, we're not exactly hard done by when it comes to evening skylines, but even though t
he afternoon's clouds and low lying mists were still with us, there was no doubt that Hong Kong's skyscrapers and Victoria Harbour are dramatic in every sense of the word.

Our adventure continued with the famous ferry ride across Victoria Harbour to Kowloon where we watched the combination of music, coloured lights outlining the building towers and laser beams piercing the night skies. We'd never heard of the daily event - despite perusing guide books and the internet - and, surely, would have missed it if left to our own devices.

By now, Whaler had been with us for nine hours and he still didn't take his leave. We were sure that he must have been tired of us; but when we asked for a restaurant suggestion, he insisted that he join us since he was hungry and was going to have to find some dinner in any event.

1137. 2011 Westend Estate - Richland Chardonnay (Riverina -Australia)

After all the higher end wines we'd been drinking Down Under, it was a bit of a surprise to be ordering more of an entry label wine from one of the largest wine regions in Australia. Riverina is a key workhorse of Australia's bulk wine production and, together with the neighbouring Murray Darling region, it produces almost three-quarters of New South Wales' entire annual wine output. It's the kind of label that rocketed the Aussies to the top of the affordable, everyday wine world all those years ago. It's also the sort of label that perhaps caused the malaise that's accompanied the opposition to the whole "critter-wine" category - even though there's no critter to be found on this bottle.

Another new winery for me (even after our Aussie tour), the Chardy wouldn't normally be a first choice for me. But it was unwooded and, with the wine list being rather limited, it looked the best option for our array of Chinese food. Back in Vancouver, you're pretty sure you've stumbled across authentic Chinese food if you're the only Caucasians in the restaurant. I'm not sure that holds true here, but it was definitely a bonus having Whaler with us. He not only knew what the menu items were, he could make sure that everything was coming as it should.

As for Westend Estate, it served its purpose. It had a bit of fruit on it and the acidity wasn't overbearing. In fact, it rather helped cut through the oils, sauces and heaviness of the food. I'm not going to hunt all over North American to hunt it down, but it wasn't a hardship on our part to finish it off.

With dinner done, so were we. Whaler escorted us back to the nearest subway station but still managed to take us by some of the more notable sights on Kowloon side - including the Peninsula Hotel and the 1881 Heritage site. It was certainly an eventful day - and a far more enjoyable one than we would have fashioned on our own.

And the best news was that we didn't even drive him batty. He offered to do it all over again if we wanted. Offers like that are hard to come by but we thought we'd just take some tips on some small days trips that we might look at and said that we'd get in touch for dinner and drinks come Friday.

Talk about your buzz-filled start to a city stay.

Random Aussie Thoughts

As Boo and I say farewell to our Aussie Wine Tour, I figured I should put to post some random thoughts that popped into my head along the way.

1) There's a great discrepancy between the wines and wineries that Aussies take note of versus the best known brands that we see in the Vancouver market.

2) Indeed, some of the most visible brands and labels that we see in Vancouver never seem to see a bottle shop shelf in Oz.

3) An Aussie's sense of "old vines" sure puts to shame any reference to the same that you might see regarding Okanagan wines. Contrast their 150 year old vines to our 25 (or maybe) 30.

4) Those old vines have noticeable "personalities." Two 80 year old vines will be as different as two 80 year old folks. Some are going to be robust, others close to packing it in.

5) Who knew that kangaroos cause havoc in the actual vineyards?

6) Most Aussie wines - both red and white - are bottled under screwcap for the domestic market. For the most part, corks are only used for the European and Asian markets.

7) There's a helluva glut of grapes currently being grown Down Under.

8) They can actually have bad weather and so-so vintages in Australia. Not everything is a multi-regional blend to ensure consistency from year to year.

9) There's a lot more emphasis on regionality - and even sub-regionality - to highlight soil and climate variation than you'd ever guess by the wines that make it out of the country.

10) There wasn't nearly as much organic viticulture in the vineyard as I'd expected. It seemed to be particularly sparse in the Barossa.

Our little tour was great for giving us a connection with the various regions that we were lucky enough to visit - and there's no doubt that we barely scratched the surface. If nothing else, the visit definitely whet our whistle to make our way back Down Under again sooner than later. You know there'll have to be some wine time as central part of any return. Here's hoping....

Friday, May 25, 2012

Hiding Sailor, Crouchen Riesling

Despite making a wrong turn on a highway exit - during rush hour none-the-less - and having to retrace so many miles of our drive back to Perth, we made it back to our B&B just in time for Happy Hour. Our host, Richard de la Haye, had already opened a first bottle. We quickly followed with a second.

