Thursday, 29 July 2010

Wine trailing in Marlborough

For the second weekend in a row, we went out of town for a mini-break. However, this weekend's trip was vastly different to our snow weekend. We took the ferry over to not-so-sunny Marlborough, the home of sauvignon blanc and 101 wineries. Yay for another 101 in 1001 activity: #21 - Take a boat trip.

Being the middle of winter, it was quite different to the last Marlborough wine trail we did. I was really glad that my sweetie could join us on this trip, after missing out on the last two. We generally found that the hospitality on this trip was better than our girls' wine trail to Martinborough last year. It might have been because there were fewer people around (due to the weather), but we noticed that all the presentations and displays at all the wineries we visited were beautifully presented, oozing charm and class. Stump Creek Lodge was our home for the weekend. Naturally, I chose the purple bedroom.

We visited six wineries in total and I worked out that we would have sampled around 45 different wines, so here's a round up of the places we visited and my thoughts about the wines I liked.

Good advice
Cloudy Bay
Cloudy Bay was first up. They certainly know how to put on a show. We were so impressed with the presentation at Cloudy Bay last time that we went back again. There was a roaring fire going even when we arrived before 10 am and a selection of wines waiting for our tasting session. Getting there so early meant that we had the cellar to ourselves and even got to try a couple of 'stickies' (dessert wines) afterwards.

Our tasting session at Cloudy Bay
Cloudy Bay bottles
My Cloudy Bay wine picks are as follows:
  • Pelorus NV (non-vintage) - 70% chardonnay, 30% pinot noir. The non-vintage is actually a blend of three vintages from about 3 years ago: predominantly 2007, with smaller amounts of 2006 and 2008. It is a classic, fruity bubbly - great for special occasions.
  • 2009 Sauvignon Blanc - a very light, subtle sav with a stony fruit flavour. It is machine harvested at 2 am to ensure the grapes are kept cold. Looking back at my notes from 2008, this was my pick of all the Cloudy Bay wines.
  • 2008 Pinot Gris - somewhere between a sauvignon blanc and a chardonnay, it is a half barrel half stainless steel combination.

    Cosy fireplace at Cloudy Bay
Montana wine display
Montana are the biggest producers of wine in New Zealand and never missed an opportunity to remind us of this fact. They seemed really surprised to have kiwis on their winery tour, as most of their clientele is from overseas - this was very obvious while watching their promotional video. However, there is no doubting that the sheer scale of their production and the developments they have made in terms of research and technology are simply amazing.

The tour was interesting. We learned that most vineyard rows in Marlborough are planted north to south to maximise all day sun. However, some vineyards plant east to west, essentially producing two different varieties on the same vine. Their pinot noir hall is impressive, as was their sparkling wine press, the first one of its kind in the southern hemisphere. Montana also produce some organic wines. Companion rows are planted in between the rows of wines, attracting the bugs and keeping the nasties at bay. This reduces, or eliminates, the need for sprays; it they are needed at all, organic sprays are used.

Montana pinot noir cellar hall
I really only liked one of the Montana wines we sampled:
  • 2009 Reserve Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc – a light, dry wine with a passionfruit taste.

Wither Hills entrance
Our next tasting was at the lovely Wither Hills, followed by lunch. Their 2008 sauvignon blanc was my favourite wine from the last tour and I was thrilled that my sweetie really liked the 2009 vintage - it's something we can look out for in future. Like the other wineries we visited, Wither Hills boasts some fabulous architecture. Their charming wine cellar has a table and chairs set up among the barrels, which would be perfect for a lunch meeting if it wasn't so cold!
Wither Hills cellar
My Wither Hills wine picks:
  • 2009 Sauvignon Blanc - their flagship wine. This is a blend of grapes from twelve vineyards in the Wairau Valley. It has a subtle, fruity flavour and was my pick from the whole tour.
  • 2009 Chardonnay - mild and lightly oaked. The flavour wasn't too sharp - my favourite chardonnay of the tour.
  • 2007 Riesling - I'm surprised to see a riesling making it onto this list, but this was quite different to any other I've tasted. While there wasn't a very distinct flavour, it also wasn't overly sweet like other rieslings I've tried. However, I probably still couldn't be convinced to buy a bottle.
Wither Hills selection
Our lunch at the Wither Hills Restaurant was long and relaxing. We shared the Thai curry prawns and a steak sandwich - large, delicious portions and a great break from all the wine tasting.

Our final stop for the day was Framingham, a small winery known for their rieslings. We sampled thirteen wine varieties - certainly a record and one of the few tastings that were free. They were very busy when we arrived so we wandered down to see their displays in the cellar.

