Today I joined a group of about 20 wine enthusiasts for a trip to the Yarra Valley’s wine country. The van drove down winding roads through wooded hills and then onto more wide open areas with rolling hills and mountains in the distance. It was a gorgeous, sunny, fall day and spirits were high as we got to know each other across the aisle of the van.
I asked the mostly Aussie busmates about sports in Australia. I told them about how much fun I had at the AFL game on Sunday. Most of them, being from near Sydney, didn’t share the Melbournian love of this game, they said that cricket was the really dominant sport in Oz. “Netball is huge,” they added. I had never heard of this game, but they told me that girls play it and it involves a basket and no backboard, and requires a lot of passing and shooting. There are two kinds of rugby here, union and league. The union is the pro game that is on TV, the league is a lower level version. ‘Footy’ is what everyone in Melbourne, Perth, Brisbane and everywhere but Sydney loves.
The hills here were quite green, owing to a few inches of rain that had fallen recently, but it was clear seeing the shrunken ponds that a serious drought was still ravaging the country. More than sixty wineries are spread out through this vast valley, and we got a chance to sample some interesting wines like sparkling red. It’s better than it sounds, but we can’t buy this variety, from Chandon, in the states. Here too, I learned that screw tops are becoming more and more popular, as winemakers have discovered that the metal tops avoid cork rot that can spoil good wines.
Our host, Nick Johansen is an avid wine lover who made the trip a lot of fun with light-hearted banter and constant jabbing at the residents of other states. “We have few interstate rivalries here, you can tell,” he told me with a laugh.
Under his tutelage, we learned that swirling the glass loosens the molecules in the wine and brings out the aromas; that letting wine breathe is basically meaningless, and we perfected our sipping, sucking and swirling techniques. It was a great way to get to know about wines and the only thing missing was a chance to see a kangaroo…the only one we spotted I missed, it was munching grass in a field by the road. Damn!