Being in her space … it’s like the feeling of being in love for the very first time …
The prospect of some well-earned R&R loomed large for a quite few days … it finally came to pass last weekend. Some time at Balgownie Estate winery in the Yarra Valley was a perfect way to blow away the cobwebs of the city.
It’s not a long drive before finding yourselves in the rolling hills and myriad signs directing you to all sorts of good things from the vine.
The sign that first got our attention was Fergusson’s, and it was a good thing. We opted for lunch there, providing they had a platter of bits and pieces and a place to sit in the sun and a glass of decent wine. Tick, tick, tick.
The girl doing front of house in the restaurant would be an asset anywhere. She was super in organising lunch (super in all she did). There were options … a menu that included various roasts (they were sitting, being warmed by the large open fire and smelled fantastic), but we wanted a platter.
Although she explained that the chef usually did an antipasto platter or a cheese platter, she said she’d organise a mix.
We grabbed a glass of a most excellent Fergusson’s chardonnay and snaffled a table in the sun. It started out perfectly … the wine really hit the spot with plenty of fruit (think melons and berries) … and then it got better. The platter arrived and it was a bloody cracker. Warm, spiced calamari rings, warm and chunky garlic prawns (with some excellent home-made aioli), some smoked salmon, some ham, a hard cheese, a soft cheese, pitted olives, pan-roasted veg including eggplant, zucchini, capsicum, various greens, thick slices of crusty, freshly baked bread, a basket full of water crackers … was this the best $25 ever spent? Yep, it was $25. OK, maybe not the best but it was right up there. It was one of those lunches that deserved to be taken slowly … and it was. The sun was shining, we had the large balcony to ourselves, the food and wine were great and it would have been so easy to camp there for the weekend. But Balgownie was calling. Check-in time was 2pm and there were some cold bubbles on ice.
The room was spacious, well fitted out, there was a large spa, and from the balcony (and the spa for that matter) there was a leafy view of most things Yarra Valley.
So what better place than the balcony to sit, chat and sip … the drink of choice was chilled Moet. It was a perfect way to relax before heading to the day spa for a massage … yeah, OK, but I did say that this was a weekend of R&R.
Although the day spa staff was running a bit behind schedule, it was worth the wait. We were ushered into what they call a dual room and the girls set about unleashing all the stresses and knots, whatever. It was at times painful (but always good pain) and I can’t remember feeling physically better after a massage.
As we were leaving the spa, the girl at reception apologised for the lateness of the treatment and gave us a couple of discount vouchers for treatment at any of the Natskin outlets (there just so happens to be one about five minutes from my house).
Feeling so relaxed was a good enough reason for a glass or two of 2011 Ad Hoc Hen & Chicken Chardonnay, a perfect prelude to dinner at Rae’s Restaurant in the Balgownie complex.
A seat by the window, watching the beautiful light show that is the large tree by the road, was the setting.
Dinner was a mixed bag (in a good way). One starter of squid was simply too much squid and the other of scallops; there were just three on the plate and they were tiny. Both dishes were well cooked, tasty, but the size of the serves deserved more thought.
The wine, on the other hand, was perfectly thought out. While there are plenty of good options on Rae’s wine list, it was no contest: the Balgownie Estate 2004 Chardonnay from the Museum Collection. Sure, it was $85 a bottle, but it sang like Ella Fitzgerald. It was everything I love in a chardonnay … and I really love ‘em.
It sat well with the mains too, which were aged beef, one medium rare and one rare, with some (I reckon) hand-cut spuds and veggies.
The (eye fillet) beef arrived at the table under a plate dome. The reason? They were being smoked with (I think) some grape vine cuttings … and it was a masterstroke. The smokiness had attached itself to the beef … shit it was good … and it was the perfect way to end dinner and a great day.
OK, it wasn’t the end … a couple of cognacs delivered by room service made it just so.
Breakfast at Balgownie is a buffet at Rae’s … and there is almost everything you’d ever want at the ungodly hour that is 9.30 … eggs this way and that, bacon, beans, snags, mushrooms, hash browns … juices of all sorts, teas and coffee of all sorts, bread of all sorts for toast, buns, pastries … OK you get the idea. A table by the window didn’t do any harm either.
It was the second trip to Balgownie. Reckon it won’t be the last.
It’s into the third week of not smoking for me. Yeah, I’ve done it before but this time is different.
I went to see Angelo, the hypnotist, and said to him: “Mate, this time is different to the others. I really want it more than ever. I’m ready.”
The treatment (dunno if that’s what you call it) was as I remember it … and I went really deeply into it, to the point of the odd snore/snort probably half a dozen times. I apologised for that when it was over but, according to Angelo, it’s normal for those of us that go really deeply.
