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.


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.


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.)