A glass or two of red

9 November 2019

When we came to New Zealand we expected to see plenty of evidence of wine production, and we haven’t been disappointed. This is hardly surprising: wine is big business here, supporting 16,500 full-time jobs and earning NZ$1.5 billion a year from exports.

New Zealand is best known internationally for Sauvignon Blanc, and also has a growing international reputation for Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and methode traditionelle wines.

We’re staying a couple of nights in Gibbstown – on the outskirts of Queenstown – where we’re told they produce award winning Pinot Noir. And, joy of joys, our package includes an hour of wine tasting each evening.

I’ve never been to a wine tasting before, so this promises to be a novel experience. A dozen of us are standing around the main man, a lad who tells us all sorts of stuff about how special the wine from around here is, thanks to the climate and the soil and …. and what else? Sorry, don’t know, wasn’t listening at all, I was just thinking, for god’s sake man, shut up talking and give us some bloody wine.

He’s a young lad, nice enough I suppose but obviously wet behind the ears, and he makes the fatal mistake of asking if anyone has any questions. Silly boy!

There’s two Aussies amongst our group. They tell us they come from a wine producing region in the outback – Kowabunga or Buggeroola or some such place that no-one’s ever heard of – and they plainly think they’re the dog’s bollocks when it comes to wine.

The Aussies start asking all sorts of nerdy questions, not because they care about the answers but so the rest of us will worship at their altar. But it fails miserably because we’ve all seen through them, and nobody really cares about production techniques or sunshine amounts or bee proliferation or whatever, all we really care about is when are we going to get some bloody wine?

Finally the Aussies shut up, and laddo dishes out the first of the samples. It’s a Riesling, and to my palate about as rough as an unsealed mountain road after an earthquake. The only way is up, as they say.

Laddo moves on to the reds, and we work our way through four or five. I know that in a proper tasting your supposed to swirl it around in the glass, stick your snout in and sniff the bouquet, and then swill the wine around in your mouth before spitting it out. Spit it out? No way, we paid good money for this wine tasting experience so we’re bloody well going to swallow.

As the tasting continues the wines improve, or perhaps I’m becoming more relaxed and less judgemental? A couple are really quite pleasant, although a bit pricey for someone whose palate is as unrefined as mine. Laddo thanks us for attending, and looks a bit crestfallen when nobody offers to take a case or two off his hands.

Feeling warm and mellow we retire to the winery’s adjacent bistro, where there’s a special deal on dishes paired with wines from the tasting. Well why not? we ask ourselves, and settle down to order dishes that are paired with our chosen favourites from half an hour earlier. The food is rather good, and of course the wine tastes even better when accompanied by a meal.

By the time we leave I’m feeling as mellow as a newt. I’m happy to admit that there’s lots I don’t know about wine tasting. Fortunately we’re here for two nights and so we can have another free go tomorrow. Why not? After all, practice makes perfect.

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