When I arrived in New Zealand three days ago, I didn't head directly for one of the numerous sidewalk cafes or restaurants, but it didn't take me long to end up in one. I quickly and happily discovered that the cuisine here ranks right up there with the climate, natural beauty, and friendly disposition of the New Zealanders themselves among the country's premier attractions.
Kiwi wines seem to pair effortlessly with local dishes. Here's a little of what I've been enjoying:
2004 Wither Hills Marlborough Sauvignon blanc with Clarendon rock oysters. The bracing acidity of the cool-climate Sauvignon blanc refreshes the palate between tastes of these sumptuous oysters. Creamy and rich beyond belief, the oysters were balanced nicely by the citrus and cut grass flavors of the wine.
2003 Westbrook Hawke's Bay Cabernet Franc/Merlot with a medium rare loin of Cervena venison. Hawke's Bay on the north island is one of the warmest growing regions for winegrapes in NZ, and it's still cooler than Napa. This allows for a complex and enjoyable palate of flavors to develop through the growing season without becoming overly alcoholic or 'jammy'. These Bordeaux-like flavors and aromas of tobacco, cedar, graphite and dusty gravel were a perfect match for the gamy, mushroomy, almost cheese-like flavors of the venison. Heavenly.
I haven't had any famed New Zealand lamb yet as I'm waiting to pick up a bottle or two of Pinot noir from the Central Otago region of the south island. This area has built a reputation for superlative Pinot noir and aromatic whites such as Gewurztraminer and Riesling due to its ultra cool climate and grapevine friendly geology, and while I won't have time to visit the region or its wineries before I have to start work this Friday I will be certain to taste some of their wines while I'm working in Hawke's Bay.
Today I'm heading for the Marlborough region, home to producers such as Cloudy Bay and Villa Maria, and home to the Sauvignon blanc which ushered New Zealand onto the world wine stage. It's not hard to find a bottle of Kiwi Sauvignon blanc in California these days -- pick up a bottle or two and head out to the Hog Island Oyster Co. for some fresh Sweetwaters, and let me know what you think of the pair.