After swearing off white wine for life, thanks to indulging heavily in cheap, vinegar-y plonk as a student, it took me a few years to take some tentative sips of the stuff again. Even now, I’m still wary, but I can’t deny that on a sunny afternoon, a glass of fruity Sauvignon Blanc goes down a treat, and when faced with supermarket shelves, I always go for one from New Zealand.
Marlborough is an area I’ve only driven through before but after tasting Pinotage in South Africa, I wanted to prioritise stopping over in New Zealand’s most famous wine region for a glass or two. Driving the long way round from Christchurch due to road closures, we arrived in Blenheim after six hours on the road, and made our way to our Air BnB – an apartment above the tasting room of a vineyard. Highfield Terravin closes at 4pm to the public and from then, we were alone with just a bottle of wine and beautiful views over the vines.
Blenheim itself is a tiny little town with a supermarket big enough for us to stock up on things for breakfast, so once we’d sensibly lined our stomachs in the morning, we headed to the Vines Village. A family-friendly base for those who want to buy local products from wool to cheese, and of course, wine. We started the day with an absolute bargain $5 tasting at Whitehaven Wines, where for the equivalent of £2.60 we had four small glasses to try. The pinot noir rosé completely changed my opinions of a variety that I often just ignore. Most of the time a rosé is a blend of white and red grapes, but this one was made from just the reds that usually go into pinot noir, and gave it more body whilst still being quite tart. It was so good in fact, that we bought a bottle and brought it all the way back to the UK with us!
Vines Village is also where we hired bikes for the rest of the day’s plan: cycling the Golden Mile, a route taking in the best of the famous wine trail. Helmet and hi-vis vest on (because safety first!), we actually ditched the wine temporarily and made our way to the Moa beer brewery for a visit to their cellar door offering. This is the sort of place that would be packed to the brim in London, but out in the sunshine of the South Island there were very few people to enjoy a craft beer tasting flight and a big old pulled pork po’ boy sandwich. The quiet made it even sweeter.
The afternoon saw us back on our bikes, this time with something a little fizzier to aim for. Cloudy Bay is probably the most well-known of the brands we visited and the sheer size of the place let that on. A shiny interior with ivy covered walls on the outside; giant beanbags on the lawn, wicker chairs handing from trees, and a garden big enough for kids to run around whilst their parents get lightly toasted in the hazy 3pm light. We had a flighting of three sparkling wines, the Pelorus NV tasting as light as the bubbles were within the golden liquids and refreshing after the lunchtime beers.
As we made our way back to Vines Village to give back our adorable turquoise bikes, which by this point felt like sitting on rocks, we made one final stop at No.1 Family Estate, a vineyard that creates wine with the methods made in Champagne. They can’t call it that, of course, but their No.1 Cuvée sure as hell tasted like the real thing. It was a beautiful way to end the day, especially as we bought another bottle of it to bring home (a number of glasses of wine made us lose sense of what space we had in our bags).
You can find authenticity and local produce in markets and tours in every town in the world, but I loved having just a map and a bike to find the flavours I wanted to try of my own accord. From staying on a vineyard, finding a local bar, or exploring on two-wheels, the Marlborough region goes above and beyond Sauvignon Blanc, but at least now I know for sure that it does that just as well as I’d expected too.
More posts on what to do in New Zealand’s South Island:
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