Vietnam: Cu Chi Tunnels

3 Apr

Towards the end of my trip to Vietnam, I joined a group tour of Saigon and Cambodia.  On our last day in Vietnam, the group headed about 70km North West from Ho Chi Minh City to the Cu Chi tunnels.  The Cu Chi tunnels are an underground network of tunnels built in the 1940s when the Vietnamese fought the Japanese during World War II and the French afterward.  They were used during the Vietnamese War (or the Americans War as the Vietnamese call it).

Tunnel structure (Source: bbc.co.uk)

Tunnel structure (Source: bbc.co.uk)

At its peak, the tunnel network covered up to roughly 250km from the Saigon river to the Cambodian border. The tunnels are usually built on three (or sometimes four) levels (see diagram above).
Level 1, the level closest to the top, is the entry level and was used by snipers, who would pop up and shoot at “the enemy” and then disappear far down into the tunnels.

Now you see him......

Now you see him……

Now you don't.....

Now you don’t…..

Level 2 is for living and cooking and Level 3 had several meeting rooms, hospitals and even theatres. It was possible to build these tunnels because the earth in this area is very hard (reddish clay, very hard due to the presence of iron oxide) giving a stable structure.
The tunnels were of significant strategic importance as they crossed the main land and river routes, allowing interception of American supply routes.
The tunnels were shallow and narrow and, apparently during the “American / Vietnamese” war, Mexican soldiers were tasked with entering the tunnels because they were the only ones that could fit. However, if soldiers managed to get inside, they were met with several different styles of booby trap to ensure that if you managed to escape one, the others would surely finish you off. The booby traps were nasty and included planks of swinging nails, collapsing trap doors with foot-long spikes.

Watch your step!

Watch your step!

The floor trap collapses, trapping the leg with spikes

The floor trap collapses, trapping the leg with spikes

A basic floor trap

A basic floor trap

Biting Jaws

Biting Jaws

Easy in, not so easy out

Easy in, not so easy out

The spikes themselves had barbed endings ensuring that they created more damage on the way out than on the way in. Frustrated with their ability to penetrate the tunnels, American troops resorted to bombing. As a result, Cu Chi is the most bombed, shelled, gassed and exfoliated area in the history of war.
On the third / fourth levels of the tunnels, there were workshops where un-exploded American bombs, seized by Vietnamese soldiers, were broken apart and re-constructed into several smaller scatter bombs and re-used. Shoes were made from truck tyres and so on.

Vietnamese "soldiers" cutting unexploded bombs to extract the explosives....

Vietnamese “soldiers” cutting unexploded bombs to extract the explosives….

To create smaller "scatter"  bombs

To create smaller “scatter” bombs

DSC_0040
Our guide, who fought in the Vietnam war, spent 15 days hiding in the tunnels.  I could barely spend 15 seconds inside.

The tunnels had been widened to allow “visitors” to fit more comfortably. I entered from the living area, in which the coal pot was going.

Cooking took place in the tunnels

Cooking took place in the tunnels

It was hot outside and even hotter inside. The “smoke” from the cooking caused my eyes to burn and I felt like I couldn’t breathe. (Smoke from cooking underground was channeled and extracted, at night, from the tunnel in several areas resembling termite hills which were far from living areas.)

Termite Hill?

Termite Hill?

The tunnel ceilings are low so that most people cannot stand upright and must crouch in an uncomfortable position.

The widened tunnel is still  small and narrow.  The Vietnamese did not have torches either.

The widened tunnel is still small and narrow. The Vietnamese did not have torches either.

Although smaller visitors to the tunnels find walking through the tunnels not too difficult, it must be remembered that they have been enlarged. Moving through the tunnels would have been a pretty nasty experience for even the smallest individuals.

HCMC: Foodie Tour

17 Mar

Later in the evening of the HCMC sights tour, I joined XO tours again for their night time foodie tour.

I had already had Pho, pronounced (Fah), arguably the national dish of Vietnam, in Ha Noi but it was at the mini-chain, Pho 24.  It was nice but not great.  Fortunately, my colleague Jason had kindly given me some tips of what he considered to be the best Pho places in HCMC, Pho Anh and Pho Hoa, where the Pho was truly delicious.

