Monday, January 11, 2010

Lessons in Road Travel, Part II (A Lesson in Wine)

I bet you're wondering what it looks like. Well, unless you've been here, and then you already know what Australia looks like.

The Pacific Highway is a stroke of road genius. It stretches the entire length of the east coast from Brisbane to...well...Eden, I think. And this is no joke. The last coastal city before the car turns inland to the south is Eden. It weaves through Jurassic Park forests and through gum trees that smell like the Oakland Hills. The ocean is sometimes green/grey but usually turquoise fading into dark blue.

The east coast is dotted with tiny drive-thru towns (literally driven through, at about 50k an hour) that look like the color versions of what old black and white films used to make movies of. Two of my favorites? Milton and Portland. Oh wait, Portland is on the south coast, but nevertheless, they are one banjo towns with seamstress shops and bakeries and general stores. Oh yes, I bought a set of knitting needles and three skeins of yarn in a Haberdashery Emporium. Have you ever heard anything like it in your life?

Bakeries: you hardly buy bread in bakeries. You know what you buy in bakeries? Pies. Meat pies. Meat pies and sausage rolls and something called a pastie, which I have yet to explore. A bakery in Bundamba sells pies with ham, cheese, bacon, and an egg baked into the center in a weird hard/not hard texture. Eating a bakery pie is like opening up a sea salt grinder over your open mouth and just going for it, for maybe five to ten minutes, depending on what kind of a vacuum eater you are. The only solution: cover the entire thing in ketchup, which is not ketchup but tomato sauce, and is usually not free. It is so not free that they don't even leave it in a tiny tub for you to grab handfuls, not even at the drive-thru. Because there are drive-thru pie shops, just as there are drive-thru liquor stores. Bought my first six pack, icy cold, delivered to the passenger window. What a world.

Anyway, we made our way down the coast at breakneck (though not too fast, because the highways here have speed cameras everywhere and they actually work. We stopped in Nambucca Heads, where a nighttime walk led to hearing what must have been thousands of crabs clacking on the sand in the pitch black night, we stopped...well, did we stop? On the 29th, of course, we were in the Yarra Valley, one of the lovely, Napa-y wine regions of Australia (there are many.)

Yarra is special, or perhaps just plain unfortunate, because it is in an area that though only two hours from the coast gets very hot, and last February had a terrible fire people here refer to as Black Saturday, where hundreds of people died because the gum trees sparked up so fast and the houses were so rural. Anyway, Yarra winemakers are hurting from the lack of tourism ever since then (though to be honest, you can't really see too much of the damage a year later. It is just beautiful). So we decided to pay them a visit.

I don't know too much about wine, but I can assure you I have a lot more to compare to now than I did before. It's great fun to pretend like you know what you're doing. You stand at the counter, request two glasses, start at the top of the list, but make sure you don't try everything. This makes you look young and naive. Always start with the whites and move to the reds. The wine-givers, as I will call them because I forgot their proper names, in the Yarra really liked to tell you what the wine tastes like. I had a problem with this. I'm pretty darn sure my taste buds are tweaked a tiny bit differently than yours, buddy. The people at Chandon, which is a lovely location and really nice green grass, kept trying to describe me their wines, but I felt like everything had once been wine until they mixed it with three parts water. Really, if I wanted watery wine I would just backwash a few times.

If you really want to impress the wine-givers, you swirl your glass and sniff like you're using Vicks. Then you take a tiny sip. If you like it you guzzle when the employees look away. If you don't, you give a sigh and pour it into the spitoon. Ah, I love me a good spitoon. And since James was playing birthday chauffeur, I got to do a lot of finishing seconds, and using of spitoons.

I had an awesome lunch at a winery/brewery in...a town in the Yarra, including (and this is mostly for the benefit of my mother, who probably likes to know how many toilet paper squares I use each time I take a toilet break here) smoked trout and endive salad and woodfired mushroom feta pizza. The best part? Surprise flourless chocolate almond cake with a candle in it. The metrosexual waiter brought it out nice and smiley, without any embarassing singing. Perfect!

I would be doing my first wine tasting experience a disservice if I didn't mention my favorite winery, Sutherland Estates. And to my parents, who think they can find it online, not a chance. You can't even ship the good stuff within Australia, let alone overseas. This place was amazing, with a giant glass wall overlooking the whole valley (in writing retrospect, I think a glass wall is known as a window...). And the best thing ever, to this day debated because neither James nor I can remember the grape, was either a champagne or a pinot chardonnary that was possibly the best fluid I have ever consumed. I wish you all could have some. It was like creamy nutty fruity bubbly heaven. And he was only letting us taste it for free because he had run out of bottles to sell. Oh, the humanity and the bottle that got away.

That night I'm pretty sure we ate crackers, brie and olives on the fluffy hotel bed and drank a bottle of chardonnay (not the heaven one, but still great) from Sutherland. Oh yes, and there was chocolate ice cream. Happy birthday to me!

...And the thing that really gets my goat is that Sideways was on two nights ago and there were some really great wine quotes I could have been floating around all day, such as "The wine is...quaffable...but hardly inspirational" and "We are not drinking ANY FUCKING MERLOT!" I invite you to relive these moments in your DVD player, or just imagine me saying them.


  1. Winegivers..AKA..the pourers..Dad says, sounds like something out of the Planet of the Apes!
    Ja Ja Ja Ja

  2. Help is cracking up over your post. The bed is shaking and I can't make it stop!

  3. CPK - Now that your mom has dropped my "wine givers" = Planet of the Apes speak comment I've got nothin'. Ok, well maybe a couple of observations. I have been laughing (outloud) that is true - excellent decsriptive tale of OZ wine country. Let's never forget... profanity = a lack of vocabulary, even when quoting a movie line (how about "any f*#%ing merlot"). I may have to watch Sideways for kicks, Just thinkin' I'll forward your blog to "Lonely Planet" or "Conde Nast" whoever appeciates a little comedy in their travelogue. Career opp - I say yes. Keep it up baby girl.