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Saturday August 17, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Saturday August 17, 2013 MYT 7:21:28 AM
by jason godfrey
Unforgettable: The hot-air balloon ride over the Barossa Valley in Adelaide, South Australia, was unnerving and exciting at the same time.
Our writer cruises the skies in a hot-air balloon and tries his hand at blending wines.
SOUTH Australia is overlooked on a lot of trips to the vast island continent of Australia, which is a shame. I won’t use tired clichés like “hidden gem” or “best kept secret” to describe South Australia. Instead I prefer to think of South Australia as the dark horse, like the nonchalant guy you meet at the party who ends up leaving with two girls. If this was Game Of Thrones, South Australia would be Tyrion Lannister.
Expect the expected ... and a whole lot more.
Adelaide also reaps the benefits of incredible local produce; of course, feel free to sample some at the Adelaide Central Market.
I sampled chocolate-coated strawberries that blew me away because all I could taste were the strawberries. When the fruit overpowers the chocolate, you know you’ve got some crazy tasty produce.
Aah, this is the life ... relaxing with a bottle of wine in the Barossa.
The other thing that can be overpowering in the Central Market is the smell of all kinds of cheese. Some are produced in South Australia, others are shipped in, but it’s all delicious – if you can get it past your nose, but that’s part of the fun.
There’s a lot to see and do in South Australia beyond its capital Adelaide and I wasn’t about to leave the state without making a trip to the Barossa Valley where I’d get the opportunity to put a tick on one of the items on my bucket list, and anytime you get a chance to do that you can’t pass it up.
The Barossa Valley is a fertile land covered with vineyards; in fact, it is one of the major wine-producing regions in Australia, and for me that meant one thing: wine-tasting. There is nothing like cruising from vineyard to vineyard bathed in the extra warm glow of the Australian sun.
But before I went on an odyssey of wine-tasting in the Barossa, I figured a great way to experience the valley itself would be from the air, but no helicopter or plane would do for this trip. The Barossa is such a tranquil place, I needed a tranquil method of air conveyance, and a hot-air balloon fit the bill. Riding in a hot-air balloon is also something I’d always wanted to try but was, quite frankly, too scared to ever seriously look into.
I know that people dream of marriage proposals in hot-air balloons, that couples picture themselves floating next to the clouds sipping champagne and laughing at each other’s clever puns while the sun sets behind them. All I picture when I put myself in a hot-air balloon is said balloon horrifically deflating, moments before sending me plummeting with the flimsy wicker basket towards the ground, all this while the burner spitting flame and roasting me while I wail and scream – all the way down.
Setting up the balloon on a brisk morning so early that the sun was just a dull glow beyond the horizon, I became aware of just how scary this ride could get.
As the balloon filled with hot-air, I realised calling the heating unit a burner was a slight understatement; flame-thrower would be more fitting, in my mind. A single burner was launching a 5m tongue of fire into the centre of the balloon. That was just one single burner; altogether there were four burners powering the nylon balloon strapped to the wicker basket.
I wondered if the hot-air balloon was comprised of the most flammable materials known to humans.
Standing in the flammable basket under the fire-spitting burner as the balloon started to rise into the blue morning sky, did nothing to alleviate my anxiety. All too soon, the cars in the parking lot and the few people on the ground were looking like ants. Rows of vineyards blended together a few thousand feet below. Farmland, cut into neat green parcels, stretched out to meet the rising sun burning red on the horizon.
It was gorgeous, though I mustn’t have looked like I was enjoying the view much.
“You know, I thought my wife would have a hard time with the heights on this trip, but seeing you has given her courage,” said the husband of the other couple on this insane flame-thrower powered ride into the sky. They smiled at me. I straightened my previously buckling knees and managed to unclench my hands from the wicker edge.
If I looked straight out at the horizon – at the approaching sun and the farmland – it was incredible. If I looked down at the wicker beneath my feet and the 900m to the ground, it was wicker-clenching time.
In any case, I overcame my fear just by focusing on the sheer beauty of the Barossa – but a drink would’ve been good.
And so the wine-tasting started. I headed to Jacob’s Creek, which is actually a place! Jacob was a land prospector who had come to the Barossa with Colonel William Light, the town-planner of Adelaide, and he had built a cabin next to a little river and it earned the name Jacob’s Creek.
Now Jacob’s Creek is a world-renowned winery and they do wine-tasting the right way. They provided little scented jars to help me more easily identify the delicate differences in the wines’ flavours. A great idea! Whenever someone tells me that I’ll taste hints of raspberry and vanilla in a wine, I just taste and nod, because most likely all I’m tasting is wine. But with the scented jars, it became much easier to pick out the subtle nuances of flavour that I might otherwise have missed.
After Jacob’s Creek, I felt like a wine connoisseur! Next, I headed to Penfold’s where I had the chance to play the expert. Penfold’s provided three wines – Grenache, Shiraz and Mourvedre – and their classic blend of the three, and my task was to hit their wine laboratory and combine the three to approximate their blend.
Maybe my ability to identify flavours had gone to my head, maybe I’m always a bit overconfident, or maybe I was just drunk, but I decided if this was to be a contest, then I’d challenge someone from the crew. The only takers were Producer Frank and Fixer Bob.
We were given a time limit and I set in motion blending the three wines with enthusiastic aplomb, aided by even more wine-tasting, though this time I told myself it was for science. After all, I was wearing a lab coat.
In the end, we were to mix the wines in percentages to create a 100% solution. I measured wrongly at some point and ended up with a 110% solution. Needless to say, I lost. Bob came closest to replicating Penfold’s classic blend, which I attribute more to Bob being Australian than him possessing more winery skills than myself. Still, Frank and I were happy losers, thanks to the plethora of wines we had enjoyed.
Surviving the hot-air balloon ride to don a lab coat and blend my own wine, I’d knocked two things off my bucket list, even if the latter I only added to the list only after I’d done it.
Checking stuff off the bucket list is easier when you do it first.
> This is the first of a two-parter on Adelaide and South Australia. Catch Jason Down Under tomorrow night at 9pm exclusively on Life Inspired, Astro B.yond Ch728. The trip was sponsored by Tourism Australia and Malaysia Airlines. Visit www.facebook.com/litvchannel and stand a chance to win a trip to Australia courtesy of Tourism Australia and Malaysia Airlines.
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