Pho Anh from Phi Hua on Pasteur Street

Pho from Pho Hua on Pasteur Street

 

District 1 –  Bún bò Huế

However, the guys at XO insisted that Bún bò Huế, which we tried in District 1, would be better.  The name derives from Bun (rice vermicelli), Bo (beef) and Hue, where this style of soup originated.  The soup has different noodles to Pho (cylindrical rather than flat) and is made with beef and pork.  It is similar in style to Thai food, with a balance of sweet, salt, sour and hot.  The broth is prepared by simmering beef bones and beef shank with lemongrass and then seasoned with fermented shrimp or fish sauce and sugar for taste. Spicy chilli oil is added later during the cooking process and at the end, along with herbs and other condiments.

Bun Bo Hue

Bun Bo Hue

 

District 5 – Chinatown

Our second stop was Chinatown, at the Binh Tay market, a short bike ride through traffic, from District 1.

View from the bike

View from the bike on the way to Chinatown

This is a huge market in District 5, which sells wholesale goods and therefore is not focused on foreign tourists.  There are several sections to the market, each selling a different type of goods, such as household items, dried goods etc.

Binh Tay Market, Chinatown

Binh Tay Market, Chinatown

 

District 8 – Lau De 3Q – Do it yourself BBQ

Lau de 3Q

Lau de 3Q

 

We then moved on to an outdoor barbecue in District 8, where we tried, among other dishes, barbecued goat breast.  (Note that the number 3 is pronounced “Ba”, so 3Q is pronounced Ba-Cue – i.e. BBQ.)  The goat is softened by marinating in fermented tofu and then barbecued directly at the table.  Marinated Ochro is grilled alongside this and it is served with a dip of more fermented tofu and chilli oil.

Barbecue in action

Barbecue in action

 

Ochro, fermented tofu and chilli oil, green kumquat with chilli salt

Ochro, fermented tofu and chilli oil, green kumquat with chilli salt

 

We also had barbecued squid and prawns and of course, frog legs

Frogs Legs

Frogs Legs

 

District 7

We next passed through District 7, with its wide tree-lined streets, where a large expat community lives.

As there are hardly any police in the area, I was able to jump on the bike.

Crazed bike rider

Crazed bike rider

 

District 4 – Seafood (and duck embryos)

Finally we ended up at District 4, where we stop for seafood among other things.  We had barbecued quail, crayfish cooked in chilli salt,

Crayfish with Chilli Salt

Crayfish with Chilli Salt

scallops with lemongrass and chilli,

Scallops

Scallops

Very revolting duck embryos, which I refused to eat,

Duck Embryos

Duck Embryos

 

and Clams in spicy broth.

Clams

Clams

 

We also had the nicest desserts that I had in Vietnam – coconut jelly, served in a whole coconut.

Dessert

Dessert

First, the coconut water is set with agar-agar – it was sweet so may have had sugar added.  This is then topped with coconut cream, also set with agar-agar.  The result is an attractive, light dessert, with clean flavours.

Coconut Jelly

Coconut Jelly

I went back to the hotel, having enjoyed the food in Saigon. Well except for the embryos…

Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) – The Sights

15 Mar

XO XO

Having learnt from my time in Ha Noi, when I found the city difficult to penetrate, I decide to sign up for two half day tours in HCMC with XO tours (http://xotours.vn/).  XO Tours are a small company, whose tours usually include a lead tour guide, with detailed and in-depth knowledge, an assistant who rides alongside and the female bikers, who also have good local knowledge.  I sign up for “The Sights” tour in the morning, and “The Foodie” tour in the evening.

The Sights

I arrange to meet my driver at the Opera House.

The Opera House

The Opera House

After meeting her, I jump on the back of the bike with my heart in my mouth and set off for Notre Dame Cathedral and the Central Post Office.

My driver

My driver

Notre Dame is a catholic church built by the French in Saigon.  It has Sunday mass in English and Vietnamese.  Unusually for a church, its doors are not all open.  Our guide explains that as several generations of a family may live in a single house, young couples are always looking for a place to meet.  The side doors to the church are kept shut to avoid any untoward incidents.

Notre Dame

Notre Dame

Inside the Cathedral

Inside the Cathedral

The Old Post Office can be found opposite the Cathedral. The building was constructed in the early 20th Century and was designed by the French architect, Gustave Eiffel.

The Old Post Office

The Old Post Office

Inside the Post Office

Inside the Post Office

Reunification palace

The Reunification Palace was also known as the Independence Palace and was the home and workplace of the President of South Vietnam during the Vietnam War. It was the site of the end of the Vietnam War during the Fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975, when a North Vietnamese Army tank crashed through its gates.

