Driving up the south island we of course made time to stop in the Wairau valley near Blenheim to sample a few wines. Both the lady of the manor and I are big fans of Kiwi reds so this was the perfect opportunity to indulge ourselves, a fair reward for sleeping in a campervan I reckon. However we wanted to make sure that we didn’t just go to the well known names, most of them you can buy in the UK anyway so what’s the point in wasting valuable time tasting them here?
Despite this our first stop was Cloudy Bay, which no doubt many of you have heard of and is probably the most famous vineyard in this area (which doesn’t of course mean they make the best wines). We started with their whites and the bulk of the white they will sell is Savignon Blanc, which as with pretty much all the Savignon Blanc in this region is full of fruit and often tastes of gooseberry. These were good but nothing exceptional, the most interesting white we tasted was a late harvest Riesling which is a sweet, almost sticky wine. Very tasty.
We also tried their reds and did a comparison between their blended Pinot Noir and a single vineyard one. I have to be honest and say that the difference was too subtle for my taste buds to really distinguish between but enjoyable to tasted all the same. We purchased a bottle of the single vineyard Pinot Noir and also one of the late harvest Riesling. Hopefully these will survive the trip back to the UK and we can pair them with some roast Beef (or maybe venison) and then some good cheese for desert with the sweet wine. I’m actually salivating a little at the thought of that already.
Then next 2 stops were smaller vineyards that we hadn’t heard of but that the people at Cloudy Bay recommended based on our wine tastes. I will only write about one here because quite simply it was amazing. Hans Herzog is run by a Swiss couple who moved there to grow grapes that they couldn’t in Switzerland and what was most interesting was that although they do grow Pinot Noir and Savignon Blanc as you would expect they also had a large number of much more unusual grapes. We tried a selection but the ones that stood out were the Italian grapes Montepulciano and Nebbiolo , we were lucky that they had a 2004 Nebbiolo open that was so smooth and deep in flavour after just a few years in the cellar.
We didn’t have the room to buy anything from here but we plan to try and source some when we’re back in the UK. They also had a very nice looking restaurant (they used to have a Michelin starred restaurant in Switzerland) and a holiday cottage if you feel like some pampering, perhaps not with a 5 month old?
The wine valley here is easy to get around and very short distances between vineyards, I also noticed that a number of people had been on tours that collected them from the campsite, a good way of solving the designated driver issue!
The next stop on our magical mystery tour is Nelson and then on to the Abel Tasman national park.
Oh and Matilda had her first go in a high chair while we had lunch in one of the vineyards, most exciting and she loved it to.
Yes, yes I know, this is the post you have been all waiting for right? Screw the humorous musings and serious debate what you really want is posts about food, correct? Ok well true to form I have managed to do it just before the end of the month and I once again have 3 fabulous foodie firms for your reading pleasure
Thoughtful Bread Company
There is a little café called Troughs next to the canal near where we live, that just happens to be conveniently placed about half way around one of our favourite dog walks. For the princely sum of £2 this café offers unlimited toast. They simply have a couple of toasters on the side along with loaves of bread and you help yourself. So there we were eating our own body weight in bread which was amazing and it turns out that it’s made by the Thoughtful Bread company in Bath. A small company, but making bread of the finest quality. I’m not on a mission to get into Bath on one of the days they are at the market there so I can stock up the freezer.
Wiltshire Chilli farm
Now chillies aren’t really something you associate with the West of England are they? This local farm came to my attention recently as the producer of a quite staggering range of chillies. Now I’m a bit of a wimp when it comes to hot food most of the time, but used correctly you have to love the almost fruity warmth of a good chilli. These guys have a great variety of chillies covering the entire Scoville scale and they can be bought either online or at a number of farmers markets. It’s quite amazing really the type of food that can be grown in England with a bit of effort and certainly a good way to cut down on food miles. They also sell chilli plants in case you fancied having a go at growing your own.
Quoins Organic Vineyard
English wine has come on leaps and bounds in the last few years, potentially one of the positives of global warming, so when I discovered there was a vineyard close to me recently I was intrigued. Not only that but they have won awards from the UK Vineyards Association for the last 4 vintages. Sounds pretty impressive so I am on a mission to try some, they’ve just started opening on a Sunday for tours of the vineyard so I’m hoping to get up there this week and find out more. Wine buying in the UK has been increasing year on year, so if you have any interest in reducing food miles this is another great way to do. I shall report back later after the all important tasting.
Amazingly this blog has been going 5 months and I don’t think I have mentioned wine! Given that this is one the topic areas I planned to write about it’s a little shocking, so here in all it’s glory is a wine blog:
Today was a big day, big decisions were made and I put my money where my mouth is. You see today I purchased wine for the first time en primeur, that is buying wine while still in the barrel, before you really know if its good or not. I didn’t spend a fortune (only 3 digit’s) but I did buy wine that I haven’t seen or tasted and I won’t set eyes on the bottles for at least 3 years. It’ll stay in a nice cool warehouse until such a time that I want to try some. Sounds a little crazy I know. But I do love wine and as you may have gathered from previous posts I have a love of most things gastronomic and if you like good food chances are at some point you will begin enjoying the occasional glass of wine with it.
There are few things as satisfying as drinking a few glasses of wine in the evening and getting that warm, fuzzy feeling. At home I rarely drink anything but wine, well maybe the odd tumbler of whisky on the rocks (Glenturret mmmmm), but I digress. I am by no stretch of the imagination an expert on wine, I know what I like; generally it’s red in colour, more often than not its new world, if push came to shove then the label most likely says New Zealand and Pinot Noir on it.
Fortunately though, I have a brother who is the wine trade, he works in the fine wine department of a certain wine merchant that has been around for just a few hundred years. This means I have a free wine advice service whenever I need to match wine to food etc, it also means getting the inside info on new wines as they come in.
Right now the wines from 2009 for the Rhone region of France are just being released. This offer somewhat better value than the better known wines of Bordeaux and even Burgundy. Which is good because I really can’t justify £3,000+ for a case that is needed for the top wines in those regions. By all accounts 2009 was a good year for the Rhone wines and hopefully this purchase will be very tasty in a few years time. For now I just have to play the waiting game until I can sample my wares. But I would like it to be the start of a collection; I’m not interested in buying for investment, it’s all about the drinking. But now that I’m in a position to enjoy this luxury a little I do like the idea of building up a cellar of wine to enjoy as our family grows. If 2011 is a good vintage then I will of course have to buy something to celebrate the bean being born!
P.S. In case you’re interested the best of the selection is the 2009 St Joseph, Silice. 91 points from Mr Parker no less.