Think New Zealand wine and a few regions of the country will spring to mind. For many people the Marlborough Region which is famous for its Sauvignon Blanc is the top wine region. Marlborough is home to a large number of vineyards of varying sizes, types of ownership and wine focus.
If you are ever in New Zealand and are looking to exploring Marlborough I would recommend staying in Blenheim. Blenheim is the largest town in the Marlborough region with a population of about 30,000. It is just up the coast from Kaikoura and has a bright, sunny, dry climate. It is a pastoral region, with lots of horticultural activities such as wine and olive production. Unsurprisingly the area is very popular with retirees, tourists and those looking to escape a hectic city lifestyle. Blenheim has the chilled feel of a quiet country town, but it has plenty of good restaurants and bars to keep any visitor fed, watered and entertained.
In the region, the grapes are exposed to gentle morning sun each day. But in the afternoon the sun can get quite intense and the grapes an burn easily. Usually grapes are picked in March or April although some late harvest grapes are left until June. Frost can also be a big issue in the area and helicopters have even been used to try and prevent damage and lost crops.Most of the grapes in the region are machine harvested apart from the Pinot Noir which is a fussy grape!
There are a number of ways that you can tour the vineyards in the region. You can drive or cycle around independently and the local iSite will provide you with a map that is specifically for wine tours. However if you don’t want to worry about the number of bottles that you buy or the drink-driving limits you can go on a tour.
We chose Bubbly Grape Wine Tours. They have won Trip Advisor travellers choice awards and have the brilliant catchphrase “let us drive you to drink”. Kerry was our guide and she was full of knowledge about wine and the local area. We were kept entertained between vineyards listening to her hilarious anecdotes and wine trivia. We chose to go on the half-day tour but there are also full-day tours and gourmet food tours.Kerry will also pick you up and drop you off where you are staying which is fantastic.
Another benefit of going on a tour is that the tasting fees are usually covered in the price. They aren’t expensive, usually 3 tastings for $2, but it is nice to relax, sample whatever you like and only focus on paying for any bottles or crates that you order.
We began in Drylands Wines, a vineyard located in Marbourough’s “golden triangle.” It was one of the original Sauvignon Blanc Vineyards, dating back to the 1980s. Darren Wolley is the chief winemaker who originally planned to stay in Marlborough for only one season, but ended up not leaving which is testament to the appeal of the area and its wine culture.
Sauvignon Blanc 2011
Of course we started with Sauvignon Blanc. Light with full flavours of citrus and gooseberry it was served chilled for the New Zealand heat. Very nice.
Apologies that I did not take note of the date of this wine. Initially when it was suggested that we taste rosé I was quite surprised. I always associated rosé with lightweight wine drinking and terrible quality. But this rosé was the complete opposite. It was high quality and tasty with flavours of summer berries. Rosé has made a big comeback in New Zealand as a light lunchtime wine and with wines like this that makes a lot of sense.
The next two wines that we sampled were from Hawkes Bay not Marlborough and they were the Riesling (sweet and syrupy) and the Cabernet Merlot (oaky and smoky).
Allan Scott is a a family run affair established in 1990. When we say family run, we mean family run, each member of the Scott family is involved from marketing to viticulture. Allan and Catherine Scott both grew up in the region and have been involved in wine making for most of their lives. The vineyard boasts a wonderful vista, an efficient and welcoming tasting area, a giant chess board and indoor/outdoor seating dining in an on-site restaurant. Here we sampled six wines and were quite impressed.
Blanc de blancs Methode Traditionelle NV
This was the first wine that we tried and surprisingly it was my favourite. The wine was made entirely from Chardonnay grapes, who have been on my no-no list for a while. The bubbles were delicious with tropical fruit and honeycomb flavours. It was a bright, sunny day and this wine was in its element, quenching the thirst of us tourists. I did take a bottle home with me and it was just as good after one glass.
Sparkling Sauvingnon Blanc NV
I was delighted when another sample of bubbles came my way. This wine had quite grassy notes but the tastes of citrus and gooseberry kept it light and balanced.
