Sunday, 28 May 2017

Exploring the Martinborough wine trail

The plan was to cycle around the Martinborough vineyards and taste wine at a leisurely pace. We'd stay in the town centre, pick up a wine map and head out on two wheels each to explore the best of Martinborough's wine trail. The weather forecast had other plans, though. Heavy and steady rain was forecast all day - and if the early morning downpour was anything to go by, it wasn't going to be fun riding in the rain. We'd experienced soggy wine tasting before, but this was looking to be much worse. Plan B was devised.

We decided to replace two-wheeled transport for two sets of four wheels. This meant we could head out to some of the wineries that were slightly further away than the ones we'd managed to cycle to before. After two or three tastings, we'd return to our accommodation and walk to nearby wineries until the rain got the better of us. Luckily, our drivers were happy with this arrangement.

Te Kairanga Wines

Making the most of our transport, we started furthest away at Te Kairanga Wines. The cellar door is in The Cottage, a classic farm house cottage built in the late 1800s. The picturesque grounds were resplendent on an autumn morning. Our host was welcoming and informative, giving us the background to each wine we tasted. Given that 70% of Te Kairanga's vineyard is pinot noir, three of these vintages were included in our tasting, something which is lost on those of us who are white wine drinkers.

Te Kairanga wines
White wine tasting notes
  • 2016 Sauvignon Blanc. Although I'm usually a sav drinker, I found this style particularly forward and acidic, overpowering the tropical fruit palette. Maybe.
  • 2015 Riesling. This very dry wine gave off a kerosene smell. I learned that this isn't offensive to note; it's a result of the terpene produced while on the vine. This is more prominent in New Zealand and Australian wines as there is a higher concentration of UV rays on the canopy. Too acidic for me. No.
  • 2016 Chardonnay. Barrel fermented on 15% new oak for 10 months, this chardonnay blend was not too forward or oaky. Maybe.
  • 2014 reserve Chardonnay. A much fuller flavour - far too oaky for me. No.

Poppies

The sun had started to shine and more people were venturing out for wine tasting. We made a smart decision to visit Poppies before the crowds and rain arrived. Poppies is phenomenonally popular in summer. Their wines are only available from the cellar door and the venue is simply beautiful.

A warm welcome from Poppy
We started with wine tasting by the roaring fireplace. It was hosted by winemaker Poppy Hammond, while husband Shayne Hammond (viticulturist) prepared an outdoor table for our lunch.

Wine tasting notes
We were served teeny tiny samples, which made it a hard to get the full flavour of each wine, while Poppy explained her tasting notes.
  • 2016 Rosé. This rosé is 100% pinot noir and its pinkish colour came from two hours of contact with the skins. Maybe.
  • 2016 Riesling. I didn't quite know what to make of this Riesling. It was extremely dry with a limey aftertaste, which some of our group loved. Maybe.
  • 2016 Sauvignon blanc. This very smooth wine is the last time Poppy will make a pure Sauvignon blanc. In future, it will become a Sauvignon blanc and Semillion blend. Not overly sweet. Maybe.
  • 2016 Pinot gris. Very smooth and sweet. Maybe.
  • 2016 late harvest Riesling. These grapes were harvested 6 weeks after the regular Riesling. Usually I find late harvest or dessert wines far too sweet but, surprisingly, I kind of liked it! Maybe.
By now the sun was well and truly out and Poppies was almost full. We were enticed to a table outside and offered warm blankies to cuddle up with (it is autumn, after all). Poppies is not a restaurant but is known for its excellent seasonal lunch platters, which offer all sorts of goodies including rosé poached salmon, pork belly slices, stuffed peppers, mushrooms, olives, brie, pumpkin hummus, rare beef, crostini ... the list goes on but our vegetarian was also happily catered for.

Lunch platter at Poppies

Luna Vineyards

No sign of the promised rain - far from it, in fact. We moved on to Luna Vineyards. Situated on the former Alana Wines site, Luna Vineyards has a lovely cellar door setting and restaurant.

Luna Vineyards tasting bar
Wine tasting notes
  • 2015 Riesling. This off-dry Riesling had around 30g residual sugar and a pleasant finish. Maybe.
  • 2016 Sauvignon blanc. Very smooth and not too fruity. Maybe.
  • 2015 Rosé. This orange-tinged rosé is made from 100% pinot noir grapes that had spent five hours on skins. Maybe.
  • 2015 Chardonnay. Not too oaky. This chardonnay spent 10 months aged in 40% new French oak barrels, leaving it with a smooth finish. Maybe.

