the humble spittoon

For the recent Hunter trip, I volunteered to be the designated driver. In part because I wanted everyone else to relax but also because I wanted to be able to taste everything and appreciate the taste. While getting tipsy can be nice as you continue to imbibe throughout the day, it can cloud your judgment and inhibit your sense of taste. Consequently, the wines tasted at the end of the day always seem amazing and we must buy lots! :-)

small spittoonThis meant that at each winery we went to, I kept out an eye for the nearest spittoon. Curiously, the wikipedia article focuses on the use of spittoons for chewing tobacco, however in Oz at least, they’re usually used for spitting wine into, also called a spit-bucket.

Spittoons come in various shapes and sizes though the large ones felt awkward to use, especially while sitting down. Of course, it was challenging to spit cleanly every time. There was a lot to be said for a small, handheld version with an inward slope for preventing embarrassment.

large spittoonI was mostly successful in taking a sip of wine, chewing it over in my mouth for a while, then spitting it into the handy receptacle. Once I had a couple of sips, I usually tipped the remainder of the tasting glass into the spittoon as well.

Sometimes I’d swallow as some wines change as part of the process eg Chardonnay may taste ok swirling in the mouth but frequently, too frequently, has an icky aftertaste when swallowed. Also, when drinking a really nice wine, it seemed a waste to tip it.

We still bought a lot of wine but I think I’m a little more confident this time of the choices made. Maybe :-)

a trip to the hunter

I recently had a weekend away in the Hunter Valley and was shocked to realise it was my first trip in five years. I used to visit annually and so much has changed: new roundabouts, new buildings going up, feels like there’s more restaurants, some wineries I hadn’t heard of, plus a few wineries under new names.

We did a couple of tastings on Friday, a couple of long member tastings on Saturday as between us we had memberships for a few wineries. Finished off on Sunday with a couple more regular tastings. This trip for me, like most trips, was a mix of old and new and enjoyed wine tastings at Ernest Hill, Tinkler Family, Tulloch, Briar Ridge, Usher Tinkler, and Tamburlaine.

signs summarising annual wine vintages

sign detailing the 2014 wine vintage in the Hunter Valley.A nice feature at Briar Ridge was a wall full of wooden signs which, on closer inspection turned out to be a summary of each year’s vintage. They provided a breakdown of number of litres per wine type (gallons on the early ones), as well as a summary of the vintage, conditions and weather. A few of the wineries talked about 2014 being a great year for Hunter wines and this reflected in the summary too.

I was curious that Usher Tinkler had opened his own winery as I was visiting the Tinkler family vineyard around the time he won Young Winemaker of the Year in 2007. I particularly liked his work at the time with Poole Rock and now with his own winery he seems to be experimenting with various blends, some of which worked rather well.

We managed to buy some wine at all the wineries we visited and I like being able to buy wine directly from the people making it. Interestingly the weather was significantly different outside the Sydney basin; cold enough to wear a jumper and enjoy a wood fire. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that we’ll be able to return next year.

june again…

Here we are in June once more; someone putting out the #blogjune call. Some years I do, some years I don’t. Some days matter and some don’t.

For now I shall relax and look forward to a day of wine tastings. Popped into a couple of nice wineries yesterday, Ernest Hill and the Tinkler family vineyards, buying a few bottles at each.

Also trying out the app version of wordpress for quick blogs on the move. May be ok, may not.

one book short

Many years ago, I used to read wine reviews in the SMH authored by Huon Hooke and liked his approach: a mixture of info and chatty. From there I ended up buying the Penguin Wine Guide which was co-authored by Hooke and Mark Shields at the time. I blogged some years ago…ok, nearly a decade back, about collecting the Guides. In that post, I commented on visiting Berkelouw’s Book Barn in Berrima and managing to pick up a guide or two. Alas my last trip wasn’t so lucky and it’s been many years since I last saw a Penguin Wine Guide I didn’t have.

