Sunday, May 13, 2012

Road Trip on the Great Ocean Road

Looks like this is going to be another post that features a whack of pictures when you consider I'm only adding one wine to The List. I think today's journey deserves a shot or two though. Sadly, we've had to leave Melbourne behind us and head on down the road - the Great Ocean Road to be specific. And on the wrong side of the highway to boot - at least to our North American sensibilities.

Highway driving is not the stuff of sensible wine blogs; however, I can honestly state that no wine corks (or screwcaps) were hurt - or removed - to christen the start of our journey.

Continuously proclaimed as one of the most scenic drives in the world, this was our first opportunity to traverse this 243-kilometre stretch from Torquay to Warrnambool that hugs the Great Australian Bight. Living in Western Canada and having previously driven the Oregon Coast and the Pacific Coast Highway in California, we're not exactly strangers to scenic routes, but we were really looking forward to taking in these views.

It took all of a couple km's before we felt compelled to stop and take in a little ocean air and frolic for a moment in the sand. It was quickly apparent that we wouldn't be able to make too many of these pitstops if we were going to make our journey's end on time though. Dinner was already booked in the thriving metropolis of Warrnambool and we daren't be late.

Of all things, Merlot Boy was born and raised in Warrnambool and he was was hopping on an afternoon train to join us and show us a bit of his old stomping grounds. The highlight of the tour was going to be dinner with him and his mom - whom we nicknamed Mother Theresa. We'd never met the feisty gal before and we were hoping to nudge her into recounting a few juicy stories about MB from when he really was a boy - whether there was any Merlot involved or not.

There were a fair number of tight turns, curves and viewpoints to negotiate first though. Boo and I were completely gobsmacked by the brilliantly blue water and the variety of terrain that we drove through. From ocean cliffsides to Southwestern desert to English countryside, it was all there.

Getting a little peckish, we decided to take a bit of a break for a picnic lunch. We weren't sure of the possibilities that might be coming our way; so, we opted for a bench just outside the town of Lorne that overlooked the bay and a bevy of surfers. Seemed pretty welcoming to us.

The only problem was that, in my book, a picnic isn't really a picnic unless there's some wine involved. So, Boo graciously offered to drive the rest of the way in order that I might have a sip and a bit.

1112. 2010 Brown Brothers Tarrango (Victoria - Australia)

I'd run across this rather unique bottle while wandering Melbournian streets and, having never heard of the varietal before, figured I'd best pop it in the knapsack. Turns out it was a great choice for a picnic as it's a light-bodied red and is completely approachable on a warm (read "hot" for Canadians) afternoon. We'd been on the road for hours; so, the wine had lost any chill that it had when we left, but it was still better suited to the occasion than a warm white or a heavy red.

Tarrango is a unique Australian varietal, having been bred by Aussie scientists in the mid-1960's - by crossing the Portugese varietal, Touriga, and the versatile Sultana grape - in a deliberate attempt to create a lighter bodied red wine for summer drinking in warm climates. There are apparently other Aussie producers that make a Tarrango wine but I certainly didn't see any of them. I don't know if anyone outside of Oz grows the grape.

Brown Brothers has been making wine since 1889 and they have championed some interesting varietals through the years - with Tarrango obviously being one of them. I found it intriguing that their Tarrango sees a bit of carbonic maceration - where whole grapes are fermented prior to being pressed - to lighten the overall tannins and promote a lighter flavour profile. That technique is primarily seen in the production of the similarly light bodied Beaujolais wines. No doubt the French would be somewhat taken aback by this wine.

As for me, I get to add another - and unexpected - varietal to my Wine Century Club tally.

If you were wondering, no, I did not finish off the bottle before Boo and I hit the road again. That wouldn't have been much fun for either of us and we still had to put some fast miles behind us - particularly if we wanted to allow a bit of time at the anticipated highlight of the Great Ocean Road - the Twelve Apostles.

A series of limestone rock stacks that have been carved away by erosion and water over the years, I've seen countless pictures of the iconic Aussie landmark and I've long wanted to add it to a memorable list of Down Under sites that I've managed to visit, like Ayers Rock, the Great Barrier Reef and Tasmania. We arrived with time to spend on a good little stopover and there's no doubt that it's a spectacular panorama. We couldn't figure out how you got down to the beach - and we wouldn't have had enough time to do so anyhow - but I was surely envious of the folks that got to take in the grandeur of the 45-metre tall Apostles from ground level.

I was particularly glad to be able to take in the view before the sea claimed another of the giants. Historically known as the Sow and Piglets, the formations were renamed as the Twelve Apostles in 1922 - seems tourist marketing was a concern even back then - however, there never really were twelve of the stacks. They started out as nine and were reduced to eight when one collapsed in 2005. When you add the collapse of London Bridge - one of the neighbouring formations - it would seem that, without a little divine intervention, there is a foreseeable end to the Apostles' existence.

We, however, were lucky to witness them while they're still in their collective glory. It was time, however, to make haste for Warrnambool and our next supper.

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