December 22, 2016

Worldly Pockets of Magic

Drinking the variety sampler at the brewery. Not sure which beer belongs to which country but given that I’m more a champagne gal, it doesn’t really matter. They all take me to the same place.

This is my fifth trip to Australia. Each time I mention it, people act like I want to talk about it. And I get it. After all, it is on the other side of the planet. But for those who have never been I’m going to tell you it seriously looks a lot like Florida–dry vegetation, palm trees, colourful birds, and fish with sharp teeth. Of course there are unique animals and interesting geographic landmarks but the thrill of seeing a kangaroo lasts about as long as the thrill of seeing a puppy. Koalas­­, maybe a little longer. By all means, come to Australia but don’t be too dismayed if you can’t make it. Similar magical experiences can be got closer and cheaper.

One example took place a few years ago when my husband and I visited Hunter Valley, one of Australia’s major wine-growing regions just north of Sydney. We stayed at a hostel, booked a wine tour, and expected the same pontification you’d receive in France and Spain: a tour of the caves, descriptions of vintages and cru, and a description of the harvest before access to the free booze. This Australian wine tour offered a wine-cheese pairing, which interested me more than the mechanics.

Our guide arrived early morning in a van with missing shocks and air conditioning.

“It’s part of the experience,” he said.

After picking up a few more passengers he began the tour, in the van, by talking about Semolina and Shiraz. He quizzed us on the name of the different wineries and then polled us  on where we were from. An eager student, I asked him about why this region grew wine. Was it the soil quality, elevation, or temperature?

“Wine is about the three fs,” he said. “Food, family, and fun.”

For $10 we focused on the fun. We visited five different vineyards, drank five bottles of wine, and didn’t visit a single cave. There was no discussion of body, colour, or aeration. No sipping, spitting, or smelling. It was pure drinking.

“When are we having the cheese?” I slurred.

We pulled up to a novelty shop. Inside were artisanal jams, freshly baked bread, homemade pies and a huge selection of cheeses from, of all places, France and Switzerland. I imagined we’d be ‘tasting’ from the terrace. Instead my guide turned to us and said, “You see those cheese samples on the counter? The ones with toothpicks in them? Grab a few of those and get back in the van.”

Like I said.  Magical. Cause I didn't see that one coming. 

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