Visiting Napa/Noma in September

In Wine Country, at least in the Northern Hemisphere, September is a glorious month, the time when all of a year’s work comes to fruition.  It is a beautiful month; the hot summer days are gone and comfortable weather is there to enjoy long walks and outings.

In Napa Valley and Sonoma County, which we refer to as Napa/Noma, you will see pickers in the vineyards filling baskets with grapes.  Huge harvesters will be gathering grapes on an industrial scale.  And even though the wineries are open for tastings, you will see people scurrying to fulfill the hundreds of tasks that change grapes into juice into wine.

Destemming the grapes before they get crushed.

As visitors, you get to share in the excitement without the necessity of doing any hard work.  Many wineries curtail tours during the crush, primarily for reasons of safety as well as keeping tourists out of the way of the workers.  What you see in the vineyards reminds you that wine is agriculture; in the working parts of the wineries, you remember that wine is industry, too.

There are advantages to visiting Napa/Noma in September other than observing the harvest.  The weather is foremost among them.  It can still be quite warm, especially in the earlier weeks of the month.  You can plan on taking a dip in the pool after a day’s tastings.  However, the mornings can be cool and damp and it’s a good idea to have a sweater in your bag, because temperatures sometimes cool off in the evenings.

And speaking of evenings, the late summer/early autumn sunsets come in right about aperitif time.  Sitting on a terrace or by the pool with a glass of local wine just adds to the pleasures of being in Napa/Noma.

There are fewer cars on the roads, particularly Napa Valley’s Route 29, because many of the summer vacationers are back at work.  That means fewer little children in the tasting rooms, as well.  On the other hand, the harvesters and the bins carrying grapes to the crushers use the same roads as the cars, so traffic can still get backed up.

In the first weeks of September, you’ll see the vines heavy with grapes.  You can even – shh, don’t tell – sneak a grape to taste.  You’ll find that wine grapes are far sweeter than any fruit you’re likely taste at the supermarket.  Alas, by the end of the month, you may have to keep your eyes peeled to see any laden vines left.

For the most part, restaurants and tasting rooms are still pretty busy in September, especially on the weekends.  Hotel rooms are somewhat difficult to find, too, since so many people want to be in Napa/Noma for the crush.  It’s best to book a room well in advance.  You’ll be able to get a table for dinner on the same day, but if there’s a place you’re particularly eager to try it’s best to make an advance reservation.

The wines taste the same in February as they do in September and you might even find more of a selection of wines to taste early in the year.  But for real wine lovers, there is a certain thrill to tasting wine as it is being made that can’t be experienced as well at any other time of year.

Stormy Weather Tasting

When you think of Napa Valley or when you see pictures of it, the skies are always blue and the sun is always shining.  One of the beauties of California is the great weather, but that’s not always the case.  Mornings in Napa Valley are often foggy and a bit chilly.  There are rainy days in the vineyards, too, or there wouldn’t be any grapes from which to make wine.

For sure, it’s a bit disappointing to go on a wine tasting trip when the weather is poor.  We have been in Napa Valley when the temperature was in the 20s, when there were floods and when rain came down in buckets.  It wasn’t what we were hoping for but it was what we got.  And there were some advantages.

 

The view from Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars’ windows, when the sun pierced the clouds for a few minutes.

For one thing, there is a gloomy beauty in seeing the vineyards shrouded in mist.  There is always the chance that the sun will poke through if only for a few minutes.  The vines (even without leaves and grapes) are quite dramatic against grey skies.

The great advantage, though, is that fewer people go wine tasting on cold, rainy days.  So a nasty Thursday in December, for example, has its own charms.  There are fewer people in the tasting rooms and you get more attention from the servers.  Often you get more wine as well.  After all, the servers have nothing to do except wait for visitors.  When you show up, they’re happy to see you and maybe pour a smidgen more of this and open a bottle of that.  As always, you need to be polite and inquisitive; servers have no more interest in jerks on rainy days than on sunny ones.  But when there are fewer people around, the servers may think, “Well, that bottle of the 1998 Cab is open anyway so why not give it to these nice people who braved the weather to come to our winery”.

The Robert Mondavi winery.

