Dear New Zealand Wine

Thank you.

Like a length of silky ribbon you have provided a link, glistened in the light and with only a few tangles along the way, held me together over the last four weeks as I ventured through your beautiful country.

It all started on the 24th of March. When, after a few days off to adjust to the new time zone, I ventured into Scotch Bar in Blenheim to indulge in a glass of your deliciousness as I awaited the arrival of my sister and her hubby. After the characterful chap behind the bar checked with his boss that it was okay for me to order a glass just before 4pm (I basically wandered in just as they were opening up) I now had to decide, what to drink?

Such a challenge. Do I stick to traditional Marlborough and go for a sauv? Do I partake in a more adventurous aromatic blend? I took the plunge and my first taste of you was the Herzog Sauvignon Blanc Sur Lie. And what a delicious drop it was! Textured, creamy with green apple punch, you passed my lips and caressed my tongue. A perfect blend of Marlborough vibrancy with Loire influence to boot.


Then my sis and her hubby arrived and since we hadn’t seen each other in a couple of years, it was only right that bubbles were the next choice. So onto the Nautilus Brut we went. I must confess that the company and conversation were of high priority at this point and not the tasting note. But you made a special time even more amazing.

The next day it was time to select the bubbly for my fast approaching wedding. This is definitely one of the highlights of wedding prep. Off we went to Le Brun No. 1 Family Estate to see what treats they had in store. Again you didn’t disappoint. After thoroughly sampling your wares with the delightful staff, my Mum, Aunty and even Mrs Le Brun poking her head around the corner to say hi, multiple cases of your Number 8 were purchased and stashed away. There may have also been a sneaky purchase of the No. 1 Reserve just to keep the gals happy in the run up to the ceremony (don’t tell the groom). The strategic placement of summer scarves also caught my eye and a vibrant red number made the cut. Hey, you can never have too many different shades of scarves. This is a life fact.


The following day included lunch at Allan Scott where I sampled an impressive range and was particularly taken with your Scott Base Central Otago Chardonnay. Rich yet balanced with supple oak and lemon zest. I believe my sis was also quite partial and a case or two made their way up to Auckland.

The Hounds Pinot Noir was a big hit. My Mum – who only very occasionally sips away on a vino – loved this. I can’t even remember the last time I saw her drink red wine, so this was a true revelation! We all shared in the spiced cherry silken goodness with lunch and purchased more for future needs.

Then the holiday took a serious turn and it was off down the Marlborough Sounds we ventured to greet loved ones and arrange the set for our nuptials. An impressive amount of you was consumed over these magical days. My most memorable sip would have to be my first of the No. 1 Reserve, which we served in delightful tea cups to an echo of ‘mmm….mmMMmm…mmmmMMMMMMMMMMMMmmmmm’s’ from the gals – partnered with many a raised eye brow. You just got better and better and took twists and turns on the tongue that one can only hope for with such a special drop on a particularly special day.


The following days saw you feature as Saint Clair Chardonnay, Matua Pinot Noir, Yealands Pinot Gris and Sacred Hill Sauvignon Blanc. Along with more of your amazing No. 8 bubbly and also a collection of Hawkes Bay treats courtesy of my good pal, Jimmy Smith, who went the extra mile to sample your expressions on his way to the Marlborough Sounds. This included Elephant Hill Syrah which I can’t remember if I actually sampled but I did have a visual on the bottle. I have a suspicion that my sis may have distracted me so she could sneak on in there and secure the goods herself. I can only admire her technique and aspire to her levels of sneakiness.


Needless to say you had a big impact on the post wedding day. And this was the first tangle that you got me into. Not only was my head slightly skewed, the tight twists and turns of the Queen Charlotte drive were playing games with my inner balance and a few pauses had to be made along the way home to help make the world seem normal again.

There was only one thing for it.


So it was off to Dodson Street Brewery for a couple of slow cold ones in the sun as we all caught up on the stories of the previous days and anticipated the Cricket World Cup final being held that evening.