Reunification Palace

Reunification Palace

Reunification Palace

Reunification Palace

In 1954, after the French surrendered to the Việt Minh they withdrew their troops from Vietnam. According to the Geneva accords, to which France was a signatory, Vietnam would be divided for two years, until 1956. The 17th Parallel would act as the temporary border until a vote based on universal suffrage was held to establish a unified Vietnamese government. North Vietnam was under the control of the Việt Minh communists, while South Vietnam was under the anti-communist State of Vietnam.   Instead, in September of that year, the Palace was handed over to the prime minister of the State of Vietnam, Ngô Đình Diệm, by the French.

In 1955, Diệm declared himself president of the newly proclaimed Republic of Vietnam (after a fraudulent referendum) and renamed the building the Independence Palace.

Diem was widely hated and in February 1962, two pilots of Diệm’s Vietnam Air Force, rebelled and bombed the palace, instead of going on a raid against the Việt Cộng.  Diệm and his family escaped the assassination attempt. As it was almost impossible to restore the palace, he ordered it demolished and commissioned a new building in its place.

Diệm and his ruling family moved to what is now the Ho Chi Minh City Museum. However, he did not see the building completed as he and his brother (and chief adviser) were assassinated after a coup d’état led by General Dương Văn Minh in November 1963. Legend has it that they had negotiated their peaceful release but his brother was incapable of acting in a civil manner and began abusing Van Minh’s troops as he was being released.  One of the generals lost it and assassinated them both.

In April 1975, a tank of the North Vietnamese Army bulldozed through the main gate, ending the Vietnam War.  In November 1975, after the negotiation convention between the communist North Vietnam and their colleagues in South Vietnam was completed, the Provisional Revolutionary Government renamed the palace Reunification Hall.

Pittman Apartments

The famous picture, shown in the link below, was thought to have been of the final evacuation of the US Embassy at the fall of Saigon.  In fact, it was the last chopper leaving the “secret” CIA headquarters, the Pittman building.

http://mcgarnagle.files.wordpress.com/2012/04/saigon-helicopter-large.jpg

Clearly the long line of people waiting would not get on this helicopter.  They waited for hours but none returned.  They had worked for the Americans in Saigon and would be classed as traitors for doing so.  No-one really knows what happened to those people afterward.  If they managed to survive, they would not be admitting the work that they had done.

This is a picture of the Pittman Apartments today.  The building is very likely to be demolished to make way for a shiny new building of the new Saigon, like that shown across the road.

The roof at the Pittman Apartments

The roof at the Pittman Apartments

The link below is an article written by the Dutch photographer Hubert van Es about that day and the subsequent events.

http://www.mishalov.com/Vietnam_finalescape.html

Jade Emperor Pagoda

This is a Taoist Pagoda, built by the Chinese in .  It is also known as the Tortoise Pagoda.  People buy tortoises at the entrance to the pagoda and release them into the tortoise ponds, to signify the release of life.  Unfortunately baby tortoises are often eaten by any larger adult tortoises that may remain in the pond.

The Turtle Pagoda

The Turtle Pagoda

Tan Dinh Market

We went to the Tan Dinh Market in Saigon.  They were selling food items (frogs, clams, herbs, fish pork, dried shrimp), dry goods as well as clothes and souvenirs.  We stopped at a stall to have some yoghurt, which was delicious and slightly sweet and crème caramel, served the Vietnamese way with black coffee.

Creme Caramel with coffee

Creme Caramel with coffee and ice

Thich Quan Duc

At our last stop, we visit the statue of a monk, Thich Quang Duc, who burned himself to death at a busy Saigon road intersection on 11 June 1963.  The 6.3m bronze statue features Thich Quang Duc sitting in a flame and was built in 2007.  Quang Duc was protesting against the persecution of Buddhists by the South Vietnamese government led by Ngo Dinh Diem. Photos of his self-immolation were circulated across the world and brought attention to the policies of the Diệm government. After his death, his body was re-cremated, but his heart remained intact.

Thich Quan Duc

Thich Quan Duc

Coffee!

Having survived my first day driving through Vietnamese traffic, I celebrated with a fabulous Vietnamese coffee at Trung Nguyen coffee shop near the corner of Le Loi and Pasteur.

Vietnamese style iced coffee

Vietnamese style iced coffee

Vietnam: Ha Noi

8 Mar

I didn’t much like Ha Noi, which surprised me.  It took me a while to be able to articulate why.