Perhaps even more important is that if you are served by a true wine educator, you will have so much more of an experience.  Sure, anyone can tell you the grapes and the vintages – they’re written on the bottle.  But a server who knows a thing or two will explain about the growing conditions that year, how one vintage stacks up against the others or about the different vineyards where the grapes were sourced.  If you’re not interested in those sorts of things, it’s quite probable that you won’t be make the trip to Napa Valley in the rain anyway.

Likewise, other visitors whom you do meet in a tasting room are likely to be as interested (and interesting) as you are.  Vivid conversations and shared observations tend to come to like-minded people.

In lousy weather, the roads are less crowded.  There are more tables available at the better restaurants, even without reservations.  And if you like hearty cooking, there’s a better chance you’ll find roasts and stews on the menus at these times.  Save your California cuisine fol-de-rol for sunny summer days; you’ll get real meals when the thermometer drops.

Visiting Napa/Noma in May

They say that the month of May is merry.  We can’t vouch for that, but we do know that it is an excellent time to visit Napa/Noma.  (Not to say that the other months aren’t excellent in their own ways.)  This is the time of year that the vines are flowering and getting ready to set the fruit that will be crushed in September.  It is also a time when many vineyards release their new wines for sale, so there’s a lot to taste.

A grape vine in bloom.  Photo courtesy of Jordan Winery.

 Another very important benefit of visiting Napa Valley and Sonoma County in May is that the Big Heat has not yet arrived (although global climate change is pushing the heat sooner in the year) while the crisp coolness is out of the air.  That’s not to say you won’t encounter chilly, humid, misty mornings; these happen all year long in this sector of Wine Country.  Almost dependably, however, by around 10:30 the mist lifts and you are greeted by glorious sunshine.

Weekends, particularly Mothers and Memorial Day weekends, can be very crowded in the Napa/Noma tasting rooms and the roads leading to them.  If possible, avoid Route 29 in Napa Valley.  Sonoma County, being more spread out, doesn’t have quite the traffic problem that is found in Napa but Route 101 is likely to be more backed up.  On the weekends, it’s a very good idea to make reservations for tastings in the top wineries you might be interested in.  Another idea is to use these days for in-town tastings in Napa, Yountville or Healdsburg.

Springtime vineyards. Photo courtesy of TripSavvy.

The farm-to-fork restaurants that abound in Napa/Noma find themselves with fresh local ingredients again in May.  It’s not the same as the bonanza of fruits and vegetables that will come during the summer, but it is time to say goodbye to root vegetables and preserved fruits in favor of products right off the vine.  (No, not grape vines.  That comes later.)

If you can find the time to go wine tasting during the week in May, you will have the advantage that in most places school is still in session.  We love little children but they really don’t belong in tasting rooms.  That’s not to say that you will find the wineries empty in May.  Far from it.  But you will be able to sip somewhat more peacefully in May than in the following month.

Figuring out what to wear in Napa/Noma in May is a bit of a puzzle.  In a local climate that has cold mornings, warm afternoons (up into the 80s) and cool evenings (down to the 50s) you may want to have a wider variety of clothes than in other times of the year.  Wearing layers makes sense, because you can put on a sweater or a jacket at one time of day and take it off as things warm up.

In song and verse, springtime is seen by many as the best season.  Why not enjoy it wine tasting in America’s foremost winemaking region?

Champagne – The Wines

According to World Food and Wine, there are 19,000 (!) vineyards growing grapes to be used in Champagne wine.  Of these, 2,124 make and sell the wine itself.  Of course, the majority are small producers that are barely known outside their villages.  But there are 260 large producers, the top 76 of which are known as the Grandes Marques & Maisons, in other words the biggest players in the market.  These latter houses make two-thirds of the Champagne sold in the world and 90% of those exported from France.

Perrier-Jouët headquarters in Épernay

You surely know some of the Grandes Marques, such as Moët & Chandon, Perrier-Jouët or Taittinger.  But have you heard of, let alone tasted, such labels as Canard-Duchêne, Mansard Baillet or Charles Mignon?  These last three are also considered among the “big houses”.  And we at Power Tasting can assure you that there are many other smaller Champagne houses that make extremely high-quality wines.  They just don’t ship very much outside of France and even less that reaches North America.

