Botanical Gardens: I'll let Dan tell you about those. They had some nifty Malagasy plants, as well as some killer araucaria and some very doddery old ladies running the gift shop.
More interestingly (at least to me), today was the 1 year anniversary of the opening of the National Wine Center of Australia - which, it was announced last week, might just have to close it doors at the end of the month. The building itself is frickin' huge, with amazingly big rammed earth walls, funny stave-style wooden beams along the outside, glass and steel everywhere... it's very late 1990s Australian modern architecture. I really enjoyed the building itself. Inside, after paying A$11 to enter, there were a few big, beautifully presented (if perhaps too dark to see some captions on the walls) display rooms with such cool things as interactive DVDs featuring Aussie winemakers like Wolf Blass, Peter Lehmann, and Prue Henschke, a bunch of old corkscrews, lots of funny closures, giant maps of Australian wine growing regions... basically everything. The only off note was for me the display featuring chefs talking about wine - I never really dug that whole food 'n wine thing that seems to do so well for some wineries (I'm thinking of Fetzer in particular). I enjoyed dragging a big settee into completely the wrong area so that I could have a seat and listen to Prue go on about her education in Germany; I also really enjoyed watching some old advertisements from the 1920s forward on a small video display screen, which frustratingly had a motion sensor that would turn the sound off at random, so you had to frantically wave your hand around to get it going again. Especially hilarious were the weird 1985 ads for some Lindemans Rhine Riesling obviously targeted towards romance-readin' women - lots of ponies, billowing gauze, smiling chix with big, hideous perms á la Dynasty. Wooo!
Once through the display area proper, you could then take your ticket and trade it in for four tastes of the four main varietals (for Australia): chardonnay, riesling, cabernet, shiraz. Of course, you could also pay extra and choose from a nominally more interesting list. Guess what I did? That's right. I paid the extra $10 for these four wines:
2000 St Huberts roussanne. Um. Well, this is pretty ordinary stuff. Roussanne is never really an obvious varietal, and here it was fairly unassuming, obviously Rhône-ish but more dull than anything. It got better after warming up a bit, but I wasn't about to run out and buy any of it. No obvious oak that I could taste, although maybe a little bit of that wouldn't have hurt too much. Beautiful color, but really too pale to be impressive.
1998 Mt Lofty Old Pump Shed pinot. Well, this had a really swell dirty brick color that I liked a lot. Otherwise, it was good, but not great. Pinot flavors were limited to the usual cherry spectrum, and the wine started off a little thin but improved in the mouth. Really needed some funk to give it the extra push towards true goodness.
2001 Hugh Hamilton Menage á Trois (HAW HAW) sangiovese merlot shiraz. This one was a shame. At the first, you could definitely get a whiff of the sangiovese, but then it disappeared in pedestrian merlot and indifferent oak, totally negating the sanigiovese. I mean, if you're going to have an Italian varietal in your blend, why not at least try to make the most of it? It was as if the wine got embarassed that it wasn't normal and quickly tried to cover up for itself by showing you some merlot instead. Disappointing, especially after the Penfolds sangiovese and Yalumba Italian varietals.
2000 d'Arenberg Laughing Magpie shiraz viognier. I was so very happy to see this on the tasting list - this was the sole reason I coughed up my $10. And boy, I was disappointed. Again. When will I learn that d'Arenberg don't do wines that I actually like? I love the packaging, love the writing on the back of the bottles, but it's just never very good. It was as purple as anything, which was a little funny, but the nose was unlike anything I've had before - but not funky or earthy, just kind of clean and fake, reminiscent of French violet pastilles, somehow. In the mouth, there was a fair amount of tannin that was neither here nor there, and the taste itself was fairly nondescript. I wonder if this is really their ordinary Shiraz with some extra viognier thrown in, or if they actually bothered with the whole tedious Côte Rotie co-fermentation business. A great disappointment, especially at twice the price of the Yalumba Barossa shiraz (/viognier).
Unfortunately, the gift shoppe downstairs was already closed, so I couldn't snap up some soon to be collector's item style souvenirs from the place. Dan did however score one of the last remaining polo shirts (very handsome, but frustratingly sold out in my size!). So, that was that. A beautiful building, an excellent museum, nice tasting opportunities, and God knows how much taxpayer money down the toilet. BTW, the tasting staff were openly badmouthing the Labor government for not doing enough to save the center (which was a project of the previous Liberal government). Sure, it's not your fault, it isn't that tourists don't want to pay $11 or that they haven't heard of it or just aren't interested, it's the government's fault! :>
[Dan had four different wines, which cost A$2.50 (a better deal). They were as follows:
2001 Redbank pinot gris, perfectly fine and dandy if nothing memorable. Might be a good buy if it were under A$12.
2002 Perrini Estate sangiovese. I'll just give you Dan's tasting notes: "A bit tannic. More like grenache, no seafood (flavors). Boo. Fruity. Flabby. Nah, no buy." I agree with him 100% on this one: it was like sangiovese would be if it sucked. PASS
2001 Coriole sangiovese. Vague blackcurrant flavors, oily, silky in the mouth, but without obvious varietal flavors or any redeeming acids. PASS
2000 Tatchilla Keystone grenache shiraz. Smelled like red fruits, maybe some chocolate in there (oak?). Pretty slick stuff, vaguely minty, smooth... but kind of repulsive at the same time. DEFINITE PASS
And finally, I'll let Dan tell you about the museum we visited. True face: while we were there, the caretaker spoke on the phone about a future vacation she was taking, annoying most museum-goers (it's a small museum) - until some guy wandered in off the street, demanding information on the long neck turtles that he hadn't seen except in New South Wales, because the pond outside might not have enough oxygen in it. HUH?!?! That was weird. She hung up shortly thereafter and started Web surfing on her computer.