|New Zealand Wines, Wineries and Vineyard Restaurants
This was one of the first of the dedicated pages we added to UNZ and it has not been updated as often as it should have been.
Originally the criteria for choosing Wineries to cover was not solely the quality of the wine but was biased considerably towards those with good vineyard restaurants, magnificent scenery and a friendly and helpful approach when one visits. This has given us a list of favourite vineyards which we have no hesitation to recommend to friends to visit spread over the two Islands
More recently we have also been using the Air New Zealand wine awards to signpost some of the lesser known vineyards some of which are producing outstanding wines which often offer exceptional value, a result, we believe, of the AirNZ awards being purely based on blind tastings. To this end we have been endevouring to try as many as possible of the 16 Trophy Wines each year and visit as many of the vineyards which have done well in the areas we are passing through. There is obviously some overlap with our previous favourites and others are as a result being added to that list.
New Zealand has a number of wine growing regions which, between them, offer almost ideal conditions for most types and styles of wine. The majority of the wine areas are on the East coasts of the two islands with the majority of the area under cultivation (85% in 1995) in just three regions, Gisborne (18%), Hawkes Bay (27%) and Marlborough (39%). Some of the best of the wines however come from small and more recently developed areas where the microclimate is particularly suited to particular grapes and styles such as Otago and Martinborough (Wairarapa) for Pinot Noirs. There are also good areas within easy reach of Auckland to the North and on Waiheke Island and in the Bay of Plenty a little further to the South.
The wines in general class as cool climate wines, the best, as do French and Californian Wines. It is not only a matter of the latitude, which is similar, but also the number of days where the temperature is sufficient for growth - the sap starts to rise at 10 degrees centigrade. The "Degree Days" (days x the max temperature over 10 of the day) varies from 850-1000 in Otago to 1300-1350 in Northland/Auckland with the major regions in the 1150-1250 range.
My ultimate objective will be to bring together our favourite (and best?) vineyards to visit and wines to buy - we will choose between 10 and 12 spread over North and South Islands and the major areas for review. The criteria will not be solely the quality of the wine but be biased considerably towards those with good vineyard restaurants, magnificent scenery and a friendly and helpful approach to tasting when one visits. South Island candidates include Cloudy Bay, Alan Scott, Cairnbrae, Wairau River, Pegasus Bay, Seifried, Gibbston and Rippon. In North Island Esk Valley, Morton, Crab Farm and Te Whau are obvious with Matua, Nobilo/Selaks, Montana's Church Road and Reserves, Mission, Te Kairanga and many others competing for places. We also plan to include a brief section on sparkling wines to bring in other favourite include Lindauer, Selaks, Morton, and Cloudy Bay Pelorus. But see the new panel above.
The Air New Zealand Wine Awards is arguably the premier wine competition in New Zealand recognising excellence in winemaking. The competition is owned and organised by New Zealand Winegrowers, the national organisation for the country's 1,700 grape growers and winemakers. The competition has been running for over 40 years and 2015 marks the 29th year that Air New Zealand has been the major sponsor and the 40th year that New Zealand Winegrowers has managed the Awards. It is unusual, almost unique, in that the tastings are blind. Each wine entered is tasted ‘blind', that is, it is recognizable to judges only by a unique code it has been given rather than by name or label. Wines are tasted in classes and sub-classes so that judges taste similar wines at the same time.
The 2015 competition saw 1,407 wines entered into the 16 different categories and judging took place in Auckland in November. The judging panel was led by Michael Brajkovich MW, alongside other international judges Ronny Lau from China and Mark Protheroe from Australia. The wines are tasted and judged by senior judges and associates. The wine is then discussed at the end of the scoring and in some cases re-assessed by the panel leader and/or the Chair of Judges. The wine is given a score and this is entered into the system under its unique code. Associates' scores are not counted in the final judging but their comments are welcomed in discussion. The whole process is very open with the names of the judges being published and the chairman's reportmakes interesting reading.
The Awards process is divided into two stages. First the wines are judged and awarded medals based on a score from the judging panes for each of the 16 areas. At a later stage there is a taste-off comparing all the Gold medal wines to decide the ultimate category winner in each variety and award the Trophies for the top wine in each variety. In addition Trophies are awarded for Champion Wine of the Show, Reserve Wine of Show, Best Open White Wine, Best Open Red Wine, Best Exhibition White or Sparkling Wine and Best Exhibition Red Wine.
In the initial stage the Awards are only determined by the scores they receive from the judging panels. Each wine is marked out of twenty based on the following system:
And the resulting awards are:
The standards are demanding and typically only about 5% of the entries will receive a Gold or Elite Gold Award (6% in 2015) and growers are proud to display and mention such awards. However few Wine Growers will put on Bronze stickers or mention them. In 2015 61% of all entries received awards. One should also note that some of the best winemakers do not compete in such competitions, for example Cloudy Bay, and others rule themselves out as they provide members of the extensive judging panels.
Entries in the Open, Limited and Exhibition Classes are eligible for Medals and the Reserve Wine of the Show trophy. Wines entered in the Open and Limited categories are eligible for the varietal/style trophies and the Champion Wine of the Show. Wines entered in the Exhibition Category are eligible for the Exhibition trophies. To be considered for the Open category, a wine must have more than 2,500 cases available for sale when the awards are announced in November of the judging year. The Limited category is for wines with a minimum of 250 cases. The Exhibition category is for wines with a minimum of 50 cases available. Wineries are asked to supply a recommended retail price for all wines entered into the awards. This helps avoid huge price increases if a wine does unexpectedly well.
As you can see we managed to find and buy or taste most of the Trophy wines including the Air NZ Wine of the Show.
