Travel The World With Wine, No Passport Necessary: New Zealand Edition – Forbes

Landscapes of New Zealand stun, from one end of the island chain, to the other.

Last Friday wrapped up the much needed New Zealand wine week, a bright spot in a dark winter thats dragging for much of America. Tasting through a dozen wines sparked memories of my last visit to this extraordinary placeand a bit of envy that New Zealand is not only in the throes of summer exuberance but largely back to normal as far as domestic life. Its for these memories of places and people pastand hopes for future experiencesthat I open wine. Ive temporarily lost interest in analyzing it, taking notes or keeping score; reducing wine to its molecules. Who cares in this moment, really. Rather, Im looking for joy, deliciousness, and honest intentions. I want to feel the wine, be transported by it, have my eyes pop open and utter dammit, this is why wine exists. New Zealand sets a high bar when it comes to this criteria.

As I wrote in my first No Passport Necessary column, wine represents so much more than just the liquid in the bottle. Its a snapshot in time, a lesson in impermanence, the embodiment of the truth that change is the only constant. Wine tells the story of the vintage, the ethos of the winemaker; it hints at the soil, climate, and labor to make it. Wine speaks to the history, culture, and traditions of a place, if you are open to listening to the tales in your glass. If you just want to drink and relax, thats okay, too. Wine is both teacher and tonic. Today, I mostly want a tonic.

During this year-long withdrawal into a cabin in New Yorks Catskills, I frequently recite the phrase this too, shall pass as comfort in meltdown moments. Then I select a bottle, with purpose, to transport me to faraway places.

Visit New Zealand with these five wines, no passport necessary.

Lakes and mountains define the landscape around Queenstown

Central Otago

Once an adventure sports capital, Queenstown developed into a bucket list destination for oenophiles. Outstanding restaurants, boutique hotels, and area wineries making life-changing Pinot Noir lured folks down there in the Before Covid or BC Timesback when people crossed borders in planes to travel. My maiden voyage to Queenstown was for the Central Otago Pinot Festival. On that first afternoon, still recovering from jet lag, I ran into an old friend. Shed left New York to become a winemaker, settling in permanently with vines, dogs, and a man in Otago. With a bottle of her wine, we headed out into the summer sun to sip and catch up on a decade of life. I remember the glacial blue water of the river, the purity of the air, the clarity of the Pinot, and the strangeness of seeing an old face in a new place. I now realize another ten years may pass before we do that again.

Valli, Bannockburn Vineyard Pinot Noir, 2016, $50 If youre the winemaker, this Bannockburn tastes like home. To the rest of us, it tastes like strawberries, spiced cocktail cherries and fantasies of a place to which wed flee if we couldlike Jen Parr did, the American winemaker (my friend) who joined Grant Taylor at Valli in 2015. This wine has power, concentration, and ethereal beautyand is meant for the long haul.

Quartz Reef, Bendigo Estate Single Vineyard Pinot Noir, 2017, $29 Fragrant and seductive, balancing elegance with confidence and focus. It smacks of churned dirt and raspberries; a languorous summer afternoon on a blanket by the river. It evokes carefree weekends and barbecues with friends, when we could commune over a meal in BC times.

Hawkes Bay

Hawke's Bay Vineyards

One of New Zealands warmer growing areas, the region produces outstanding Bordeaux blends, as well as varietal Merlot, Cabernet, and Syrah. The area is also home to great bike trails, fantastic beaches, and lots of independent restaurants. Well-preserved Art Deco buildings in the quaint town of Napier could serve as backdrop for a film set in the 1930s. Though I spent most of my time in wineries and comparative tastings, I made copious notes on places Id visit on a future trip. For now, a glass of wine will suffice.

Trinity Hill, "Gimblett Gravels" Syrah, 2017, $30 One might say New Zealand Syrah is woefully underrated because few Americans drink it; the truth is that its hard to find. For those writers, sommeliers, and consumers who do get their hands on a bottle, they often become lifelong converts. Trinity Hill makes outstanding Syrah, some quite expensivewhich makes this stylish $30 bottle brimming with herbs, fresh red berries, and smoked meats, a steal.

Craggy Range Winery, Te Kahu Gimblett Gravels, Bordeaux Blend, 2018, $24 Gorgeous aromatics escape the glass from this Bordeaux look-alike. Notes of fresh plums, cassis, olive, and a whiff of tobacco perfume this finely structured wine. Can either drink now or be rewarded with a year or two of patience.

Room with a view from an inn on Waiheke Island.

Waiheke Island

The Hamptons of Auckland, but waaaaaay more chill: thats how I remember Waiheke from my first trip six years ago. From the capital citys dock on the North Island, I tracked down the fast ferry. We sailed away, leaving Aucklands gleaming towers behind, the boats bow trained on the low-slung rock of beige beaches ahead. Id rented a tiny car for my 3-day trip on wine island. The agent gave me a few tips on left-lane driving, wishing me luck on the sleepy streets. Though roads get visitors most places, the best way to visit Man OWar, if youre lucky, rich, or connected, is by boat. Hidden away on a protected cove, the winerys cellar door feels like an escape from the world.

Man O' War, Dreadnought Syrah, 2017 Smoky, savory, and juicy, oak gives shape to dark, fleshy fruits. Yet, Waiheke wines arent made for analysis and tasting notes but for bottling a way of life. And life on Waiheke is idylliclet this Syrah encourage your daydreams.

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Travel The World With Wine, No Passport Necessary: New Zealand Edition - Forbes

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