“Don’t be a wine snob!” That was the first piece of advice we received from our zany guide Robert Bevan who we met on a trip to New Zealand. He led a wine tour we joined in Hawkes Bay, on the east coast of the north island. Robert, a former PGA golf caddie, grew up in British Columbia, Canada. He decided to live in New Zealand after holidaying there and falling in love with the country’s golf courses and wines. Robert was funny, enthusiastic and incredibly knowledgeable about wine.
Robert said wine is like art, poetry or music. Everyone has individual tastes and personal preferences. What one person thinks is a great wine another person might not like at all. Only ‘wine snobs’ think they can choose the ‘best’ wines. Despite his warning about wine snobbery, Robert unabashedly praised New Zealand wines. He claimed they ranked third in the world after wines from California’s Napa Valley and the Bordeaux region of France.
It was French missionaries who introduced wine to New Zealand. The Pope sent a group of priests there in 1842 to covert the Maori people to Christianity. The holy fathers knew they’d need communion wine so they brought along their own vintner. He carried cuttings from the best French vineyards and within a decade produced the first New Zealand wine.
We visited four New Zealand wineries on our tour and tasted 30 different wines. Three wineries encouraged us to sip and enjoy their various vintages and varieties. However at the Hatton Estate Winery they taught us a true wine taster spits rather than sips. They poured us generous glasses of wine. After swirling the wine around to release the aroma we were instructed to stick our noses fully into our goblet and sniff heartily to inhale the scent. Next we were to gulp all the wine in our glass and swish it around in our mouth for up to a minute, being sure it reached every corner and crevice and taste bud. Then we were to spit the wine out into the huge buckets provided.
Dan Baker owned the Maona Park Winery. He had studied oenology (the art of winemaking) in Canada. Dan asked us to describe the taste of one of the wines he poured for us. Interestingly, we all tasted different things. A woman from England said it tasted like rose petals. A man from Auckland compared the wine to Turkish Delight candy. My husband thought it tasted like tomatoes. A woman from Finland said it reminded her of asparagus. Dan said we all have certain taste memories stored in our brain. Different wines trigger different memories for us. That’s why four people drinking the same wine each taste something different.
At the Salvatore Winery, our ever -resourceful guide, Robert, brought out a basket filled with nuts and raisins, chunks of dark German rye bread, different New Zealand cheeses, cranberry sauce, artistically sliced kiwis and apples, paper -thin slices of spicy salami, and containers of different flavored olive oils. We sat at wooden tables next to the vineyard, basking in the warm New Zealand sun, enjoying a delightful picnic along with a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc. At that moment I couldn’t have agreed more with Ernest Hemingway who once said, “Wine is the most civilized thing in the world.”
Other posts about wine…….
Other posts about New Zealand…..