Shops we adore: Artisan Wine Suppliers

Last time I was in Auckland, I stayed at the Elliot Street Apartments (I’ll be doing a roundup of Auckland hotels in March), which was above the Elliot Street Stables,  a very Europeany food court-ish space, with an assortment of eateries opening up onto central cobblestoned alleys with communal tables. It was a lovely space, with a nice cool breeze and as my sister and I started to eat our way around the world (Italian bruschetta, Morrocan and French sausages), a man with some tiny little plastic cups came up to us, and asked if we wanted to try the wine special of the day. That’s a big hell to the yes, so with a little free chardonnay inside us, we decided to purchase a bottle to drink that night. We found our way to his shop and the joy continued. We asked for something aromatic, kind of Waipara-ish, good for drinking after a hard day and under $25, and Kevin the proprieter didn’t baulk at all. Instead, he asked us if our tastes ran to the turkish delight-ish, which they do, and he promptly recommended two kinds of Gewurztraminer. We took the one from Malborough that we’d never heard of before, and we also gladly accepted his advice to wet towels and hang them in front of the fans in our rooms in order to cool them down. And oh man, that wine was scrumptious and perfect.

It was so delicious, in fact, that when we were waiting the next day for our ride to our wine day out, we went back to thank him for his splendid advice. When we said that we’d buy more except that we were Matakana-bound, he gave us enthusiastic advice about which vineyards we should go to, and which ones were skippable. It was very obvious that they only stock wines that they drink and love. I was also impressed when he gave me his card so that I can email him to find out where I can buy that wine that I loved in Wellington, except that I’ve forgotten its name. Chances are Kevin would remember though. Artisan Wine Suppliers for the win! Such lovely friendly thoughtful service. We’re recommending it to everyone we know.

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A Wine Day Out

After all the standing involved in the Big Day Out, I knew that I’d want something relaxing to do the day after, so I roped in an Auckland friend to act as a designated driver, rounded up some girlfriends, and we headed out of town to the vineyards of Matakana. Unfortunately, it seemed like the whole rest of Auckland had decided to do the same thing, and traffic started crawling as soon as we got to the North Shore. One of the front windows wouldn’t open, and it was scorching hot, so it was with tremendous relief that we arrived at our first destination:

Ransom Wines
Ransom food platters.Ransom Wines is a big, bold concrete structure, with a high atrium for wine-tasting that was delightfully cool. Although there appeared to be a couple of Hens’ Parties in the restaurant deck proper, when we went to the wine-tasting counter, we were offered lunch spots at the big table in the atrium, and that suited us fine. Wine tastings were $5, but they reasoned that we’re probably order wine with lunch, and so we didn’t have to pay. The Vin Gris was a very dry rose, the Cab Malbec was fruity, the Cab Franc was spicy, and that’s where my notes ended, except for saying that their unoaked chardonnay was honey-ish, and delicious, and so that’s what we had with our lunch. The food was $18 a head, for huge platters groaning with cheese, venison salami, roast vegetables, dips and all kinds of goodness. We were super happy campers indeed, and my suggestion that we stay there and continue to drink and eat all day was given a little bit of deliberation, before we set off to:

Ascension
Acension’s website claims to be a small boutique vineyard, but their set-up is probably the biggest we went to all day. Since they’re strict with how many wines they’ll let you taste, skip the Sav Blanc – it tastes just like any other sav ever, and go for the more exotic varieties. We loved ‘The Flamenco’ although we’re not so fond of putting names into “quotation” marks. Check out this description of another wine we loved for a clear demonstation:

Recent critically acclaimed vintages of this wine have been labeled Pinot Gris, grown from cuttings of a rare and forgotten clone sourced from two original “mother vines”. However, recent DNA testing in California revealed our “Pinot Gris” vines are actually an exceptionally rare variety called “Flora”, almost undistinguishable to look at. The “mother” vines turned out to be “rogue” vines, creating “The Rogue”, a rare wine with a soft, oily texture and flavours of pear drops and lychees. If you enjoy Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer or Riesling, you will love “The Rogue”.