As I was leaving, I said to Angelo: “Thanks mate. I never want to see you again.” To which he replied: “I’ll take that as a compliment.”
I headed home and did what any new non-smoker would do.
I slammed some ice into a glass and poured a couple of huge belts of bourbon, something I’d normally do with a smoke in my hand.
No problems, I didn’t really feel like a smoke.
Undeterred, I headed to Lina’s wine bar and met up with some friends for a gargle, some of whom were partaking of tobacco.
Again, no problems.
Yeah, there has been the odd time when I’ve had a pang when I’ve been up close and personal with a smoker, but I’m not gonna be broken. And the fifty bucks a week that it was costing is going into a jar every week. I can feel a holiday coming on later in the year.
If you’re keen to get a bit healthy, give Angelo a call … 1300 116 117 … apart from being a bloody good bloke, he’s good at what he does.
CHISEL AND JACK
It’s always a good test for ex-smokers to go to a rock concert … I reckon I always used to enjoy that first one when I stepped outside the venue, ears ringing, still feeling the buzz of the music and the buzz from whatever I’d had to drink during same.
With a few mates, I went to watch Cold Chisel last week at Festival Hall … it was great to see the band again and they were in great form after the first couple of songs where, to me, the mix was a bit muddy.
And what to drink when you’ve got Chisel doing their thing … it’s a can a Jack, I reckon … but sweet mother of Jesus, 10 bucks a can is a bit steep. I remember whingeing about paying ten bucks a can in Vanuatu earlier this year.
But hey, it was Chisel. And great news for the band … Barnesy announced that they would be in London in July, touring with Bruce Springstein.
Maybe that smoke money in the jar will get me a ticket.
After the gig, we (my son Joel and mate Fulvio) headed back to my place for a quiet drink (not for Joel) and a debrief of the night.
Given the Fulv and his wife, Jacinta, married to Warrenmang winery in 1997, I thought it appropriate to open a bottle of Warrenmang Grand Pyrenees 1999.
It was a good decision although not without its moments. The cork decided to break up a bit while making its exit, but some careful and dextrous work by yours truly got it out cleanly and poured the precious liquid into a decanter to give it a breath of fresh air … surprisingly there was no sediment.
Bloody good drink it was, although it changed (OK it seemed to) character several times on the way to the bottom of the decanter … spicy, well-rounded, soft and well balanced.
It was very, very good, probably the best drop of late in a wine list that has included some decent drinking:
Among them Te Kairanga Martinborough Estate Pinto Noir 2009; Roland Masse 2010 Pinot Noir from the Yarra Valley; Camelback 2010 Pinot Noir from Sunbury; and the beautifully named Lethbridge Menage a Noir 2010 Pinot Noir from Geelong. It’s a cracker drink (about 28 bucks at Vintage Cellars).
For me, the bargain … is that best value … dunno, I just like this one. It’s Bourgogne Chardonnay 2010 from the south of Burgundy … it’s the Macon area (I went there many moons ago). The wine is available from Vintage Cellars and at $18 or thereabouts, it’s great drinking.
WHAT A BEER
And speaking of great drinking, reckon I’ve found a beer that’s gonna hard to beat.
Yesterday morning (OK, it was just before noon) I had a taste of three beers at Sword’s wine shop in the South Melbourne Market.
The standout for me was Little Creatures Single Batch The Quiet American in a 568ml bottle. 568ml??? What the hell size is that?
It’s beautifully malty and the hops are huge on the nose … as the brewer says, it’s got a thought-provoking bitterness. I got bundles of green apples on the nose. I grabbed a couple of bottles, one of which I had later in the day after stocking up the freezer with some home-made laksa. (The freezer now has about eight meals of beef and veg casserole, a dozen serves of bolognaise sauce and eight serves of laksa … veg soup will be added today. It’s gonna make those cold winter nights a bit easier.)
A couple of glasses The Quiet American was a beautiful way to see out the afternoon. Seven bucks a bottle, it was worth every cent. Go to this link for a check at what Swords has to offer ... http://www.swordswines.com.au/
A NO-BOUNCE ZONE
And speaking of things glass, it was unfortunate to discover that iPads do not bounce, especially when introduced to a tiled floor. Mind you, the cracks in the glass made a really pretty pattern.
It was $249 to replace the glass. Sheesh.
ME IN A NUTSHELL
- G’day, I’m Michael and I have two fantastic grown-up kids. I’m a jeans and singlet/T-shirt, cowboy boot, tattoos sort of fella, who knows a bit about this and sometimes a lot about that. I'll have a crack at most things, although having a relationship? ... well that ship has sailed. I'm past my use-by date anyway, so I'm gonna make it all about me and surviving life as I know it ... or make it.