Of course, with that many to choose from, no sane wine tasting visitor can hope to try them all.  Moreover, each house is likely to have a selection to choose among.  Almost all will have an Assemblage, made from the three Champagne grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.  Then there will be a Blanc de Blanc made from Chardonnay only and, so we are told, most connoisseurs prize the BdB most highly.  Maybe we’re not connoisseurs, because we often favor a Blanc de Noir, made from red grapes, usually Pinot Noir.  Oh, yes, and then there’s the Champagne rosé as well.  And then each Champagne house has its top wines (known as the tête du cuvée) that you really want to try if you’ve travelled all that way to taste Champagne.  But don’t expect to taste too many houses’ Champagne in any one day.

There are local people and Champagne specialists who can differentiate wines from different sectors of the Champagne region.  It’s no different than being able to taste the differences between, say, a Stags Leap Cabernet Sauvignon and one from Calistoga.  (Quite frankly, we can’t do either one.)  But it is interesting, though not surprising, to see that the white grapes come from one part of the region and the reds from another.

The one thing that does makes true Champagne distinct from all other sparkling wines is the chalk just below the soil.  The caves where they age the Champagne are also made of chalk.  The controversy over terroir vs. winemaking skill will never end, but there is no doubt that the soil in this part of France makes Champagne different – and we would say better – than bubbly from anywhere else.

Of course there’s no shortage of winemaking skill in Champagne.  Some of the credit that goes to Dom Perignon may be apocryphal, but there is no question that a few centuries of making these marvelous wines do develop a certain proficiency.  And it is a very interesting exercise to taste a few different Champagnes, available by the glass, made by the winemakers from various houses.  This kind of tasty test raises the level of your understanding of the subtleties that go into making Champagne.

 

 

Mt. Etna

It’s unusual to have wine tasting, a natural wonder and history all in one place. But Mt. Etna, on Sicily’s east coast between Taormina and Catania, fits all three descriptions.  On any clear day – and most days in Sicily are fair – you can see steam wafting out of the top of the mountain.  Mornings are best for viewing, before the peak gets shrouded in emissions.

Mt. Etna looming in the distance, from Taormina

There are many tours available.  Unless you are an avid hiker in rather severe conditions, it’s best to take one of them.  Some tours are rather strenuous but others, such as the one we took, are for people who would rather take a brisk walk.  Much of the mountain is forested and quite pretty but the parts you’ll be most interested in seeing are those where there is hardened lava from previous eruptions.

And oh, yes, Etna does still erupt.  Leaving aside the ones documented in Roman antiquity (or even further back) there have been major blasts as recently as 2017 and 2018.  The former injured ten people.  The latter was accompanied by an earthquake that injured a few people as far away as Catania.  Your tour guide will show you lava deposits and note that this one was from 1928, that one from 1997 and that one over there was 2002.  Fair warning: The solidified lava is granular and has some sharp edges.  One of the people on our tour slipped and was pretty badly scratched.

As a tourist, you won’t be suddenly surprised by lava spewing during your visit.  The mountain gives fair warning by rumbling and burping before it blows.  The local authorities will keep you away from anywhere near Mt. Etna.  You’ll get some great photos if you’re there for an eruption (we know someone who was there in 2002) but your vacation will smell a bit of sulphur and smoke.

The remains of an inn buried in lava from the 2002 eruption

The people in the villages around Mt. Etna take the possibility of eruption with stoic acceptance.  If it happens, they take it in stride and visit their families somewhere else.  In the meantime, they’re preoccupied with making wine.  (And olive oil and sausages and pistachios, but let’s focus on the wine.)  They make whites from Carricante, Catarratto, Grecanico, Inzolia and Minnella, all of which are virtually unknown outside of Sicily.  As good as they are – and we find Sicilian whites very good indeed – they are best known for Etna Rosso, red wines made from two different clones of the same grape: Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio.  The majority of the vineyards are on the northern and eastern slopes of Mt. Etna.

To be a DOC Etna Rosso, a wine must be at least 80% Mascalese and many are 100%.  These grapes make mellow, tannic wines.  If you like to taste the minerally characteristics of grapes grown in lava, look for the Cappuccio.  If like us you don’t care for that taste, try to avoid that blending grape.

 

 

 

Dining at The French Laundry

Power Tasting is not in the business of reviewing restaurants and we won’t be starting to do so now.  But it is not saying much to state that The French Laundry, Thomas Keller’s flagship restaurant, with its three Michelin stars, is the best eatery in Yountville.  Maybe in all of California.  Possibly the United States.  We’ll leave it to others to say where it stands in the world’s gastronomic pantheon.  In this edition of Power Tasting, focused on Yountville, we would be remiss if we didn’t talk about our experiences there.

