Monday, May 21, 2012

Next Stop: McLaren Vale

As much as we might have wanted to extend our stay in the Barossa, we really did need to hit the road - and, a long and winding one it was.

Boo was continually amused by the "watch for" wildlife signs. I'm sure we must have warning shots of kangaroos, echidnas, koalas and, now, emus. We never actually saw any critters crossing the road; so, I'm wondering if the signs are simply posted for the tourists, but we certainly kept our eyes open.

As mentioned, the road to McLaren Vale was fun driving. Damien Smith, our new buddy for life at Chapel Hill Winery, forwarded us a scenic route to follow and, indeed, it took us through winding hills, bucolic countryside and quaint towns - all while avoiding the main highway. Only problem was that we didn't have a map and our GPS, Marco, kept wanting to take back to the interstate and have us "reach our destination" all that much sooner. I had to reset Marco after reaching each town - Birdwood, Oakbank, Bridgewater, Aldgate, Upper Sturt, I'm sure you get the picture. By the time, we hit Ironbank, I figured we must be getting close to the end. After all, there was only Cherry Gardens and Clarendon to go. Why not just program Marco for Chapel Hill.

Things seemed good.

At first.

Then we hit a road that was definitely not so much like the others. It was still windy and hilly - but now it was dirt. Yeah, and I suppose I shouldn't leave out the potholes that were aplenty. We carried on for a couple miles and concluded that this likely wasn't the intended road - and we immediately began thinking of a couple dirt roads we encountered driving in Oman some years back. They got so bad that we had to give up on the sites we were off to see and just turn around. We hadn't quite reached that point yet - especially since Marco kept telling us to keep going - but we were definitely wondering.

Ultimately, it became evident that we were on a service road that took us by a regional water reservoir. We kept our fingers crossed and kept going and eventually reached some residential countryside. Marco was still egging us on; so, we followed his lead. Luckily, the road was smooth from there on but we definitely wondered for a bit.

Our destination, however, was everything we could have hoped for AND MORE! I'd met Damien at the Vancouver Playhouse Wine Festival over the last couple of years and he set me on to Chapel Hill's accommodation as a travel option. He casually mentioned that the winery had some rooms that I might be interested in. Little did I know that we'd arranged to stay in the most luxurious guest house around. Not only did we have the guest house to ourselves but it immediately fronted onto one of the estate vineyards, was well-located to visit other wineries and had its own little garden that we were encouraged to make use of when it came to meals.

Heaven! Which might be entirely appropriate seeing as how we're staying at Chapel Hill.

Our delayed start and extended road trip set us back a bit and we didn't arrive until late afternoon; so, Boo wanted to settle in and take a bit of a nap. I ran down the road to fit in a quick wine tasting at Coriole - one of the neighbouring wineries that Damien suggested I visit. Known for its Italian varietals that compliment the regular Aussie grapes, it was intriguing to try Fiano, Sangiovese, Barbera, Sagratino and Nebbiolo. They weren't exactly all that reminiscent of the Italian bottles we see back home though. There was no way I was going to be able to pick up any more bottles to take home, but I surely would have liked to bring along a bottle of Sangiovese Shiraz. I'm not sure I'll run into that blend on many more occasions.

I did have to thank my host at the cellar door. I saw she had a computer there and she graciously let me check the score of the Canucks playoff game. I figured the game would be over back in Vancouver and I'd been praying that the Canucks might pull out another win and bring the series back to 3 games to 2. No such luck. L.A.'s mastery of the boys had continued and we lost it in overtime. Buggah!! Thankfully, she quickly poured another glass of wine to help drown the sorrow. I did think it was rather cheeky of the bloke at the bar though when he asked if I was going to start a riot after the loss. I guess word of last year's Stanley Cup riot had even reached rural Australia. I told them that the only riot I was looking for was a "riot of flavour in my mouth."

On returning to Chapel Hill, Boo and I took a bit of a wander through the vineyard just before dusk started to settle in. Unfortunately, the grapes had all been harvested but it was still a great introduction to our stay and to what was to come in the day ahead. Damien and the winery gang recommended that we carry on down to the Hotel McLaren - a celebrated and historical hotel in the region that offered up tasty tucker and a great wine list. They'd actually just filled the last table in the dining room and there were no seats together in the bar; so, they offered to seat us out on the balcony - despite the fact that none of the locals were out there because of the weather. The hotel staff figured that, since we were Canadian, we wouldn't have any problem with the cool night air - besides we'd end up with the best view of the ocean and Adelaide in the distance that the restaurant had to offer. We took them up on the offer and things weren't as bad as we might have expected when they turned on an outdoor heater.

Damien had told us, excitedly, that the Hotel had a great wine list - with superb prices. He didn't mention the best part of the wine list - and that's that there is no wine list. Rather, you simply head downstairs into the hotel's cellar and look through their extensive collection and pick your bottle. I don't know if I've ever seen such an array of Aussie wines. I'm sure that virtually every iconic winery (if not wine) was represented there. That was one fun room to dawdle around in. If only I had one just like it back home.

As it turned out, however, I didn't go with one of the big guns that was available. Rather, I don't think I had any choice except to pick a very reasonably priced wine from a winery I'd never heard of before. It didn't even have a label that was so eye-catching that you were compelled to buy it. I think you'll understand though.

1117. 2006 Halifax - Coach House Cabernet (McLaren Vale - Australia)

For those of you that don't know, my last name is Halifax and I had no idea that there was a Halifax winery in Australia - or anywhere else for that matter. I'd have likely risked the bottle regardless of the circumstances, but I figured it had to be at least a half decent plonk considering the company that it was keeping. And, you know what, it was better than half decent and well beyond plonk. We had it with one of the best lamb chops I think I've ever had in my life and the wine matched it beautifully.

The label didn't tell us an awful lot, but, upon leaving the restaurant, I found out that Halifax is a small boutique winery in the region that's been around for for a dozen years. They only make about a thousand cases and most of that is Shiraz, grown on the winery's estate vineyard. The proprietors (who are named Butcher and Tasker, not Halifax) aim for single vineyard wines that see minimal interference, with little oak and no filtration or fining. They have made wine with grapes from other vineyards when the right fruit presents itself and where the growers share a similar outlook on production. The fruit for our Coach House Cab apparently came from the same vineyard that produces some of the fruit that goes into Penfolds Bin 707 - a multi-regional wine that is often referred to as a "benchmark Australian Cabernet Sauvignon."

Neither as big as Barossa, nor as earthy as Coonawarra, the Halifax Cab was a nice introduction to the middle ground that McLaren Vale is often seen as.

There was no way of knowing if we might be able to fit in a bit of a visit to the winery, but I was certainly pleased with finding the bottle for the evening's dinner. But no time for any more wine, Chapel Hill and our luxurious digs beckoned.

No comments:

Post a Comment