1134. 2010 Pierre Naigeon Beaujolais (AOC Beaujolais - France)

I always enjoy seeing the wines that other people buy and I definitely found the choice of a Beaujolais in the farthest point of Australia to be an interesting one. Through most of our trip Down Under, wine lists - and often entire bottle shops - have been decidedly Australian. The Aussies are real home court drinkers when it comes to wine.

Then again, Richard isn't your everyday Aussie either - and, no, he doesn't wear his vintage naval outfit all the time. He did appear willing, however, to don it at a moment's notice. If only because, every time he sported the jacket, he got around to plugging his historical novel of Captain Bligh's untold story of forbidden love - Beyond the Capes.

I know as much about Pierre Naigeon as I do about the times of Nelson's Navy. But a little Google shows that Naigeon is a fifth generation winemaker who's company produces 50 different wines, including three Grand Crus and several Premier Crus Burgundian wines. The big reason for all the different wines is that they take single vineyard to the extreme with their Burgundian Pinot Noirs. They also make a number of village and regional offerings - and, so it would seem, at least one Beaujolais or Gamay Noir.

A simple and quaffable red for the Aussie heat. It was nice to come home to.

1135. 2010 Moss Wood Amy's (Margaret River - Australia)

As a thank you for his hospitality, we gave Richard a bottle of Moss Wood's introductory wine - which he graciously opened right away.

It might have been Moss Wood's introductory level but this was no light Beaujolais. It was a classic Bordeaux blend - with a touch of that extra, Aussie kick of dark fruit. Amy's is made from fruit grown on three of Moss Wood's six vineyards. The final blend for the 2010 vintage was 50% Cab Sauv, 32% Petit Verdot (don't see that too often), 12% Malbec and 5% Merlot.

I was particularly happy to fit in a bottle of the Moss Wood since we're only able to take one bottle home with us and it should be laid down for awhile before opening it.

Merlot Boy lined up dinner for our final evening and called up Bluey and Rosie, his newly transplanted Perth buddies, and they joined us for cocktails - performing an invaluable service by helping to finish off much of the remaining vodka. A few martinis to the good, we wandered down the street and found one of the local pan-Asian restaurants that populate the area. Scanning the wine list for something to match with pork intestines (Boo's and Rosie's contribution to the family style meal) isn't one of my strong points, but I did see a wine that piqued my interest.

I figured why not end the trip with another Aussie surprise.

1136. 2011 Brown Brothers - Crouchen Riesling (Victoria - Australia)

Crouchen Riesling sounded like a sequel to the movie, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. Turns out Crouchen is yet another varietal that I've never heard of before. The Crouchen grape originated in the Western Pyrenees of France; however, it's hardly grown there anymore. Writer, Jancis Robinson, notes that there are records of the grape being shipped to South Australia in 1850, where it was long confused with Semillon, "which Australians were wont to call Riesling." It was called Clare Riesling until 1976 when French ampelographer (or grape classifier), Paul Truel, toured Australia and identified it as the little known French varietal. The grape is also grown to some extent in South Africa where it is often called Cape Riesling.

Crouchen is hardly a popular varietal in Oz though. In the mid-2000's, there were maybe 250 acres of the grape grown in the whole country.

This blend from Brown Brothers (the winery that also brought the Tarango grape to my attention for the first time) is 2/3's Crouchen and 1/3 Riesling. Light in alcohol at 9.5%, the wine was a touch off-dry and it had a good whiff of passionfruit on the nose and taste on the palate. The sweetness actually did match well with the spices and curries that coursed through our plates as well.

My guess is that I'm not too likely to run across this varietal very often. So, a last minute addition to my Wine Century Club tally is a nice little going away present from our little Aussie adventure.

It was grand of Merlot Boy and Margarita to fly across the country to join us in Perth and Margaret River. They helped make our visit all the more fantastic. As sad as it was that our trip was coming to an end, I suppose all the untasted wines and missed locales will just spur us on to come back again.

The realization finally hit us that it was time to click our heels and prepare to leave Oz. Our 4.30 wake-up call wasn't all that far off. So, with good-byes to good friends all in order, we shuffled off to finish packing - and to count the number of wine bottles we were still lugging around. With both of us facing a two bottle allowance at Canadian Customs, we figured we were going to have to face the reality of paying extra duty. Bugger. I think the trip was worth it though.