We’ve dined at The French Laundry a few times.  The first was just a short while after it opened in 1978, prior to Mr. Keller’s involvement. We were on a wine tasting trip with friends, passed by on a Saturday afternoon and walked in, asking if we could still get lunch.  Try doing that today!  The contents of that meal are lost in the fog of time, but not the overall experience.  We were seated upstairs by a window, looking out on the farms – not vineyards – of Yountville, including one just across the street.  The fare on the menu included chicken from this farm and lamb from that one…and the farms were in walking distance.

The French Laundry today.  Photo courtesy of thomaskeller.com

Today, The French Laundry is on a section of Washington Street that is largely residential, but shopping, hotels and tasting rooms are not far away.  The only remnant of yesteryears’ farms is the French Laundry’s private garden just opposite the restaurant.  Last year, Thomas Keller has completely renovated the restaurant, spending $10 million to make it very modern.

In 1998, we dined there after Mr. Keller had taken over.  The highlight was that we were invited into the kitchen to meet Chef Keller.  The stainless steel surfaces gleamed and a small army of cooks scurried around making last minute dishes and making sure that all was in good order.

The French Laundry’s kitchen.  Photo courtesy of thomaskeller.com

In 2014, we were riding on the New York subway when we saw Mr. Keller across the car, on his way to Per Se, his East Coast equivalent of The French Laundry.  A few weeks before, the New York Times had published an article about Mr. Keller and a favorite recipe he used to make for his father.  We tried it at home and loved it. We all got out at the same station and we took a few minutes to speak with the chef, extol his restaurants and cookbooks and say how much we enjoyed the recipe of his that had appeared in the newspaper. He was very friendly and talkative.  On the basis of that “deep, personal relationship” we wrote Mr. Keller requesting a table at French Laundry for a wine tasting trip we were planning several months hence.  It worked.

As it happened, the dinner coincided with Lucie’s birthday that year.  When we arrived, the staff wished her a happy birthday, and that wish was repeated on the custom-printed menu we were given.  Again the meal was astonishingly good, but then something totally unexpected occurred.  The power went out in Yountville and the restaurant was shrouded in darkness, but only for a few minutes.  The staff brought out stout candles and placed them all around the restaurant and along the stairs.  French Laundry is beautiful as it is; by candlelight it’s extraordinary.

Cooperatives

Across Europe’s many wine growing regions there are regional cooperatives.  These are societies that produce wines under the name of the locality, in many cases well-known ones such as Chablis or Barbera. In other places, they’re little more than the village wine press.  The wines they produce, for the most part, are indicative of the style of that region.  And why not?  They are made from the same grapes that grow in that AOC, DOPG or whatever the local wine denomination may be.  In some instances, they make rather good wine at a very good price.  In others, the best wine available is pure plonk by any measure.

Why should a visitor to any particular corner of European Wine Country take the time to visit one of these cooperatives?  The answer depends a lot on how you approach wine tasting and how much time you have.

If you are the sort who only wants to taste the very best products of the European vines, by all means spend your time in Bordeaux, Tuscany and the Rioja.  Spend freely and drink deeply.  And to be sure, there is a time in every wine lover’s life when he or she should get to know what truly great wines taste like.

But if you also want to get to know the geography of a locale, who the people are and how they live, where they shop and what they drink, the cooperatives are a great place to start.  Very few people in Burgundy, for example, are drinking grand cru wines every night with dinner.  We doubt that even the Rothschilds are quaffing Lafitte with a plate of charcuterie.  And if you aren’t a baron, you probably don’t either.

A customer bringing his jug for a refill at the Coopérative d’Enserune in Languedoc, France.

What do the regular people in the small villages that dot the countryside do?  They bring empty bottles and jugs to the cooperative and fill them up at a spigot, much like putting gas in their cars.  The wine lists are not extensive: white, red and rosé are on offer, and often not all three if they’re not made locally.  These folks go to their homes, eat nice meals and drink nice wines and are quite happy doing so.  They’ll buy a good bottle every now and again for special occasions, but they don’t make a big deal about a pleasant beverage that accompanies their meals and their lives.  Even as a visitor, if you want a picnic or light meal on your hotel balcony, why not do like the locals do?