Many hours passed. One guest almost fell asleep in the bar. This was not caused by you of course, but by the stimulating game that cricket certainly can be at times. But not this time.

My new hubby and I found ourselves at approximately 11pm not only coming to terms with coming second in the Cricket World Cup. But having this occur as we were surrounded by Australians. How did this happen?


Guests left, heads cleared, spiced chai tea was consumed. Then it was off to Picton for us newly-weds to enjoy a leisurely paced lunch on the foreshore with the ocean twinkling brightly. And then I spotted you. Your Pyramid Valley Pinot Blanc. Beautiful. A finely crafted number with pleasing weight, a softness, a lilt. You left me wanting more and also wanting to meet your creators. Which I attempted to do on our way to Christchurch the next day.

We swung into Cheviot with coffee in mind, and there you were. Mount Beautiful. Being all brand new with your tasting stand and super suave cellar door chap greeting us. I skipped the coffee and sampled your range. The chance to try your 2009 and 2014 Sauvignon Blanc was great but it was your 2011 Pinot Noir that got my number, along with your mineral driven Chardonnay. And then you drop the bomb that Pyramid Valley doesn’t have a cellar door so I can’t swing by. Alas. But they make their wines at Mount Beautiful winery, so I shall sleep easy and hunt out more of their delights another time.

mt beautiful

We arrived at our hotel to a rather amazing suprise. A wooden box. Not just any box. This was labelled ‘Muddy Water’ and was a wedding gift from wonderful friends. Three Pinot Noir and three Chardonnay. My favourite grape varieties. A range of vintages. Superb.

We got stuck right in and supped away on a glass of the 2010 Chardonnay before heading out on the town. Muddy Water is the English translation for Waipara – where the wine is made. Wai is Maori for water, and para means silt – hence Muddy Water.


Our next stop was Queenstown. I hadn’t been here since I was about eight years old and couldn’t wait to see your Central Otago vineyards. We drove through Gibbston and it certainly lives up to its name of the Valley of Vines. The mountains stand proud here and the valleys hold onto the early autumn warmth. The aroma of wet stones hangs in the air, from the glacier fed lakes that dominate the landscape. There is one word that describes this region for me. Strong.



I was eager to sample your southern flavours and savoured your Peregrine Sauvignon Blanc (refreshing, mineral), Gibbston Valley Pinot Noir (soft, densely flavoured with autumnal tones), Two Paddocks Pinot Noir (crunchy red berries, vibrant), as well as your Carrick Chardonnay (elegant, mineral, apple, cream). Your quality here is impressive.

Timaru was the next stop where a wide range of you was consumed on the porch, as the late afternoon sunshine sunk, with wonderful people whom I can now call family. You have assisted in the creation of fine memories here.

A sad farewell to the South Island it was, as we took to the sky and headed for Auckland. I had inside information that there was an impressively stocked cellar of your goods in Howick which included a stash of Stonyridge Larose, so this is where we went.

Our first evening saw us sample one of your international cousins – the Clos du Bois North Coast Merlot. It went well with our burgers but I did feel like I was cheating on you, so we opened up one of your slightly more off-piste expressions – the Herzog Zweigelt. This was a complete contrast to the reds we had partaken in over the last few weeks. A massive pepper kick was punching its way through intense cherry and red currant with structured tannins. Impressive, but I could have done with another burger to match.

The next evening we headed into Auckland central and to Bellota for a tapas feast with good friends. I’m afraid you didn’t feature at all on this occasion as Spain was the order of the day – or night in this case. We sampled a range of Godello, Albarinho, Rioja, Ribera and it was only right that we sip away on sherry – a gorgeous Oloroso with a smidge of Pedro Ximenez went down a treat.

dry river

Sunday session was your next appearance and our wonderful hosts raided their cellar and revealed your Dry River Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir. Our first Martinborough taste which reinforced the fine reputation that you have in this region. The Pinot Gris showed elegant Alsace influence. With a pleasing weight, elderflower and sun kissed stone fruit notes. Your Pinot Noir was divine and I want to taste more of you. Hopefully soon.

