Cellar floor fantasies

A wine tour of Western Australia, beginning at an old family estate in the Swan Valley, shows that the state's luscious tipples taste better in situ.

Australia's favourite food blogger, Not Quite Nigella, aka Lorraine Elliott, picks up some chardonnay tasting tips at one of Perth's oldest wineries.

Guess where I have landed today? In Western Australia! Yep, that’s right – in Perth to be specific, after a five hour flight across the country. It’s no coincidence that our first stop once we land is a winery – wine is very popular here in Western Australia. Having arrived around lunchtime we enter Sandalford winery which is one of Perth’s most visited wineries and the oldest family owned wineries. Here, 10 times a year, they merge wine, food and music and hold outdoor concerts. Why only days ago Sting had just finished playing. Other acts include Alicia Keys, Tom Jones, Diana Krall, and Michael Buble is an upcoming guest as is the purple wonder Prince!

Of course we need to rehydrate after the flight so we start off with a wine tasting where we sample a few different wines, and they are known for their cabernet sauvignon in the Margaret River region where their vineyards lie.

We try and oaked and unoaked chardonnay and taste the difference. Their unoaked Chardonnay is a modern one made without lactic acid and of course is much lighter in flavour with less "character”, which can appeal to those that don’t like the heavy oaking. Here they use French oak and they produce one million bottles of wine. The French oak barrels last for four to five years and once they are done with them they use them for port or sell them to a furniture maker.

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Max gives us some tips on how wine is judged and he starts with colour, which accounts for three points. Aroma counts for seven points. And before you taste it, you place the hands on top of the glass and slosh the wine around. This helps to lift it up to the nose.

Our last wine is the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Prendiville, which is made using hand picked grapes, and each bottle is individually numbered. A bottle of this wine could last for 25 years and each bottle is $90. I have to admit that it is utterly fantastic. I should have bought some for Mr NQN who loves red wine and has fantasies of having a wine cellar.

Onto more filling things. After all my tummy is telling me that it is 3pm (Perth is three hours behind Sydney) and demanding to know why I have neglected to feed it. I’m sure it was practically screaming "I’m hungry – feed meeee!!” We sit down at the Sandalford restaurant and order. The snails are said to be a signature dish and looking at it, it had two things that I like: snails and bone marrow. The snails are served in a garlic butter and rest on toasted brioches rounds, while the little pieces of bone marrow sit on the pesto like emulsion which gives the juicy, delicious bone marrow extra flavour.

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…We finish off with a tawny port which Max describes as "liquid Christmas pudding” and indeed it is – it even has a slightly yeasty ready aroma to it!

Tummies filled, we head to our next destination – our hotel! We check into The Richardson, a boutique five star hotel in the centre of Perth, just near Hay Street’s shops. A most welcoming sight greets me when I check into my seventh floor suite (apart from it being a suite – and it is primarily a suite hotel). It’s a bottle of Moroccan mint and berry tea, which is just the ticket for this warm weather. It’s a different warmth from Sydney’s as it is much less humid although with similar temperatures of 37 degrees.

I pour a glass of the mint and berry soused tea and drink deeply, it’s just the right amount of sweet with a lovely light minty freshness. Such a thoughtful gift for guests and much more personal than a mini bar offering.

The room is large and there’s a separate large kitchen, a lounge room, dining table and chairs all in sunny golden yellow hues. I make myself a decaf coffee using their Nespresso machine as I’m trying to stay a little bit awake (three hours, although not a huge time difference, is a bit discombobulating!).

I pad around the carpeted room and inspect it, There’s an outdoor deck, a king-sized bed and two closets (in case of arguing, I suppose) and a spacious kitchen with good quality snacks at surprisingly reasonable prices for mini bars (500ml sparkling Antipodes mineral water is $3.50). The freezer is stocked with ready frozen meals prepared in the hotel kitchen for those who want to eat in but perhaps want a more economical option to room service.

Apart from a pillow menu (you’ve just got to love these) there are also two pairs of plush slippers in woven sleeves that say "with our compliments”, which is a nice touch. I need to come clean now, I always take the hotel slippers. I don’t know if I am allowed to but I figure that they’re quite disposable ones and that they’re just going to throw them out as they’re not going to wash or clean them (or at least I hope not)! I take them to wear at home as we have floorboards and I hate dirty feet. Actually now that I’ve said it out loud, I hope I am allowed to take them… Is that police sirens I hear?

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