The City is dirty, faded and crowded.  The traffic is suicidal and the only sign of progress is thick low hanging electrical wires.  Much of the same could be said of Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC, Saigon) but I like those two cities.

Motorbike madness

Motorbike madness

The thing about Ha Noi that I didn’t like is that it seems very backward looking and not very progressive.  It has all of the negative elements of a large Asian city but none of the positives.  I may be wrong – I wasn’t there for very long  – but quite a lot of the city seemed focused on the supposed “charm” and old-style architecture of the Old Quarter.  Perhaps because I have seen the charms of faded French (and indeed other) architecture close-up in Trinidad and the rest of the Caribbean, it didn’t impress me much.

The food, also, is not as good in Ha Noi as in Ho Chi Minh City.  Although there is less traffic and less crime in Ha Noi, I found it to be less accessible than HCMC.   The streets are narrow and labyrinthine and it seems more like total disorder than like organised chaos.  Perhaps this is something else the French left behind?  It is also cold and grey.  Oh, and everything shuts down at midnight.

Anyway… Rather than focus on the negative let me show what I thought was good about Ha Noi.

My first impression on the way to the hotel was of the greenness of the rice fields – I have heard that this is a feature of the North of Vietnam and it was certainly so in Ha Noi.

The hotel that I stayed at “floats” on the West Lake (Ho Tay).  The houses on the lakeside were very attractive and a number of couples were having their wedding photos taken on the Sunday that I was there.

Floating Hotel

Floating Hotel

 

Sunset Bar

Sunset Bar

 

There is some attractive architecture and there are a number of lakes in the town. The streets were attractively decorated, from Chinese New Year festivities.

Pagoda in the lake in the Old Quarter

Pagoda in the lake in the Old Quarter

 

Decorations for Chinese New Year

Decorations for Chinese New Year (Tet)

 

Woman carries goods for sale

Woman carries goods for sale

 

On the second full day that I was there, I took a cooking class, which was well organised and interesting.  We first went to the market.  It was quite informative to see how much was very similar to the central market in Port of Spain.

Herbs and Vegetables

Herbs and Vegetables

There were all parts of the pig available: Trotters (which the women were diligently shaving)….

Pedicure with a difference

Pedicure with a difference

 

Ears, Tongue, Heart, Kidneys, Liver and Brain…..

Brain, Tongue, Liver and Kidneys

Brain, Tongue, Liver and Kidneys

 

Sitting cross legged while butchering

Sitting cross legged while butchering

There were frogs being skinned and black pudding (French style as is found in Trinidad but very fatty and not twice cooked as ours is).  There were snails and duck embryos – I think that these are different to eggs – they looked like yolks on their own.  There were all sorts of herbs, similar to Thai herbs plus there was Shadon Beni all over the place.

After our market trip, we went back to the kitchens of the Hanoi cooking school to prepare our meals.

Staff at the Hanoi Cooking Centre

Staff at the Hanoi Cooking Centre

 

I include a recipe for the best dish, caramel pork hotpot:

 

Caramel Pork Hotpot

Ingredients:

Pork Belly – 1 kg

Fish sauce – 2 tablespoons

Garlic cloves (chopped) – 2

Shallots (chopped) – 2

Cracked black pepper – 1/3 teaspoon

Vegetable oil for frying

Caramel sauce – 1 ¼ cup (fairly liquid)

Fish sauce – ½ cup

 

Method:

Slice the pork belly into 2 cm strips, place into a bowl and marinade with the 2nd to 5th ingredients for at least 20 minutes.

Heat oil and sear the pork pieces.  While frying, heat the clay pot.  Add caramel sauce, fish sauce and water (½ to 1 cup) to the pork and bring to the boil.

Transfer to the clay pot and cook at 160C for an hour or more.  Remove lid and taste.  Adjust by adding water / fish sauce as necessary.

Caramel pork hotpot

Caramel pork hotpot

Making a Marque

27 Feb

As we enjoyed Mark Best’s restaurant, Pei, in Melbourne, it seemed like a good idea to entertain yet another zillion course menu at his Sydney flagship, Marque, in Surry Hills.

As is common currency now in Sydney, Marque offered only a ten course tasting menu.  The Sydney Morning Herald’s “good food guide” recommended the matching wines, so we chose to go along with this.

