Toasting Sauvignon Blanc

Blenheim, New Zealand

They say that Nelson is one of the sunniest cities in all of New Zealand.

Not this morning.

The rain came down in sheets as clouds swirled menacingly over the Tasman Sea. We sat around our space heaters to stay warm while eating our host’s homemade muesli and some scrambled eggs with hearty toast for breakfast.

By 11 a.m., the rain had still not let up. We weren’t going to spend the day waiting for it to clear so we loaded the car for an hour’s drive south to Blenheim, the heart of Marlborough — this country’s wine region.

Cutting back and forth over mountain passes, in limited visibility, and from the left lane was quite the adventure. En route, we passed through the tiny village of Havelock (population 470), the self-proclaimed “Greenshell Mussel Capital of the World.” We had to give them a go so we stopped at the Mussel Pot for an order steamed in white wine, garlic and herbs.

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The gigantic mussels lived up to their reputation — we estimated them at three times the size of those typically served in the States.

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It wasn’t much further to our accommodation outside of Blenheim, the Marlborough Vintners Hotel. Our spacious twin room had lots of black-grey-white furnishings and a small kitchenette.

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But the real highlight was the views from our living room of the surrounding vineyards and snow-capped towering mountains in the distance.

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Dropping off our bags, we got to the matter at hand: tasting wine. Marlborough is New Zealand’s premier wine region and home to the acclaimed Sauvignon Blanc. Our first stop was Cloudy Bay, the vineyard that put this country’s wine on the international map. A fire roared in the contemporary tasting room as the friendly hostess walked us through the many delicious varietals.

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From there, we moved onto Villa Maria, whose wine we didn’t feel stacked up to that of Cloudy Bay. Still, it certainly wasn’t Peter Vella.

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Not far down the road was Saint Clair, Hunter’s and Herzog Estate, the only place that charged a tasting fee — which we agreed was worth it. Unfortunately, Fairhall Downs, a small, family-run vineyard we had hoped to visit, was closed. Tasting a bottle of Pinot Noir later in the day, we agreed that we had not missed much there.

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We were pretty beat from our day’s tasting so opted to pick up a freshly baked baguette, some cheese and the aforementioned wine and self-cater the evening’s meal.

Sometimes simplicity is best.

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