We did not have as long in New Zealand in 2017, we were restricted to North Island and were also much later in the year so some wines had sold out. However but we still found a good number of the Trophy Wines and visited several wineries.
More to follow.
We often comment whilst tasting the better NZ wines, especially the red 'Reserve' wines that they are either not ready for drinking or we would expect them to improve with cellaring for several years. It ties up a lot of money for vineyards to store wine for the 3 or 4 years typically required and there is an increasing tendency for winemakers to design wines to be ready for early drinking rather to reaching their ultimate potential. We have found this not only in red wines but also in whites such as Sauvignon Blanche where they seem to be training the drinkers into accepting a faster maturing style and the wine critics are abettting that.
We were delighted when we found that the Wine Centre in Napier had a collection of more mature wines which they were just puting out on display in March 2017 including examples of wines and vineyards we knew. Although somewhat older than convention wisdom might say was good the bottles appeared in pristine condition and well stored as they had come from an enthusiasts cellar which he had been forced to cut back when moving away from NZ. They were also at a price where we were prepared to take some gambles, typically priced at half to two thirds the price of their current equivalents. Several had also won Air NZ trophies ten or so years ago.
We bought in several batches as we tried a couple and gained confidence in their quality and in total bought 12 at prices mostly at the lower end of $20 to $55 with ages from 1998 to 2008 plus a single 2011.
Marlborough is the home of some of the most famous New Zealand wines such as Cloudy Bay, whose Sauvignon Blanc is now a cult wine in most countries and strictly rationed in many wine shops. Almost next door is Alan Scott which not only has excellent and award winning wines (which you can sometimes get in the UK) but also has a very good vineyard restaurant called the Twelve Trees after the trees that shade it. They both have to be included in my list and are so close it takes little extra time sample at Cloudy Bay and then eat at Alan Scotts and compare the wines from our favourites in Marlborough or the other way if you are a little latter arriving - it is a must to catch an early morning ferry as neither must be missed!
Cloudy Bay. In 2002, as soon as we were off the ferry, we went to Cloudy Bay. We found we were too early for the release of their Pinot Noir which we particularly wanted to try, it is only the third year they have been offering it and we missed it on our last visit South. We were too early again. They say it will be normally released early February and sells out quickly. Many of their wines sell out within weeks when, as seems to always be the case, they take top awards. The Chardonnay 2000 sold out within three weeks and they had released a small amount of their 1995 which had been held back - we tried it and, to be honest, preferred the Cloudy bay Chardonnay younger. It is easier to get the Cloudy Bay Chardonnay in the UK than the Sauvignon Blanc and it is arguably even better.
We also found in 2002 that they were releasing the first of a new style of Sauvignon Blanc, with much more maturing in Oak, under the name Cloudy Bay Te Koko. They say the philosophy behind Te Koko is very much 'hand off' and comes from winemaking curiosity. After harvesting and pressing the wine is transferred to French Oak barrels and allowed to undergo a primary fermentation using naturally occurring yeast, in itself quite a deviation from current practice. This is followed by a full malolactic fermentation the following spring. The wine remains in the barrels on the lees for 18 months before bottling and is left to mature for at least another 2 years before release. This produces a full-bodied alternative to the usual Sauvignon Blanc style - a complex and savoury wine that is designed to be deliciously aromatic and richly textured. We can not wait to try it.
We enquired about the name and were told that the bay at the extremity of the Wairau Valley, named Cloudy Bay by Captain Cook was originally known as Te Koko-o-Kupe by the Maori people of the region. Legend has it that Kupe, the original explorer from Polynesia, dredged for oysters in the bay and Te Koko refers to the scoop used by Kupe to lift the Oysters from the seabed.
They have also recently introduced a new sparkling wine - a non vintage sold under the Pelorus label which was available to sample. It is quiet different to he Vintage Pelorus which we served at our Silver Wedding anniversary - the vintage is mainly Pinot based and is full of body and taste. The new non-vintage is predominantly Chardonnay and is much lighter - more an afternoon wine - we bought a bottle last year and our view is that it is very pleasant but rather over-priced both in its market and compared to the vintage.
Cloudy Bay have always been known for their white wines and have largely left their Australian cousin Cape Mentelle (also owned by Veuve Cliquot) to the reds, although they used to have an excellent Cabernet Merlot. The last vintage of the Cab Merlot was 1996, they told us they could not meet the stringent standards they set with every vintage so they have removed all the vines and replanted with Pinot Noir which, as we said earlier, is now coming on stream.
When we returned in February we had our first chance to try the Pinot Noir, which was as good as we expected and the new Te Kopo Sauvignon Blanc which was very different to the conventional style and, although relatively expensive was good and different enough to buy a bottle to access at our leisure.
We returned again to Cloudy Bay in 2003 and were able to try the Te Koko (a natural yeast lightly oaked Sauvignon Blank), the Pinot Noir and, for the first time, the Gewurztraminer. Normally they are released after we have passed through on about the first of February just in time for the Marlborough Wine Festival. This year they released them early to provide for the Americas Cup. The Te Koko was as desirable as last year, the Gewurztraminer was excellent in an Alsace style and the Pinot is now a real winner, you did not need to drink it, just savour the bouquet. We bought one of each to calibrate the best we find elsewhere.
One thing Cloudy Bay lacks is modesty as you will see from the following excepts from their tasting notes on the 2001 Gewurztraminer: "Perfume with incense, Turkish delight and old-fashioned rose the 2001 Cloudy Bay Gewurztraminer is hedonistically aromatic; the softly textured, off-dry palate redolent with Eastern Spices. Made in an Alsacian style to promote palate generosity, this wine a concentrated expression of vibrant Marlborough fruit that reflect the idyllic 2001 growing season perfectly".
