Trans-Tasman Wine Tasting
Sure, the mountains are spectacular but have you tried the wine? Here's a guide to New Zealand’s best wine regions, each with sensational scenery to boot, writes Christie Sinclair.
New Zealand is known for its natural beauty. Those glacial lakes and sky-piercing peaks, bubbling geysers and green pastures flecked with sheep are indeed worth the trip. But over the past decade more and more visitors are making the trans-Tasman dash for the wine, which by international standards, ranks among some of the finest. A caper along New Zealand’s leading wine trails is the perfect way to enjoy both the wine and some epic views.
In Marlborough, the country’s largest wine-growing region, there’s barely a plot of land that isn’t coated with uniform rows of vines. They stretch across the foothills of the Kaikoura mountain range and nestle in the wrinkly creases of river valleys that make their way to the Marlborough Sounds at the tip of the South Island. It’s these landscapes that nurture the perfect climate for sauvignon blanc grapes, the variety that put New Zealand on the viticulture map back in the 80s and that continue to earn international praise today.
While there are more than 30 cellar doors open for sipping and swirling, Marlborough also boasts some of the world’s best seafood. Greenshell mussels in particular, which are best enjoyed steaming from a pot with a glass of sauvignon blanc. Getting there is all part of the adventure, with the Interislander ferry ride between Wellington and Picton through the Queen Charlotte Sound considered one of the most beautiful ferry rides in the world.
2. Central Otago
Scattered across the country’s ski fields, New Zealand’s southernmost wine region is also the most scenic, luring visitors with some of the world’s best pinot noir which thrives in the cooler climate alongside jaw-dropping vistas of rivers and snow-dusted mountains. Food, as much as the wine and the outdoors, is central to the way of life in Central Otago and the wineries here have certainly set the standard when it comes to honouring local ingredients. There’s really nothing better than a meal that’s been sourced right on your doorstep.
Otago’s food and wine trail begins just outside Queenstown, the adventure capital of the world. So, aside from working through the region's 136 wineries, there are also plenty of opportunities for adrenaline junkies to enjoy the outdoors, whether it be hitting the slopes, jet boating or jumping out of a plane.
3. Hawke's Bay
From vines first planted by Marist missionaries in 1850 came another world-renowned wine region. Sunny Hawke’s Bay is a bit of an allrounder, its claims to fame ranging from cabernet and merlot blends to syrah, chardonnay and pinot noir. The journey between the 72 wineries is wonderfully scenic, leading connoisseurs through rolling hills, beside green meadows and along clifftops.
The town of Napier lies within the region and is a must-do while visiting. Rebuilt in 1931 after being all but totalled by an earthquake, it is full of beautifully preserved art deco buildings. And, as with many wine regions, the fertile soil means the local produce is pretty spectacular. Think creamy buffalo milk cheese with raw honeycomb from down the road and walnuts from the farm next door, as well as native herbs from the forest floor and punnets of plump strawberries from a roadside honesty stall.
Grapes were first planted in the Bay of Islands back in 1819 by missionary reverend Samuel Marsden. Today, the region reaches from Karikari in the north to Mangawhai in the south and is known for its full-bodied wines thanks to a subtropical climate. Unlike many of the country’s winegrowing areas, Northland is small and quiet, visitors enjoying the slower pace and dramatic coastlines punctuated with welcoming seaside towns. Wine lovers will appreciate the excellent chardonnays and pinot gris found at boutique wineries where there’s time to chat with winemakers.
For an interlude to all the winery hopping, a cruise to the end of the Cape Brett Peninsula spotlights the region’s landscapes and wildlife. The collection of historic buildings in the town of Russell, New Zealand’s first permanent European settlement, is well worth a look. As is a visit to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, New Zealand’s most important historic site.
Take a trip across the Tasman to enjoy New Zealand's world-class wines paired with pristine landscapes. Whatever your vintage, sample top drops as you explore cinematic-style destinations on our 17 Day New Zealand Wonderland tour.