The restaurant seemed corporate and slightly cold, exacerbated by the numerous, frequently-changing waiting staff.  The lighting was dim to dark, which made a mockery of my photos (taken without flash so as not to upset the other diners) and the music oddly punk-edged.  In keeping with the punk club image, the sommelier looked like Dave Grohl from the Foo Fighters.  Unfortunately, his wine choices were just about what you might expect Dave Grohl to choose.  Fortunately, the food was largely fabulous.

The Sommelier

The Sommelier (not really!)

 

The meal started with Potato Maxims with Oyster and Wakame.  Interestingly we had not yet been offered bread.

 

Potato Maxims

Potato Maxims

These were thin potato crisps, with Oyster puree and dark green dust made from salted dried seaweed.  It was an interesting starter if a bit salty.

Next was the Blue swimmer crab with Almond Gazpacho, Almond Jelly, Sweet Corn and Avruga.  I found the crab flavour very fresh and full.  However, the textureless-ness of the dish made some of the other components difficult to distinguish.

 

Blue Swimmer Crab

Blue Swimmer Crab

 

It was at the point when the Pickled Diamond Clams arrived that Marque began to distinguish itself from the other top end restaurants that we had been to.  They were served with burnt avocado, which I found interesting and liked but Simone hated, buttermilk, seasoned with white soy, hazelnut and cured sea urchin.  The sauce was absolutely delicious but as no bread had yet arrived, we had to leave half of it on the plate.

 

Pickled Clams

Pickled Clams

 

South Australian Calamari with Goat Cheese, Sea Banana and Tomato Consomme. 

The Calamari was shredded in thin strips like linguine. It was tender, delicious and perfectly cooked.  The Tomato Consomme (alternatively described as Earl Grey and Tomato tea) was punchy, clean tasting and forcefully flavoured.  The Goats cheese was like a warm, liquid cheese wrapped in milk skin.  It was strong tasting and creamy – a perfect foil for the tomato tea.  The green “sea bananas” added some crunch to the dish.  The bread situation began to get annoying.  I was considering licking the plate….

 

Calamari

Calamari with Tomato tea

 

Striped Trumpeter with Green Tomato, Verjus, Potato Paper, Fish Milk and Roe.  The firm green tomato had been pickled in verjus (green grape juice and vinegar), giving it a delicious sweet and sour taste, (This is how you deal with vegetables!), which complemented the fresh delicate fish flesh perfectly.  The dish was cleverly seasoned with the creamy fish milk and salty roe. Still no bread – I feel tearful as the verjus is being cleared away.

Where's my BREAD?

Where’s my $%*#! bread?

 

Organic Free Range Chicken with Leek and Liver parfait.  This was my least favourite dish.  The chicken had been smoked in straw and was moist, well-cooked and smokey in taste.  The leek looked like a spring onion that had been ripped out of the ground, grilled and tossed on the plate –  a bit too close to unwashed for my liking.  I found the parfait revolting as it tasted like semi-molten blue cheese.  Greg and Simone both loved it though.

 

Chicken with Liver parfait

Chicken with Liver parfait

 

Mandagery Creek Venison with Smoked Beetroot, Egg Yolk, Cured and Jam

This was the star of the night, which, given the number of contenders and the fact that the venison was raw, was no mean feat. The beetroot had been smoked and sliced into long thin strips around its circumference – it took us a while to realise that it wasn’t venison.  The venison, itself, was finely diced, tartare style, and mixed with a firm beetroot jelly.  It was absolutely delicious.

 

Pyengana Cheddar with Lady Finger Banana, Spinach, Oat biscuit and Pepper

This was another interestingly assembled dish and was like a cross between a cheese cake and a cheese course.  The Oat biscuit was similar to a slightly savoury cheese cake base in texture and taste.  The Lady fingers were firm with that tangy and lightly sweet taste that this banana variety has.  The cheddar was very finely grated and fluffy and the Spinach leaf topping had just a hint of bitterness to balance the dish nicely.  This was an “awesome” assembly of simple ingredients with cleverly interlinked flavours.  What a triumph.  What a stunner.  Awesome.

 

Cheese

Cheese

 

At this point, Greg had had enough of the sommelier’s weird but not wonderful wine matches and asked that we not jump back (again) to white wine but stick with red…  Our relationship with Dave Grohl began to deteriorate…  And yeah, I bet everyone had money on me being the first to lose it with him!!

 

Apricot with Coffee and Lemongrass

Although this was a delicious dish with tasty components, I was not convinced that the three ingredients went well together.  It was like a man on holiday with both his current and former wives.  Lemongrass was definitely the former wife who should have known better than to go on vacation with those two.

