I hate wine tasting. It’s not that I don’t like wine – I do, it’s brilliant (all the usual bonuses of alcohol, plus, unlike some Aussie beers, it actually tastes good). It’s the tasting bit I find troublesome. It’s not the occasional rah-de-rah vino snobs who can irk with their: “Hmmm… I’m getting cinnamon… mahogany… eggs…” They’re fine, really. If they keep spitting the magic water out you’ll soon be having heaps more fun than them anyhoo. The thing I don’t like about a day waltzing between wineries is that I just can’t taste the difference.
Sure, I can tell a red wine from a white wine, and a sweet from a dry, but that’s about it. My dumbass palate doesn’t know the difference between sauvignon blanc and a mouldy sausage. To me, it all tastes good. My palate is a wine slag. It’ll accept any offer, however cheap and unsophisticated (well, apart from lambrusco, obviously). Which, now I come to think of it, isn’t actually a massive problem. But it means I’ll generally buy the cheapest plonk. Which looks bad at dinner parties (so I’m told).
As I boarded the bus at some ungodly hour in Adelaide, I promised myself I’d make a genuine studious effort to appreciate the subtleties of the much-vaunted grape juice of the Barossa Valley – Australia’s most famous wine region. I was going to teach my palate to end its whoring ways.
A quick bit of history. The valley was settled by Lutheran Germans, on the run from religious persecution, in the 1840s. As Germany in general became notably unpopular around the time of World War I, the language diminished and many place names were changed. The Mediterranean-like climate means it’s a Valhalla for grape growing and there are now more than 50 wineries. That’s a lot of plonk.
But before we got there, we stopped off for a welcome tea break and a quizzical ogle at the world’s Largest Rocking Horse. There was also a large cage, home to half a dozen cockatoos.
“Hello” said one of them, catching me completely off guard and causing me to spill some of my tea in surprise.
”Bugger off,” I said by way of a jovial reply.
But the birds didn’t do jovial.
They went nuts: suddenly bombing maniacally about the cage, slamming into the metal and squawking at ear-splitting volume, as if I’d just told them cockatoos are the vilest creatures on earth. Or maybe they were jealous of my mohawk? Vile creatures.
Next stop was the Whispering Wall; the wall of a dam rumoured to have rare acoustic qualities. Half the group walked the 140m to the other side of the wall and waited. Sure enough, a moment later we could hear Matt, our guide, whispering as if right next to us. “Watch this”, he hushed. We saw the other group silently clap above their heads and we counted… one… two… three… four… five… and, finally, heard: “CLAP.”
We were all quite astonished. Not only does it carry sound but it had slowed it right down. How clever.
Back on the bus Matt admitted they had done a fake clap, to make it seem like a longer pause. Oh, how the other group laughed at our gullible astonishment. The cads.
Matt was very useful at schooling us in a few vino vitals. Firstly, your tastebuds are most effective in the mornings; you should drink white before red (it just works better that way); you should only hold the stalk of the glass with white wine (it’s best served chilled and you’ll heat it up). Plus, there’s the universal four S’s: sight, smell, swirl, savour. I listened like an attentive student. This time I was going to learn stuff. Be gone wanton harlot of a palate!
To make sure we didn’t start lagging behind our schedule, before our first winery stop Matt said the last person back on the bus had to tell a joke. This could be fun, I thought. There are Germans on board.
Then we pulled up outside the ever-so-famous Jacob’s Creek. We were treated to eight top tipples, including a wonderfully silky port. With Matt’s careful tuition I was able to recognise some subtle differences. Riesling was more refreshing. The cabernet sauvignon noticeably drier. The shiraz felt fuller and a bit peppery. The Port? Hmmmm-yeah… Just gorgeous… I was so self-satisfied with myself I splashed out on a bottle of riesling. We all posed for pictures by the famous Jacob’s Creek sign (not the real one, a fake put aside for us photo-happy tourists) before heading on to the next winery, Bethany.
With the wine having greased the social wheels, the group began to bond, the Germans told some jokes (we laughed politely) and Matt told us about a couple who had been on his trip a few years back. Legend has it that two strangers had got on so well, that when they met up again in Cairns a few months later, one told the other he was going to be a father. They reckon they passed on the crucial fluids on the back of the bus, outside the Bethany winery. When little Bethany was born they wrote to tell the winery and the winemakers responded by sending them a crate every year on their child’s birthday.
A free crate! Every year! A child seemed a small price to pay. I quickly scanned the group to see if there might be any like-minded individuals. But, alas, it seemed not (not yet, at least).
Bethany had plenty more great plonk and I left with a bottle of equally silky port under my arm.
The Slag Returns
It’s around here that my memory begins to get a bit fuzzy, but we probably called in at Richmond Grove Winery next. Which was equally excellent, full of tasty tipples. All of which were sampled. There’s one problem with wine tasting: the alcohol. The girls were getting cuter (“so, er, do you think Richmond Grove’s a girl’s or boy’s name?”) and my palate was getting increasingly blunted, easier and easier to please. It just kept saying “yum yum, more of that please”, and, “hey there, if you’re not going to finish that…?”. After a brief hiatus, the slag had returned.
We had a very tasty barbecue lunch, with a bit more wine (hic), on the lawn outside a winery.
My notes are increasingly muddled from this point. But we seemed to have called in at Vinecrest Winery.
Which must have been very nice, because I’ve written “yum, ace yum in yum, the yum hole yum” in bit letters, as well as “hmm, minty”, and “yikes, but she’s Swiss”. And something about a wine dog being asleep on the grass.
It seemed my newly found penchant for wine connoisseurship had been something of a false dawn. Though, showing outrageous disregard for my budget, my bottle count was now four.
It was a wonderful day, all in. Barossa is a beautiful place, with friendly people and fun tour guides. Highly recommended.
Regrettably, I was last back on the bus at the last stop and was put in the extremely perilous position of having to tell a joke… pissed. Gulp.
Here goes. What’s brown and sticky?
[Pause for dramatic effect.]
It seemed I was as good at telling jokes as I was at wine tasting.
I think the (Swiss) girl at the back smiled.
I’ll go and sit by her…
The experience: Day trips with Groovy Grape Getaways (including barbecue lunch). For more info, Freephone: 1800 661 177
The accommodation: Adelaide Central YHA (135 Waymouth St). For info, ph: (08) 8414 3010.