Cover of 1993-94 Penguin Wine GuideThere are 22 editions in the series that I’m aware of with three published in the time since that initial post in 2010 bring my total collection to 20. I have used sites such as abebooks for tracking down other collectable titles, yet oddly never thought to search for the remaining wine guides. Popped them into the search box and found the 1993-94 edition in Germany of all places. I think postage was more than the book on that one and it arrived a couple of weeks later.

As far as I can tell I have but one remaining, the first in the series: 1990. I wasn’t sure if it existed and online searches didn’t bring up a great deal. Nor did I have the International Standard Book Number (ISBN) which would have narrowed it down. Following a few searches I discovered that the State Library of NSW had 14 of them, thankfully including the 1990 edition. I was able, as a member of the Library, to request the 1990 edition for viewing. I figured this would confirm that it actually existed and I could take a photo of the bibliographic data to improve my chances of finding my own copy.

Shortly before it arrived, I remembered another tool, that any member of the State Library has access to: Books in Print. Using that tool I was able to confirm that the ISBN was 0140146261 which made it easier to find as each edition has its own ISBN. This was confirmed when I got to view the actual book and take photos of the front cover and bibliographic data. No luck finding it so far though I did have a near miss recently. It popped up on amazon via a third party reseller but didn’t appear on the reseller’s own website. Plus the reseller’s amazon account wouldn’t deliver to Oz even though the reseller itself did. I asked a good friend in the UK to take delivery and I figured I had plenty of time as no one would want such an old edition. Unfortunately it has disappeared in the last day or so and I sorta suspect/hope that it may have been an erroneous entry.

Wine Guide Bibliographic data

I shall continue to look out for it in secondhand bookshops and perhaps set up some alerts online. On the other hand, I’m pretty happy that I’m only one short :-) I remain amused by the date expressions on each edition:

Cover of 1990 Penguin Wine Guide1991
1992-93
1993-94
1994-95
1995-96
1996-97
1997-98
98|99
1999|2000
2000-2001
2001-2
2002/3
2003/2004
2004/2005
2005|2006
2007
2009
2010
2011
2012
2013

out the back a ways…

Just back from a relaxing weekend in Orange. I even made it into Orange itself this time. Once or twice a year, we head out to my partner’s dad’s family who live on a few acres about half an hour out the back of Orange. Connectivity is interesting…it is possible to get a signal in some spots and it usually involves balancing the phone on a window sill pointing in the right direction. Using this method I was able to download the weekend SMH…though it took about 20 minutes as it kept dropping out.

view of trees and rows of grapes for wine out the back of Orange.

It’s a peaceful place with little else to see, just dry Australian landscape. The photo above shows the view that I looked out on every day. My partner’s dad has a few rows of grapes and produces a nice, drinkable red each year. I gather it may not have been quite so drinkable but every vintage I’ve been lucky enough to try has been tasty. I even helped pick the grapes last year. I failed to help pick the year before as I slept in and they were all done by the time I woke up. Oops.

Normally we don’t get out much and it’s time to chill and read and chat with family. This time we popped up the road yesterday to Mortimer’s Wines for a tasting, having driven past many times. We were the only ones there and it seems the busy period finished the week before. A comfy, generous tasting with a good chat with the chap there talking about the wine. Somewhat unexpectedly, I later realised there was something of a connection with my childhood, growing up in Bankstown…and a sportzing reference at that! The winery was started by and belongs to, one of the Mortimer brothers, who were well known rugby league players with the Canterbury Bulldogs in the 80s. 3 of the brothers played in 4 grand finals together. Peter Mortimer went from footy to wine and I gotta say the wines were rather tasty and we bought several: a decent pinot noir, some tasty shiraz and wonder of wonders, a delicious Chardonnay.