Moss Wood

It's Boo's and my final day Down Under; so, we need to make it count. Our time throughout the trip has simply flown by - but especially here in Margaret River. We haven't even been able to take a tour of the "farm" part of our Farm and Breakfast. So, the four of us took a bit of a wander around Burnside Organic Farm before we needed to check out and move on.

Our hosts, Jamie and Lara McCall have put 15 years into developing their property into the inspirational and productive home - and business - that they have. Their 70-plus acres is now an "intensive, certified organic farm." They not only strive for self-sufficiency for their own family in meat, vegetables, fruit, wine, milk and cheese (that a neighbour makes for them from their milk), but they have commercial production of eggs, macadamias, avocados, capers, olives and animals.

Not to mention a bit of wine to boot.

Our little tour may have barely allowed us time to wander around the perimeter of the farm, but it did leave us wishing that we had time to experience more and actually learn about the operations at hand.

The farm backs onto a national park that offers even more trails for hiking and biking - none of which we got to enjoy of course.

So much on offer, so little time to enjoy it all.

I really regret not having had a chance to chat to the McCall's about their small wine operation. They currently only make the Zinfandel that we tried last night; however, the hope is that, over the next couple of years, their preparation of the land and planting of Vermentino - a white varietal of Italian heritage that is rarely grown in Australia - will give them a white to go along with the Three Boys Zin.

It's not a foregone conclusion that the Vermentino will work out. The vines are being dry-grown from the start and they're still a ways from fully establishing themselves. With all the roos cavorting and feeding in the neighbouring fields - and jumping fences - the dry farming is only one hazard that these vines will have to overcome.

I can only hope that we'll get the chance to return to Margaret River to experience the parts of Burnside Organic that eluded us this time - and get the chance to try some of the Vermentino yet to come.

As our last Margaret River discovery, Lara had arranged an appointment for us at Moss Wood. I knew nothing of Moss Wood prior to our visit - except that I'd heard I should grab a bottle if I ever ran across one. They don't export to Vancouver but I'd heard talk of them at a wine event where two independent folks sang the winery's praises. A smaller scale, premium producer in the region, visits to Moss Wood are only available by appointment and only on certain days. Thankfully, Lara, being a local from down the road, was able to wrangle a visit for us.

We were originally met by Erika, a transplanted Seattleite, who started us off with a bit of the winery's history. I think that, when the first question out of anyone's mouth was "what do you use as a clarifying agent," she quickly realized that we might be a tad longer than the average group of visitors. Since she had to leave shortly to head to an event in Perth, she ran to grab Moss Wood's assistant winemaker, Richard Vuletic, who took over from there. When we'd first arrived, Richard was involved in racking off their current vintage of Chardonnay and Erika said that she could tell that he really wanted to interact with patrons in any event.

Richard continued with the tour and, not only regaled Boo with more scientific information about the making of wine than we could ever likely comprehend but, impressed Merlot Boy and Margarita with their virgin barrel samples. Those samples included some of that Chardonnay that he'd been racking off - thereby giving our two Melbournians their first ever taste of wine that was still in the initial stages of crushing and fermenting as well. We were told that, despite Chardonnay's current stature as one of the foremost Margaret River varietals, Moss Wood's vines were among the very first planted back in 1976. The Chardonnay planting was experimental at the time. It appears to have succeeded.

Richard's very informative talk may have blinded us with science, but it was also the most comprehensive discussion of various decisions that need to be made during the winemaking process that any of us had ever been party to. Merlot Boy and Margarita both stated that they had no idea there were so many different avenues or approaches that could be taken. Clone choices, malolactic fermentation, canopy management, yeast choice, accentuating phenolics, they all popped up. And each one of the decisions to be made can lead to entirely different results. When the winery only produces around 13,000 cases in total - and that includes two distinct brands - those decisions need to be made with upmost care.

Our opportunity to try the barrel tastings - and taste the resulting wine from those decisions, especially Moss Wood's flagship Cabernet Sauvignon - was particularly agreeable since the winery doesn't really do tastings of their bottled wines. It can be difficult for visitors to sample wines when there is no specific tasting room. When we finally went to buy a couple of bottles, we found ourselves shuffling off through the winery offices. The first look we got from one of the staffers was classic "Who the f*ck are you?"

With our bottles in hand, it was time to say good-bye to Richard - and to Margaret River. The road back to Perth was beckoning but we were all glad that our little jaunt ended on such a high note. Indeed, Merlot Boy was so enamoured with the tour that he offered to fly out to Perth to be a picker during the 2013 vintage. Richard said, "Absolutely." If M.B. seriously looks into it, I'm going to be awfully tempted to find a way to join him.

