Day Drinking

It’s time we call “wine tasting” what it really is for most of us – Day Drinking. Wine Tasting is the perfect excuse to start with a tipple around 11am and keep it going until 5.  This way, when you are half cocked at the pub meeting your blokes at 5.30 or 6 and they say, “Damn Jermaine, you seem a little shit faced” , you can respond with “Well, I am a little buzzed because the misses and I spent the afternoon wine tasting in Marlborough”. Rather than staying, “Of course I’m drunk, I started drinking at 11am today!”. The latter of course groups your behavior in a new category of drinkers for most people.

I’ll save my thoughts on alcoholism for another post – perhaps when I’m riding the vodka train from Ulaanbaatar to Moscow – until then, its time to talk wine tasting in New Zealand.

I love wine. I’m a little mesmerized by this drink actually. I don’t think I’m quite to the level of wine nerd where you sit around arguing whether the acid is properly balanced or if you are tasting Stone Fruit, Nectarine or Apricot in the finish of this Sauvignon Blanc…I’m probably close sometimes but not quite there. (If you do want to nerd out on the topic a little, this is one of the best wine books I’ve ever read to really get to know the business – Wine Wars: The Curse of the Blue Nun, The Miracle of Two Buck Chuck, and the Revenge of the Terroirists)

What I love are the stories from the wine makers. Their histories and learning about the land they tend and why they make their wines a specific way. I do love to smell the soil in a glass and taste the clay mixed with oak from Missouri. There is almost nothing more exciting than a vertical tasting of the same “wine” from many years in a row – which we did at Te Hanu on Waiheke – because here you taste the history of the land and evolution of the wine maker.

When it comes to wine tasting, I like to search out the little guys making boutique wines with soils they have manicured as much as they have the vines. People who go out and feel the earth and touch the soil everyday. People who listen to the grapes and pick when nature tells them too rather than those who pick on a schedule. Most importantly, I search for people who respect their fruit and let that dictate that years bottle – the art of a season – rather than those who attempt to put the same thing in a bottle year in and year out.

Tasting in New Zealand allows you to do just that.

There are 13 wine regions in New Zealand. This trip we focused on tasting in the Nelson Tasman, Otago and Marlborough regions with a mini taste session on the Island of Waiheke on day one of this trip, which would fall in to the Auckland Region. It took some work to find the little guys doing it their way but when we did, none of what we found disappointed.

Some of my favorites –

Glovers – This was the type of place I dream about when tasting.  Old, dirty and unorganized.  It was a dreary rain day when we pulled in and noticed the tasting room was more like a home than a cellar door.  Incredible smells of smoking venison were wafting in the rain drenched air and as we exited the car we were welcomed into the wine makers home.  He was dining with his family but took time to allow to taste a new Pinot Noir, a chardonnay from the barrel – his first experiment he is excited about with this grape – and a Pinot Noir from his first bottling from 1972.  He only has one bottle left and we received the remnants of his penultimate bottle he was sharing with his family.  Because they were having dinner we didn’t press and left within 30 minutes but Mr. Glover is doing some fantastic work with Pinot that could rival some of the best I’ve had in Oregon and Washington.  That Chardonnay from the barrel, I think he could give the big boys making Chardonnay in the Margaret River a run for their money.

Woolaston – Contemporary design.  Sustainable, organic farming and building practices.  New Zealand owned and financed by an American and the tasting room featured a gallery of the owners fathers paintings, which if I did not know better could have been paintings I would expect to see painted by my own Grandmother.  It just felt right – but that may be because all of that lived up to many of my personal sensibilities of what I like in life – sustainable, contemporary and filled with beauty.  The wine was good too.  This is a young place that needs some stability in wine makers to set a standard but soon, Woolaston could rank among the best in New Zealand.  The Sauvignon Blanc with hints of Apricot and 2011 Pinot Noir were real stand outs.