If you think I have been unkind in the example I chose try "Redolent of ripe Morello cherries and spices the 2001 Cloudy Bay Pinot Noir is exquisitely fragrant. The intensely varietal palate shows supple fine tannins with layers of red fruit, toasty oak, savoury earthy characters and a long seamless finish". I know what they are getting at having tried both but the descriptions are a bit over-the-top.
It was unfortunate that when we finaly opened our bottle of Gewurztraminer it turned out to be corked - many of the New Zealand wineries are going to screw caps as it seems impossible to get quality corks any more. Cloudy Bay have been looking into the change but have no plans at present
Allan Scott As on most visits in 2002 we then moved on to another of our favourite vineyards - Allan Scott - which not only has excellent and award winning wines (which you can sometimes get in the UK) but also has a very good vineyard restaurant called the Twelve Trees after the trees that shade it. In 2000 we tasted some of their Prestige (Reserve) Chardonnay they have started making in small quantities and only sell from the winery. We confirmed our first impressions with a glass at lunch - they recommended the lamb fillet in choux pastry to accompany it. Both were excellent, I think there may well be a picture of it in our 1998 write up.
In 2002 our first visit was for lunch at Allan Scotts. We had their special of the day, lamb chops in a ginger based sauce on a salad which was excellent. We tried their Riesling and a Reserve Chardonnay. We have never been great fans of New Zealand Rieslings being spoilt with those from Europe but we have to admit they are improving and we bought a bottle to try at our leisure and also a bottle of their Sauvignon to try against the Cloudy Bay Sauvignons we had managed to buy in Auckland. On our way back to the ferry in 2002 we again had lunch, an excellent Blue Cod in a very mild Thai sauce with Jasmine Rice. We had a glass of their Chardonnay with lunch and it was so good we stocked up with a few bottles before leaving South Island.
We 2003 we again went straight from the ferry to Allan Scott's Winery for lunch - we have been many times and never been disappointed. The main courses tend to fairly light with hot or cold "meat" on a salad base with, of course, a wide selection of their wines by the glass or bottle. We then proceeded to sample the years wines - we are obviously going back to places too often as we are increasingly being recognised, in this case by Fay. She started working a Allan Scott for a single day eight years ago and is still there. It has its advantages being recognised as we sometimes get the chance to try wines that would normally not be available for tasting.
We tried the new un-oaked Chardonnay, very nice but we prefer the rich butter oaked style like their Prestige Chardonnay 2000 (their equivalent of Reserve). Pauline had tried the 2002 Marlborough Riesling with lunch and had been impressed - we are finding that increasingly the Rieslings are being made in a style that is more to our taste. That was certainly true of their 1999 Noble Riesling, made in tiny quantities from selected late harvest grapes and capable of competing with a good German Beerenauslese - a delightful end to a meal.
We also tried their Pinot Noir 2001, or more correctly both of them as the son Joshua has started producing limited quantities under his own name. The two are quite different and the Joshua Pinot Noir shows promise but is only just becoming ready for drinking and should continue to improve for several years. Allan's is already drinking well and a style we like. Allan chose not to make any last year and has been steadily evolving his style. The fermentation is in open topped but refrigerated stainless batch fermenters and the must is hand plunged four times a day. The wine pressed and placed in a mix of new and old 225 litre French oak baroques for maturing. This has produced a wine already drinking well but one that will develop further. It will be interesting to see how the two family styles develop and both should improve further as the wines gain extra age - they are already carefully pruned to reduce crop levels to optimise quality.
We have always been fans of the Allan Scott Sauvignon Blanc and we had stocked up in a local supermarket as soon as we arrived. We extracted a bottle from our stock the evening after we visited the winery to celebrate our return to Marlborough. The 2002 was as good as ever, as you would expect from an excellent year. The method used in production is for a free run and first cut juice is chilled and allowed 24 hours to settle. It is then raked and the yeast added and a temperature controlled slow fermentation over 15-20 days. The various 'batches' are then selected and brought together for a final blend, cold stabilised and made ready for bottling.
Cairnbrae Another close by winery with restaurant well worth a visit is Cairnbrae - they started many years ago as contract growers for Cloudy Bay then set up themselves. We had a pleasant visit and cold lunch platter at Cairnbrae several years ago and we made a point of returning in 2002 - the wines which were every bit as good as we remembered. We tried 'The Stones' 2001 Sauvignon Blanc, a very clean and harmonious wine and a perfect example of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc from unprecedentedly hot and dry summer. We tried the 'Clansman' 2001 Chardonnay from handpicked grapes which were bunch pressed followed by barrel fermentation in American oak follow by ageing on the lees for 10 months giving excellent weight and balance. We also tried the 'Old River' Riesling which, despite our prejudices for the German style, we had to concede was quite nice and the 2000 Noble Riesling sticky from botrytis grapes was first class - the grapes were harvested in a cool autumn evening and held in the press overnight - full of flavour and honeyed without being cloying sweet, a rich golden colour and very clean taste.
We spent a long time talking to Lindsey about what had happened since our last visit. The vineyard has now been acquired by Sacred Hill but the new winemaker has overlapped for a period and we were glad to hear he intends to keep to the same styles. He original owners who set up Cairnbrae in 1982 continue their involvement at the Marlborough Wine Cellars in which they hold a share under the new Cape Campbell Label. The restaurant, which is independent, continues to be operated by the same owners. We left with bottles of the Sauvignon Blanc and a complementary bottle of our favourite, the Chardonnay to try. Unfortunately we found the Cairnbrae restaurant is closed Monday and Tuesday lunchtimes out of season so we went to Wairau River's restaurant for lunch
Wairau River Wairau River is another well know winery which has a well thought of restaurant. We tasted a number of the Wairau River wines which are available in the UK from Direct Wines (Bordeaux Direct under yet another name which is just down the road from us at home) and picked a 2000 Reserve Sauvignon Blanc, lightly oaked, to go with lunch - I will not go into all the wines as we have been told they have a web site at www.WairauRiverWines.com which will always have the latest and full tasting notes of all their wines.