Sauvignon Blanc 2012
This was a pleasant Sauv Blanc and I really enjoyed the tastes of tomato leaf and dried herbs that came through. It was acidic which is a trait of Marlborough SB but it was not overpowering.
The rumour on the wine trail was that Chardonnay is making a come back. So keeping an open mind I sampled this wine and it was not too bad at all. It was a fruity wine, both on the nose and taste, in particular peach and apricot shone through.
Never mind grapes, this wine was all about the honey. Beautifully coloured, citrus on the nose and powerful on taste it was a tasty, tasty Riesling.
Pinor Noir 2010
By now I was considering taking it easy but I could not leave without trying a red. This pinot noir had a lovely nose, violets and raspberries and a nice oak, fruit taste. It would be wonderful with dark chocolate.
At this stage of in the afternoon we needed a to make a pit-stop and if you are in the area the Vines Village is a good spot to catch your breath. Inside the village there is a number of craft shops selling woollen goods, lavender products and various artisan deli produce. There is a fudge shop where you can sample up to three different types of delicious creamy fudge. We went for mint, crème brulee and dark chocolate and they were very tasty. If you are looking for something a but more substantial there is a cafe with indoor and outdoor seating with great, relaxing views. There is a wide range of opinions including choice for veggies and the salads were fresh and satisfying.
Another reason for stopping off in Vines Village is to sample the wines available from Bouldevines Wines. Owned by Philip and Janey Walsh their saying is “wines that turn adversity to advantage.” The grapes are grown in soil that has a high stone density which gives them their distinctive taste.
Etincelle Cuvee NV
This sparkling wine was a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes. It had a fun pink tint and a pleasant taste of peach and strawberry. I would absolutely serve this wine at a party.
Pinot Gris 2011
This wine was refreshing and crisp. Apple was the dominant flavour with hints of baked pear. Very nice indeed.
Sauvignon Blanc 2010
This was a deliciously dry, citrus wine with a taste of passion fruit. It was very much a Marlborough Sauv Blanc and would satisfy any fan of the grape.
Aged in French Oak for 10 years this Chardonnay had tastes of peach and apricots. Perfect for any Chardonnay lovers.
Next on the tour we stopped off at another smaller, yet well-established vineyard. Fromm was founded after a Swiss wine maker Georg Fromm took a holiday in the region. While on holiday he met some local vineyard owners, the Cuddens, and another Swiss winemaker Hätsch Kalberer. After these encounters he decided to open in Marlborough and Fromm Winery began operations in 1992.
The Fromms have since returned to Switzerland to focus on their vineyards there and Fromm is now run and owned by Pol Lenzinger. Fromm prides itself on wines reflect “European style and Kiwi ingenuity”. Fromm is particularly famous for its red wines which is unusual in a region of Sauvignon Blanc! The view of the hills behind the vineyard is also particularly stunning and the tranquilly makes you feel that you are hundred of miles from anywhere.
Fromm La Strada Rosé 2012
This rosé was crafted using mostly syrah grapes with a dash of malbec. Fans of dry wines would quite enjoy it as would people who enjoy flavours such as strawberries and cream as well as watermelon.
Fromm La Strada Chardonnay 2007 and 2010
We sampled two vintages of the Chardonnay, one from 2007 and one from 2010. I was quite surprised by this wine as it had no oak influence. It was a Chablis style which I think would appeal to those who are not traditional Chardonnay fans.
Fromm Riesling Spätlese 2012
Out of all the wines we sampled in Fromm this one was my favourite. A late harvest wine, the fermentation was stopped so the sugars did not continue to turn into alcohol. It was deliciously sweet and fruity, tasting of Granny Smith Apples, nectarines and limes.
Fromm La Strada Pinot Noir 2010
This was a heavy red with a strong oak taste. The other dominant flavour was that of cloves. It smelled divine and all I could think of while I was sampling the wine was smoked rosemary portobello mushrooms.
Fromm La Strada Pinot Noir 2009
This vintage was less robust than the 2009 but was tasty in its own right. It was a spicy overlay with hints of plums and cherries.
