If you like to drink wine after a day of adventure then you must, must, MUST come to New Zealand and taste it straight from the vineyard’s barrel. There's nothing better than to grab an anti-pasto platter for lunch while you’re there to enjoy alongside a fabulous drop. From famous Marlborough sauvignon blancs to the cool-climate pinot noir of the South Island’s Central Otago region, your taste buds will be bursting with delight at the fruity aromas, deep flavours and great taste of New Zealand grown grapes on the tongue.
However, I – quite frankly – know nothing about the finer details of wine. I do have a friend who works at a vineyard, so I could go ask her, but if you're more interested in how wine tastes than where it comes from specifically then read on. If you’re looking for scientific facts, maps, diagrams, graphs and the like, then I'll have to encourage you to check out a proper website on the matter, instead of one written by someone (me) who designs and runs adventure trips for a living. If you want to know about the finer details of running an adventure travel trip...then I'm your gal, but at the moment let's stick to wine!
If you want to know what New Zealand wines to try while you’re here, stick with me – you’re in good hands. Drinking good wine is very popular in New Zealand and is a great way to meet people, show off your hilarious party tricks or debate the latest world issues with true passion. We like to drink wine here. Beer too. But mostly wine, especially if you’re over 30 and living in Queenstown. It’s a big part of New Zealand culture and we're very proud of what we produce.
First up – you’ll need to obtain some New Zealand wine. But where, which one and how?
Option 1 – The Supermarket
No supermarket visit is complete without a stop in the wine aisle! You can pick up a real bargain here – lift up any ‘sale’ price flap to decide which wine you want – base it on which one has the biggest discount and you can’t go wrong. Don’t stoop too low to the bottom shelf unless you’re going for quantity and not quality, and stay away from the top shelf because no one but the most finely attuned wine-taster will notice the difference anyway (unless you’re after pinot noir, then it’s often worth it). And no one will know that it cost that much and you’ll be cringing as you watch them guzzle down $20 a glass. If you’re going to share that is. Sharing is usually how we do it here, but that’s up to you. So, round about eye level (they're very considerate these supermarket shelf designers!) you should find some bottles around the NZD$15-NZD$20 mark – finding one that is reduced from around NZD$25 to NZD$12.99 is always a great option. Or SOMETIMES, and you have to be patient and look carefully, they put one of the NZD$50 ones on sale for NZD$25. Beware though – sometimes they don’t taste THAT much better. So, stick around the NZD$15-NZD$20 mark, get a selection (2 or 3) and take them home to begin your tasting session. Be sure to stock up on cheese and crackers, olives and other plattery-type goodness to help ‘cleanse your palette’ and fill your tummy.
Helpful hint: Another option if you’re somewhere like Queenstown (I accept no responsibility for the weird look you’ll get if you try this in South Auckland) is to ask someone else in the aisle doing their wine shopping what they enjoy drinking. Usually, you will get a friendly response and they will recommend a good tipple. Most Kiwis are friendly folk – in fact, New Zealand was recently voted the friendliest country on Earth!
Option 2 – The Liquor Store
In the liquor store, you’ll find a similar situation as the supermarket but there will be more options besides just wine and beer and perhaps more local offerings. Again, MOST liquor stores do the odd special deal (perhaps not quite as sharp as the supermarkets), but some of them charge top dollar. Liquor Stores are generally a shorter hike to get to than supermarkets, so if you’re staying in town, they can be a really good option. In Queenstown, I recommend “Henry’s” right in the middle of town, but we also have “Beaver Liquor”, although “Liquor Down Under” (I kid you not) recently closed. Suspicious names aside, if you’re new in a town, they often make it impossible to find the supermarket but you can always find a liquor store, so don’t waste too many wine-drinking hours shopping around.
Option 3 – The VINEYARD
This is my personal favourite and a great way to spend a day of your New Zealand vacation! We are based in Queenstown and not 15 minutes’ drive away there are a selection of stunning wineries just begging to be visited (remember though – always have a reliable sober driver – like an ACTIVE NEW ZEALAND guide, for instance!). Most have tasting rooms, some are free, some charge a small fee and some take you on a TOUR. BE CAREFUL. If you are there just to drink and eat, don’t follow the tour guide. You could spend precious time listening to how the wine cellar works. Unless you are a gazillionaire and you want to build your own wine cave, this information is not useful. At all. EVER. Trust me – I have done many wine tours and I still have no clue. Stick to the wine and food.
Excellent Wineries Surrounding Queenstown
- Amisfield Wine Company and Bistro - www.amisfield.co.nz
- Gibbston Valley - www.gibbstonvalleynz.com
- Chard Farm - www.chardfarm.co.nz
- Wooing Tree - www.wooingtree.co.nz
- Carrick Wines - www.carrick.co.nz
- Quartz Reef - www.quartzreef.co.nz
- Nevis Bluff Wines - www.nevisbluff.co.nz
- Winehouse and Kitchen (Van Asch wines) - www.winehouse.co.nz/
- Peregrine Winery - www.peregrinewines.co.nz/
- Waitiri Creek - www.waitiricreek.co.nz/
- Brennan Wines - www.brennanwines.com/
(And they all do excellent wine tours if you ARE interested!)
Other New Zealand wine regions are (working from the top to the bottom of the country):
- Bay of Plenty
- Hawke’s Bay
- Central Otago
Once you have your wine, check out the labels – if you’ve gathered a few bottles you probably have one, or a selection of, the following. * The more *stars*, the better New Zealand wineries are at making these varietals.
- Pinot Noir***
- Cabernet Sauvignon*
- Pinot Gris**
- Sauvignon Blanc***
I did that all off the top of my head with no help from Google! I am a wine drinking genius.
Pinot noir is a particular favourite New Zealand wine here and great for drinking in summer and winter – a year-round drop, if you like. You’ll find it fruity and blissful on the palette and a perfect accompaniment to New Zealand cheeses or a more substantial meal such as venison. The Cabernet Sauvignon has a darker, richer taste and the Merlot is similar but smoother. I always enjoy drinking Merlot in the winter when the fire is on and it’s time to warm up after a day hiking in the New Zealand outdoors.
When the sun comes out and the days get longer, then having a bottle of Pinot Gris in the fridge is an absolute must. It’s quite a flavoursome wine with a sweet, fruity taste, which makes it the perfect summer drink. Sauvignon Blanc is also a firm favourite, being slightly less strong in flavour and more acidic on the tongue. If you’re after a sweeter wine then the late-harvest Riesling is generally the way to go, BUT if you like drier wines there are also some absolutely stunning dry Rieslings as well – you might just have to ask for both.
Lastly, drink up…
You’ll need to make sure you are in possession of a decent wine glass. Drinking this stuff out of a plastic camping beaker or mug doesn’t do it any justice. Get thee to The Warehouse (a classic kiwi shop, much like Wall Mart in the USA) and get a couple of nice wine glasses. Then pour (not to the brim!), share, sit back, reminisce about your New Zealand adventures and enjoy.
A final note: Wine on our adventure trips
We are happy to and will be springing for the occasional drink here and there for sure, but we don’t make a habit of feeding you copious amounts of wine each night. We want you to be fresh and ready for the adventures that lie in the days ahead! That said, you are more than welcome to purchase wine along the way and there are plenty of opportunities to do so. Have a grape time in New Zealand! (ok, it was funny when I thought of it…)
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