During our tasting and ordering of food we met Chris Rose, although at that point we did not know she was the owner of Wairau River, who stood out by the way she spoke with obvious passion and authority on the wines. We continued to speak at various times when she was free and we leant a lot more about the way the methods they employ at every stage in training, pruning, picking, fermenting and maturing their wines to obtain wines in the best Marlborough traditions but with their own distinctive style. Chris and Phil were just back from a tour in the USA and have recently spent time in London spreading the word about their wines.
Wairau River is very much a family enterprise and they have grown from a small start growing under contract to Montana. They were largely instrumental in opening up perhaps the best known part of Marlborough to vineyards against strong opposition and their vineyards have now grown to 300 acres. They are very proud that their son has just completed his Bachelor of Viniculture and Oenology at Lincoln - one of a small number in the first intake. This is the first degree in winemaking to be offered in NZ and is run by Lincoln in association with the Marlborough Wine Centre of Excellence at NMIT.
Wairau River also have the Shingle Peak and Foxes Island wines and are part of a co-operative that have set up a new state of the art vinification plant just across the road from their winery.
Wines alone are rarely enough to merit a visit or mention on this page and we found Wairau River have an excellent restaurant with indoor tables and outdoors ones under wide verandas, umbrellas and a vine covered trellis. Pete had a nice oak smoked salmon on a potato gratin with crisp salad and Pauline had the sage and mushroom stuffed chicken to a special recipe from a NZ chef who is now in Notting Hill London. The cheesecake was one of the best we have had, an excellent cooked lemon and lime cheesecake on a ginger biscuit base. Everything is made on the premises and there were nice touches like individual tiny dishes of salt and pepper with the main course and jugs of cream with the sweets.
Hunters For completeness I should also say that we have, in the past, also been to Hunters, another Vineyard within a stones throw of Cloudy Bay. It has an excellent reputation and their wines are freely available in the UK but we slightly disappointed at the tasting. It could well be that the sample bottles had been open for a while - at Cloudy Bay they always open a fresh bottle every day regardless how little has been used (and taste it just in case). Unlike the others Hunters sold us none.
Nelson is another of the well known wine growing areas but one where we have not sampled the wines so last year we went actively looking for Seigfreid's vineyard after discovering their excellent Gewurtztraminer. We had also found they had opened a vineyard restaurant. The only problem was we had no idea where they had moved to when they had opened the restaurant and a new winery. We were very fortunate as we drove past the vineyard whilst heading into Richmond to find an information office to locate them.
Good tasting where we tried a number of paired wines, we find that to be a very good way of tasting. We tried two Gewrztraminers, the reserve dry and the standard slightly sweeter version we had in the restaurant earlier - both were very good and typical with the reserve having more character and zest. We then tried the two Rieslings , as regular readers will know we are not great fans of most NZ Rieslings as we prefer the German style with a little juice held back to give the bouquet and fruit. In this case the Rieslings had much more of the 'grass' aroma of a Moselle, in particular the reserve which was slightly sweeter and very acceptable and the standard dry was quite drinkable. Finally we tried two reds, the Reserve Cabernet Merlot versus the standard unblended Cabernet Sauvignon. The Cabernet Sauvignon had a lovely Eucalyptus flavour after a period in 1 and 3 year American and French oak - we stocked up with a couple and the Reserve Cabernet Merlot was appreciably better than the standard which we had drunk as a bottle the previous evening.
Overall a very interesting tasting and unlike many wineries they had all the wines available to taste including the reserves - in Seifried's case the reserves are all called Winemakers Collection, I have used reserve above to avoid (or perhaps cause) confusion. The Rieslings were good enough to overcome most of our prejudices against NZ Riesling and even to buy for the right occasion. The Gewurtztraminers were both very good and we bought on the spot as we did the Cabernet Sauvignon.
Pauline completed the trials with a Cellarmaster's Reserve Pinot with lunch, another prize winner and one of the best Pinot Noirs we have tried this holiday and comparable with our other favourite from Pegasus. The meal was also a winner - Garlic Bread from a roll with cuts full of lashings of garlic butter. For the mane course we both had the Winemakers Whim - Baked fish of the day, in this case Terakihi on an excellent tomato and onion salsa with lemon oil and rice. We both fell for the Lemon tart, again excellent in the lemon curd style. The service was very good and friendly and the waitress was also very well informed about all the wines. The buildings are new and spacious with room for functions - we ate outside and there seemed to be at least 15 outside tables all with sunshades and trees surrounded by the vineyard. This has moved straight into our list of vineyards and winery restaurants to visit for both good informed tastings of an excellent range of wines and the quality of the restaurant surroundings and food.
We returned in 2003 and my notes say that the food was certainly the best up to that point in South Island and possibly overall in wineries in 2003. Amongst the wines we tried was an exquisite Winemakers Collection Late Harvest Riesling which will give most German Beerenauslase a run for their money although it was still only a couple of years old. Do not hesitate if you ever see it on offer!