Fromm La Strada Syrah 2010
Fans of cracked black pepper flavours would be in for a treat with this wine. It had both the smell and the flavour of the pepper but was not too overpowering. The tanin was quite heavy so it was a wine for a chilly evening beside a fire rather than a New Zealand summer’s day.
Seresin Estate was founded by Michael Seresin, a director of photography in the film industry. It’s logo is the distinctive hand and it boasts a wide range of products including wine, oils and kitchen/dining accessories. It had some of the best views of any of the vineyards that were visited as the cellar door was perched on a hill. Here you could stand and look out onto the Marlborough vista.
The wines are mostly hand-sorted as well as being organic and bio-dynamic. Bio-dynamic is one of the new buzz words in the wine industry and to be honest it has little actual scientific basis and will not influence the actual taste or quality of the wine. Bio-dynamic techniques are often interchanged with organic techniques but should not be, especially when measuring impact on the environment in terms of things like compost.
Again apologies I did not have time to note the vintages of the wines but the wines that are available is on their website.
A wonderfully sweet and syrupy wine, I took my time sampling this one. Again the taste of green apple was pleasing and it was a wine to be enjoyed.
This wine was quite sour but still very good. There were hints of elderflower and gooseberries which are two of my favourite flavours.
Apple crumble and ripe pear were the dominant flavours and this would have been a perfect autumnal wine.
I was pleased to find that this wine was just like drinking buttered toast. The acidity was generous which gave the wine a nice lingering finish.
Rosemary, red fruit and smoke were the main features of this wine and it was a nice, easy to drink robust red.
Bladen is a small family owned operation and is a must visit if you are in the region. Set on a picturesque site, you are greeting by a red setter, the family dog. Tastings are held in a great open sided room which allows the scent of the surrounding lavender to drift in and you take in the scenery. The owners, Christine and Dave McDonald, conduct the tastings and they link each wine to the story of their family and the vineyard which is the type of personal touch that you just cannot buy. It added a special element to the tasting and I will not spoil any of the story just in case you visit yourself. Now onto the wine which I need to add, is still mostly picked by hand! Now that is dedication.
Bladen Sauvignon Blanc 2012
First up was the Sauv Blanc, it is Marlborough after all. This wine was harvested in the cool early morning to try and keep a fresh taste. It worked and the wine was crisp and fresh with citrus smells and the taste of gooseberries.
Blanden Pinot Gris 2012
This was a single vineyard, limited release wine. It was a very special vintage as the grapes were hand picked from the oldest Pinot Gris vines in the whole of Marlborough. This was was different to the first as it was much creamier with a taste of pear and fig.
Bladen Gewürztraminer 2011
I think I must have had a sweet tooth that day as this was my favourite wine from Bladen. Again this was a hand-picked single vineyard wine. It was one of the best things that I have ever tasted, no exaggeration. It was like drinking liquid Turkish Delight with hints of orange peel and rose petals. It would have been perfect with blue cheese. For anyone who thinks that they can’t taste different flavours from wine this would be a perfect example wine. Delicious.
Bladen Pinot Noir 2010
This single vineyard wine was made from hand picked grapes and aged in oak for 15 months. Christine, who was showcasing the wine for us, said that for her this wine reflects perfectly what they do and try to achieve. It is quite a silky wine with tastes of plums and spice.
Bladen Merlot/Malbec 2010
This wine was grown from 8 particular rows of vines in their vineyard and it was my favourite red at this estate. Tastes of blueberry and blackcurrant made it extremely drinkable and would be a wonderful accompaniment for any mushroom dish.
Bladen Noble Riesling 2012
We finished off with a dessert wine as is right and proper. This Riesling was crafted from shrivelled and botrytised grapes that were hand picked in late June. Flavours of honey and apricots were the result with a beautiful creamy yet fresh texture.
To learn more about the Marlborough wine region check out the following books:
The Colour of Wine by Kevin Judd – full of beautiful photos.
Marlborough on the Menu by Jan Bilton and Belinda Jackson – for foodies.
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