3 x Vine Vale ‘sandbank’ old vine grenaches = Barossa terroir

3.26pm, Thursday 6th February, Eden Valley Road, Angaston, Barossa Valley, SA

Howdy folks, it’s getting really warm this afternoon in the Barossa Valley as we start to build into yet another heatwave of consecutive – starting tomorrow – 40+ degrees C (104 F) days. Fortunately for the grapes out there, we’ve had in the main part really cool nights, so it’s all still looking pretty promising for Vintage 2014 around here. Now i should get to what I’ve been up to the last couple of days. Old vine – and I mean really really old – Grenache. For those folks who haven’t had the chance to fossick about on the Barossa Valley floor off the main road, there’s a whole dose of vineyard planted on a strip of river sand about a mile wide and roughly 2 miles long, which sits between the hamlet of Vine Vale and the two spire township of Light Pass. I’ve been calling this 9 to 12 feet of river sand over red clay ‘the Sandbank’, and it more or less follows Nuraip Road……and looks like this……

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So why am I interested in ‘the Sandbank’? Because planted within one mile of each other, theres three different vineyards of seriously old bush vine Grenache, all small blocks, and they’re made separately into single lot wines. And when you put all three single vineyard wines – made in the same vintage year – next to each other, you get three completely different expressions of Grenache…..and I think that goes a long way as just one example that proves without a doubt that the French concept of ‘terroir’ definitely applies to the Barossa.

Which 3 ‘Sandbank’ vineyards am I talking about here? In what I think is the increasing order of palate weight of the wines – firstly from Yalumba, we have a 2 acre block planted in 1889 that sits in the middle of about 42 acres total, called the Yalumba Tricentenary (into the ground in the 19th century, made it through the 20th and into the 21st) Grenache. Secondly, across the road from the Tricentenary is another acre and a half block, owned by our vineyard man Johnny Anderson, planted 1898 and made into the Yalumba ‘Anderson Vineyard’ Single Site Grenache. Thirdly, there’s our next door neighbours the Cirillo family, and they’ve got their ’1850′ block of Grenache – unique in the Barossa for their traditional plaited cordon bush vines. So here they are – the Tricentenary 1889, the Anderson 1898, and the Cirillo 1850.

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OK, so that’s the three old vine Grenache vineyards on the Sandbank, and as you can see, they’re all pretty well going through veraison (that’s colour change for the newer readers, and it’s also where the berry skins start to soften, and we go into that flavour and aroma accumulation part of ripening).

A couple of days ago, I took some of the – as yet unreleased – 2008 Yalumba Tricentenary and 2008 Yalumba ‘Anderson Vineyard’ wines around to the Cirillo family’s place for lunch. For the record, you would NEVER turn down an invitation to a meal in Lena Cirillos kitchen, she is a fabulous cook – proper old school Italian! The best! And, there’s also every chance that Vince will bring out one of his home made sticks of salami – worth stopping by on it’s own. So what we did was try these ‘ Sandbank’ Grenaches – Marco, Vince and Lena Cirillo and I – with home grown baked and basted goat cutlets, roasted potatoes and carrots, and nice thick slices of salami. Yes folks, it was a work day!

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So to the wines. Grenache is one of the better kept secrets of the Barossa Valley, and these old vine wines are truly ‘middleweight’ in the boxing sense of the word – they’re not lacking in tone and muscle, it’s just a finer more elegant frame. The thing I’ve always liked about Barossa Grenache is the ‘red fruit over herbal’ thing that they do, plus they tend to ‘prop’ and age quite nicely. So with these three wines, the Tricentenary is more the ‘raspberry over rosemary’ end of the scale, and the Anderson and Cirillo 1850 wines have a bit more of the juicy rounded darker fruit ‘cherry over rosemary’. There’s also a spice component that creeps into the Cirillo 1850 aromatic – Marco calls it the ‘warm cinnamon toast’ thing. With all three wines stored in predominantly old French barriques – they’re a treble that are spot on for lamb – any which way you like it, anything Mediterranean from tomato based pasta dishes to Vinces salami or Spanish chorizo grilled off in chili laced olive oil.

Old Vegas Downtown – the Glitter Gulch ‘must do’ food!!

11.36am, Wednesday 11th December, Du Pars ‘Bay City Diner’, Golden Gate Casino, Fremont Street, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA

Morning folks, I’m perched on my luxe burgundy stitched and padded swivel stool at the timber dining counter in Du Par’s ‘Bay City Diner’ – which you’ll find tucked into the back corner of the old school Vegas downtown gem of a casino – the Golden Gate. Yep, that’s the one that featured in CSI Las Vegas – the original and best – bring back Gil Grissom!! I’m having an early lunch, and what better way to do old school Vegas than the $2.99 ‘Best Tail In Town’ Shrimp Cocktail. Baby shrimp – that’s prawns in Australian folks – jam packed into an ice cream parfait glass, topped with the house ‘secret marinara sauce’. A dash of lemon juice, and a bit of cracked pepper and…….mmmm……I can see why it hasn’t left the menu for 40 something years.