Lamb on the Barbee

We'd rather over-shot our allotted time at Cullen Wines and, accordingly we didn't have much time to take in more wineries before the cellars doors started shutting down for the day. Our host at Cullen suggested that we just carry down the road for a bit and check out the good things that were being done at Brookland Valley. I'd never heard of Brookland before but we certainly had no reason to disbelieve young Stuart. Little did we know that big name, Aussie wine writer, James Halliday, and his much anticipated annual wine guide picked Brookland Valley as Australia's winery of the year in 2009.

Found in a very picturesque vineyard, the cellar door also played home to a museum of old tools of the wine trade. Being somewhat rushed for time, we didn't give the tools the attention we would have otherwise. Tasting the wine just seemed a little more important.

An average vintage at Brookland Valley sees about 50,000 cases being made - primarily of Chardonnay, Shiraz and Cab Sauv blends. We were told that 95% of Brookland's wine is marketed at their entry level, Verse 1 label - and I did recall seeing that label for sale in some of the Melbourne bottle shops we visited. The Verse 1 wines utilize fruit that is sourced from a number of growers in the region as they have a goal of producing a consistent flavour profile and find that using fruit from the diverse sub-regions in Margaret River helps to overcome vintage variations in individual vineyards. The two more premium Estate and Reserve labels use only estate fruit, however.

I quite enjoyed the 2009 Estate Cabernet Sauv Merlot, particularly the vibrant nose on the wine, and - I suppose not surprisingly - I learned that the wine won one of only two gold medals in its category of about 50 wines at the 2010 Margaret River Wine Show. Too bad we couldn't take any home with us.

By now, it was 4 o'clock and we were definitely running out of time - particularly since we still had to do some shopping for dinner and we weren't sure how late the shops in the not-so-thriving metropolis of Margaret River would even be open on a Sunday afternoon.

One of the wineries that I'd really wanted to make it to was Stella Bella. I'd only ever seen or tried one of their wines previously - having been particularly attracted to the label, the name and the fact that it was from M.R. Luckily, I'd quite enjoyed the wine as well. Their wines don't seem to make it to our market much, but how could I not visit a winery with a premium label called Suckfizzle? Our rather late arrival didn't seem to bring out the cheeriest nature in the gal running the cellar door counter and she didn't deviate in the least in the range or designated number of wines that we could try for the set tasting fee. It wasn't the most engaging visit we'd had on our trip - having come from the other side of the world - but she was cordially to the point and, at least, delivered the goods.

Perhaps, if we'd allowed more time, we'd have learned and seen a bit more.

Much to my delight, what we did learn, however, was that our B&B hostess, Lara, wasn't kidding when she said that we can generally sit back on our patio and watch any number of kangaroos come out for dinner in the adjacent field. It would seem that the roos were as enamoured with the organic produce as I was. And, regardless of whether any of the others were as excited as I was, this definitely called for a glass and a toast.

Knowing that we only had two nights left in-country, Boo and I still had to finish off some of the bottles that we'd picked up along the way. We were well over the limit of bottles that we could bring back to Canada without paying additional duty. Merlot Boy and Margarita would, hopefully, fulfill their friendly duties and do their share to empty a couple bottles.

1129. 2011 Torbreck The Bothie (Barossa Valley - Australia)

First stop was a dessert wine we'd picked up back in the Barossa. I'd known all along that we still had almost two full litres of vodka that we'd picked up in the Sydney Duty Free Shop. Seems there hadn't been as many martinis along the way as had been expected. Luckily, the folks at Torbreck had concurred that The Bothie would work well in a vodka martini. A cocktail to watch roos by - what could be more of an outback tradition than that (even if we were rather displaced from any genuine outback)?

The folks at Torbreck note that "On a highland trail the place to stop and rest when weary is known as a Bothie." Seemed appropriate for our situation. Made from the Muscat à Petits Grains grape, the wine's fermentation is arrested part way through the process by the addition of brandy spirits, thus retaining the natural sweetness of the fruit.

The wine was fresh and lush and was way better as a wine than it was as a mix for martinis. As such the martinis were rather fleeting and there was plenty of Bothie left in the bottle come the end of the evening.

And, as fate would have it, I haven't previously added the varietal to my count for the Wine Century Club. This is the fourth varietal I'm adding to my tally while on this trip Down Under (and I wasn't done yet).