Our final days on your peaceful lands were upon us. Emotions were flowing, conversations about when we were to next return, discussed. Even though I know you can be found back in our South London stores, you do taste your finest on home soils.

We wrapped up our stay with a home cooked feast shared with loved ones. Kicking off with Deutz bubbly (yum), then heading to Marlborough for your marvellous Greywacke Chardonnay (weighty, ripe apricot, a zing, long), then to Waiheke for one of my sisters favs – your Man O’War Valhalla Chardonnay (toasty, tropical, refreshing, supple). Somehow we had managed to get through all of your Muddy Water bar the 2010 Pinot Noir. So we cracked it open to reveal soft cherry intertwined with earthy tones and warm spice. It was a memorable evening and your expressions wrapped it up in a warm glow.

beach walk

The next day was our last. And it was apt that your morning-after tangle was felt here, which helped me displace my sadness about leaving. A long beach stroll to take in the beauty and smell the fresh salty air cleared the head. Bags were packed. Reading material downloaded. Final moments taken in.

And now I sit in my local Tooting cafe, remembering your delicious tastes, recalling those memorable moments and wondering if I should crack open that bottle of Craggy Range Le Sol back at the flat, to aid the ease of transition to London life.

I think I shall.

Thanks again New Zealand wine!




Three Kiwi Pinots

I recently got to select three examples of Pinot Noir from New Zealand, at different price points, for a tasting we were hosting at West London Wine School. Being a massive fan of Pinot Noir (this grape is my usual Friday night tipple) I was rather excited by this mission.

For the purpose of the tasting, I chose wines that have wonderful people and great stories behind them. I believe that it’s not just the flavour and the texture of a wine that can bring pleasure – but also knowledge about the place, the people and how the wine’s made that can enable a fuller and more pleasurable experience. 

My first two wines were from Marlborough. Although Marlborough has a cool climate – moderated by the ocean breezes, we also get a lot of sun. Around 700 hours more than is needed for grapes to fully ripen. Some of the grapes for the first two wines were sourced from the Wairau Valley. The Maori refer to the Wairau Valley as ‘Kei puta te Wairau’ – the place with the hole in the cloud. When you are in Marlborough, standing out in the sun, soaking up the big blue skies, you feel like you’re frying. Due to the angle NZ is to the sun, there is less ozone for the rays to shine through. 


Marlborough is a region where sunscreen is a must. What this extra sun does to the grapes, is it allows the skins to get a bit thicker – giving more colour to the wine and a bit more tannin, as well as riper fruit flavour. Overall, a fuller, silkier style of Pinot Noir is produced.

To balance out this intense sun, in the late afternoon a cool, refreshing easterly breeze flows in from the ocean, dramatically reducing the temperature. Sometimes during the ripening season, there can be a 30 degree change in temperature, which grapes love. It allows the acidity to remain high and the ripening season to extend – giving more concentration of flavour. 


My first selection was the 2012 Matua Pinot Noir, available from £8.99 (Tooting Bec Food and Wine) to £12.49 (Majestic). Matua produce great quality wines at affordable prices and won the IWSC trophy for New Zealand Producer of the Year 2012. 

This wine is made by head winemaker Nikolai St George. A touch of Central Otago fruit is blended to give depth. Three days cold soak prior to fermentation extracts more colour, tannin and flavour. A small proportion is aged in oak for 8 months.

I love this wine because I can buy it at my local food and wine in Tooting for under a tenner. When I drink it, it transports me home. The texture is smooth and the I can picture the big, blue sunny skies of Marlborough as I taste the ripe cherries and hint of sweet spice and smoky oak.  Great on its own, but matches terribly well with lamb chops or smoked cheese.