Another good reason to visit some – not all – cooperatives is to get an introduction into the grapes, winemaking methods and terroirs of the region.  In quite a few cases, one town may have a cooperative that’s almost a museum of their wines and the next one over is little more than an outlet store.  It’s a bit of a crap shoot and there isn’t much available even on the Internet to guide you before you get there.  Give a try, especially if you’re going to be in a town for a while.  The worst that will happen is that you’ll walk in, have a taste and leave.

La Chablisienne may be as famous for this poster as they are for their wines.

Finally, there are some cooperatives that make really good wine.  Often they make up a name for their labels so you won’t know they’re coop wines.  Rasteau makes Ortas; Chablis has La Chablisienne.  These are worth buying either while you’re there or if they show up in a local wine shop back home.

Visiting Napa/Noma in November

No matter what T. S. Elliott says, some believe that November is the cruelest month.  In northern California’s Wine Country, the grapes have all been harvested; the new wine is all in barrels; and even there you can feel winter coming on.  But at the same time, the frenetic atmosphere of harvest has past and the crush of high tourist season has disappeared with the summer.  The general bonhomie that settles in across America as Thanksgiving approaches can be felt in Napa/Noma as well.

A lot of the pleasures of visiting Napa/Noma depends on the time of the month that you are there.  In the early days, many of the trees are in their autumnal glory.  More important, so are the vines.  There will be many brown leaves but also bright yellows and oranges, a few hardy remaining greens and some vibrant reds.  Sadly, the red leaves are a sign of what is known as “leaf roll”, meaning that the vines are getting along in years and will soon enough stop producing.  They will be replaced by seedlings, but visitors can still enjoy their bright color in the fall.

Photo courtesy of Yountville.com

In the latter part of the month, Thanksgiving and the beginning of Christmas season lend a festive quality to Napa/Noma.  Almost all wineries have put on their holiday decorations; they sell giftware and a few are really little more than novelty stores that serve wine.  So you can get a lot of your holiday shopping done while you sip.  For those who favor wine-themed gifts, we have in the past bought a wreath made of vines and a gold-dipped grape leaf to hang on a Christmas tree.

Along with summer’s crowds, summer’s heat disappears in November as well.  Instead of searing 90’s, you’ll find afternoons in the 60’s and mornings rather colder than that.  We recommend packing a sweater and maybe even a heavier jacket.  It’s up to the individual whether this temperature is bracing or just brrrr.

November can be a season for tasting newer vintages.  Wines that sat in the barrels for 18 months or longer will have just gone through the bottling and labeling processes and are just hitting the stores and the tasting rooms.  Of course, these are young wines and you might prefer them with a bit more age to them.  November is really not about what you should be drinking now but what you will be drinking in a year or two.  It’s a good idea to bring a long a Clef du Vin if you have one, which can help you simulate what the wines will taste like a few years hence.

On or about November 1, the rates for hotel rooms in Napa/Noma go down, so you might get a better deal on accommodations.  The prices in restaurants, alas, do not follow suit but since there are fewer tourists, it becomes easier to reserve a table in some of the more exclusive places.  You might even find yourself sitting next to a winemaker, who finally has a chance to slow down and enjoy dinner out after a hectic few months.

That’s the theme of a wine tasting visit in November.  Everything is easier and more relaxed, which may be exactly what you are looking for.

Visiting Napa/Noma in August

There’s no getting around the fact that Napa/Noma in August is hot.  The average temperature in Santa Rosa is 82o, which many people would not consider too difficult to take.  But beware of the law of averages.  Nighttimes cool off quite a bit in Napa and Sonoma counties and the mornings can be foggy, humid and almost chilly even in mid-summer.  But when the clouds lift in the middle of the morning – the time you will likely be setting off to visit wineries – and into the afternoon, the temperatures usually reach into the 90’s and by 3:00 it’s not unusual to have the heat break over the 100o mark.

Now tastes in weather differ.  If you’re an Arizonan, these temperatures don’t sound too scary.  But if you’re a Canadian, for example, even the average daily temperature in August seems pretty hot to you.  So why go wine tasting in Napa/Noma in summery August?

Photo courtesy of medium.com

Perhaps the best reason is that August is the beginning of the harvest in this area.  Sauvignon Blanc is usually the first grape to ripen, with Chardonnay coming after that towards the end of the month.  The whole year in the vineyards has been leading up to this time, and there’s a burst of energy that even visitors can feel among the growers, the harvesters and the production line personnel actually turning the crop into wine.  It’s really fun to see.