1130. 2011 Stella Bella Pink Muscat (Margaret River - Australia)

Our tasting at Stella Bella might not have been the most exuberant but that didn't mean we didn't like the wines. Inspired by Italian Moscato d'Asti wines, it was interesting in that we'd picked up this wine since it's made of Muscat Rose à Petits Grains, a variation of the Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains used in the Torbreck wine.

And that means I get to add yet another varietal to my Wine Century club tally.

Unlike The Bothie, this isn't fortified with spirits. Rather, it's residual sweetness is kept in check with some nice acidity. I didn't notice any bubbles, à la a Moscato, but it was definitely an easy drinker and one that we'll likely never see at home in Vancouver.

With the easy drinkers out of the way, it was time to move onto some wine with a little more heft. After all, we'd put Merlot Boy - being the true Aussie that he is - in charge of throwing the lamb on the barbee. I can't believe that I don't have a picture of him grilling away, but I suppose I must have been over grabbing some greens and veggies from the garden or revelling in the fact that I'd finally managed to hear a kookaburra laugh. I'd been dying to hear one as Margarita said there were definite signs of them nearby and early evening was the best time to hear them calling out.

1131. 2008 Burnside Organic Farm - Three Boys Zinfandel (Margaret River - Australia)

Seeing as how we were staying in the Burnside Organic Farms Bungalows, it wouldn't have been right not to try one of their wines. Like Cullen Wines, who we visited earlier in the day, Burnside's vineyard are biodynamic as well. Burnside is just a little newer to the game of winemaking. Lara and Jamie McCall planted their first vines in 2001 and 2002 and they decided on planting Zinfandel - not the most common of varietals found in Margaret River, but they'd tried a Zin made by Cape Mentelle and thought that was the way they wanted to go. They expanded the Zinfandel planting in 2005 but they still only made 600 bottles of Zin in 2008. In fact, we were lucky enough to get the last bottle of the 2008 vintage. The B&B was currently selling the 2009 bottling but Lara said that she'd recommend the '08 as she thought it was a little fuller and more layered.

Despite the limited production, the wine is made on the farm. As their site notes, "with Jamie busy looking after the vineyard it was up to Lara to learn how to make wine." This was a far more subdued wine when I thought back to the big-fruited California Zins we generally run across. It seemed much more along the lines of an Old World approach. Our whirlwind of a visit to the region didn't allow us to take a tour of the farm's facilities or really sit down and discuss the whole winemaking scene with the McCalls but I would surely have loved to. Guess we'll just need to revisit Burnside some time down the road.
Should we only be so lucky!

1132. 2008 Stella Bella Shiraz (Margaret River - Australia)

Much to my delight, Merlot Boy picked up a bottle of the Stella Bella Shiraz to go with the lamb. It was actually a bottle of the 2002 Shiraz that tweaked my interest in Stella Bella and it made it to The List back at #156. That seems so long ago now.

By now, all our teeth were rather stained. Looking at some of the shots, I might need to learn how to photoshop some brighter teeth for all of us. At least we were still able to pose for a picture. Some of the later shots of us as we were singing Stop In The Name of Love and Call Me Maybe to the kangaroos (we were rather isolated, thankfully) will not be making it to the blog.

Like the Zin, the Shiraz was certainly more subdued than the Barossa wines we'd encountered earlier on. It seems like this is just part of the general nature of Margaret River wines. I'm afraid, however, that I wouldn't trust any of my tasting notes by this time of the evening - even if I'd taken any.

We weren't quite done yet though.

1133. 2010 Cape Mentelle - Trinders Cabernet Merlot (Margaret River - Australia)

Whether or not we even needed another cork popped is debatable. It appeared that Merlot Boy and Margarita were going to face just as many issues as we were in being able to transport wine home. Neither one of them had brought along checked luggage and taking wine onto the flight was going to prove to be a task. Hence, Merlot Boy said that we had no choice but to open another.

I don't know if we even saw any straight Merlot varietal wines at any of our M.R. wineries. I gather Merlot is used more for blending than being a signature grape for the region. Merlot Boy had to have at least one bottle that gave a nod to his namesake grape though. The blend contains all five main Bordeaux varietals; however, with 44% Cab Sauv and 42% Merlot, there wasn't a whole lot of room for influence by the Cab Franc, Petit Verdot or Malbec.

This may seem hard to believe, but even hard-core Aussies and vacationers eventually need to call an end to the evening. We'd not only had a very full day but we still had another one coming up. I figure, if nothing else, we did a pretty good job to still be standing though. Who knows what the kangaroos thought of our serenade though?

Knowing this was our last night in Margaret River was a sobering thought however.