David Whitley (guest writer) takes a look at the options for wine tasting in Marlborough, Hawke’s Bay, Northland, Canterbury, Central Otago and beyond.
The joy of a good glass of wine is that it works in all weather and on just about any occasion. Well, apart from when you’re behind the controls of a forklift truck or fighter jet, anyway. This means that winter is a perfect time to explore the many fabulous wineries that New Zealand has to offer.
In recent years, New Zealand’s wine making has come on leaps and bounds and the country is now recognised as producing some of the world’s best drops.
Marlborough | Sauvignon Blanc central
The climate and soil of the country is particularly suited to white wines, and wine buffs (yes, even the French ones) tend to rave about the sauvignon blancs from the Marlborough region. Whisper it quietly, but it may just be that they’re the best in the world.
The area has come a long way since 1973, when the first vines were planted there. It has taken less than 50 years for the region to become renowned on a global scale, and for anyone embarking on New Zealand’s wine trail, Marlborough has to be the key stop.
Winery options in Marlborough
Blenheim acts as the central hub for Marlborough’s wine industry, although many prefer to stay in gorgeously scenic Picton and do a tour from there. It’s not as if there’s a shortage of options – there are nearly 14,000 hectares of vineyards, 120,000 tonnes of the good stuff harvested every year and over 100 wineries in the area. Most of which, happily, are open for tastings.
Of these, each has its own strengths. For an excellent sauvignon blanc, try the Single Vineyard Gateway at Villa Maria, while for tasting in a scenic setting, Matua is a good choice. It has gorgeous gardens and a great location with the mountains in the background.
Cloudy Bay is perhaps the most famous winery, and as the fizzy stuff goes, the Pelorus is pretty darned lovely. Made with 80% chardonnay and 20% pinot noir, it goes down a treat.
Second best sparkling wine in the world?
Perhaps the most interesting winery is Hunter’s, which is a great example of Girl Power. It was set up by Northern Irishman Bernie Hunter who was tragically killed in a car accident in 1988. His wife Jane decided to keep the operation going and she has since become something of a legend in winemaking circles.
It’s not surprising when the produce is this good either – a sparkling wine produced by Hunter’s was recently voted as the 2nd best bubbly in the world by Cuisine Magazine. Needless to say, many of the French champagne houses weren’t best pleased about this.
Marlborough Wine Tours
There are a few operators that run wine tours through the Marlborough region. Amongst them are Sounds Connection, which offers both half day and full day tours.
New Zealand’s Other Wine Regions – North Island
There’s more to New Zealand wine than Marlborough, however, and the North Island has six regions with a good sprinkling of wineries. Northland was where New Zealand’s first vines were planted way back in the early 19th century, and the industry is generally centred in three areas; Kaitaia, the Bay of Islands and near Whangerei. Because the climate is warmer here, conditions are better for growing reds – there are some good merlots and cabernet sauvignons around.
There also some good cab sauvs in the region to the north of Auckland too – the places to head to are Matakana, Henderson, Kumeu and Huapai.
On the east of the island Hawke’s Bay is the second largest wine region in the country and Gisborne is New Zealand’s chardonnay capital. There’s a growing industry in Waikato and the Wairapara area around Martinborough has a reputation for quality over quantity. Close to Wellington, the Wairapara vineyards produce some high grade pinot noirs and can easily be tackled as a day trip from the capital. We guarantee that you will experience some of the very best New Zealand wine tours in this region.
The area around Nelson is regarded as the nation’s sunniest, and the mountains to the west act as a rain shadow. There’s no one speciality in the region, but there’s a good smattering of Rieslings, pinot noirs, chardonnays and sauvignon blancs to be sampled if deciding to go on a little jaunt amongst the vines.
The Canterbury region is split into two, with some of the wineries clustering around the city of Christchurch and others about an hour north in Waipara. The latter sub-region is the one that is getting wine experts all excited, and it specialises in Rieslings.
But if the scenery’s as important as the wine when it comes to doing New Zealand wine tasting tours, then it pays to go further south. The Central Otago region is nominally based around the action and winter sports capital of Queenstown, and it’s the sight of nearby lakes and the snow-capped Southern Alps that make a tour in these parts. Pinot noir is the dominant varietal in Central Otago, and vintages of it are fast getting an exalted reputation internationally. Amongst the best places to visit is Gibbston Valley Wines in the famous Kawarau Gorge.
Want to find out more?
For more information on New Zealand’s wine regions, where you can visit and where you can buy New Zealand wine, go to the extensive website at www.nzwine.com.
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