Travel, Etc.

Travel, Etc.

Travel, Etc.

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Jim's New Zealand Part III
Jim Bandy's New Zealand Trip Part III

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 three!

Hawkes Bay seems to be anchored by the town of Napier. A more picturesque beach community is difficult to imagine. They experienced a devasting earthquake and subsequent fire in the early 1930’s which lead to sweeping rebuilding in the popular style, then: Art Deco.

We walked along the pebbly beach with pleasant views of the South Pacific, strolled down sidewalks crowded with shoppers, and generally enjoyed this lovely place.

Hawkes Bay is New Zealand’s oldest wine region so there were lots of choices. We decided on two: one that several Kiwis had recommended: Te Mata and a name familiar to us in the States: Craggy Range.

Sometimes you have to wonder how wineries choose their names. For Craggy Range, at least, there was no doubt. The winery is located opposite a jaw-droppingly beautiful…craggy range! It was tempting to just sit on the warm grass and enjoy the view for hours. We marshaled our resolve, though, and went inside. To our delight, we met Mary! Equally knowledgeable and personable, our first question to her was ‘How can you get any work done with that view?’ to which she whispered her reply ‘Sometimes, I don’t!’

Craggy Range makes numerous wines for which they have won numerous awards. I’m happy to say we had a preview tasting of their Pinot Noir which made Wine Spectator’s Top 100 wines of 2010! This wine is currently available at the store – get it quick. Their style of Sauvignon Blanc struck us as similar to Cloudy Bay. So, if Cloudy’s not available you might like being Craggy instead! Really, all their wines were very good. But something was missing. We had heard that this was the land of powerful red’s. Craggy Range reds were nice but more elegant.

Our next stop was Te Mata winery, a lovely property off the Napier Hwy. Their Cellar Door was housed in a lovely Art Deco building that was also their offices. Te Mata is known for their powerful reds, including their flagship wine: Colerain. It was not available for tasting that day but its ‘little brother’ Awatea, was a standout. Like riding a well-trained stallion, you could tell it was powerful but it remained controlled. A beautiful wine! Their Bullnose Syrah was also noteworthy. With these reds being the most bold we had tasted, we asked for their recommendations further north and they suggested Waiheke Island, just off the coast of Auckland. Duly noted, we added that to our itinerary and continued our journey.

We continued through Rotorua, famous for its Maori cultural center and little Tirau, a town known for its hilarious signs. Then we chose to visit somewhere many New Zealanders hadn’t even heard of themselves...New Zealand’s only tea plantation: Zealong. They were most gracious, given that we arrived on a day they were closed, and allowed us to purchase a tea tasting. As we prepared to leave, two groups of people showed up wanting to taste. Our hostess gently stated they were closed when one person pointed to us and said ‘But they are tasting.’ Acknowledging the exception, she shared that we had traveled all the way from the US. One of the visitors then replied: ‘But we’re from Canada!’ Needless to say, everyone sat, tea was poured and, at least in our case, tea was purchased.

Back in Auckland, we walked around the city and relaxed in preparation for our last day – Waiheke Island.

Waiheke Island’s location in the far north means it has a longer ripening season than other regions in New Zealand. That means that they can produce bolder wines from various Bordeaux varietals. With this in mind, we caught an early ferry from Auckland. The weather was blustery, rainy, and cold. The map seemed to indicate the wineries were close together, and that an island bus route would take you within easy walk of the tasting rooms. Not quite. Waiheke is fairly small but you do need the bus, or a rental car, or at least better biking skills than ours as it’s quite hilly. We began with an unfortunate and soggy misstep. Tramping at least a mile in the rain we arrived only to find the winery had decided to close that day. It was another long tramp back to the bus stop. Did I mention Waiheke is hilly? We wondered if Waiheke was such a good idea after all.

Stonyridge Vineyards, a much shorter walk from the bus stop than our first adventure, was not only redemptive, they were eye-openingly good. Stonyridge produces a Bordeaux-blend called La Rose, which critics often tout as New Zealand’s finest red wine. Even young, it was rich, bold and wonderfully complex. La Rose commands an attention-appropriate price which prevented us from purchasing any for home; a decision that still nags at my mind to this day. Should you ever find some in your travels know that it will be very, very good!

A short bus trip and another long walk brought us to Cable Bay Winery. Even in the rain, the views down to the coast were unbelievable! A reasonable tag line might be: ‘Come for the views, stay for the wine.’ Here we tasted several good bottlings. Their main red was good but couldn’t supplant the La Rose from my mind. The good find for us at Cable Bay was a lovely buttery Chardonnay. Reasonably priced, we had to have a bottle.

Pointing up the hill, (emphasis on ‘up the hill’) Cable Bay staff strongly suggested we make a stop a Mudbrick Vineyards. Our time was growing short so we had to hustle. Looking nothing like what you’d imagine, Mudbrick Vineyards had formal gardens and European-influenced architecture. Short on time, we rushed through a tasting but did note that Mudbrick wines were well made. Had we any more room in our suitcases we would have definitely purchased some.

Back in Auckland, we had pondered where to have our last dinner in New Zealand. Thankfully, we took a local’s suggestion and booked at Meredith’s, a perennial ‘best of’ restaurant a 20-minute taxi ride from our hotel. Nothing to look at on the outside, Meredith’s exceeded all our expectations. The staff was just attentive enough as we worked our way through their multi-course degustation menu. Chef Mike Meredith produced magical dishes, each dish was better than the last. Even a banana dessert (and we’re not big fans of banana-anything for dessert) that left us raving. This is a must stop for any foodie visiting Auckland. Meredith’s has joined the ranks of our absolute best dining experiences!

In summary, we highly recommend visiting New Zealand. It’s a long trip, and not a tremendous bargain, but it’s an adventure you’ll always remember. Cheers! Jim Bandy