Sunday, May 13, 2012

A Last Look at Melbourne

Hard to believe that it's our last day in Melbourne already. As such, we've decided that another day of pounding the pavement is in order.

Luckily our hotel isn't all that far from the Central Business District and our walk straddles the Royal Botanical Gardens and the Shrine of Remembrance - a memorial to honour ANZAC soldiers that fought in WWI. The Memorial was in particularly fine display as it was being spruced up for the memorial services scheduled for next week's ANZAC Day.

I'd visited the Shrine many years ago but didn't know that you could climb to a roofline balcony that offers one of the best views of the Melbourne skyline available. Historical tales of ANZAC soldiers landing at Gallipoli were all over the news during our stay in Melbourne. It only seemed fitting to visit - not to mention moving and instructional.

Nest up was a quick stop at the Melbourne Arts Centre to take in an exhibit showcasing pre-eminent aboriginal paintings of ancestral dreamings. I find such pieces to be fascinating. I only wish we'd had the opportunity to take in one of the spotlight lectures that were being offered during the show's tenure.

A couple tram rides later, it was the Queen Vic Market - one of my absolute favourite attractions in the city. Trying to decide what to nosh on is a ridiculous task. I need a week to just shop here daily so that I can try something exciting for dinner night after night. Our little street-side luncheon would have been an ideal opportunity to add another bottle to The List but this hadn't been a planned stop for the day's tour and we weren't prepared in the least. Settling for coffee doesn't help out when it comes to wine blogging - but it was undoubtably better for our livers.

Visiting a cemetery is pretty much a pre-ordained stop on any trip with Boo. If there's a cemetery of note that's remotely accessible, I know we'll be headed there. The gal manning the front desk at our hotel this morning pointed us in the right direction; however, she wasn't so convinced that there was much of note to take in. Boo later told her, happily, that she under-sold the site. Melbourne Central might not be the equivalent of or as interesting as cemeteries in Buenos Aires, Paris or New Orleans, but it still gives an insight into some of Melbourne's history and development as a city. I'm sure there were many more stories to be had but there were no tours planned during our stay here. As an example, who knew that Elvis has his own tomb here in Melbourne? I can't recall having seen an elaborate memorial in a cemetery for someone who isn't actually buried there.

As our feet quickly approached their own death, we made the touristy mistake of confusing the trendy shopping allure of Brunswick Street with Brunswick Road, the latter being found in the near-by suburb of Brunswick. Naturally, the Street is not located in the suburb - and, having arrived at Brunswick Road, I can tell you there was no confusing it for a trendy shopping and dining mecca. Luckily, a local cyclist shed a little light on the situation for us and the two areas are only a short tram ride and walk away from each other.

More coffee was in order before we were scheduled to meet up with Merlot Boy for a little dinner and adventure on our last night in town.

Trust MB to know a couple of lovely spots to take in a cocktail or two. From street level bistro to tiki room cool, we had a great little start to the evening. We might have been able to cover all colours of the wine spectrum - red, white and rosé - at our first stop but, unfortunately, we never ordered an actual bottle. Still nothing to add to The List. On the other hand, we learned that an enterprising Aussie has mastered - and upped - a Canadian tradition. I'd never heard of smoked maple syrup. Nor would I have guessed that it blends nicely with bourbon-based libations. I think I'll have to follow up on that at home. I see a "guest liquor" posting on the horizon.

We finally managed to put a full wine bottle in front of us when Merlot Boy's bud, Bluey, joined us for dinner. We'd met Bluey at the cocktail party MB threw for us the other night and we quickly hit it off with him. If it weren't for the fact that he lives on the other side of the world, I think he'd make a fitting regular as a drinking buddy on the blog.

1111. 2009 Artadi Estate Tempranillo (DOC Rioja - Spain)

Dinner proved interesting in that you might have expected haggis on the menu of a restaurant named Robbie Burns - as opposed to the paella and Spanish tapas we ordered. That also explains why I'm adding a Spanish wine to The List despite being on an Aussie walkabout. The wine list was composed of nothing but Spanish wines; so we didn't have an alternative. That in itself was a different approach than we've come to expect in Oz.

As little as I'd expected to be sipping a Rioja with dinner, it was a nice wine - and it did fall under my primary goal of drinking wines that I'm not familiar with at home. Artadi is a largely organic and biodynamic producer in the Rioja Alavesa region - with its vineyards having among the region's highest altitudes. The winery was established approximately 25 years ago by Juan Carlos Lopez de la Calle and has garnered heavy praise and scores for its premium releases - including a 100 point score from none other than Robert Parker, he from whom all points flow.

Our bottle of the "Estate" Tempranillo is Artadi's entry level Rioja - and it clocks in locally in the mid $30 range (bottle shop prices, not restaurant). That's a good hunk of change for Spanish wines back home, but then Rioja DOC commands a premium over most of the other Spanish regions. Plus, all but one of Artadi's other Rioja wines range from $148 to $572 on their Aussie distributor's price list.

The Tempranillo matched up nicely with our Spanish fare. Funny that. It was nicely balanced with enough body that it neither faded against nor overpowered our food. We could easily have devoured a second bottle but our waiters more-or-less disappeared as soon as our food arrived. An unfortunate loss for all involved - particularly since this was to be our final stop of the evening. Both Merlot Boy and Bluey had early starts to the upcoming day and Boo and I had to ready ourselves to hit the highway as early as we could since we had a full day of driving - on the wrong side of the road - ahead of us.

And, on that note, we bid "adieu" to the lads and to Melbourne nightlife.

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