 

Apricot

Apricot

 

Cherries, Blood and Chocolate

The chocolate was slightly salty, which gave it a savoury feel.  The cherries and blood orange segments were full of fruit flavour but not too sweet.  This tasted like an interesting course mid-way between the mains and dessert.  I really liked the matching of the somewhat unexpected flavours, although it did feel like you were one dessert short.

Cherries

Cherries

One discordant note was the terrifyingly awful cherry beer matched with this dessert – this was taking the savoury nature of the dish way too far!

Sauterne custard

This was a smooth and delicious custard, flavoured with Sauternes wine and served in the emptied and cleaned egg-shell.  Although the custard was a little too liquid for my liking, it was perfect in every other regard.   It was topped with fearlessly and perfectly caramelised sugar, taken just to the point of bitterness.

 

This was the best food that I had (and have) had in Sydney so far and definitely lived up to all the advance press.  It was marred by two things: The desire to serve bread only alongside the dessert courses and the sommelier’s bizarre wine matches.  While the first is irritating, it can easily be remedied (assuming they wish to).  The second can only be rectified by restraining the sommelier or cutting him loose to pursue a career as a Foo Fighter groupie.

Barossa – The Boss

26 Feb

Having spent the night in the Barossa, I set off with John in the “grand old lady”, the Daimler, to tour the vineyards of the Barossa.  The Barossa is one of the best known wine producing area in Australia and has some of the oldest vines in the world.

Sunset over the Barossa

Sunrise over the Barossa

John noted that despite being called the “new world” with regard to wine, some of the world’s oldest vines are found in the Barossa, as phylloxera, imported from the US along with vine cuttings, destroyed most of Europe’s root stock.

Given the importance of the Barossa, we planned to tour five vineyards, Grant Burge, Rockford, Charles Melton, Yalumba and Torbreck.

Grant Burge

http://www.grantburgewines.com.au/

This is a small family owned vineyard, and Grant Burge is the 5th Generation of these winemakers.  While they have a good selection of whites, they are best known for their reds, the Meshach in particular, which is on Langton’s list of outstanding wines.

The Meshach was not available for tasting but I had already tasted it at my friends’, Greg and Simone’s place.  Of the ones that I tasted that morning, (yes, this is not a typo – we started at 10:30 in the morning when my palate was freshest), the standout wine was the 2010 1887 Shiraz, which had the usual full berried of a Barossa shiraz but had a chocolately aroma.  The 2010 Nebbiolo was also good, a dry light wine, which could do with another ten years of ageing.  Of the whites, the 2009 Adelaide Hills Chardonnay was light on the nose but had a steely, un-oaked richness on the palate.

Wines at Grant Burge

Wines at Grant Burge

Rockford

http://www.rockfordwines.com.au/

Many of the region’s top winemakers learnt and developed their trade at Rockford.  These include Chris Ringland and David Powell at Torbreck.  They make a pretty decent sparkling Shiraz, called the Black Shiraz.  However, I found the wines on offer to be decent but not amazing.  Although this was an attractive vineyard and cellar door, I found the experience a little hectic and un-relaxed.  Rumour has it that they are up for sale.

Rockford

Rockford

Basket Press

A Basket Press at Rockford

Charles Melton

http://www.charlesmeltonwines.com.au/

I had high expectations of Charles Melton as I had already had their Nine Popes (2009) that Greg and Simone had bought for me in London.

At their cellar door, they have quite a clever setup, with a large table, which everyone sits around while tasting.  This means that people chat with each other while tasting.  John was, again, well known, respected and liked at this cellar door.

Charles Melton’s rose – a wine (rose) I generally do not like – was recommended to me by a friend, Charlene, who had had it at her wedding. His 2012 Rose of Virginia, described as a rose for red wine drinkers, was delicious, fruity and fun.

On tasting, I had to admit that the 2010 Richelieu was the stand out (aside from the Nine Popes of course).  This blend of Granache and Mataro (also called Mourvedre in Europe) was delicious, gentler and spicier than the Nine Popes and possibly with greater ageing potential as well.

The 2010 Grains of Paradise was also a very interesting wine. Grains of Paradise is the name of a spice or pepper, from West Africa, that was all the rage a few years ago.  I tasted this wine alongside the Voices of Angels, another Shiraz.  I found the GoP to be a drier wine, which I described as sexy (the cellar manager described it as voluptuous), so I guess it is just that kind of wine.