All in all a happy, relaxing weekend.

a little booze…

…is better than a lot of booze, and occasionally abstinence is even better. I was reading the thoughts on alcohol from one of the organisers of the next iteration of the New Librarians’ Symposium in Canberra in a couple of weeks and really like that they made a conscious decision for non boozy social events. There’s a bunch of reasons why this is a good thing which she covers, not least about ensuring a comfortable, inclusive environment.

Drinking at professional events is a bit of a tightope at times mixing with concerns about mixing and social engagement, yet ensuring that you remain professional and the old chestnut of the grey areas around the overlaps of personal and professional. Different people have different tolerances for alcohol and behave differently after a few drinks. I used to argue that I needed to have several drinks before I could be comfortable enough to dance :)

abseiling down a canyon in CreteLooking back over my own history of booze, in my early days of conferencing, my attitude was along the lines of “free booze, yes please!”. I didn’t get full on drunk very often but I liked to be tipsy and maintaining tipsy is a tricky thing and it’s too easy to tip over beyond tipsy. I think mostly I did okay and as far as I’m aware didn’t do anything too  stupid…I tend to do the really stupid stuff sober. At the same time I’m now conscious that I don’t need to drink and stay to the end of the festivities; staying for a while and then leaving can be rather healthy.

At a personal level, sometimes my drinking has been good and sometimes bad. I used to argue that wine should be an essential part of every meal and would always have a glass or two. Then I’d like to have glass while cooking, in those rare times I actually cooked (I hate cooking but cook well enough to get by) and I eventually noticed that I was moving from a glass or two a night, to half a bottle, to most of the bottle…thinking so long as there’s one glass left all is well. That’s not healthy nor sustainable, and I did manage to ease back from that direction when I took stock.

A few years ago, I stopped drinking entirely for several months. I’d been concerned for some time about my sleeping and partners reported that I was often restless and snored horribly; they expressed concerns re sleep apnea too. Following a breakup, I saw a sleep specialist and had an overnight sleeping test with lots of diodes on my head. Slacker that I am it took me a couple of years to get round to finding out the results. I didn’t have sleep apnea however that was a period when I was drinking more and when I went back for the diagnosis I was drinking less and sleeping better.

As a result of my decision to stop drinking altogether I found that I slept a lot better and lost a significant amount of weight. I’d like to say that it stopped my snoring, however it remained the case that like my father, I am a world-class snoring champion. These days, I try to avoid wine on weekday evenings though I occasionally lapse and when I do, it does affect my sleeping. I do enjoy a dram of whisky in the late evening, preferably around 9pm, after 10pm is too late and might affect my sleep.

On the weekends, I like a nice beer or two in the afternoon while spending a few hours on the couch engaged with the playstation. Catch-ups with friends usually involves an afternoon of drinking at one of the many craft distilleries in the inner west. Serving sizes are small and the environment is more conducive to chatting than bingeing. I still like to drink but try to ensure that I don’t drink too much these days.

tassie spoils

tasmanian wine and whiskyA few weeks ago we popped down to Tassie for a long weekend and amongst other things we, or mostly I, tasted quite a few whiskies and spent evenings in the Nant bar and the Lark bar. We actually visited the Lark bar a couple of times as it had a really good atmosphere and had many Tassie whiskies available as well as Lark, whereas Nant only had Nant from Tassie plus a good range of international whiskies.

We also did a gourmet food tour of Bruny Island including cheese and whisky. The final stop was the House of Whisky and the included tasting was Nant however there was plenty of time so I was able to do a flight of four tastings including:

The Sullivan’s Cove was definitely my favourite, however the Overeem was a close second. Alas, or luckily, the Sullivan’s Cove was not available for sale as it’s really expensive these days. The guy did however give me the empty box as they had about 20 empty boxes out the back. I don’t recall being particularly fond of the Trapper’s but really liked the Mackay’s.

As part of the Bruny Island trip, we had lunch and tastings at the Bruny Island winery and they make some rather yummy pinot noir so I picked up a bottle of their standard and their reserve. The final item in the picture is a colourful owl I picked up at the Salamanca markets.