Friday, May 18, 2012

Barossa Bounty

With 150 wineries to choose from over two days, we needed to start making tracks early. Even if we sort of hit ten producers yesterday at Bibu Barossa, there was precious little time for lounging around.

Cellar doors don't tend to open before 10.00 or 11.oo though; so, Boo and I ventured to the Barossa Farmer's Market just outside of our home base of Angaston. As was re-emphasized in Melbourne, local markets are one of my favourite pastimes on vacation. I love seeing what might be unique to the regions we're travelling in - despite the fact that I rarely get to indulge in more than one or two of the local delights. Case in point here, I could easily have been swept up in some regional honey, the organic meats and cheeses, fruits that were cheap like borscht - but what would we have done with it all? I couldn't even grab a bouquet of proteas as much as I would have loved to. Back home, a single protea goes $7, let alone an entire bunch.

Wandering through the market was fun all the same - plus, there was a chance for a coffee before our day of drinking kicked into gear.

We didn't plan any formal appointments for today. We figured we'd simply play things by ear and stop wherever our fancies took us - after all, if we wanted to bypass one winery, there was always another close at hand. The one play in our game plan that we had determined in advance was that we'd start the day's adventure at Torbreck. I'd heard of the winery before but didn't really know much about them; that was until one of their wines rocked both Boo's and my worlds at a charity event back in Vancouver, just before we left for Oz.

On the way to Torbreck, however, there was a unscheduled visit to some of the Barossa's past inhabitants. If I have a jones for markets, Boo's weakness is cemeteries and there was no denying him this opportunity. We're not talking the grandness of Buenos Aires, Paris or New Orleans here; if anything, the frugality and sensibility of the region's German heritage shone brightly. Simple, small and to the point. The accompanying picture was likely the most extravagant of all the burial plots; however, we loved the fact - and chuckled a bit when we noticed - that "Auf Wiedersehn" (German for "good-bye") was carved into this family cross.

Markets. Cemeteries. I was starting to wonder if I was ever getting to taste some wine?

Luckily, there was no shortage of wines to sample at Torbreck and I was gobsmacked with the wines that our hostess, Emma, was pouring. As a rule, Torbreck wines are on the premium end of the pricing scheme and, much to our surprise, we started with the 2007 The Pict - a 100% Mataro (or Mourvèdre) that goes for $187 a bottle. That was followed by the 2009 Les Amis, a 100% Grenache that clocks in at the same price. Perhaps our favourite of the day was the 2008 The Factor, a 100% Shiraz, that could have been our's for $150. With only 600 cases having been made, it was quite a treat.

That's not to say that we didn't try the $30 2010 The Loon (a unique Shiraz/Marsanne blend) - that we loved by the way - or their entry level 2010 Woodcutter's Shiraz which was the wine that piqued our interest in Torbreck back home. But I can't see there ever being a chance that such a premium tasting would happen for a casual visitor back home. First off, I doubt there are many (if any) BC wines that can realistically sport a similar price tag and, secondly, I don't think they'd ever be open and available to taste at a cellar door.

It was a lengthy - and thoroughly enjoyable - tasting, particularly when we were joined by some happy-go-lucky wedding participants that we happened to see last night at Bibu as well. We were even joined by the winery's "pet" Huntsman Spider, Molly, who had to be the size of my outstretched hand. Thankfully, Molly was shy enough that she kept to herself off to the side behind one of the rafters.

A healthy number of Torbreck wines are available in Vancouver; so, we limited ourselves to a bottle of their dessert wine - since it likely wouldn't make to our market - but I surely would have loved to splurge on a mixed case. I'm certainly going to keep my eyes open for all things Torbreck when I get back to Vancouver.

Our next couple of stops weren't quite as eventful - except, of course, for the fact that Whistler Wines has a kangaroo compound adjacent to the tasting room where you can wander around and get up close and personal to some of the iconic animals. It was a very busy tasting room though - granted it was midday Saturday - and we couldn't have much of an all-encompassing discussion with our hosts. On the other hand, we were the only folks at Rolf Binder Veritas winery but we weren't feeling much love at all there. It almost seemed like our dropping in was an imposition for them. There was no interaction and no description of the wines. So, we simply tried a couple and quickly moved on.

One of the wineries that was a bit of a must-see visit was Barossa Valley Estate. Ever since I met their wildly charismatic winemaker, Stuey Bourne, almost ten years ago, I've taken a hankering to their wines - particularly the E&E Black Pepper Shiraz and Sparkling Black Pepper Shiraz. Wouldn't you know that mere months before I finally have the opportunity to visit the home of yet another $100 Shiraz, Stuey has left the building and moved on to new digs down the road. It was worth the visit whether in the company of Stuey or not, even though BVE was incredibly busy as well. I think they had a bus check in for lunch at the winery restaurant just before we arrived; however, they eventually got everyone settled in and gave us their full attention - and a comprehensive tasting of some of Stuey's old babies.

The balance of our afternoon was spent at Seppeltsfield - and what an afternoon. Regular readers of the blog will already know of my love for fortified wines. That love is such that I might be hard pressed to choose between farmer's markets and fortifieds if I could only have one of them in my life from now on. Well, Seppeltsfield is pretty much the nirvana of fortified wines. They probably make 30 different tawnys, port styles, sherries, tokays and muscats - and, to top that off, many of those are back vintage specialties.

The winery is celebrating its 161st anniversary this year and they still have barrels of their wines that go back over 100 years. We were advised that they continually get requests from folks that would like to buy something from their birth year - except that those birthdays were 60, 70 or 80 years ago.

We almost ran the gauntlet on their wine list. I'd have been happy taking virtually any one of the fortifieds home with me, but I think the smile would have been particularly wide (if not exactly bright because of all the red wine stains from the day's tastings) if I could have just figured out how I might bring a 10 litre jug of their 10 year old Tawny home with me. Bulk Tawny - I have to really work to wrap my mind around the whole concept.

God, I love Australia!

Boo and I were particularly thankful that we met up with Wayne - the Cellar Coordinator of the broken arm and bright blue cast - and that, as our host, he brought out some of their biggest guns for us to try. At $250 for 500ml, the XO Muscat and XO Tokay were sublime. I can tell you there was no spitting by this point.

Indeed, Boo even succumbed to the lure of Seppeltsfield and made the decision to buy a bottle of the XO - whether I could fit it into our customs limit or not. I wasn't about to try and dissuade him; however, I'm looking forward to seeing what kind of event he deems worthy of such a pour.

Having finished the XO, it was time to make our way back to Wroxton Grange. If the rest our trip takes a similar course, I think I might enjoy this trip.

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