Friday, May 11, 2012

Footy at the MCG - Swords Aloft

OK, I realize that this is going to be a lot of pictures for one bottle of wine. What can I say, Boo and I are a couple of camera queens, but I think we manage to capture the odd decent shot when we're doing the whole tourist thing.

It's our first full day in Melbourne and we're hitting high gear already with one of our most anticipated activities on the trip - Aussie Rules Football and the Melbourne Cricket Club! We're rather ecstatic about the fact that Merlot Boy's beloved Hawthorn Hawks are playing the Sunday afternoon game and he's finagled us some spot-on tix in the Past Players' Section.

The game wasn't until the mid-afternoon; so, we decided to hit one of the local markets and pick ourselves up a picnic. One of the most intriguing wine memories I have from my first visit to Oz, almost 16 years ago, was that a wine producer had a fill-up your bottle operation going on at the spectacular Queen Victoria Market. I'd never seen anything like it before. You could just bring your old re-sealable bottle and fill it with your wine of choice for next to nothing. Turns out that Swords Select is still operating out of the Queen Vic (and three other locations) - however, you are no longer able to bring along your old bottle to fill. Health concerns have now dictated that Swords has to sell bottles that are already washed and filled by the time they hit the market - but the special 1-litre returnable bottles are still a big part of Swords' "3-R" motto - "Return. Re-use. Reduce."

Grabbing a bottle of Swords' wine was a critical component of the picnic.

Seemingly in contradiction with Swords' environmental outlook - but entirely in sync with Aussies and their love of a touch of the booze - the shop also had individual take-away glasses of wine for sale. You buy a sealed glass of either red or white and, voilà, you're set for a quick lunch or afternoon break. Now, that's taking convenience to a new level - although I have no idea what the wine tasted like. I originally thought they were cute, wine-themed candles. I only cottoned on after Boo pointed out the reality of the display. I can think of more than a couple occasions when a glass like this might have come in handy.

With our shopping done, the three of us wandered through Melbourne's Royal Botanical Garden as it was a perfect route on our way to the MCG. The initial shot in this post is from a newly opened section of the Garden - the interestingly named Guilfoyle's Volcano. The installation has been in place since 1876 and was used, historically to store water for the Gardens. Having laid idle for the past 60 years, it has been restored to form a critical component of the Garden's water management strategy - not to mention a stunning display of cacti, succulents and aloes, all with a grand view of the city skyline.

After a bit of a tour, we finally decided to settle down for our picnic on another corner of the Garden. With a quiet, grassy lounging area and 240° view in hand, we broke into our Kangaroo prosciutto (which even Merlot Boy had never seen before), cheeses, dips and, naturally, wine.

1106. 2008 Swords Select Cabernet Sauvignon (Coonawarra - Australia)

As mentioned, Swords specializes in selling 1-litre, returnable bottles and it's a family run operation that has now been around for 20 years. They don't actually own vineyards, grow grapes or produce the wine. Rather, they purchase excess wine from other wineries and re-brand it. We were told that many of those wines actually come from some big name producers that just had too much product. As such, Swords isn't allowed to advertise which wineries provided the wine.

They currently offer eleven different varietal wines and they ranged from our Coonawarra Cab to a Margaret River Chardonnay, a Yarra Valley Pinot Noir and a Victorian Highlands Riesling. An all-encompassing assortment that can't really be matched by a traditional winery.

Our's wasn't the most substantial of Cabs but an easy-drinker was really what we needed - given the circumstances. We needed to finish off our litre prior to the game since we wouldn't have been able to bring along a half-finished bottle. Seems even the Aussies have this thing about bringing your own booze into sports stadiums. We also wanted to be able to make it through the game without becoming too drunk or obnoxious. After all, I'd decided to wear some Canucks clothing to the game and didn't want to draw too much attention to myself. I'd wanted to wear my jersey but it was just too hot to sport a full hockey jersey.

I'd asked Merlot Boy, in advance, if he foresaw any problem with wearing another team's colours to the game. I figured I didn't need to be showered in beer. He advised that there'd be no problem. No one would know what a Canuck was - plus, he surmised that stadium beer would be far too expensive to waste on giving some bloke a shower anyhow. He did point out, however, that wearing rival colours of some of the other Melbourne footy teams might have curried an entirely different result.

I'm happy to say that we proudly finished off the wine and an assortment of many beer at the game. The Mighty Fighting Hawks of Hawthorn were playing the Adelaide Crows, but it was hardly a barnburner of a game. Everyone was pretty happy though once the Hawks built up a pretty substantial lead - although we were sitting in an area that seemed to have a substantial number of Crows fans. The MCG is massive and is capable of holding just shy of 100,000 screaming fans for the big games - and we met a couple real characters among the day's fans, particularly in the Ex-Players' Lounge. Oh yeah, that was just another little perk that Merlot Boy had been able to fit into the itinerary. While we weren't in a luxury box per se, incredibly, we were on the same level and had access to some pretty special seats.

I don't think I'll get into the story here, but should you run into me, do ask about the old cracker and the interest he had in my wine glass.

We'd been looking forward to this outing for months and we were pretty much pleased as punch as the game came to a close and we joined the throngs of happy Hawks fans. I don't think they run into too many Canadians that know the basics and intricacies of Aussie Rules and I think we might have even kept up with the Aussies drink for drink.

Where we go from here, who knows?

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