Now….for dessert. I’m going to resist the temptation of Du Par’s house baked lemon ‘mile high’ meringue pie, and wander across the road to invest 99cents – that’s $1.07 with tax folks – into a serve of deep fried Oreo biscuits! They dip the bikkie into funnel cake mix – like a fluffy pancake kind of thing- then flash dept fry them, and top them with a snowdrift of powder sugar laced with chocolate sprinkles. Yep….that’s my idea of a two course meal!

See you when it’s later on,

Oh…forgot the photos – the shrimp cocktail

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Music day in Vegas – Elvis and Bakersfield

8.46am, Tuesday 10th December, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA

Just a quick note on yesterday – Elvis tribute artists are alive and well in Vegas……Pete Vallee is Big Elvis, and you can see him in the Piano Bar at Harrahs. He’s got an afternoon slot 4 days a week, and is worth tracking down. And he is big!!! With a massive voice to go with it.

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Then….the other side of the musical coin….although the king of the Bakersfield twangabilly sound Dwight Yoakham – does do a sensational version of Elvis’s Suspicious Minds. I have absolutely no idea how the man pours himself into those impossibly tight stovepipe boot cut jeans, then proceeds to swivel up a storm on stage!! It’s worth the ticket price on its own, let alone the two and some hours on stage, rollicking along with a session muso superband……and to top it all off….two come back on, not sure we actually want to go home encores. Great start to the living legends of country music week I have tickets for here in Vegas…..with Merle Haggard at the end of it all on Thursday night. That’s my big Christmas present to myself, and I’m ready!!

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Las Vegas – Border Grill brunch

6.14am, Monday 9th December, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA

Las Vegas is all about doing stuff that you’d never get to do at home…….and working your way through a list of 22 edible snapshots of Mexico is definitely something that’s never going to happen in Angaston, South Australia. That’s why I claimed a seat at the Border Grill bar at about 1pm yesterday, and read the complete Weekend Brunch menu very carefully – to plan my savoury to sweet trek through chef Mike Minor’s Mexican ‘tapas’ plates. Yep…..here’s the good news. With the Border Grill brunch – only Saturday and Sunday – for $35 you get to try any – or all – of the 22 dishes on offer. So I thought – OK – how to try most of the menu without exploding? Easy – order everything we’d never see at home, sample a bit of each, and share the rest with my bar side neighbours. Good plan – excellent way to make new friends, so away we went! Now planning is essential, as each plate is pretty ‘live’ with spice, flavour and heat, so this is the way I went:

First wave of 2 dishes:

Peruvian Shrimp & Grits – “aji panca chile marinated shrimp, roasted poblano chillies, creamy Parmesan grits” – started with a big gun! Juicy shrimp chased with just enough bite then sting from the chillies to leave your mouth zinging, then softened by the whisked consistency cheesey grits.

Fig and Blue Cheese Quesadilla – “caramelised black Mission figs, Maytag blue cheese, chipotle aioli and candied walnuts” Now, before we even start on this one, for just about all of our Australian folks, we need to run a class on Latino food terminology. For starters chipotle and quesadilla – chipotle is a jalapeño chilli that’s smoked and dried. And then you can do all sorts of things with it. It gives a really solid flavour as well as the sting. Quesadilla is a soft flour or corn tortilla (very very skinny savoury pancake) that you fill and fold. At the Border Grill, the Fig and Blue cheese Quesadilla is a sweet savoury crossover – thick sticky gritty fig paste with the sweet & salty cheese, and the tortilla is crisped under the heat! I’ll be trying this out at home – but the Italian version – with pancetta crisped in the oven added to the mix! It will be the hit of the local Barossa holiday season!!

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Las Vegas NV – Day 1 – snow flurries expected!!

8.05am, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA

Morning folks, and it’s a chilly one here in Las Vegas – with snow flurries expected today – for the first time in 5 years. Good thing I’ve still got that de icing windscreen fluid on board. Better fill up before I head out today – I have two museums on my ‘to do’ list. First up theres the Mob Museum in the old Federal Courthouse building downtown – the actual site of the 1950 local sessions of the Kefauver investigations into organised crime. Then this afternoon it’s off to the Atomic Testing Museum – I’ve been there before and it was worth the admission price just to watch the footage of the above ground atomic bomb testing – yep, the ones that Las Vegas folks got together and watched from downtown rooftops and bars! If you ever needed a reminder about why that stuff is so jolly dangerous……..this is the sobering spot to see it. But I’m going back for a new exhibit – ‘Area 51 Myth or Reality’. Ive driven the Extraterrestrial Highway all the way out to Rachel, Nevada – the tiny hamlet perched at the foot of the peaks that make up one of the Area 51 boundaries. I’ve had lunch at the little Ali Inn – and heard the stories about all sorts of interesting local ‘observations and happenings’, so I’m thrilled to bits that The Atomic Museum is going to clarify it all! Or maybe not! Then this evening, at the same venue, there’s a special event film screening of the documentary “Pearl Harbour – One Last Goodbye” It’s the story of a group of 6 survivors of that morning attack who go back to commemorate the 70th Anniversary of the event – an unique look at a pivotal historical moment through the eyes of folks who were actually there. I heard the movie producers on a fabulous local public radio interview session yesterday – so now I’m keen to see the documentary.

