A Guide to Wine Tasting New Zealand
This post was originally written for the Huffington Post Travel section!
Most people come to New Zealand for the thrills. Not many tourist destinations put such emphasis on throwing yourself off bridges, cliff edges, or perfectly-functioning airplanes purely for the adrenaline rush. But New Zealand isn’t just a place for thrill-seekers. Over the past 30 years, New Zealand has been earning its place as a tastemaker in the wine world. And the wine tasting in New Zealand is incredible.
Internationally, New Zealand is most famous for it’s Sauvignon Blanc. But with ten wine-producing regions that span a range of climate and soil types, there is much more to discover.
Auckland: Waiheke Island
A 30-minute ferry ride from downtown Auckland lies Waiheke Island, a charming, beachy community. Purchase a ferry and Vineyard Hopper ticket at the Auckland marina to get access to the whole island on your own timetable. The most important recommendation? Leave early enough to experience as many vineyards as possible!
Come to Mudbrick for the stunning views across the Hauraki Gulf, stay for the tasty nibbles. Not a single detail has been overlooked at this charming winery, from the tidy vegetable patch out front to the beautifully designed outdoor dining area. The Bistro provides local oysters and tasting platters that pair perfectly with their array of wines. You can also mosey over to Cable Bay to try their excellent Sauvignon Blanc.
The tasting room of Te Motu is set in a casual garden full of edibles for the restaurant’s kitchen. Cats laze about, glasses clink, and olive trees stretch out in the distance. This is just a short walk from StonyRidge, so visit both! The wine at Te Motu is good, the food is adventurous, and it’s a great little spot to spend a couple of hours educating your tastebuds.
This pretty vineyard pays homage to the Spanish artist Miró, with mosaic tiling reminiscent of his style found all over the grounds. You can walk between Miró and Obsidian, but don’t leave without lounging on the beautiful seaview terrace above the restaurant and some tapas.
This tasting room is no-frills: there are no glasses for sale (they don’t have the license), and there is no restaurant, but their experimental approach to varieties has paid huge dividends. Their 2012 Tempranillo and 2010 Cab blend will knock your socks off, and probably have you springing for a bottle, if not a case.
The northern end of the South Island is home to the most internationally-recognized wine region in New Zealand. You can explore this region through an organized tour, or rent a bicycle and follow the Wine Trail Map. Don’t miss a stop at the Chocolate Factory between tastings!
This is one of the top producers in the region, with the Hunter family credited for putting the Marlborough region on the map. They have an impressive selection of whites and surprisingly delicious Pinot Noir worth giving a try.
Arguably the most recognizable brand of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, come here to taste the older vintages and limited releases that don’t make it to the local wine shop. Bring a picnic or order from their on-site restaurant and enjoy a sunny afternoon.
This vineyard features a pretty cellar door and knowledgeable staff who will happily take you into the vines and explain the process they use to grow, trim, and maintain the vines. Prolific winemakers, there is no shortage of tasting options. The hardest part is choosing only a few!
Queenstown: Central Otago
Queenstown has a lot to recommend it: a charming town with great restaurants, a beautiful glacier-fed lake backed by the craggy Remarkables mountain range, and delicious Pinot Noir. With many of the wineries offering free or inexpensive tastings, it’s one of the most cost-effective places to DIY a wine tour. Cheese lovers won’t want to miss the Gibbston Valley Cheesery.
The drive to this vineyard is pure New Zealand: a dusty, one-lane road carved into a mountainside, falling steeply to a fluorescent blue river. Across the highway, bungee jumpers are braving a free fall off an old bridge. After a few nail-biting minutes, rows of vines surround you until you arrive safely at the tasting room. Once there, you’re rewarded with some of the juiciest Pinot Noirs in the area. Don’t miss the Mata Au Pinot Noir.
Stop here for lunch – the meat and cheese platters will have you swooning, especially if paired with their delicate, light 2014 Chenin Blanc. The view from the dining patio is stunning, looking out over several different vineyards that populate the Bannockburn region of the Central Otago Valley.
Not far down the winding highway from Queenstown toward Bannockburn lies Peregrine. The huge barrel room directly behind the tasting counter will leave a big impression, and there are several varieties worth tasting. Best value for money? Their Saddleback Pinot Noir.