Pegasus Winery We discover Pegasus almost by chance. During our first visit we had picked up a camper van in Christchurch and our first stop was to fill up with food and drink at a supermarket where we discovered one could not buy wine on a Sunday (this has now changed). This turned out to be very fortunate as we discovered the Pegasus winery. New Zealander's in those days had a certain flexibility and Wineries could sell on a Sunday. We tried a couple of their Reds and immediately ordered some and also enquired about their restaurant which turned out to still have some seats available. The food was as good as the wine and we were latter to return to eat and stock up. The winery had only started about ten years ago and has an ambitious expansion programme which includes accommodation an increased size restaurant and an expansion of their programme of opera evenings.
It is very much a family affair with the father a professor who lectures and writes about wine, his wife has trained as a chef under Pru Leith in London and one son has been sent to Adelaide and has a degree in wine making and is now their winemaker. The 1995 Pinot was exceptional fine for New Zealand and the Cabernet Merlot 1995 almost as good. The Reserve Cabernet 1995 had considerable promise but needs many years before it should be drunk so we did not buy. Thus stocked we headed on towards the mountains and eventually the West coast.
We returned in 2000 and lunch at Pegasus was as good as ever - they have now opened up a large new building with big restaurant with mezzanine floor and you now sample the wines at the bar. We had glasses of their Pinot Noir, one of our favourites, and the Cab Merlot with lunch - Pete did well as it was Pauline's turn to drive. We tried the Maestro (their reserve Cab Merlot) and the late picked Chardonnay before we left - neither are usually available for tasting but we were recognised from earlier visits despite the two year gap!
In 2002 the wines were excellent and the lunch memorable - Mixed Bread with dipping oil and Malden sea salt. A main course of Lamb which was lovely and pink followed by a superb lemon tart with crisp top and a white chocolate cheese cake. We had a glass of Pinot Noir with the lamb and a "Finale" their reserve late picked Chardonnay. After the meal we sampled the Cabernet Merlot and Chardonnay. Both the Chardonnays had the same style but were no so much to our taste as the reds which we rank as the best NZ has to offer - we bought both.
We latter tried the Pinot Noir against the Cloudy Bay Pinot whilst camping in Tapotupotu where we sat and watched the sun set with a rather fine bottle of Pegasus Pinot Noir. We tried the Cloudy Bay Pinot against it, which proved a very interesting comparison. The Pegasus had a much deeper colour and a very full bodied taste which made the Cloudy Bay look and taste more like a Beaujolais Nouveau in comparison - why did Cloudy Bay remove there Cabernet Sauvignon Grapes and replace them with Pinot Noir? Very sad and it does no good to their otherwise excellent reputation.
In 2003 we returned to our favourite vineyard in the area, Pegasus, for lunch and found we had arrived at the same time as group of wine enthusiasts from Denmark who were touring New Zealand and Australia. We managed to join onto their group for a very good introductory talk about the vineyard from Edward. I will not say a lot as Pegasus is covered well on the web site and I have spent too much time on vineyards and restaurants this year. What Edward brought out was that it is a small family business who are not told by shareholders or banks what wine to make. Lynette has just returned from 12 months in Burgundy and Matt has been in Burgundy for 4 vintages as well as a couple in other countries. It is now 17 years since the vineyard was planted and the Riesling is doing well on an old river terrace with good drainage leading to high stress and low vigour resulting in tiny crops of 2 ton acre of excellent quality. The family have done a lot of experimenting to get wines that fully express the site.
The vineyard has good shelter from Easterlies surrounded by hills. The local microclimate 3-4 degrees warmer than rest of Canterbury and is now recognised as a separate sub-region. It is particularly good for muscular Pinot Noir and Riesling . Chris is very keen on Opera and they have operas in the gardens in the summer, Chris sings in many operas in the area. Opera links extends to their top wines which are called Aria, Finale etc. Their building have been extending steadily since we first visited in 1996 and are now almost finished, the finale stage being a library of older wines.
We tasted the wines and were particularly impressed by the Riesling which Edward explained had been made from well ripened grapes from there 'stressed' grape vines and had the fermentation stopped with a little (7.5gms/litre) sugar. It tasted good at the time and we bought some to try later and jumping ahead it was every bit as good as we expected - it compares very well with a good German Kabinet and most Spatlese although still very young. The Pinot Noir 2001 is unfortunately not yet ready and needs several years - this was brought home to us at lunch as there was a special offer of a comparative tasting of half glasses of the 1996 and 2001 Pinots. The 1996 was superb with tastes almost reminiscent of mushrooms amid the fruit. We fished the meal with a glass of the Aria, a late picked Riesling will also give most Auslese a run for their money, we would have bought lots but it has sold out other than for restaurant sales.
The meal was as good as ever the scene being set with crisp linen serviettes and bowls of flaked sea salt and obviously a pepper grinder. The Chiabatti was the best I have ever had - small and split between two with rosemary olive oil and tomato/garlic dip with a pile of sea salt to dip into. The followed the French style with a complimentary course of white bean soup with truffle oil floating on the top. The main courses were excellent and Pauline had a grapefruit and lime tart which she considered the best tart she had ever had.
A few weeks latter one evening we settled down to a Pegasus 2001 Chardonnay - even better than we remembered from tasting it - why did we only buy one bottle, perhaps the price. It was very fine, possibly the best New Zealand Chardonnay we have had, certainly the best ordinary (as opposed to Reserve) Chardonnay. Edward had explained that only the 'Mendoza' clone is used and a fermentation in barrel is followed by one year maturing 'sur lie' in Burgundian baroque's of which 30% are new. The wine undergoes a malo-lactic fermentation in the spring and, unlike most wines, no preservative agents are used prior to the second fermentation. We looked up in the wine book and found that our views were echoed by the experts who award it ***** classic rating and describe it as "strapping yet delicate, richly flavoured yet subtle, this sophisticated wine is one of the countries best Chardonnays grown.." Why did we not buy more?