Thanks, “Acension”. Your tasting lady was the least friendly
“person” we encountered the whole day, and the way that you assumed that anyone who was Asian was obviously part of a tour and wanted the restaurant and not to taste wine was real classy. But some of us still bought some wine anyway because it was rather tasty.

Heron’s Flight
When we got to Heron’s Flight, a wedding was taking place on their deck, but luckily the tasting room was open. They only make two wines – Sangiovese and Dolcetto – but because they’re such premium wines, tastings cost $10. Luckily, winemaker David Hoskins encouraged us to share two tastings between the four of us, which is a great attitude to have, and we really dug on the large stylish glasses the pours were served in as well. As well as his liberal pours, David also offered us a lesson in what you can tell from the colour of wines, showing us how to tip the glass over a white background to see its depth, and he talked at great length about the history of the grapes, and about where in the mouth you can taste the wine. I’ll admit to getting a tiny bit impatient, but the others in my group were more entranced. Also as something different, Heron’s Flight makes grape juice from its Sangiovese grapes, and it is quite possibly the most delicious thing ever. We bought a dozen or more bottles between us, as it’s just like fantastic wine but without the alcohol, so perfect for pregnant friends, or just for drinking for us. I would have liked to have bought the Sangiovese too, but at $50 a bottle, it was out of my price range, sadly. Heron’s Flight also has a restaurant, and takeaway deli section, and sells other people’s wines as well. After consulting a watch and a map, we realised that the next couple of vineyards were closing at 4pm, so we had to hustle over to:

Contour Estate
The view from Contour EstateAt this new vineyard, they only made Syrah. But it was bloody tasty syrah at that! The $5 tasting fee secured us whole half glasses each, and the very lovely woman asked if we’d ever been to a winery before, and explained the vats to us, and how they go through two pressings – one where you keep the grapes cool, and one where they warm up a little (a fact I was able to reference at the next stop for bonus points), and then took us into a deliciously refridgerated room to show us more syrah sitting in barrels. She was so friendly that a couple of us were happy to fork out $39 for a bottle of the syrah, knowing it’ll cellar well for the next three years or so. Assuming it isn’t drunk before then, of course…

Omaha Bay Vineyard
Next to Contour Estate is Omaha Bay Vineyard, and it has an even more impressive view. The signs by the winetasting area say that you can taste four wines for your fee, but the nice man said
“the four wine rule is just to stop drunkards from coming in at 5pm and drinking us out of house”. We were drunkards, but we were there at 4pm instead, so we tried all nine wines. And for our non-drinker, he found a delicious bottle of blueberry, apple and ginger juice. I think the highlight was the Montepulciano, as well as their Flora:

A lightly fragrant wine with hints of citrus peel, marmalade and stone fruit. The Impostor is semi-sweet in flavour with a crisp fine finish. Serve as an aperitif or with soft cheese and fruit or fruit based desserts.

They offer tasting platters along with their stunning views, so it’d definitely be a nice place to have lunch another day.

Hyperion Wines
Our final vineyard for the day was Hyperion Wines, which is housed in such a little shed that we had to sit and wait ourside for the previous group to finish their tastings. All the wines were named for Greek Mythology, and by that stage of the day we were more than a little bit talkative and ridiculous with descriptions of the wines we tried. We especially loved The Titan but by that stage budget didn’t stretch that far, but we were able to transfer our knowledge from Heron to viewing the wine over white and seeing how brick-coloured it had become, since it was made in 2001! When we were just about to go, I spied bottles of Grappa, and Heather, the most talkative of us at that stage boldly asked for a taste. The winemaker, John Crone, whipped out a hidden bottle, and said that he didn’t offer it to everyone, but as we were stocking up, we seemed to qualify. He showed us photos of their grappa distiller and offered us tastes of their port as well. Yum!

And what better way to finish a hot day that with ice cream at Blue in Matakana, the flagship store for Omaha Blueberries, makers of the aforementioned juice? Their coffee ice cream was made from fresh beans, and they offered both blueberry ice cream and blueberry sorbet. And they also make smoothies with roast almonds in them. So so tasty. We love Matakana, and you should go there too. That’s why we’ve handily plotted out the vineyards on zoomin.