Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Unison Vineyard wine tasting

This month's wine tasting featured a selection of wines from Unison Vineyard. Unison is a family estate winery in the heart of the Gimblett Gravels winegrowing district in Hawke's Bay. Owned since 2008 by Terry Horn and her husband, Philip, Unison was established back in 1993 and specialises in producing small batches of fine wines.

Unison Vineyard grows mostly red grapes on their almost 8 hectare block but have diversified by starting to make some white wines from grapes grown on other vineyards. Each small batch may be just 200-300 cases, bottled on site at their own bottling plant which they also used to bottle for other boutique wineries.

Onto the wine tasting. There was a clear winner, a maybe and several nos for our wine list.

2012 Pinot Gris. Pinot gris was the first white wine grown at Unison. It's slightly fruity up front then gives way to a softer taste than its smell, making its way onto our yes list.

2013 Reserve Chardonnay. This chardonnay is half oaked (just six months on French oak), which leaves it with a subtle, smooth finish. Maybe.

2013 Rose. This wine is one of four roses produced at Unison. The merlot-cabernet-syrah blend gave it an orangey-red colour (after being left on skins for 24 hours) but left it with a taste too similar to altar wine for me. No.

2010 Reserve Merlot.
2010 Classic Blend. Merlot-cabertnet blend.
2010 Selection. Cabernet-merlot blend.
2012 Syrah.
None of the above. We're still not red wine drinkers, no matter how alluring the deep red colour looks.

Mr Weka did very well tonight by winning the wine club birthday draw, giving him a choice of any bottle from tonight's tasting (he chose the pinot gris) and scoring a bonus prize of a $50 voucher to spend at Unison's Unwined Cafe. It looks we'll need to have another Hawke's Bay wine weekend next summer with Unison Vineyard at the top of our list of wineries to visit.

Saturday, 23 April 2016

Aviary at Virginia Lake

A great memory I have from my childhood is a family holiday driving through the North Island one summer. We packed up the van and drove from town to town, stopping in places that looked interesting to explore and staying until we ran out of things to do. As a family of bird lovers, we often ended up at lakes or parks with aviaries where we'd feed as many birds as we could and play with the ones we could get close to.

One aviary that stands out in my mind is at Virginia Lake in Whanganui. We loved walking through this open air aviary and would stand there for ages, searching for all the different breeds and leaning in as close as we could to the cheeky birds that would casually step back when approached by a human.

This weekend, my dad and I drove through Whanganui on our way to a wananga in New Plymouth. We couldn't resist taking a quick rest stop and leg stretch at Virginia Lake for old time's sake. I looked for the aviary but it seemed like it was no longer next to the car park like I'd remembered ... until we spotted it on the other side of the car park just as we were driving off. We quickly turned around and headed back in to a cacophony of birds dive bombing and racing around the aviary, enjoying breakfast and chattering in the sunshine.

Here's who we met on Friday morning. Hopefully we'll have time to stop in again on our way home on Monday for another happy dose of nostalgia.

A cheeky acrobat
A proud parrot
An outdoor shower
This fantail has some tidying up to
I still don't understand guinea fowl

Friday, 8 April 2016

Tofu roulette

It's Friday, so that means my manager sends out his weekend digest of Friday Funnies. Most are cringe worthy and many are lowbrow, but all are eagerly anticipated as it means the weekend is oh so close.

Today's selection featured a series of one liners and this short recipe for the foodies in our team.
How to prepare tofu:
  1. Throw it in the trash.
  2. Grill some meat.
This led to much discussion about uses for tofu, including many questions – mostly, why?? You might be a vegetarian but surely almost any other source of protein would taste better than slobbery rubbery bean curd. Clearly, I'm not a fan. I've been known to turn down the offer of buying an otherwise appealing cookbook for a good price because too many of the recipes feature tofu. Fact.

Here's a fun game my friends used to play at cheap and cheerful Chinese restaurants way back in our student days. After ordering and devouring the shared Chinese banquet, there would inevitably be a small dish of tofu left over. This called for a game of tofu roulette. Despite our mothers telling us to not play with our food, we'd spin the plate on the edge of the Lazy Susan turntable and when it stopped, whoever had the misfortune of sitting in front of where the tofu stopped had to eat some.

At this point in the evening, we learned the importance of choosing the right seat at the start of the meal, especially if the table had a lean or the floor was uneven. Table cracks or joins also meant you had a higher chance of eating the most tofu at the end of the night as the Lazy Susan would default to stopping at the same point. I was careful to never be that person and haven't had the misfortune of eating tofu since those days. Long may my good fortune continue.

Saturday, 2 April 2016

Potato bread

As autumn sets in, the season for comfort food has begun. Soups, stews and slow cooked meals and freshly baked bread. It's even better when you can combine a couple of these meals.