We rented bikes and biked between the vines – a wonderful way to taste –

Saint Clair – Family owned, operated and proud of it.  Perfect first stop on the bikes and thanks to our rousing conversation, no tasting fee!  Good wines, nothing changing the world and they erred on a fruity lower alcohol side which was nice but tended to overdo the fruit just a bit for my taste

Hunters – I mention Hunters because of a funny story.  First, the wines were decent and a bit more creative but seemed like a bit self-serving vineyard for the owner, whose decorations mainly included awards she had won and pictures of herself with famous people.  To the funny story.  This was a good place for Amber, my sister, to get a gift for her boyfriend.  I liked their Pinot enough to buy a bottle to drink later in the week and I noted my purchase and Amber’s would be together.  Next I said, because there was another couple in the tasting room with which we had been chatting – “yes, that bottle is for her boyfriend”.  Record stopped, eyes dropped and we got the strangest looks you can imagine.  We do not really stand out as a brother sister combo based on looks so it was hilarious. I’m sure everyone thought that these Americans must be crazy.  We cleared it up and had a good laugh – I’ll never forget the look on the uppity tasting room hostess face and for that, Hunters makes the list.

Rock Ferry – To be very honest, I preferred their wines from the Otago vineyard when compared to the wines produced in Marlborough. Their Pinot Noir was the best we tasted during our time in New Zealand. Additionally, we had lunch at their cafe based on NUMEROUS recommendations and after riding our bikes for miles between the vineyards this day, the food blew us away. They are doing some fantastic work in the kitchen.  We dined on an earthy white bean and vegetable soup to start and had Monkfish over lemon risotto and wood grilled salmon with french lentils to top it off.  Even considering our hunger from the ride, their food was incredible.

Casa Miro –  Simple wines, simple food and a perfect experience. This is a place which has one of the most spectacular sea views on the island and they decided to keep it simple. Their wine is not going to bring 90+ points or win tons of awards but it is good. The wine satisfy’s and it tastes good because someone made it 100 feet from where they made your lunch – all of which was grown 10 feet from the restaurant door.

Te Hanu – This is a place that likes the awards, wants recognition and doesn’t mind saying that. The owner is proud to have drunk a lot of expensive bottles of some of the best of France and the tasitng room is lined with empty Latour, Yquem and Lafite to just name the big boys. (Rumor on the island is he has quite the cellar under the restaurant – which also is on the award hunt.) It’s a very beautiful place and the wines are good. They only do one wine and its a nice blend of Malbec, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Touch heavy on the fruit the past few years but the 2008 was as good as any meritage from central California.

Travel Tasting Tips –

New Zealand is great because you rarely need an appointment and can just show up, taste, chat and move on. (Compared to South America or many spots in Napa where an appointment is required, for example. This made tasting in Mendoza last year extremely difficult as my spanish is limited to Hola, Vamanos and what I believe to be some very funny cuss words to say when drunk – none of which helps get an appointment to visit Carmel Patti – so we just had to crash one of his tours.  I’ll tell that story in a future post.)

To get to the good stuff, pick up a regional wine map and pick one place at random to start the tasting day. Enjoy the tasting and then talk to the staff about their favorites. Tell them what you like, that you like the little guys and see what they love to drink. Repeat this process at the next 3 or 4 vineyards you visit and let them help determine your route. (I would recommend going to no more than 5 in a day.) This will make for the best tour, you get the inside scoop on the hot wines around town and you will always meet the most interesting people.

Other than that, New Zealand is a place to just have fun tasting. There is no pressure to buy so just taste, say thanks and hopefully get some good tips on how to move on.

New Zealand Wine link


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One Response to “Day Drinking”

  1. debbie cansler
    September 24, 2012 at 11:53 am #

    I love hearing about all of the different wines! It sounds fabulous. The idea of riding bikes between tastings would be so fun. Sounds like another great adventure. Lobe you mom

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