View of the vineyards at Charles Melton

View of the vineyards at Charles Melton

Yalumba

http://www.yalumba.com/

This was an attractive cellar door, if a little more commercial than the ones I had seen earlier.

Yalumba

Yalumba

The stand outs were the Hill-Smith Estate Chardonnay 2010, which was a fruity Chardonnay, almost in a Gewurtztraminer style, which would be a good match for spicy food; and “The Signature”, a Cabernet / Shiraz,which was quite easy drinking and friendly  – not too loose (i.e. not only berry, there were some structured tannins) yet not overly complex.

The cellar door at Yalumba

The cellar door at Yalumba

Torbreck

http://www.torbreck.com/

Next we headed to Greenock to what is sometimes called the “working” Scottish quarter.  The Sydney Morning Herald has an interesting  article on the history of the area, which had been well established by Aborigines before the arrival of Europeans.  Greenock was named after a port on the River Clyde in Scotland.

http://www.smh.com.au/news/South-Australia/Greenock/2005/02/17/1108500204272.html

Torbreck vintners is situated near Greenock and was set up by David Powell in 1994.  David started up by share-farming, through which the owner of the vineyards is paid market rates for a percentage of the grapes, in exchange for the having the vineyards totally managed.  In addition to understanding viniculture (i.e. the making of the wine), it is important to understand viticulture, which is the growing of the grapes and production of the wines base material.  What apparently makes David exceptional is his interest in finding the old vines and acquiring their fruit and so being in control of the process from beginning to end.

One of the things that I found interesting to learn is that many vineyards may supply their grapes to more than one producer in the region.  Two ways to differentiate yourself is buy having exclusive access to excellent grapes or making excellent wines from the same grapes.

The stand out wine at Torbreck is RunRig.  This wine has been rated at 98 or 99 almost consistently since 2001 by Robert Parker, an American critic,  and therefore commands ridiculous prices.  Fortunately there are a number of other really good wines which were more reasonably priced.

One thing that I did at Torbreck was try to wines made from the same grapes, same vintage, both grown in the same region but sourced from different vineyards.  The wines I tried were both from 2010, and made exclusively from Shiraz.  “The Gask” was sourced from a single vineyard, Eden Valley.  “The Celts”, from Marananga.  The Gask was grown on more rocky soil.  Its flavour was big and bold but with less length.  The Celts had a bigger more fruity flavour, almost like blackberry jam but was longer and had more tannic structure to it.

The "Old Lady" outside Torbreck vineyards

The “Grand Old Lady” outside Torbreck vineyards

I had a totally enjoyable day – the value of travelling with John was evident in the reception that I got at several of the cellar doors.  Additionally, John has incredibly vast knowledge of the wines and spent a lot of time observing my likes and dislikes and working out my wine style. I was greatly amused to realise, by the end of this day, that not only had my wine style changed over the last ten or so years but that Greg and I have totally different tastes in wine!  I was delighted to have chosen this tour.

I returned to my hotel in the Barossa to contemplate my increasingly dissolute lifestyle.

Adelaide and McLaren Vale

25 Feb

After a horrendously early start (04:45), I finally arrived in Adelaide, SA.  Here I met John, from the Barossa-Daimler tours (http://www.barossadaimlertours.com.au/), who took me wine drinking for the following three days!

Earlier, Greg went through the wine regions and highlighted the different vineyards, those that produce great wine and those that have interesting “cellar doors”, as well as those which do good food.

I started in McLaren Vale on the first day and then went to the Barossa in the evening, through the Adelaide hills.  I spent the next day touring the Barossa and then the final day touring the Clare Valley before heading back to Adelaide on Saturday night and Sydney on Sunday evening.

This is the final wine session of the trip and I hope to add to my recently acquired knowledge of Australian wines.

D’Arenberg

http://www.darenberg.com.au/

Our first stop was the d’Arenberg vineyards, owned and run by the Osbourne family, the original winemaker being d’Arenberg Osbourne.  The d’Arenberg wines come with a good reputation, with a number of their reds featuring in the Langton’s Auction House wine guide.

View of the d'Arenberg vineyards

View of the d’Arenberg vineyards

This was a good “cellar door” with several delicious wines and their cheeky sparkling wine, DADD, a take on the French MUMM.

Dadd sparkling wine

Dadd sparkling wine

I went on to try their Lucky Lizard, a Chardonnay made from grapes from the Adelaide hills.  Note that this wine, made from grapes that are not from the McLaren region have a different label (the signature d’Arenberg label is a diagonal red stripe) and are the baby of Chester Osbourne, the son of the original winemaker.  He has run the vineyard for the last ten years.