Wine number two was the Jules Taylor Pinot Noir from Marlborough which is available at Vagabond in Fulham for £19.99. I’ve been a fan of Jules Taylor wines for a long time and have been especially impressed in the past by her Gruner Veltliner.  

After initially training as a Zoologist, Jules studied winemaking and viticulture at Lincoln University and worked vintages in Piedmont, Sicily, Australia and Cloudy Bay before taking on her own venture and producing her first vintage under the Jules Taylor label in 2001. Jules won the IWSC trophy for New Zealand Producer of the Year 2013. 

For her Pinot Noir she sources her grapes from quality contract growers in the Wairau and Southern Valleys. Grapes are handpicked and allowed to cold soak for 5-10 days. Indigenous yeasts and lees maturation bring complexity and rewarding weight to this wine. A vivid ruby colour leads on to ripe cherry, raspberry and plum on the palate with cocoa and a touch of savoury earth. The wine is clean with refreshing acidity and is simply stunning and remarkable quality for the price.

For my third wine, I head south, to the wondrous Central Otago. 


The climate here is very cool and continental. It is too far from the coast to receive those refreshing sea breezes. The region warms up slowly during spring and then retains its heat well into autumn. One criticism of the Pinot produced here is that it is often all fruit and can lack complexity and finesse. In very hot years and often in previous vintages, this has been the case. However, as the vines get older and producers alter their harvest times (often a lot earlier than in the past) the wines are becoming increasingly taut and complex. Central Otago is a compact area over diverse landscape with vineyards experiencing various micro-climates due to varying altitudes and aspect.

Most people believe that N.Z is relatively new to the wine-making game, with most vines being planted in the 1970s. However Central Otago’s first gold medal was at the Sydney wine competitions in 1881 for a wine, simply named ‘Burgundy’. The vines for which were planted by Frenchman Jean Feraud. Even the French could see the potential of this area over a century ago. 

My third Pinot Noir was the 2010 Two Paddocks First Paddock from Gibbston, Central Otago, available at Noel Young Wines for £49. 

Sam Neill (Jurassic Park, Peaky Blinders) planted his first 5 acre paddock of vines in Gibbston, Central Otago in 1993. At the same time, his good friend planted the paddock next door – and that’s where the name ‘Two Paddocks’ comes from. 


Gibbston is the highest sub-region of Central Otago, with north facing slopes. Some years it is too cool here for grapes to ripen fully. But when they do ripen, they obtain beautiful elegance and balanced intensity of fruit. 

The grapes are hand harvested and 50% went through whole bunch fermentation (whole bunch fermentation can give a touch more fragrance and slightly firmer tannins). A 5 day cold soak took place, followed by fermentation using indigenous yeasts. The wine is matured in French oak for 11 months – a mixture of new, second and third year oak barrels being used.


The wine has finesse on the nose with ripe strawberries, a slightly sharp tang of cranberry and vibrant spice. The layers and complexity flow through on the palate with taut, structured tannins, balanced by trickling acidity and a silky texture. Damson, strawberry, anise and floral notes thrill the palate. This is certainly one of the most intriguing NZ Pinot Noir’s I have experienced. 

Sam Neill’s passion for Pinot shines through in what he produces in N.Z. The ‘First Paddock’ is only produced in exceptional years. It is not a greedy wine, and Sam has no intention of being a bulk producer. When it is made, it expresses the vintage and its environment – following a more ‘old world philosophy’ where wines should express a sense of place. 


My Dad took my sister and I to the premiere of Jurassic Park when I was 12 years old at our local cinema. It was an 11pm screening which was super late for us! This was in 1993, the same year Sam planted his first vines. When I research, and drink this wine I admire the talent and vision of Sam. I think of all the things he’s done in his life and as my mind wonders, I remember being back in the cinema with those that I love, watching crazy dinosaurs! A beautiful thought to have whilst sipping a glass of wine.