Non-events

We drove out to two final vineyards on the way back to our accommodation. Both are slightly off the wine trail but we stopped at neither before calling it a day. Here's why:
  • Colombo Wines. Only four wines available for sampling but still with the usual $5 tasting fee. This usually gets 6-8 samples elsewhere.
  • Cambridge Wines. $10 tastings. Enough said.
Back at the bach, I checked the weather forecast status. Still no sign of the heavy rain we'd apparently had all day and were currently experiencing, so we could have cycled after all. Oh well, next time!

Pure fiction

Saturday, 6 May 2017

High tea at Martha's Pantry

When you hear the name Martha's Pantry, it's hard not to think of high tea. Martha's were one of Wellington's high tea pioneers when it enjoyed a big resurgence in the mid-2000s. In its heyday, bookings had to be made well in advance and nothing less than sheer decadence was on the menu. I've enjoyed many events at Martha's Pantry over the years and looked forward to returning for high tea to celebrate a special family occasion.

An extensive tea menu awaited our arrival, which unfortunately was not taken advantage of by our mostly coffee-drinking family. Luckily we could choose substitutions from the blackboard drinks menu. The special children's high tea menu was a big hit with the two youngest members of our family, who were served quickly. Drinks orders were placed and then our high tea services arrived.

High tea service
A selection of club sandwiches and savoury tarts helped whet our appetites.

Savoury to begin
The second course was bite-sized scones, one each with jam and passionfruit curd and piped with whipped cream.

Second, scones
To finish, we had brownie, mini lemon meringue tarts and vanilla cupcakes.

Sweet treats to finish
What's not to love? Sadly, I think the golden days have passed. I appreciate that family and business circumstances have changed, but Martha's Pantry seems a shadow of its previous glory. Now the food is not quite as fresh, the decor looks tired, the paper napkins are Pam's and the little touches of luxury that were all part of the experience have faded away.

High tea is (still) always a treat, but I fear others may now be outclassing Martha's Pantry at their own game.

Monday, 1 May 2017

Ed Byrne - Outside Looking In

The 2017 NZ International Comedy Festival roared into life last week and saw the return of my favourite international comedian, Ed Byrne. After a traditional Wellington welcome consisting of an aborted plane landing, an unforeseen return flight to Auckland and then an eventual landing at Wellington airport, Ed sauntered onto the stage, beer in hand and looking barely worse for wear after the ordeal. He's been here before so knows it works.


Outside Looking In features Byrne's brand of observational comedy. Everyday activities get overthought, taken apart and regurgitated in a delectable Irish accent. Byrne covered topics like the futility of interviewing athletes after a race that lasted just 10 seconds, an awkward TV and radio experience with the notoriously arrogant New Zealand broadcaster Paul Henry, plus I learned far more than I ever wanted to know about diarrhoea. (These last two skits were unrelated although they sound like they go together well.)

This year's show was completely different to Roaring Forties from two years ago, apart from the odd cheeky reference thrown in to see which of us were paying attention last time. If anything, it was even better! (Apart from the diarrhoea, that is. No-one saw that coming.)

Monday, 24 April 2017

Golden syrup

I have a sweet tooth. I always have. I occasionally give in to it but if I had a choice between savoury or sweet, sweet would win every time.

I keep my sweet tooth in check by never drinking anything sugary but still indulge in half a teaspoon of sugar in my coffee (or a full spoon if I'm making a triple espresso at home). I can  drink coffee without sugar but I like it slightly sweetened. I prefer dry wine, though. I don't drink juice, soft drinks, energy drinks or other versions of lolly water. But I still like to eat sweet stuff. I guess everyone has a vice.

One of my favourite things is golden syrup, both on its own and as an ingredient. As I think about whether to bake something for Anzac Day, I do know it will contain golden syrup. Just look at all the things I've already baked using golden syrup! I've loved this gooey sugary caramel goodness since I was a child. I remember using a knife to lever the lid off the tin with varying degrees of success. If you were messy when spooning it out and spilled some in the groove along the top of the tin, it would become really icky and glue-like next time you tried to wrench it open.

