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Marlborough Wine Region, New Zealand

No self-respecting wine lover, or even drinker, who is travelling New Zealand should miss the opportunity to check out the wineries of the Marlborough region. This area is New Zealand’s largest wine growing area and probably it’s most famous. The Sauvignon Blanc’s grown around the Wairau River are becoming known as some of the finest in the world and by visiting any cellar door in the area anybody will see why. Each of the wineries I visited was unique but there was one common theme, the people here love wine and they love to talk about it.

Marlborough is the largest wine growing region in New Zealand with over 11,000 hectares of vineyards growing mainly in the Wairau Valley. The weather is predominantly sunny and dry (when we were there however, there was torrential rain) with hot days and cool nights, this coupled with fast-draining alluvial soils makes this an excellent area to grow aromatic varietals. Sauvignon Blanc is the most respected of these and as Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Pinot Gris are gaining in popularity more of these aromatic styles are being planted and grown.

The majority of wineries are located west of Blenheim around the town of Renwick, there are more cellar doors than you could possibly visit in a day and you would struggle to do it in two. Many of the wineries have restaurants and cafes on site, and you are welcome to picnic on the grounds at others. The whole area is perfectly suited to sitting in the sun (or torrential rain) and enjoying a bottle of the local poison, a few olives and some pancetta amongst the vines. Before you visit it is well worth checking out the Marlborough Winegrowers Association website which has a heap of maps and information about the area.

During our visit we visited 6 and wished we had more time, a driver and a whole lot more money able to spend on sending wine home. The wineries we visited were:

  • Wairau River
  • Hunters
  • Saint Clair
  • Cloudy Bay
  • Mount Riley
  • Montana

Peregrine Winery

Wine is one of these strange things that a lot of young people drink and love but they don’t become passionate about it until they get older. Peregrine winery, however isn’t the sort of place that is stuck in the same old stereotypes of old people, old buildings and old traditions. It’s hard to expect anything of the sort as you drive down the driveway, the massive white roof of the winery catches your eye, sticking out in a strange harmony with the landscape.

It’s quite difficult to actually see what you are looking at until you get closer, the judges of some bigwig architecture prize described it as “an elegant blade of light” and that “the age-old process of making wine has been radically reinterpreted for our time”. Not really sure how a building reinterprets the wine making process, but each to their own. I think the beauty of the building is it’s multiple purposes – not only does it reduce the cooling costs of the winery, but it acts as a concert stage.

Concert stage you may ask? It turns out that Central Otago summer is perfect for producing wine as the number of awards Peregrine has won attests to. The summer is also perfect for sitting on the lawn, enjoying some good wine, taking in the scenery and listening to awesome bands, Fat Freddy’s Drop and Jose Gonzalez in recent times. Needless to say, the wine flows freely and the weather is great.

Peregrine Winery is a must stop on your way through the Gibbston Valley, preferably in summer when a band is playing but if it’s winter and the mountains are snow capped the wine will still taste great.

Central Otago Wine Tasting – Chard Farm

Driving into Queenstown is quite an experience, following the winding Kawarau River down through the Gibbston Valley and the Kawarau gorge is the sort of drive that you can’t stop looking around in amazement. The problem with looking around with your mouth wide open, is that you might miss the amazing vineyards either side of the road. Now it isn’t just the architecture and landscapes they are built on either, rumour has  it that the Pinot Noir is pretty good. Today, I took the opportunity to test that theory – I woke up around 1, jumped in the car and headed to the closest (well not the closest) but the first winery.

Chard Farm, is a beautifully understated vineyard perched on the cliffs of the Kawarau gorge on the old (1860) Cromwell-Queenstown road. The buildings are massive Tuscan-inspired warehouses which were built in 1993 specifically for the vineyard. It is one of the oldest wineries in the area and certainly feels like it truly is part of Central Otago – the clerk at the cellar door spoke like he had been a part of the furniture for the best part of the last 40 years and the wine wasn’t too bad either.

We started by tasting the “CO2” the 21st birthday bubbly, it’s a really refreshing and light bubbly, which really doesn’t have too much more than bubbles in common with champagne. The unwooded chardonnay was a very easy drinking white with very subtle flavours, it’s certainly not what I think of when I think Chardonnay. The Pinot Noirs were all good, if a little too subtle with “2006 the Viper” being my pick, it has a great peppery note and blackberry flavours. Probably the spiciest of the wines we tasted.

At the end of the day, I wish I had have been to Chard Farm last, I think I would have appreciated it more at the time.

Yalumba Cabernet Sauvignon 2007

I’m a huge fan of cheap good wine, happy to drink good quality boxed wine and certainly not turned off by a $4 bottle – so long as it tastes good. But currently I have a glass of Yalumba Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 in front of me, and let me tell you I’m not that impressed. It’s one of the “premium cask wines” just like the Banrock Station wine I’ve written about before and it might be harsh on the Yalumba, but it just doesn’t match up against the Banrock.

Before I start talking about the wine itself I think it’s important to mention that by all reports the 2007 vintage in the Barossa valley was extremely hard for the growers, with a late frost and some heavy rainfall damaging a great amount of the harvest. This may well explain the low quality – especially because this box is of the 2007 vintage, as compared to most cask wine which is blended.

On the nose there is a definite smell of blackcurrant, and a slightly unwelcome hint of menthol. The taste is not what I have become used to from cheap Australian wines, which normally provide a somewhat balanced taste. It lacks body, tastes young (yes, I realise it is young) and has a touch of alcohol aftertaste. It’s not all bad though, it is quite easy drinking which isn’t always the case for cheap cabernet sauvignon’s and definitely is very good value drinking.

Banrock Station Wine

As far as dinner goes, there isn’t a better drink to accompany it than a glass of red. That is of course if the source is tomato based or the meat is red, otherwise white wine is preferential. Now let me start by saying I’m definitely no expert on wine, but I know what I like and first of all I like cheap. When you talk about cheap wine there is 2 types of cheap, cheap and goon. This classification is pretty down the line, goon comes in a bag (sometimes disguised as a box) and cheap wine comes in a bottle. Until recently this differentiation was pretty clear cut with nothing in a bag being worth more than $3 a litre and bottles starting at about $10 a litre.

Which brings me to the crux of the matter, for about $20 you can pick up a box of Banrock Station red (or white). They come in a range of blends, cabernet sauvignon, shiraz, merlot, and my personal favourite cabernet merlot. This isn’t any normal goon bag, I consider it to be in the class of “cheap wine,” or at least that’s what I tell myself. I suppose a sign that the box isn’t going to be horrible is the specification of the actual blend of grapes, rather than “dry red” or “crisp white,” another sign is that the grapes are all sourced from the same place, rather than from Argentina, Australia, New Zealand and Chile.

The beauty of buying 2 litres of cheap wine to have over dinner is it’s flexibility you have enough for tonight and tomorrow night, can drop a splash of it in your cooking and you aren’t too worried if you leave a glass that needs to be thrown out at the end of the night. While you might not believe me, by forking out the extra $10 your head might not ache so much tomorrow morning.