Thaaaaaats right folks,
This post is reflecting on the recent LTLT reconnaissance trip to the land of the long white cloud; and while AA Gill I ain’t, let’s consider this somewhat of an attempt at a travel blog.
After missing a decent breakfast due to the late opening of Cafe Vue and wearing a particularly lengthy delay in the devoid-of-stimuli nightmare that is the Auckland domestic terminal (which inexplicably, smelt strongly of bacon – nice for 15 minutes, nauseating after 4 hours) we rode our first night excitement straight into the sensational Wellington venue of The Matterhorn (which I discovered via a mention on the well-worth-your-time Sharking for Chips and Drinks blog). A great bar/restaurant/courtyard venue with some well thought out and executed mod-european cuisine, we accompanied it with some Gin cocktails and a bottle of the Martinborough Estate ‘Te Tera’ Pinot, a briary, red-fruited number with a decent amount of sweet and savoury fruit going on.
A few choice tips from the staff at The Matterhorn saw us into Friday night with a significant amount of holiday fever. We started at Hummingbird, which proved to be an incredible choice as the pre meal cocktails at the bar blended into some incredible starters (Crayfish & Prawn sliders anyone? With a DECENT chunk of crayfish in the middle of the bun). Eyeing off the well picked and well priced wine list we took some more staff advice and dove headfirst into some of the more succulent lamb I’ve had the pleasure of trying, matched with some truffled parmesan potatoes, onion rings and greek salad. Matched, of course, with the 2011 Craggy Range Merlot; looking at first pretty with nice structure it slowly morphed over the course of the bottle to a darker, chewier, more serious beast. Great booze. Things went a little haywire from here, and after finally leaving Hummingbird several drinks later we got distracted on the way to the cab and went to the nearby restaurant/garden bar Ancestral for an ale and some incredible late night Yakitori. This place looked incredible and would definitely be worth a look if you were in the area.
Unsurprisingly, the next day was a little slower than the one before and we achieved little except getting some takeaway and sampling the 2010 Vynfields Martinborough Pinot, which was rich but a little bit ripe and veering towards ‘generic dry red’ territory; although the teeny tiny hotel room glasses weren’t doing the aromatics any favours.
An early night saw us alighting early over the winding road to Pinot-land of Martinborough; windy enough for Mrs LTLT to declare ‘I don’t think I can taste any wine after that’; a pronunciation that was swiftly discarded upon arriving at the hallowed turf of Ata Rangi. I love seeing an esteemed winery with a down to earth cellar door and the hut at Ata Rangi was a treat, reminiscent of the Kooyong/Port Phillip of old. I’ve been a bit hot and cold on their wines in the past – they aren’t cheap and occasionally I’ve struggled to see the value – but the current batch are looking fantastic. The 2011 Petrie and Craighall Chardonnays are looking tightly coiled and very Macon-like, the 2012 Crimson Pinot with its fresh, peppery spice is a great way to introduce people to pinot and the esteemed 2011 Ata Rangi Pinot was packed to the brim with brown, asian spices and dried herbs; highlighting why its held in such high esteem.
Martinborough, like the Mornington Peninsula, is known for its pinot but can also grow some exceptional cool-climate shiraz and on recommendation from Ata Rangi we looked for some at the nearby estate of Schubert, who had a decidedly excellent 2012 Sauv Blanc, made in a Fume (lightly oaked) style before their intensely structured and seductive 09 Shiraz, holding layer on layer of velvet tannin, fruit and spice. Serious booze. Off to Martinborough Estate next before continuing our drive, their 2011 Burnt Spur Pinot was looking nice with its lifted and sweet fruit, as was their 2010 Syrah Viognier and its archetypal white pepper nose.
Next stop was the Art-Deco city of Napier (built entirely in the Art Deco style after an earthquake levelled the town in 1931). Also conveniently located right on the shores of Hawkes bay and surrounded by the Hawkes bay wine region. A super classy little town, this one. The Hawkes Bay region centres around the ‘Gimblett Gravels’, an old stony river bed that was largely originally planted to bordeaux varieties (Cab Sauv, Cab Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec) due to the area’s resemblance of the Graves commune in Bordeaux. Over time they discovered that they can grow some mighty fine Shiraz there and also some decent Chardonnay.
After some chilling out for the first couple of nights we hit up the region, clocking up the cellar doors of Te Mata, Black Barn, Elephant Hill & Brookfields before settling for an awesome lunch at Mission Estate. I was most keen to get an overview of the regional styles rather than chase specific wines (although the Te Mata Bullnose and Elephant Hill Syrah are worth looking out for) and the Shiraz from the region shows a unqiue spicy/salty character that really site it apart. For me, the region is a little warm to produce great Chardonnay, although the wineries that we visited handled this well by not overworking their fruit and hence the Chards were mostly pretty enjoyable if not exceptional.
We were totally blown away by the standard of the restaurants around Napier and so after our big lunch at mission, doubled down to go to the highly touted ‘Pacifica‘ in Napier. Hands down the best meal of the trip, it would be a worthwhile trip to the region simply to eat here and then leave. With the entire menu dedicated to entree sized dishes to encourage multiple tastes and adventurous eating, a focus on the amazing local produce, and brilliantly executed asian-influenced cuisine (Chia crusted prawns with smoked eel ‘porridge’, Duck, pork cheek & tapioca congee) in an unassuming, casual room; it was truly a meal to savour. Highlight dish could have been called ‘everything delicious you can think of on a plate at once’ – quail breast, tempura quail leg, softened pork belly, tempura scampi, spatchcok & prawn ballotine on a cauliflower and Foie Gras puree. We drunk the excellent NV Nautilus Sparkling to start and then enjoyed a wine so good I could write a paragraph on it, the incredibly meursault-like 2010 Neudorf Moutere Chardonnay. Hard to overstate how good this bottle was, a pure, powerful chardonnay that will definitely be making its way into my cellar (and possibly the LTLT shelves) in the future. Wine of the trip, hands down.
Unsurprisingly, after that massive day of eating and drinking, our plans to hit up some more wineries (and restaurants) the next day fell by the wayside, although we made it up to Esk Valley for a tasting. Unfortunately these wines aren’t currently imported into Australia as their 2011 Gimblett Gravels Merlot/Cab Sauv/Malbec was an absolute cracker of a blend for low $20s and kicks almost every similarly priced Australian bordeaux blend in the price range to the kerb.
With out time in Napier coming to a close we were also moving away from the eating and drinking part of the holiday and towards the blissful relaxation of the Coromandel peninsula, where we found ourselves after a quick jaunt through Taupo, Rotorua, the decidedly underwhelming ‘thermal park’ experience and a stop in Mount Maunganui. I won’t bore you with the details except to say that we scored some great surf, cooked a heap of comfort food and did a whole heap of chilling out watching the weather roll in.
Back in Melbourne now and back in business, hope you’ve all been well.