Despite their reputation for riesling, Framingham's sauvignon blanc still came out tops for me:
  • 2009 Sauvignon Blanc - this had a big, fruity aroma and went down easily.
  • 2008 Pinot Gris - a subtle apple and pear flavour which was also easy to drink.
Framingham wine tasting
Saint Clair
After a lazy and relaxed Saturday night, we set out again on Sunday morning. Saint Clair was right next door to where we were staying. They are known for producing 40 varieties of wine, four of which we got to sample.
Saint Clair tasting table
    We took a brief break from wine by popping in to the Makana Boutique Chocolate Factory. Much like the wineries, they had samples of their divine hand-made chocolates available for visitors to try. Very berry toffee crunch, cherry armagnac truffles, macadamia brittle, and macadamia butter toffee crunch ... I was in heaven.
    Makana chocolates
    Finally, we went to Hunter's to partake in some amazing wine hospitality. Our host let us sample eleven different wines at no charge, including a bubbly. I think our group bought the most bottles of wine from Hunter's, judging by the boxes they were lugging back onto the ferry. It just goes to show how much good hospitality pays off!
    Hunter's gift packs
    My picks from Hunter's:
    • 2008 Chardonnay - aged in oak for just 6 months (instead of 9 months), this had a light and creamy flavour. I've decided that I prefer unoaked chardonnay and this was the closest to unoaked that we got to sample on this trip.
    • 2009 Riesling - surprisingly not too strong or sweet, this was a dry riesling with lime and citrus flavours.
    • MiruMiru Non Vintage - Maori for 'bubbles'. 58% chardonnay, 33% pinot noir and 9% pinot meunier (the secret ingredient in bubbly wine) with peach and citrus aromas - this was absolutely delicious! We bought a bottle of this as a birthday present for my sweetie's mother.

    Hunter's wines
    What a weekend! Thankfully we're staying in town for the next few weeks, but this was an amazing break and a great way to learn about the types of wine I like (and don't like). I still find that I prefer subtle, fruity sauvignon blanc but also know that unoaked chardonnay is something to look out for.

    Monday, 26 July 2010

    101 in 1001 project update

    I'm moving along with my 101 in 1001 project. Unlike my Project 365, I have really enjoyed having an ongoing list of activities to look forward to and work towards completing. On 29 March, I realised I had one year to go and posted a round-up of my progress. Apart from one or two, they are all the same as the ones I set myself right at the beginning of the project. As of today, I have completed 61 goals, 12 ongoing goals are on their way, and I have plans for some more of the 'extras' in the upcoming months.

    A couple of my activities are a bit out of my control; they are dependent on others and I can only do so much to move towards achieving them. One of these is getting my new band going - I'm ready (and keen), but it's hard to co-ordinate practice time with the schedules of our other two members. It also means that there's no point in me developing a band website yet until we have something to promote. Therefore, I'm going to put this on the backburner for another year or so.

    Instead, I am in the process of setting up a ukulele orchestra and have decided to replace my two band goals with this:
    17.  Start a ukulele orchestra
    18.  Create ukulele orchestra wiki

    We have begun, establishing a ukulele orchestra for beginners and other enthusiasts at our workplace. We have ten members so far and our numbers are growing! I've started a draft wiki and am developing it during spare moments and lunch times. Apart from being more manageable (and realistic) than establishing our band, it is soooooo much fun!

    Thursday, 22 July 2010

    Man and Wife - Tony Parsons

    Man and Wife (2003) is the sequel to Man and Boy (1999) by British journalist and author, Tony Parsons. It picks up where Man and Boy left off after Harry married his second wife, Cyd. However,  happily ever after wasn't that simple. Harry and Cyd try to create a blended family with Cyd's daughter, Peggy, and Harry's son, Pat. Pat, is shared between this home and that of his mother, Gina, and her new husband, Richard. Sounds complicated? It is, and there are more branches to this extended family tree, but they all seem to make sense and create a richly-woven plethora of inter-related characters.

    This is essentially a story about relationships and the enduring love for family, no matter how dysfunctional and complicated it becomes. Harry sets himself on the path of yet another emotional roller coaster while he tries to work out what he really wants in life; is it what he has got (and thought he'd always dreamed of), or is the grass forever green elsewhere? Age old questions.

    I found the roller coaster ride to have less highs and lows than Man and Boy and the direction of the track skipped around more, but emotions still formed the basis for the plot. This is a very readable novel, lightweight yet one that will strike a chord with almost any reader.

