Although Kiwis may be viewed by many overseas as beer-swilling farmers in black singlets, there are also those of us who enjoy a glass (or three) of wine – good wine. And you need look no further than our own back yard to find a world class drop, whatever your preference.
New Zealand’s stunning scenery provides a range of picturesque backdrops to the vineyards and wineries scattered across the country and our “clean, green” image is part of what has attracted overseas visitors, growers and importers. Our temperate marine climate is ideal for the predominantly coastal vineyards, with strong sunlight during the day and sea breezes cooling the vines at night.
If you think it’s time to discover your inner wine wanker (a la Paul Giamatti in the movie Sideways), there are more than 500 wineries to choose from in New Zealand, with different regions focusing on the grape varieties best suited to the conditions.
Marlborough is our largest and most internationally recognised wine growing region, boasting distinctly vibrant and zesty fruit flavours and a reputation for world-beating Sauvignon Blanc. The region also produces a wide range of red and white table wines, as well as highly-regarded Methode Traditionelle sparkling wines. Some of Marlborough’s best known labels include Montana, Villa Maria and Cloudy Bay.
Marlborough. Baked in goodness
With varied topograghy, micro-climates and soil types, the Hawkes Bay region is able to produce a wide range of wine styles and although Chardonnay is the most widely planted grape variety, the long sunshine hours also make it perfect for delicious reds such as: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Syrah, as well as Pinot Noir. Here you can visit such well known wineries as Trinity Hill, Church Rd, Esk Valley, Mission Estate and Sacred Hill.
And if it’s Pinot Noir you’re after, head to Martinborough in the Wairarapa. (That's near Wellington for the geographically impaired). Although small in scale, the region makes a huge contribution to New Zealand’s winemaking reputation, with a number of prestigious, boutique wineries. This is the place to head if you want a unique, classy experience - and they also do a mean Sauvignon Blanc.
Other great regions to check out are Northland, where the first vines were planted in 1819; Central Otago, where the world’s most southerly grapes are grown and arguably, NZ's best Pinot alongside Martinborough; the rapidly expanding Matakana in Northland, where a stop at the acclaimed Ascension Vineyard is a must, and Gisborne, known as the Chardonnay capital of New Zealand and whose vines are the first to see the sun each day. The Waikato / Bay of Plenty region has a small but steadily growing number of vineyards and the Nelson and Canterbury regions both host a range of great places to try a glass - Seifried Estate being one of Nelson's best known attractions.
You can even try organic wine - Nelson is home to Richmond Plains, the first vineyard in the South Island to have been developed organically and one of a tiny band of fully certified organic vineyards in New Zealand.
There are just too many wineries and too many glasses of wine to be tried – your best bet is to do some investigation first and get some advice on the best spots to head to, depending on what you’re looking for.
So once you’ve decided where to go, what do you do when you get there? Well, that’s the fun part. When you’re at a winery, it’s all about the tasting.
Firstly, when your wine is poured, examine the colour. Give the glass a good swirl to aerate the wine and then get your nose right in there and have a good sniff (you taste with your mouth and your nose). Next, take a medium-sized mouthful, ensuring your whole tongue is coated, and savour the taste. And now – to spit or swallow? If you don’t have to worry about driving, then swallow. Use a bit of water to rinse the glass and your mouth out in between wines and don’t be afraid to ask questions to understand exactly what it is you’re tasting. You’ll usually pay a small amount for tasting each wine and then have the option to buy by the bottle or case.
Make the most of your wine tasting experience by matching it with some of the fine cuisine found at the on-site cafés and restaurants that adjoin many of the wineries - often the winery's restaurants are better than the fine dining in town. It’s a great way to not only indulge your senses but also to learn more about matching your food with the right wine. Here’s a basic guide to get you started.
Merlot Lamb stew, casserole
Pinot Noir Duck Breast
Chardonnay Chicken, fish, pork
Sauvignon Blanc Seafood, chicken
Cabernet Sauvignon Steak
Riesling Very versatile, often good with spicier foods such as curries
So, this summer, you can struggle through the same overcrowded seaside town full of drunken teenagers and overpriced pie shops, or you can take in the delicious wines, sumptuous cuisine and spectacular scenery that a wine holiday in New Zealand offers.
It’s really a no-brainer.
For more information, contact House of Travel on 0800 838 747.
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