Travel, Etc. --> Jim's New Zealand Part I
Jim Bandy's New Zealand Trip Part I
Wine Guy Jim Bandy was able to take "Trip of a Lifetime" last year... a ten day trip to wine country in New Zealand! He's written a great article about the experience and included some amazing photos. Here is part one of three!
Life’s good when you realize a dream come true. That’s how I felt when we lifted off from Indianapolis International Airport on our way to New Zealand. After 21 ½ hours in the air my excitement was still palpable. With ten days on the ground, our goal was to explore as much of the country as possible using good food and good wine as our guide.
As you may know, New Zealand is comprised of two islands. Landing in the North Island’s largest city, Auckland, our first day was spent stretching our legs, exploring a bit of the city, and wondering what time it was? Though it was early spring there, it could easily have been fall in Indiana: gray skies, blustering wind, and intermittent cold showers. The Hilton on Princes Wharf was an excellent base location: trendy part of downtown, close to America’s Cup museum, 2011 Rugby Championship Headquarters, and more. After a good night’s sleep, we flew to Queenstown on the South Island. This view from the airplane reminded us we were somewhere very special.
The car rental in Queenstown was our first experience in driving on the left side of the road, but it was a short trip to Manata Lodge where we would be based: www.manatalodge.co.nz.
Situated close to Queenstown, they are even closer to many award-winning Central Otago wineries. Central Otago is known widely for their Pinot Noir, as you’ll know from browsing the Pinot collection at Grapevine Cottage. Our first stop: Gibbston Valley Winery. Boutique and picturesque, Gibbston Valley has won numerous awards which are proudly displayed in their Cellar Door (what we call a Tasting Room). The team there was terrific. They patiently talked through their approaches and processes. Christopher Keys, the winemaker, joined us midway through the tasting and shared with us his passion for the region and winemaking techniques.
They bottle several varietals but their Pinot Noir was, as expected, outstanding. I’ve enjoyed some especially good bottles of Pinot Noir over the years; without a doubt, though, Gibbston Valley 2008 Reserve was the best Pinot Noir I’ve ever tasted! Christopher achieved intense and complex flavors with a marvelous finish that somehow remained ever-light on its feet. I’m hopeful they will export to the US one day. Until then, watch for it if you travel. To quote Doug: it’s really good stuff!
Two Grapevine Cottage patrons recommended Amisfield Winery for Queenstown dining. We enjoyed Amisfield Pinot Noir from Grapevine Cottage so we scheduled a wine tasting followed by dinner. Amisfield is located just outside Arrowtown, an old gold-rush town that reminded us of a rustic mini-Zionsville. The grounds at Amisfield were lovely and we were treated to a tasting of several of their wines. They are a consistent producer and regularly achieve good scores. And the food at Amisfield Bistro did not disappoint. The weather was pleasant so we dined on their patio, choosing their "Trust The Chef" option; we couldn’t have been more pleased. An inventive bruschetta topped with peas and lima beans started off or five-course adventure. Our main course is pictured here: chicken (think exquisite pot pie-like filling) with fresh rocket, roasted potatoes and peppers that were so delicious we had to ask how they were prepared.
Had we not been wine tasting all afternoon we would have chosen their wine pairing option, too. As it was, we enjoyed a glass of their Sauvignon Blanc (slightly oaked) which paired well with all our courses, finishing with their dessert wine of Sauvignon Blanc botrytis. Reasonably priced comparably to similar dining experiences in the US, they are a destination spot worth seeking.
The mountains of Central Otago slowly slid away as we drove north into the Canterbury Plains, home of Christchurch and the Waipara wine region. Needing to select only one winery to visit in this region, we chose Pegasus Bay Winery, whom Robert Parker described as one of New Zealand’s Top 5 producers. It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon and the Cellar Door was packed. So we opted to roam the extensive grounds for a bit. Even without their delicious wines, Pegasus Bay would have been memorable just for their grounds. Thankfully, their wines were just as nice, with their Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon and Chardonnay being our favorites. This region has longer days than the Central Otago so they grow some Bordeaux varietals, too. Their Merlot/Cabernet blend 2006 was soft, juicy, and quaffable.
Can the famous Marlborough region top our experiences so far? Stay tuned.
February 16, 2011