Rippon Wines Rippon has the most spectacular site of any vineyard we know - the view down over the vines to the lake with an island in the foreground and snow top mountains in the background. Rippon is the fifth and final choice of vineyard to visit for South Island and qualifies primarily because of the site. The wines are well thought of and win plenty of prizes - we tried the 98 and 99 Pinot Noir against each other and had a glass of the 98 with lunch.
They do lunches in peak season but only have an "itinerant" food vending licence so have to sell only in disposable wrapping with plastic knives and forks - the alternate full licence would involve tremendous paperwork and inspections and they would even have to install disabled facilities. The food was however good but next time we would take in our own plates and cutlery. Out of high season you can use their outdoor tables for picnics. The wines include a wide selection of varieties and the Emma Rippon sparking has just been released. The Pinots are their major prizewinners and all the wines are relatively expensive so we tend not to buy many to carry round.
Gibbston. We have been to Gibbston's Vineyard restaurant several times and looked round their cellars. The wines have an excellent reputation and they won the coveted trophy for the best Burgundy or Pinot Noir at the International Wine Challenge in London in September 2001.
We however go more for their restaurant which is conveniently sited on the road from Wanaka to Cromwell close to the Goldfields Centre at Kawarau Gorge. A typical meal consisted of a starter of Home smoked venison with locally produced feta cheese and salad and honey roasted pear salad followed by the Gibbston Seared Lamb tenderloin marinated in cumin and coriander with vine parcels salad and red pepper and date relish and smoked paprika salad. For sweets Pauline had the Otago Harvest Cake with cream cheese icing, cream and fruit and I had White chocolate cheesecake with lemon curd and fruit. Choices of wines are simple - they have a selection of wine tasting trays each with 4 wines which perfectly complement their meals.
Matua: In 1999 we immediately set out to visit some of our favourite vineyards in the Auckland area and stock up for the first few weeks and to be in position to repay the hospitality we were receiving from my nieces and families. We started at Matua where we sampled most of their wines - we had not collected the camper yet so Jenny was persuaded into driving with the promise of a vineyard lunch. Many of the wineries have associated restaurants making wine tasting a very pleasant days activity.
Matua have vineyards in both North and South island and it was interesting to compare the characteristics of the same varieties in the different vineyards. We bought our usual selection of Sauvignon Blanc, Oaked Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignons but also tried and liked an interesting new addition to the Matua range namely a Pinotage Cabernet Sauvignon blend which was not only good but also very economical at only $10 a bottle - we put several in our cases. Matua have also added a new sparkling to their Shingle Peak (South Island) range which we could not sample but took a couple anyway. On tasting it was everything they said and it will probably replace the equivalent Morton as our "standard" fizzy. Matua also do a vintage sparkling called M which we initially liked but has remained the 1992 vintage for several years and the last one we tried we suspected was starting to go over the top.
Selaks: Having sampled at Matua and stocked up with a mixed case and a half it was on to Selaks for Lunch. Selaks has a very typical winery restaurant, airy with both inside and outside tables and, of course, good food. NZ food is not the nouvelle cuisine style where you have to get fish and chips on the way home to avoid starvation - it is high quality materials well cooked and often in large quantities. Selaks is no exception, we both had a NZ speciality Lamb Shanks, one large and one small helping - the small helping was a whole lamb shank and the large was two, both deliciously tender. Jenny had a vegetarian dish and none of us could manage a sweet - the cost with a couple of large glasses of wine just $65 equivalent to 20 pounds for the three of us. It was at this point we first decided that Wineries and the associated restaurants must included in the list of NZ features!
In 2001 we found that Selaks had become part of the House of Nobilo Group and we had to taste and purchase at the Nobilo tasting rooms at station Road Huapai. We found that our views on the quality of Selaks were echoed by others and the three different Sauvignon Blancs they produce had taken the top and two other places out of the top five in the wine magazine.
Te Whau, a new winery and restaurant with the one of the best wine lists in the Southern Hemisphere and the food is out of this world. We arrived at close to closing time at three on the last day of the New Year break but they still found a table for six including the two kids. Service was a bit slow as they were fitting us in and the Pauline and I were warned that the fish platter we ordered would be short of their home smoked salmon as they had been blitzed over the New Year holiday. In the event they found they were also short of the scallops and offered it to us at half price, took one look at our disappointment and said it was on the house - we could not complain at that.
Both the Tuna and Squid were the best I have had and we have no idea how to start to copy them so it is definitely a place to return to. Their vineyard has only just come on stream but their Cabernet won prizes the first year and the new Chardonnay we tried (from three selected clones with a touch of Oak ageing) could well be another prize winner but note Waiheke wines are up to twice the price you would normally expect.
Crab Farm In 1999 we stayed in Napier and after a look round town it was out to the Wineries - Crab Farm first where we found a honeyed late picked Chardonnay and had a first class lunch of Venison liver with bacon and Lamb fillet flavoured with Cumin served with Kumara and Sage mash ($45 including bread and a glass of their award wining "Jardine" 95 Cabernet Sauvignon. The main vineyards are planted on ground which was under the sea until it was raised by the Hawkes Bay earthquake hence the name Crab Farm.
In 2001 we stayed in Napier and spent a pleasant morning looking round the Art Deco buildings and photographing them before going to Crab Farm, a winery just outside Napier for an excellent lunch and the chance to try their wines. The previous visit had impressed us with their Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, especially their late picked "stickies" which we took back to the UK to taste against the German Beerenauslase equivalents. They now have Cabernet Sauvignons and other reds available and we were sufficiently impressed to buy a few bottles of the Cabernet as a basic wine for when we go sailing. They also have a limited production of Jardine Cabernet which we did not get to taste this year. The main vineyards are planted on ground which was under the sea until it was raised by the Hawkes Bay earthquake hence the name Crab Farm.
