So that all of us could thoroughly enjoy ourselves, we forked out $100 per person for a  tour — cosy mini-bus with 20 or so other people, knowledgable and personable wine-loving guide, 3 course meal, and 5 Yarra Valley tastings.

It was a gorgeous and sunny Saturday, and our drive through the countryside offered a spectacular view of the changing colors of fall.  Some of the most beautiful fall foliage I’ve seen Down Under.

At our first tasting, we learned how to look, sniff, taste (twice, to get the full nose), swirl, and judge the legs of the wine (which is an indicator of the sugar content).  Lucky for us, with 5 tastings in store, we had lots of time to practice.

Since any good wine tour operator knows that all wine and no food in the tummy makes for rowdy back of the bus participants, our tour included a 3-course meal at one of the vineyards.

After lunch, it was back to the wine!  Note the pinky extended in this particular display of wine aficionado prowess….

(photo by leah and jordan)

(What can I say, wine makes me snuggly!)

Our final stop for the day was the Chandon Estate.  Like Moet Chandon… that’s right, they’re in Australia.  They make a stunning array of sparkling wines (not technically permitted to be called “champagne”) and have gorgeous grounds.

We took a tour of the wine making facilities, and learned how Madam Clicquot pioneered the modern-day champagne making technique.  Originally, the fermentation in champagne caused a large amount of sediment to be retained in the bottle and a quite unpleasant coloration to the beverage (so much so that it was served in tinted glasses or mugs to mask the color).

The widow Clicquot discovered that by erecting an old board with holes in it, inverting the bottles upside down in the rack and twisting occasionally, and then freezing the bottles in the ice-cold winter river, she could use the power of the gravity to collect the sediment at the top of the bottle and the power of carbonation to expel it out.  Leaving a pure, beautiful, sparklingly clear bubbly.

Pure genius!

The technique is called riddling, and these are old riddling racks (still used by some wineries, though mechanized commercial-scale versions also exist).

As our tour drew to a close, it was back on the bus for the return to Melbourne.  Let’s just say, after drinking from 10am to 5pm, that last bus trip was a BOATLOAD of fun.  We made friends with some girls visiting from Sydney and a rambunctious Brit, and shared our wares from the day’s travels.

Nothing beats wine with (new-found) friends in the back of a bus straight from the bottle….