    Tuesday, 20 July 2010

    Ukulele orchestra

    Ever since I got a purple ukulele two Christmases ago, I have wanted to join a ukulele orchestra. I went along to the Wellington Ukulele Summer Fiesta in March and had a great time introducing my purple ukulele to the  rainbow of colourful ukuleles that arrived to play in the sun.

    Having looked around town a while for a beginner-friendly ukulele orchestra that would fit with my schedule, I have finally decided to set up one of my own with a work colleague. We had our inaugural meeting today (all seven of us, so far!) and now have a plan for getting started on practising some basic tunes, hoping to have a weekly lunchtime jam and spread some ukulele love in the process.

    So, to update another 101 in 1001 activity: #92 - learn how to play the ukulele - I'm getting there!

    Monday, 19 July 2010

    Snow weekend

    We've had a snow weekend. After getting a puncture on the way to work on Friday, resulting in a destroyed car tyre, it looked like our plans to get out of town mid-afternoon were being threatened. However, a quick change of tyres after work, replacing my damaged one with a set from my sweetie's racecar, saw us escape the worst of the Friday night peak hour traffic and we were off!

    Let me clarify what I mean by a snow weekend. I don't ski or snowboard, but I'm not averse to going away with people who do. I may try a beginner's lesson when we are up at the mountain for a week from the end of August, but it's not the reason why snow weekends appeal to me. For me, it's all about a change of scene, some time out relaxing with friends, and generally getting out of town for a bit.  They say that a change is as good as a break. "Why not both?" I say.

    A group of 42 hired out Snowy Waters Lodge in Raetihi. This former nurses home was built in the 1940s and now hosts backpacker-type accommodation. Our room was the size of a postage stamp (think 3/4 bed and add about half a metre around it) but we were only a short drive away from Mt Ruapehu. Due to poor visibility at Whakapapa on Saturday morning, the gang headed up to Turoa for a day of skiing and snowboarding while I chilled out with good coffee and a book back at the lodge. The intention was to join everybody for lunch, but when the weather deteriorated and a group arrived back before then and decided to head to the hot pools instead, I quickly grabbed a spot in their van.

    We drove north to Tokaanu Thermal Pools, near Turangi. Unfortunately, someone decided that it would be good to listen to a Fleetwood Mac Greatest Hits CD from start to finish on the way up. The only redeeming feature from this enforced torture was that I developed a new-found appreciation for Mick Fleetwood's drumming. (Thankfully the return journey yielded a better choice: The Eagles' Hell Freezes Over.)

    Once at Tokaanu, we began with a 20 minute soak in a private spa pool - the pool itself was bigger than our room back at the lodge and easily fit eight of us! I was thrilled to be able to tick an activity off my 101 in 1001 list that I was really looking forward to: #30 - Relax in hot mineral pools. The hot mineral water was the perfect remedy for my aching back and we spent another hour or so mucking around in the larger, slightly cooler, outdoor pool as the sun came out. Just what the doctor ordered!

    The weather was markedly better on Sunday, so the troops headed off to Turoa once again while I indulged in a lazy day about town. Now, that's my idea of a snow weekend. ;-)

    Wednesday, 14 July 2010

    Who do you write like?

    I've seen a few tweets on Twitter lately saying, "I write like ...", usually followed by Stephen King.One said Dan Brown. I was intrigued and had to investigate for myself, crossing my fingers that I wouldn't get the same result.

    The IWL website coerces writers into giving it a go:
    Check what famous writer you write like with this statistical analysis tool, which analyzes your word choice and writing style and compares them to those of the famous writers.

    Any text in English will do: your latest blog post, journal entry, Reddit comment, chapter of your unfinished book, etc. For reliable results paste at least a few paragraphs (not tweets).

    Here is the result from my post about Zumba:

    I write like
    Douglas Adams
    I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

    Douglas Adams. An interesting result, considering that The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and Dr Who really aren't my thing. I initially thought of Douglas Kennedy, having read A Special Relationship and State of the Union last year. (Actually, I would have been flattered to get this result.) However, I realised I'd got the wrong Douglas; obviously my lack of interest in science fiction isn't evident in my writing style. Other posts have yielded different results (I got Stephen King twice) - I could play this game all day!

    Who do you write like?

    Friday, 9 July 2010

    Mini-cheese muffins

    I saw this recipe for easy cheesy recipes on Stuff a couple of days ago and thought I'd try baking the mini cheese muffins. I'm keen to fill the freezer with baking and snacks to take to work or on some of our upcoming weekends away. This recipe makes 24 mini muffins. I used my new silicon bakeware and made 12 average sized muffins.