In 2003 our first stop in Hawkes Bay was at Crab Farm, mainly because of the excellent vineyard lunches they used to serve. We were disappointed to find that they no longer do lunches and even charge for tastings if you do not buy. This, we have heard, has come about because there have been some changes in the family that owned the vineyard and restaurant and the new management wishes to concentrate on the wines. The wines are adequate - we tried their standard and Reserve Chardonnay this year and bought a Reserve as the price of our tasting. On occasion they make a "sticky" made from late picked grapes has been renamed Venito as they found their previous name Finale was already covered by a trade mark - we had a bottle of the 1996 Finale to round off Christmas dinner last year. They will remain on this page in the hope they will sort their internal differences and reopen the restaurant - whilst we were there several other groups arrived expecting lunch and they are obviously under pressure to reopen.
The Search for THE Hawkes Bay winery Restaurant in 2003. We set out on the search for a Winery restaurant to replace Crab Farm having received two recommendations, firstly Clearview Estate, well to the South of Napier on the coast, who also have wines which are highly rated in the books and competitions. The second recommendation was Mission, a vineyard we had visited in the past and almost within the city boundary. It was also adjacent to the Church Road Winery which we wanted to visit for their wines.
Church Road We therefore first set off for Church Road. Church Road wines are made in the old Tom McDonald Winery by Montana. Montana are now by far the largest wine makers in New Zealand selling under a variety of names as well as their own. With their recent acquisition of Corbans they have about half of the New Zealand wine production. Despite, or perhaps because of, their reputation as mass producers they were determined to turn out first class award winning wines and set up Church Road in the Tom McDonald Winery to do exactly that. They sought the assistance of Corbier, the well known French winemakers on how to improve standards. They can select the best of the grapes from any of their plots and use the best practice and equipment to make small amounts of superb wine which can take on and often beat the best of the boutique vineyards. It is good to see that being big does not have to lead to a reduction in standards. They do trips round the Winery and we went on one shortly after they had the first vintages available. Our timing was poor and we just missed the 1000 tour this time but spent a long time tasting and talking to John Milne, an ex pat from near Liverpool who has spent the last twenty years in various sectors of the NZ Hospitality game.
I will not go into detail on every wine as we tried many, including their reserves - John realised we were interested and open several bottles of Reserves for us to try including the exceptional Reserve Chardonnay 2000 which scored ***** in the latest Cooper guide and also qualifies as "Classic" which means it has achieved similar standards three years in row. It was everything one could ask. Other of our favourites Vineyards which have Chardonnay classed are Esk Valley, Pegasus and Cloudy Bay. Another wine which stood out from an exceptional selection was the late harvest "sticky" as the New Zealanders irreverently refer to Dessert wines. It was a rich honey taste with citrus flavours reminiscent of marmalade. We understand that some EU trade restriction prevents the import of such wines into the UK so they are worth taking back.
Mission We then moved next door to Mission. The old Mission's Winery at Greenmeadows nestles against the hills looking out over their vineyards. It is a superb setting in which they host vineyard concerts drawing up to 20,000 people. The current site is the last of several occupied by the Marist Mission in its long history in Hawkes Bay - the monks planted their first vines in 1850. The first vines were planted at Greenmeadows in 1899 and the seminary itself moved to the site in 1910, the huge wooden building was cut into parts and hauled to the site by steam engines - there are some fascinating pictures inside showing the early days and the move.
When we made our first visit many years ago Brother Martin, the Missions resident historian showed us round the wine cellars, a both amusing and instructive experience. Unfortunately none of the brothers remain on site but the building have been beautifully maintained and redecorated and hold both tasting rooms and an excellent restaurant where you can eat inside or on the patios where you have stunning views over the vineyard and Hawkes Bay.
We first sampled a few of the wines, the standards have been steadily improving and we eventually persuaded them to let us sample their Reserve Chardonnay 2000 (9 months on the lees in new French oak and rated ****) which was good enough to merit a glass with lunch and a bottle to take away. We also sampled the Gewurztraminer which had a lovely bouquet but was flabby and a little sweet compared to an Alsace or most German versions - it was difficult to imagine food to eat with it.
The lunch was one of the best we have in New Zealand. We started with a small home-made loaf with a lively course cut humus, and olive oil and balsamic vinegar dips. It was almost a meal in itself with loaf sliced into 8 thick pieces. Peter had a Snapper in a nut crust and Pauline had a pork fillet, both were very good and laid out to delight the eye on fancy plates. Peter could not resist their citrus cheesecake with combed manuka honey and a little ice-cream supported on a crispy ring and Pauline had the creme Brulee, again they were exceptionally good and well presented. It is not often when you can have five dishes without being able to fault any of them and at very reasonable prices - the total with a glass of Reserve Chardonnay was $75 for the two of us, less than we pay for one and a half courses and a couple of beers at the local pub at home.
Clearview We completed our investigation a couple of days latter with a visit to Clearview which is a boutique winery with a very high reputation - the Reserve Chardonnay is one of only seven rated as a Super Classic by Michael Cooper. That rating requires 5 successive brilliant vintages and a proven ability to mature well. We had a glass with lunch and we can understand why it is so well thought of. The Reserve Sauvignon we tasted was also very acceptable although not so highly rated. We also tried the "Old Olive Block" 2000 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Franc which only confirmed how good Clearview wines are.