This breadmaker recipe for potato bread is super easy and a great way to use up left over mashed potatoes. The original recipe calls for mashed kumara but I prefer potatoes so always make sure I mash extra potatoes on slow cooker or casserole nights. I sometimes substitute 100 g of the high grade flour for wholemeal flour for a slightly more dense loaf.

Just add all the ingredients in the order you would normally put them into your breadmaker, then set it onto the basic bake setting (4 hours) for an extra large loaf and press start. It's also a good timed bread if you want to bake it overnight and wake up to the smell of fresh potato bread.

Potato bread

  • 3 t Surebake yeast
  • 600 g high grade flour
  • 1 1/2 t salt
  • 2 T milk powder
  • 30 g butter
  • 2/3 cup mashed potatoes
  • 1 T honey
  • 380 ml water
Breadmaker settings
for Panasonic breadmakers
  • Basic bread
  • Size: XL
  • Medium colour crust
Potato bread

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Ōhau Wines tasting

Set against a backdrop of the Tararua Ranges not far from Levin is the small town of Ōhau [pronounced Or-hoe (not owe-how)]. Now, this may seem an unlikely location for a vineyard but apparently the quality of what gravels at the Ōhau river leave behind and the same number of sunshine hours as sunny Nelson makes it an ideal place to grow grapes and establish a winery. Who knew?

Last night's wine tasting session featured Ōhau Wines. Our host for the evening was Chris, a rather animated storyteller and loquacious spin doctor. I imagine he could sell ice cream to proverbial penguins and have them believe it was the best thing since sliced bread. He certainly kept us entertained.

Onto the wines. Ōhau Wines is know for two main varietals across five ranges: sauvignon blanc and pinot gris (which suits us just fine). We sampled three vintages of each and a pinot noir to finish. The sauvignon blancs had a different quality to the up front Marlborough styles. Chris tried to tell us that a good enough 2011 sauvignon blanc is still ok to drink in 2016. The samples we tried didn't convince me of this at all, but at least I now know this for certain.

Here are my picks:
  • 2015 Woven Stone sauvignon blanc. A dry finish with just two grams of residual sugar. This sav was a clear winner for us and we ordered two bottles.
Maybe (not too bad)
  • 2014 Woven Stone pinot gris. Smooth to drink with full bodied flavours but I didn't like the acidic aftertaste.
  • 2014 Ōhau Gravels pinot gris. Sweeter than the Woven Stone pinot gris and with a slightly oily finish. 5% oaked - interesting for pinot gris.
  • 2014 Ōhau Gravels sauvignon blanc. Very strong with 5% oak - also unusual for sauvignon blanc. May contain traces of cat's pee.
  • 2011 Ōhau Gravels sauvignon blanc. Definitely contains traces of cat's pee.
  • 2011 Ōhau pinot gris. As above.
  • 2014 Woven Stone pinot noir. I liked the dusky red colour, but that was about it.

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Living in the past (tense)

The more I write, the more I am aware of language around me in all forms: written, verbal and visual. Sure, nobody gets it right all the time (myself included). But when it goes wrong, it  can go terribly wrong.

Of all the plain English sins a speaker or writer can commit, passive language is one of my biggest bugbears. Using the second person when talking about yourself is also incredibly annoying. Not sure what I mean? Think about the last post-match interview you listened to, when a sports person was asked to comment on their performance. It probably went something like this:
"You know, it gets hard but you've just got to get out there and give it your best [110%!] and when you finish you feel so good bla bla bla ..."
It's not just sports people who flout plain English. Speaking or writing in past tense when asking a question in the present makes no sense at all. Here's a conversation I had with a shop assistant last weekend when buying stationery as a gift.
Were you in our loyalty club?
No and I don't think I am now either.
I can check on our system. What was your last name?
The same as it is now.
I can't find you. [No surprises.] Did you want to join our loyalty club?
No thanks. I didn't then and I still don't.
Were you wanting any cards or wrapping paper for this gift?
No thanks, I wasn't.
In case you're wondering, I didn't actually answer her questions with those exact words. Not only would it have been rude but the points would have been entirely lost on her.

So what is my point? Why am I being so pedantic about language? Does it even matter?

If you shuddered while reading this,
you'll know what I'm talking about.
Yes, it does. Seriously, who speaks like that??

Apparently more people than I realised. Here's an excerpt from a phone conversation I had yesterday with someone trying to help me retrieve my password from a government agency account. I'd set it up some time in the early 2000s and was locked out for increasing lengths of time at every password attempt.
What website were you wanting to access?
When? Now or back when I first set up the account 15+ years ago?
And so the pattern was set.

Please, do yourself and those around you a favour: say what you mean and mean what you say when you say it.

*steps down from soapbox*