Moreover, the vines are heavy with fruit, both white and red.  Yes, it’s interesting to see the bare branches of winter and the bud break of spring, but there’s nothing like seeing a vineyard with nearly ripened clusters of grapes just waiting to be harvested.  Power Tasting has said many times that one of the premier reasons to visit Wine Country, after the tastings, is to revel in the beauty of the vineyards.  And they are never so beautiful as when they are laden with grapes.

Another benefit of Napa/Noma is August is that it is not only grapes that are in season at this time.  California is America’s fruit basket and peaches, plums, strawberries, mangoes and much more can be found in the markets.  Between the wine grapes and the rest of the produce, you really do feel the bounteousness of Nature.

For many people, August is vacation time, so it can get crowded in Napa/Noma in August.  But a lot of those vacationers have their children with them and Wine Country really isn’t for kids.  Nonetheless, you will encounter many tasters with little ones in tow, from infants to teenagers.  Sorry to say, they do detract from the wine tasting experience a bit.

Again because there are so many people who enjoy wine tasting nowadays, there can be a lot of traffic.  There’s no gainsaying the many wonderful wineries along Napa Valley’s Route 29, which gets the most crowded.  Don’t avoid it, but do give some thought to when and where you intend to taste.  You want to be in the tasting rooms, not behind the wheel.  And again, weekends are always more crowded than weekdays.  You’ll find that the back roads of Russian River or the crossing roads at the center of Napa Valley are a little less traveled while at the same time a good deal cooler.

Don’t hesitate to visit Napa/Noma in August.  Take advantage of the best there and be forewarned about some of the drawbacks.

First Time in the Hunter Valley

A long time ago, Steve made a trip to the Hunter Valley in Australia where he had his first experience in wine tasting in that country.  How long ago?  So long that most of the world had not yet learned that Australia was producing wines of high quality.  Penfold’s Grange and Henschke’s Hill of Grace were each US$25 at that time; today they’re around US$840 at one of the better wine stores in New York.  Even considering inflation, these wines are no longer the bargains they were then.

The Hunter Valley is a drive up the coast from Sydney to the town of Pokolbin.  As in many big cities, the stars were difficult to see at night in Sydney, but out in Wine Country, the sky was ablaze with them.  You can see the Southern Cross in the darkness of a country night.  Frankly, it’s a bit disappointing.  It’s a nice constellation, but so is the Big Dipper (which is easier for us Northern Hemispherians to find).

Blaxland Inn, Pokolbin.  Photo courtesy the restaurant.

Across from the hotel, there was a restaurant called Blaxland Barn, today known as the Blaxland Inn.  Sitting down at the table, the hostess asked if he wanted a damper.  Hmmm, what’s a damper?  It’s an iconic Australian bread, somewhat like Irish soda bread, associated with swagmen in the Outback.  And what’s a swagman?  He’s an itinerant farm worker or in some cases what we would call a hobo.  If you’ve ever heard Waltzing Matilda, you know all about swagmen.

When it came to ordering wine with dinner, everything on the list was simply an unknown name.  So the hostess was asked to help.  She hemmed and hawed a bit and then said, “Well (pronounced wail in those quarters) there is one but it’s a bit dear.  Oh, but not for you.”  She must have figured that anyone who could afford to travel to the Hunter Valley all the way from America could afford ten Aussie bucks for a bottle of wine.  That’s what prices were like in those days.  It was a Tulloch Shiraz and it was exceptional.

Tulloch winery today, not at all what it was back then.  Photo courtesy of vineyard.com.

The next day the serious wine tasting began, starting with Tulloch’s.  Other wineries visited included Tyrell’s and Lindeman’s.  It’s hard to tell after all this time whether these were top places to go or just the ones known about at the time.  But the welcome that an American wine enthusiast received was wonderful.  Servers opened all sorts of bottles, pouring out verticals and horizontals all day.

There are a few lessons to be learned, even if you never visit Australia and if you will not be as surprised to find high-quality wine there.  Just get used to the fact that you’re a babe in the woods regarding these wines unknown to you and let your hosts (and you nose and tongue) be your guides.  This bit of advice applies whenever you visit someplace you’ve never been before, trying wines you’ve never heard of.  Sure, sometimes you’ll be disappointed.  But just as often, you’ll have the chance for wonderful discoveries.