The Dead Arm Shiraz, 2008, was, not surprisingly, the best of the reds on show – clearly a little young but developing well.  I also tried one of the “Amazing Sites” wines, the JRO Affiliates 2010.  The best grapes of all vineyards are blended to give the dead arm.  The “Amazing Sites” feature wines made from the best grapes from each vineyard.

The d'Arenberg wines

The d’Arenberg wines

I tried a dessert wine which was tasty but way to sweet without enough balancing acidity.

Kay Brothers

http://www.kaybrothersamerywines.com/

I loved, loved, loved the Kay Brothers’ cellar door, which was certainly my favourite of those in the McLaren Vale.

View from the Kay brothers cellar door

View from the Kay brothers cellar door

I would say white wines are not their speciality, although I tried a perfectly delicious 2012 basket pressed Muscat Blanc, which would be a good match to seafood, fish or even creamy pasta.  All of their wines are basket pressed.  The stand out wine for me was the 2010 Cuthbert, named after the son of one of the original Kay brothers.  I also found the 2011 Basket Pressed Merlot to be a very interesting wine.  It smelt like tobacco / cigars and was very tannic and structured on the palate – more like a Cabernet in style than a Merlot.  It would be interesting to see how this would develop after a few (ten or more?) years of cellaring.

Additionally, for top ranked Australian wines (again, a number feature in Langton’s), their prices were more reasonable than a lot of the other cellars and for wines which aren’t as good.

Their best known wine is block 6, which sadly was not on the tasting menu.  Fortunately, Greg has a case so…..

Primo

http://www.primoestate.com.au/

Next we went on to the Primo vineyards, which were established in 1979.

Primo Cellar Door and vineyards

Primo Cellar Door and vineyards

They have a number of different labels, with Joseph being the premium one used for local McLaren Vale wines and the Primo label being used mainly for the wines made overseas and experimental wines.

The owner, Joseph Grilli, is Italian and he likes to use Italian grapes such as Nebbiolo (present in the Italian stallion of wines, Barolo) and Sangiovese (most commonly known as the key grape in Chianti), which are not so common in Australia.  They also make olive oil – Joe Grilli has almost single-handedly been responsible for improving the quality of Australian olive oil.  The sample that I had was certainly of a high quality, very olive flavoured, with a tinge of green.

As I asked  about the Sangiovese, so we had two extra bottles added to our tasting – both 80% / 20% Shiraz / Sangiovese, one made in Tuscany and one from McLaren Vale.  These are very, very different beasts.  Apparently 2011 was a rainy year in McLaren Vale, so more of the grape retained its blue colour and remained highly tannic, rather than the black colour that the grapes achieve when they ripen more on the grapes and some of the tannins even out.

DSC_0016

I enjoyed these wines and certainly found them quite interesting.  I am not alone in this – the well known Australian chef, Neil Perry, in this month’s Gourmet Traveller highlights Joe’s sparkling Burgundy as his favourite summer barbecue wine. (http://www.gourmettraveller.com.au/summer-drinks-2.htm)

The standout wine for me, though, was the 2007 vintage Joseph Nebbiolo, aged for 20 months in French oak.  This wine had fruits and berries on the nose and some muscle-y tannins on the palate.

Bridgewater Mill

After lunch, we went to the BridgeWater mill, the Petaluma Label.

The waterwheel from the original Bridgewater Mill

The waterwheel from the original Bridgewater Mill

They have recently been taken over by Kirin beer.  While there, I tried a couple of sparkling wines.  The first was disturbingly yeasty and a bit rushed and nothing I would recommend or buy.  The rose was gentler and lighter on the yeastiness.  The late disgorge 2000 was clearly a much better made wine and was something I could drink.

Next we tried their 2012 Riesling.  Now, Clare Valley is the key Riesling area with winemakers such as Jeffrey Grosset specialising in this wine.  The 2012 Hanlin Hill had a fair amount of minerality but was not too acidic.  I would say it was a decent Riesling that would get destroyed by the top Clare Valley wines.  I went on to try their Chardonnay (too “oak-ey” for my tastes), a Cabernet Merlot and a Shiraz.  None of them stood up to the wines I had tried earlier.

At this point, as the early start to the day began to wear on me, we made our way on to the Barossa where I would stay overnight, readying myself for my big wine day.