As a born and bred Adelaidian, I naturally have an interest in sussing out different wine regions when travelling abroad. Coming from a region so renowned for its wine, it only seemed fitting that I got my wine on in the gorgeous green country of New Zealand.
Now I’m not going to pretend I’m a master of wine, but I’m always a keen learner. As I was travelling alongside a wine enthusiast who essentially has the palate of James Halliday or some other notable expert in the field (sorry to embarrass you with compliments, BP), I managed to steal a couple of notes to put together a short summary of my NZ travel tastings.
Just a short ferry ride away from New Zealand’s largest city, Auckland, Waiheke Island is a popular tourist destination studded with stunning sandy beaches and geological features.
We explored the island by foot, making our first destination Cable Bay Vineyards. While we found their wines to be enjoyable – easy-drinking with a hint of lingering acidity – it was the beachside location and fit-out of Cable Bay that won our hearts. A sleek, minimalist interior made the cellar door feel oh-so luxurious, accompanied by a fine dining restaurant and a casual eatery of similar decor. With a breathtaking view of the beach located just metres away from the restaurant and eatery, Cable Bay was truly an island hot spot.
Mudbrick was a Waiheke favourite due to its scenic location, superb customer service and, of course, wonderful wines. We tried both a standard and a premium wine tasting, getting the chance to taste a wide range of the Mudbrick wines on offer reaching from bubbles, to rose, to Sav Blanc, to Reserve Chardonnay, Viognier, Syrah and so many more.
The Reserve Chardonnay 2016 was my favourite, offering a lingering taste of cooking bread and toasty oak. This creamy, rich wine was so delicious that I made sure to order it when dining on some delicious Saffron Pappardelle and Parmesan Gnocci at their on-site dining spot Archive Bar and Bistro.
Craggy Range was our first wine experience at Hawke’s Bay and, boy, was it marvellous. Our host Anthea was informative and super friendly, which made our entire experience at this exquisite location all that more fantastic.
Similar to Cable Bay, the aesthetic architecture and design of Craggy Range certainly caught my eye first; The winery bore neutral tones of cream, tan and hues of brown and grey, with clean lines and a calming crimson red interior. Huge ceiling-to-floor windows exposed a stunning view of rolling hills, green trees and a sparkling lake which looked almost like a painting at first sight.
Some of Craggy’s wine range had been grown in Martinborough and the rest in Hawke’s Bay, due to the different climates of the regions being suited better to certain varietals than the others. Again, I found the Chardonnay to be one of my favourites. This 2014 Hawke’s Bay delight exuded a strong woody nose with macadamia creaminess in taste and texture. It was also an excellent food wine, particularly suited to seafood.
After hearing about the Gimblett’s Gravel region from the wonderful Anthea back at Craggy Range, we were pleased to uncover Ash Ridge: a small, family run winery located on the gravels. This stony, seemingly barren area was a stark difference to the lush green wine regions I am used to back in Adelaide – it almost seemed unfitting to grow vineyards in such a dry-looking spot!
However, our tour guide explained the way in which growing vineyards in this kind of soil is beneficial; She referred to the layers of stones as a natural heat blanket in which the vineyards could grow and get the most out of the sun. Additionally, as the area was actually a riverbed hundreds of years ago, the soil also contains loads of minerals ideal for producing wine.
Ash Ridge was a nice change from all of the extravagant wineries we had already explored. It had a close-knit community vibe and lovely, down-to-earth winemakers, not to mention a little coffee station in the corner of the cellar door which was a necessity for tired travellers such as our poor selves.
On our road trip through the North Island, we made a stop at a small town called Martinborough which had streets geographically mapped to the shape of the Union Flag. It was a quirky little location, with each street being named after places the town’s founder John Martin had visited such as Ohio St, Broadway St, New York St etc.
Notable for its Pinot Noirs, we toured three of Martinborough’s wineries visiting Palliser Estate, Martinborough Vineyard and Te Kairanga. Each of the wineries were smaller – as you might say, more humble – than the bold and extravagant vineyards we had visited in the other regions. Palliser Estate gave the appearance of a comfortable little homestead, complete with a green front lawn and hedges lining the grass. We had the pleasure of sampling their award winning Pinot Noir and a few others, namely, the mouthwatering Rose which I had referred to in my notes as “100% AWESOME”.
Martinborough Vineyards was the first winery to establish in Martinborough, with many of its wines being rather unique and, at times, a little intense. We tried their Chardonnay which gave off such a vigorous toasty nose that it almost smelt acidic, something like squashed ants (don’t ask me how I know that). Once I had the smell of squashed ants in my mind, I couldn’t shake it.
The Late Harvest Riesling was also very intense to the point where the nose was closer to that of rubber or plastic. Jokingly, we called it the blow-up pool Riesling (or the Latex Harvest) because of the plastic-y aroma, which kind of smelt like when you first open up one of those backyard blow up pools. Yeahhh, we got pretty creative with our adjectives.
Martinborough Vineyard’s Pinot Noir was definitely a winner in our eyes – an opinion justified by the wine’s multiple awards.
We ended our two-week long New Zealand wine tour with Te Kairanga, which was definitely a Martinborough highlight. We were served by a younger girl, similar to our age at 22 years old, which was quite different to the older demographic who we’d been used to having host us. Despite age difference, our Te Kairanga host knew just as much about wine as anyone (and she laughed at our lame jokes, too, which was definitely a bonus). The barrel fermented Chardonnay was my favourite, exuding subtle aromas of melon and white peach with a super soft palate.
As I didn’t get the chance to head down to the South Island on my trip, I was unable to tour the region responsible for 70% of New Zealand’s wine production, Marlborough. Being the largest exporter of the country’s wines, this is going to have to be a priority on my to-do list next time I travel to New Zealand! Upon leaving, it’s safe to say I have a newfound appreciation for Chardonnay. Granted, I used to be a Savvy B girl, however New Zealand’s unique, bread and butter Chardonnays have most definitely turned me.