We only had time to have a bread and main course siting on the outside patio at Clearview looking over the Petanque court. The restaurant has won a number of awards and the prices were slightly higher than at most vineyards at $22 for mains and $10 for breads. The breads were excellent with a selection of three breads with a humus, salsa, balsamic vinegar and olive dips. The main courses were also memorable with a beautiful pink lamb fillet wrapped in bacon and olive paste for Pauline and rare local venison medallions for Peter, both well presented and so tender they could be cut with the back of a knife. The only slight problem was that Pauline had ordered the Game and Rabbit but the lamb looked so good when it came she kept quiet.
We did not have sweets but those we could see did not look anything exceptional. Overall Clearview Estate has some of the best wines in Hawkes Bay and a very good restaurant - it is well worth the 8 km drive off the main road.
It is impossible to make a simple recommendation between Clearview Estate and Mission for a lunch at a winery with a tasting. Clearview has the reputation for wines and the tastings were more comprehensive. Clearview wines are not easily obtained in the UK (try Berry Brothers in St James off Pall Mall) nor are Mission Estate. Mission has beautiful buildings with stunning views, a lot of history and winery tours. Mission is perhaps more formal and Clearview has more a bistro style welcoming children. Both do excellent meals and, without trying sweets at Clearview it difficult to say which offers best value. Both were superior to the, now discontinued, meals at Crab Farm Winery although none would disappoint the visitor. The only thing to do will be to return again next year and continue our assessments.
Esk Valley: We then travelled on to perhaps our favourite vineyard for red wines - Esk valley. Unlike many of the New Zealand vineyards we like Esk Valley export to the UK. We have normally bought their various red wines, Cabernet Sauvignon in various blends with Merlot and sometimes Cabernet Frank. This year the red wines were in short supply but we were very impressed with the 2000 Chardonnay Black Label which we were told caused considerable internal argument as to whether it really deserved a more prestigious Reserve Status - it is excellent value and we stocked up.
We were also fortunate to have a long chat with the sales manager Sue, who remembered us from previous visits, and to tag onto a tour round the facilities and to learn a lot more about their production techniques from hr excellent and enthusiastic exposition. All the pressing and fermentation and maturing in a variety of French and American oak barrels is done at the Esk Alley site.It was interesting to see and learn about the various oaks used and degrees of toasting employed to get the best from every batch and parcel of ground by their master winemaker George Russell. Esk Valley is now part of a group with Villa Maria and Vidal and the bottling and shipping is jointly organised providing economies of scale without any sacrifice of quality or style by the partners.
In 2003 we returned to perhaps our favourite vineyard for red wines, Esk valley. Unlike many of the New Zealand vineyards Esk Valley export to the UK. We have normally bought their various red wines, Cabernet Sauvignon in various blends with Merlot and sometimes Cabernet Frank. We were remembered and greeted as old friends by the sales manager, Sue, who remembered us from previous visits and we had a long talk. Last visit we were fortunate in our timing and tagged onto a tour round the facilities with Sue giving the chance to learn a lot more about their production techniques from her excellent and enthusiastic exposition. All the pressing and fermentation and maturing in a variety of French and American oak barrels is done at the Esk Valley site. It was interesting to see and learn about the various oaks used and degrees of toasting employed to get the best from every batch and parcel of ground by their master winemaker Gordon Russell. Esk Valley is now part of a group with Villa Maria and Vidal and the bottling and shipping is jointly organised providing economies of scale without any sacrifice of quality or style by the partners.
In the past we have generally bought a stock of the reds for our travels and we did the same. The big discovery this year was their Riesling. We have normally not like NZ Rieslings which we have found disappointing compared to the German or Alsace competitors in Europe. Gordon Russell has, however, turned out two excellent Rieslings which are more in the style we like, one of which is from a small parcel of land owned by some enthusiastic growers. There were only enough grapes to turn out 75 cases which are only being sold from the winery door - we bought several bottles and may take one back to England to try against a good German. Continuing the path of learning by trying wines we would be less likely to normally buy we also tasted the Rose which was also very drinkable and we bought a couple for our travels. After leaving we looked it up in the 2003 version of Michael Cooper's respected buyer's guide (a Christmas present) and found it was one of the best regarded (****) and widely available Roses in New Zealand. Since writing this we have tried the special Riesling (distinguished from the other Riesling by the label Central Hawkes Bay 2002) and the 2001 Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec we bought and both were exceptionally good - we wish we had bought more of both.
Morton: Next stop was the Morton vineyard, another regular stop. They not only make excellent award wining wines but also have an excellent vineyard restaurant. We were too much too late to eat and we also picked a bad time to purchase as all the previous reds had been sold and the next years wines were not due to be released for another few weeks. We however tried their various whites and stocked up with their fizzy, one of our favourites.
We first visited Martinborough in 1999 where we were disappointed that we could not find any wineries doing lunches as in the remainder of New Zealand. We went to five wineries but left two, Ata Rangi and Lintz, immediately as they had started to charge for tasting - we only wish to try a small number of wines primarily those which we might buy in England and not be committed to buying or drinking more than we want or would be wise.
Te Kairanga:We started at Te Kairanga, who we had previously visited. They were once more most helpful and instructive and we bought a Pinot Noir and a Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot and then had a picnic in their grounds.
Martinborough Vineyard and Palliser Estate: We also went to Martinborough Vineyard and Palliser Estate, both have lovely sites and were again very friendly and helpful but were only sampling their white wines which, although pleasant, we found poor value compared to their Hawkes Bay equivalents, and without sufficiently unique character to justify the prices.
We see the Martinborough wine area as worthy of a stop if you are passing by - the town of Martinborough itself is very pleasant and is surrounded by vineyards. It is not area from which to purchase wines unless you are particular interested in Pinot Noir, where they have an excellent and justified reputation for winning medals, and are prepared to pay a less justified premium of 50% over other regions wines of the same calibre.