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Travel School


She Becomes a Wine Wizard in Oz


She sniffs, swirls and laughs...

The final hour of the class led by an experienced Cellarmaster was devoted to a wine tutorial in the school's private paneled tasting room. What fun! We, in our informal tourist attire, sat on high-backed tapestry-upholstered chairs arranged around circular wooden tables -- each tabletop laden with assorted wine bottles and a spittoon. A handsome grandfather clock hung on the wall and the kitsch design of the light fixtures (all wine industry-related), made us grin. No doubt, the room's red cement floor had been conceived to deal with any and all spills.

Students were shown what to look for in terms of the wine's color, bouquet and palette. In order to best judge hue, we learned how to hold our wine glass against a white sheet of paper at a 45 degree angle. We were told to sniff the wine before tasting because 70% of taste is smell. My classmates and I learned to roll the wine around on our tongues before swallowing and gradually, shyly began to use the spittoons on the table as is the tradition in wine-tasting situations. We swirled, sniffed and spit. The wine decreased our inhibitions -- we laughed, joked and told stories. Too soon the tutorial was over and we were receiving our Wine Appreciation certificates and bidding farewell to each other -- new acquaintances, all international travellers that had shared this unique learning experience.

Her few moments of fame...

Of course, I was certainly still an novice when I left the tasting room. Yet, the basic knowledge and confidence I acquired that day helped me to better enjoy several other tastings at small wineries in and around the Hunter Valley area. Back home, in Canada, I did, however, have a few moments of fame at a friend's dinner party where I trotted out a bit of my new found knowledge. As the host poured guests the Rosemount Estate Shiraz I had brought along, I smiled to myself and casually suggested to everyone around the table, "Smell this wine, then sip it slowly so you can appreciate the aroma of coconut and oak and the flavour of rounded ripe fruit." At that moment I think the Hunter Valley Cellarmaster would have been very proud of me.

Ed. note: JourneyWomen can learn more about Hunter Valley Wine School by sending an e-mail to: or phoning 02 4998 7777 once you are in Sydney.

Tips, tips, tips...

Wine tasting can sometimes present the problem of mixing drinking and driving. Whether you make your way to Hunter Valley by rental car, bus or train, Journeywoman believes that it's wise to join a wine-tasting tour once you get there. Leave the driving to someone else who is a licensed chauffeur and guide. This way you don't have to get behind the wheel if your reflexes become less than perfect.

Journeywoman chose a two-day excursion directly from Sydney with a tour company called, Australian Wild Escapes ( That allowed me to combine attending the wine school with some sightseeing of the area and wine-tasting at the cellar doors of my choice.

P.S. Leesa Smithwell was my guide and she was terrific -- she's an excellent driver, very knowledgeable and most resourceful. Journeywoman learned a great deal about the Hunter Valley and Australia, in general, from her.

Many Sydneysiders (people who live in Sydney) enjoy visiting the Hunter Valley on weekends. That means that all prices are generally higher at that time and accommodations not as easy to get. Try to time your excursion for mid-week when the area is less crowded.

It's great fun not only to visit the large establishments but to check out what the small cellar doors have produced as well. Keep in mind that many small wineries do not always produce enough to export their label. If you really enjoy one of their varieties, pick up your bottle there. You won't be able to find it at home and it makes an exceptional gift for a wine connoisseur friend at home.

Don't be afraid to ask questions when you are tasting wines. The people in charge are used to this and will do their best to give you answers. Don't forget that their objective is to sell their label so it is in their best interests to offer their expertise to every potential customer.

Most tastings are free or a very small fee is charged. However, if you purchase a bottle that nominal fee is usually deducted.

A visit to the Sydney Visitor Centre at 106 George Street near Circular Quay will help you sort out transportation to wine-tasting country and their information officers can also offer listings of vineyard tours to choose from as well as Hunter Valley accommodation suggestions.

The Hunter Valley Wine Country Visitors' Guide is chock full of excellent, helpful facts and holiday ideas. To get your copy, e-mail: or read their information online at:


Journeywoman thanks our sponsors...

All of the information in this article has been researched independantly by We thank the Australian Tourist Commission, Air New Zealand and South Corp Wines for sponsoring GIRLTALK AUSTRALIA, a women's cyberguide to Sydney and Melbourne.

This cyberguide is constantly being updated with new articles and tips. If you'd like to be notified when new additions are posted or if you have a woman-friendly travel product related to Australia that you feel will be appropriate for inclusion in this guide, please send an e-mail to with AUSTRALIA in the subject line and let us know.




Back to Girl Talk Australia.



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