    Mini cheese muffins

    • 1 1/4 cups flour
    • 1 tablespoon baking powder
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt
    • pinch of cayenne pepper
    • 1 cup milk
    • 1 egg, beaten
    • 1 cup grated tasty cheese
    • sprinkle of dried mixed herbs (optional)
    1. Preheat the oven to 180ºC and grease muffin pans.
    2. Sift the flour, baking powder, salt and cayenne into a medium bowl.
    3. Measure the milk into a small bowl. Add the egg and whisk together.
    4. Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour in the milk mixture and the grated cheese.
    5. Stir until all the ingredients are just combined. Don't over-mix and don't worry about lumps.
    6. Place spoonfuls of the mixture evenly into the greased muffin pans.
    7. Sprinkle a little extra grated cheese or dried mixed herbs over the top of each muffin.
    8. Place into the preheated oven and bake for 10-15 minutes until they have lightly browned and the tops spring back when lightly pressed down.
    9. Remove from the oven, cool slightly, tip out of the tray and serve hot or cold.

    Thursday, 8 July 2010

    Wellington on a Plate

    The Wellington on a Plate programme has been launched this week. From 14-29 August, Wellington restaurants will be hosting set lunches and special dinner offers as part of Dine 2010. I'm really looking forward to some of the festival events associated with WOAP; now that I work out of the city, lunches are generally off the menu.

    This year, being slightly more financially mobile, I'll be able to get involved more than last year. My friends and I have pored over the programme and started making bookings, starting with Cupcakes and Cocktails, Discovering Artisan Cheese (mmm, cheese), Making Great Patisserie with WelTec, and maybe even some espresso tasting with my favourite coffee company, Fuel Espresso. The Pleasure Palate at Butlers Chocolates looks incredibly tempting, too.

    Once again, we are so spoiled for choice in Wellington! What takes your fancy?

    Friday, 2 July 2010

    A Clockwork Orange - Anthony Burgess

    Another title from my TBR list, A Clockwork Orange (1962) is considered a sci-fi masterpiece by author Anthony Burgess. It is a novel in three parts about a boy, Alex, who seems perversely hardwired to enjoy a life of crime and destruction. Part 2 sees Alex in prison at the tender age of 15/17. While incarcerated, Alex is subjected to an experimental type of treatment which aims to ultimately reform prisoners in just two short weeks, but at what cost? The third part of the novel follows Alex after his release from prison as he tries to return to his former life as a reformed man. However, it simply doesn't work that way.

    A Clockwork Orange is truly challenging and disturbing in both content and context. Although ultimately futuristic, it could be set at any time and exposes the reality and horrors of criminal minds and issues of reform. Who really is the victim? Where is the fine line between moral reform and punishment? And when is the means justifiable by the end result?

    I initially struggled to interpret the language Burgess uses, a form of Russian-English combined with Cockney and rhyming slang. However, as I got into the flow of the novel, I realised that I didn't need to concentrate on deciphering individual words (although this does get easier) and could instead step back and absorb Alex's dialogue as a continuous stream of consciousness.

    I'm glad I have finally read A Clockwork Orange, even though it was often an uncomfortable read. Although, I am in no rush to watch the movie of the same name, I'd never say never.

    Thursday, 1 July 2010


    It's official. I have now been Zumbafied. After last week's thwarted attempt to shake and wriggle around in front of a bunch of strangers (short story: instructor turned up late on a cold and dark night, only to have brought the wrong set of keys; I came home very grumpy and it resulted in me baking cheese scones instead), I decided to give it another go. Even though I was informed by the Twitterverse that Zumba is merely a fad but baking will last forever (I tend to agree). And it was awesome!

    I was wary about what I could cope with after recovering from a back injury. The answer is, "almost everything". The moves are all low impact and range from sedate to high energy, resulting in a great sweat but without too much pain. We grooved out to everything from cheesy 80s music to merengue and salsa. There was a huge age range among the women there (and the two token men). I was thrilled to bump into an old school friend also trying Zumba for the first time. It turns out it was her mother who bugged her to come. This amazing 70-year-old woman kept up with everyone else in class and hardly ever stopped for a rest. Apparently she goes to aerobics 3-4 times a week, but only if she has the time - some weeks she's too busy!

    I'll admit there were moments when I expected a tv crew to raid the hall and shout, "Smile! You're on Candid Camera". But the rest of the time was taken up by trying to mimic our instructor bouncing away at the front of the class and grinning manically among a sea of similarly smiling, yet dreadfully uncoordinated, folk around me. True.

    Have you been Zumbafied? Would you consider it? I'm really surprised to say that I loved it and hope to make it a weekly event.