Christmas the Kiwi way

If you ask me what my favourite wine is, my immediate answer is ALWAYS New Zealand Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. Not all of them by any means – the mass production that has gone on in the last 20 years or so from the region means there are some awful cheap bottles out there. But the real gems – the wines that are complex, fruity, crisp, refreshing and zingy are a true delight. 

So it was a natural choice to choose to spend our honeymoon (yes, I will get round to doing a post on wedding wine at some point) in New Zealand – and Christmas staying in Marlborough. It didn’t disappoint – sunny days and cool nights, friendly people, lovely food, more cellar doors than you could ever visit and vines as far as the eye can see.

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We stayed at the fantastic Vintners Hotel, where we had our own cabin, and most importantly were close to many of the best vineyards in the area.

We hired bikes on Christmas Eve and set off to see what wines we could taste. We visited far too many to list them all here, but I’ll pick out a few highlights and try and keep it to wines that you can find in the UK too.

DSC00459First up was Whitehaven, who have their cellar door as part of the lovely Vines Village on Rapaura Road. Their Pinot Gris was standout – it’s actually the same grape variety as Pinot Grigio, but this really packed a punch. There was plenty of peach, grapefruit and almond notes going on, with a really crisp fresh finish. The Whitehaven Sauvignon Blanc was similarly enjoyable – and you can buy it via Ocado here.

A short distance down the road was the cellar door for No1 Family Estate – a vineyard which only produces sparkling wine. Established by Daniel Le Brun, they produce gorgeous premium Méthode Traditionelle wine. Our favourite was the 100% chardonnay Cuvee Blanc de Blanc, which you can buy via a specialist importer here. If you’re looking for a real talking point next time you serve up some fizz, this is it.

From there we visited Nautilus, Forrest, Fromm and Framingham. Of these, Version 2Framingham was particularly special – they’re known for their Riesling, but for us the Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir were some of the best we had. If you want to try the Pinot Noir for yourself, check out The New Zealand House of Wine website. Expect a beautifully rounded, very drinkable wine, with a lot more character than your standard bottle. That’s because they use a few whole bunches of grapes in the production process, with the stems giving silky tannins and a gorgeous nose. They also use a smoky oak barrel to add further layers of complexity to the wine, meaning a few savoury and spice notes along with those fruit flavours you’d expect.

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Christmas lunch was, of course, accompanied by wine pairing at the very special Hans Herzog winery. We had sparkling wine to start (80% pinot noir grapes, so a very different style of fizz), as well as Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and a dessert Riesling. The Hans Herzog wines are organic and as natural as possible, which was a real experience. Natural wine is much more interesting to taste, do give it a go if you get the chance.

On Boxing Day we set off to New Zealand’s most coastal vineyard, Yealands. It was simply stunning – a huge expanse of vines right on the coast, with beautiful cliff views and even farmyard animals on the self-drive tour! DSC00532At the tasting we sampled a couple of their Yealands Estate Single Vineyard offerings which were fantastic. You could really taste the difference in the Sauvignon Blanc with the influences of the very mineral soil and seaspray misting over the vines. They also have a much more affordable and accessible version of their Sauvignon that’s available in the UK, including at Co-Op stores and Sainsbury’s.

Do get in touch and let us know what your favourite New Zealand wines are – twitter.com/wineblag or comment below.

 

A Study in Simplicity

As luck would have it, I had the good fortune of winning a gift card from Pizza Express the other week (thank you!)

This provided the perfect opportunity to go and check out their wine menu (as well as their food menu too, of course).

20141115_184651_1Pizza Express is obviously a large chain, which buys its wine in as a company, rather than for individual restaurants. This means a fairly standard selection, but a decent one.

There isn’t much choice, making it much easier than some wine lists which can feel like you are studying a novel.

It’s not always a bad idea to go for the cheapest wine. Especially in certain restaurants, actually the house wine or cheaper bottles can be really good value. But here, none of the four cheapest (all Italian) whites really floated my boat. Cheap Chardonnay can be a really nasty choice (I can’t comment on this one, maybe another time) and the same goes for Pinot Grigio.

Fancying a crisp, tasty white to cut through all that awesome tomato and cheese on our food, the New Zealand Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc was an obvious choice. As I wrote before, this is usually a safe bet in a restaurant.

20141115_185405_1This one, Storm Crossing, was fairly decent. I still balk at paying nearly £21 for a bottle which, in a shop, I would say is probably worth more like £7, but hey, that’s part of what you sign up for when you are eating out. And it did go really nicely with our food.

Incidentally, if I’d been going for red I probably would have plumped for the Italian Ripasso as a full-bodied red that would compliment some of the spicier options on the menu.
Next time I’ll have to try one of the cheaper bottles. Have you had a good wine in a restaurant recently? Do let me know on Twitter: @WineBlag, or comment below.

Oyster Bay

Oyster Bay

Wine: Oyster Bay New Zealand Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, 2014

From: Sainsbury’s
Price: £8.25, RRP £11.19

Oyster Bay is a great choice for a reliable, tasty white wine. It is a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, and comes from the famous Marlborough region. If I’m stuck for what to choose in a supermarket or on a wine list, I always look for a NZ Marlborough.

Oyster Bay have just released their 2014 vintage, and usually you would want to pick a Sauvignon Blanc that is no older than a year (possibly two). It is a wine to drink young, and won’t get better with age.

It is crisp, citrusy and zingy. Chill it down, although always let white wine warm up slightly from fridge temperature to really enjoy the flavours. Works perfectly with fish, seafood, or on its own with a good book!

If you are looking for a bottle to take to a friends, which you know will look impressive without breaking the bank, this is a solid choice. Equally a good one to choose to treat yourself!