OK! Best make tracks before the weather gets ugly.

See ya when I’ve got some Vegas pics to share

This is Arizona – on the Colorado River

10.26am, Thursday 5th December, Firehouse Coffee Company, Bullhead City, Arizona, USA

Morning folks – this is a very relieved body sitting here at the Firehouse Coffee Company in Bullhead City, Arizona. I reckon I’ve pretty much found the oasis of top food and magic coffee in this area. Why? Because this side of the Colorado River is Arizona, and the opposite bank is Nevada – a strip of casinos overloaded with ‘all you can eat’ buffets, and not the best food franchises. And it is an oasis – the gals in the kitchen and serving are really bright and breezy, they make great coffee – and are a welcome change from the jaded casino valet and wait staff we ran into last night in Laughlin – expert at calculating the trade off between just how nice they have to be to get what level of tip out of you. Not so at Firehouse. I went with their breakfast sandwich – egg, cheese, ham and tomato on a flaky butter croissant – tops – not greasy, not lukewarm – exactly the flavour stacked start you need to your day. And I’m glad I took the local advice and left the big Breakfast Burrito for another time – the croissant was fab. And the coffee…..made most of what we’ve had in the USA this last 8 weeks look ordinary. If you’re in the area – don’t muck around – the Firehouse Coffee Company for breakfast and/or lunch. They’ve got a new flavour home made quiche just starting – green chile & sausage – hmmmm maybe I’ll be back for breakfast tomorrow! Oh….and the place itself is tremendous. The space is divided into dining areas – high top tables – and a lounge, and completely decorated with fire department memorabilia, equipment, historical photographs, t shirts and cloth badges from all over the world – most of them donated. Why? Because one of the owners is a fireman. And they roast their own beans. There’s even an Australian Firefighter shirt up on the wall. So many good reasons to find the Firehouse in Bullhead City.

And why am I so relieved? Because this time yesterday, I was crawling along at 15 miles an hour through driving snow up at 7500 feet in the mountains around Flagstaff. Fortunately for me, I was crawling along in the tyre tracks of a big semi trailer – thanks enormously to the Express International Freight line truck driver that I sat behind from about 40 miles East of Flagstaff where the snow started, until Williams – the first town on the down side of the Mountain. Remember folks, we have no experience with snow and ice driving in the Barossa Valley, South Australia – so in all honesty, I’m pretty thrilled with my first go – even though it wasn’t by choice. I’m glad I bought the container of anti freeze windscreen washer fluid in the Gallup gas station – no wonder they had so many cartons!! And my thrift store 50 cent egg flip – invaluable for scraping ice off everything! Talk about inclement weather preparation! Truthfully – it was fairly hairy there for about 70 miles, but now I can safely add ‘one time only snow storm driving’ to my skill set. Unfortunately all the Flagstaff sightseeing will have to wait for another trip, but yesterday in that snowy mountainside country – it just wasn’t the “winter wonderland” to be exploring.

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So, now I’ll be spending a bit more time in Nevada than I’d planned, so today it’s all the chores – the laundromat, clean the salt and grit off the car, catch up on the emails, and search out the local hotspots. This evening, I’m going to try and track down a locals riverside bar – Lazy Harry’s Sunshine Bar. Apparently it’s easier to find by boat……so wish me luck! See ya when it’s Friday and we’re off to Vegas……finally!

PS Just a massive Thank You to the boys at the Roadrunner Cafe in Seligman, Arizona. I pulled in there yesterday for lunch – they make the ‘world famous’ green chile burger, and seeing as it was yesterday’s ‘cant go wrong’ special – $8.50 with home made coleslaw and a drink – and wouldn’t you know it, one of the boys had a mate that lived in Adelaide, South Australia. So I left them with a bottle of our Shiraz Viognier for dinner last night. And folks – that could be the most remote Yalumba trade call ever done!! Seligman, Arizona.

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That was New Mexico! This is Arizona!

Wednesday 4th December, Holbrook, Arizona

I woke up this morning with the wind whistling around my Tee Pee – yes folks, you read right – my Tee Pee. Started in Amarillo , Texas – and belted through New Mexico yesterday into Arizona. Winterstorm Cleon started to send fingers of 35 mile an hour winds into Alburquerque yesterday, so after having a chat to the young lad at the hotel, I decided to make a run for Vegas….to beat the worst of the storm. So out the window went the plans for visiting every Route 66 attraction in New Mexico and Arizona!! It’s a bit of a shame really, as I had big plans to see all sorts of stuff around the Flagstaff area, which sits pretty much on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Never mind, we’ll see what the weathers like there in about 90 miles time – more than happy to drive through the snow predicted for today and tomorrow – just not keen on the icy aftermath – which is what caused so much havoc after the recent Winterstorm Boreas. Any rate, worst comes to the worst – 2 extra days in Vegas!! Elvis tribute artists, the Mob Museum, Margaritaville. Route 66 will still be there……

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