Loving golden syrup seems to be a family thing, especially for my dad. He taught us that golden syrup can go on or in almost anything - whether or not it should. I keep some of the pourable variety in my pantry for when pancakes, crumpets or waffles need a quick topping (I'm not a jam or marmalade eater), but it's not as good as the thick stuff that comes out of the tin.

Golden syrup goes especially well with another one of my favourite things: hot cross buns. There's nothing better than butter and golden syrup on freshly baked hot cross buns, right? Well, it seems like no-one outside of my family agrees. Here's a quick Twitter poll I ran to find out what people have on their hot cross buns. The results, and the restrain they implied, astounded me. Hmm.


(I'll admit: I cheated on this poll. The single vote for butter AND golden syrup is mine. I thought at least a few others would agree or even be curious, but no-one admitted to anything other than butter - except for a single comment voting for peanut butter. Now that's just wrong.)

So it looks like I'm alone in my love for golden syrup, at least as a topping for hot cross buns. Now that I've confessed my secret indulgence, what's yours?

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Missing Richard Simmons

Missing Richard Simmons is a 6-part podcast series that hit the digital airwaves in February this year. Created by filmmaker Dan Taberski, it explores the so-called mysterious disappearance of 80s-style fitness and lifestyle guru Richard Simmons, whose departure from public life almost exactly three years ago has been the cause of much speculation.

If you don't know who Richard Simmons is, conjure up your most vivid memory of an over-hyped 1980s leotarded Jazzercise video and turn up the volume. Picture a harem of devoted followers of every age, shape and size. These are the people Simmons helped to lose weight and gain health. He had a personal connection with them all, and his many grand gestures show how much he cares. He would never leave his loyal followers without saying goodbye ... and yet he somehow did by not turning up to class three years ago and not being seen since.

So what's the big deal? The podcast is less about the fact that Simmons disappeared but more interested in the way he did it: quietly and totally out of character with his very public persona. Perhaps it wouldn't have been so extraordinary if he'd gone out with a characteristically energetic bang than this muted whimper? Nobody expected a quiet disappearance from this very public figure.

Maybe he is merely missed, rather than missing? Or perhaps it is a publicity stunt where the mystery of his disappearance is fuelling interest in his brand and leading to further sales? It's possible but doesn't seem likely given the circumstances outlined by his ever-faithful followers.

Dan Taberski tells a good story. He has his own personal connection, of course, and explores some theories about what may have happened to Simmons, none of which really reveal anything. However, it makes for great entertainment that has captured the minds and mouths of social media these past few weeks. And so Taberski's own grand gesture in the form of a one-man tribute ends in a manner that parallels the narrative: quietly.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

A little bit green

Earlier this week, I attended a presentation with the endearing title, "Are we all doomed?" Naturally, the presenter immediately grabbed the audience's attention. The subject was climate change and the context was our actions: what are we doing to save the world? Whose responsibility is it to make changes? Will it make any difference?

This topic has been on my mind for a very long time. I describe myself as a little bit green but know there is plenty of room for improvement. I'm a follower of the every little bit helps school of thought in many areas, and this approach was reaffirmed during the presentation.

Here is a quick inventory of my everyday green actions:
  • I use reusable shopping bags at the supermarket, although still resort packing fruit and cold cuts in plastic bags.
  • I have a coffee keep cup at work and at home; it's rare that I ask for a takeaway cup. (This happens most often when I'm travelling.)
  • I recycle as much as possible, reuse or donate second hand items (clothes etc) as much as I can and generally try not to buy too much crap ... generally.
  • I reuse plastic containers for other purposes (especially freezing food) and recycle what I don't need.
  • I use public transport to commute to and from work. Occasionally I get a ride from someone else going in the same direction but never drive to work alone.
  • I turn off lights, computer monitors and appliances when not in use and unplug chargers when done.
  • I'm planning a small vegetable garden and have started by planting herbs. The neighbourhood's snails and caterpillars have given up eating my produce this year, meaning I get to enjoy what I grow.
  • I avoid using my car for short, quick errands and try to walk, where practical. It helps that I live on the flat and close to many amenities.
But is it enough? Can the smallest actions make any difference when the majority of greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture and energy-based industries?
It's a start. I know there are plenty more things I could and should do. But apparently small actions do add up. If everyone adopted three small green behaviours, it would make a big difference and we may not be doomed after all. I might not be saving the world by myself, but hopefully I'm helping.

How are you helping to save the world?