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*

Friday, 11 March 2016

For the Birds

The biennial New Zealand Festival is in full swing. Last night I attended For the Birds, an outdoor nature and light exhibition at Otari-Wilton's Bush.

I seem to have dreadful weather karma for these events. Two years ago, I forfeited my Power Plant tickets as a freakishly strong storm lashed the city. (It was bad, even by Wellington's standards!) The event organisers still insisted they were going ahead but I doubt many would have actually attended or enjoyed it in such adverse conditions. Waking up yesterday morning to gale force winds and rain, I wondered how I'd manage to once again book tickets for a stormy day. Turns out that it really didn't matter as Otari is very sheltered. Apart from the entrance and exit, the bush was warm and calm.

It's hard to describe what to expect at an event like this. LED lighting guides you around a 2 km interactive walk through the bush. Birdsong created by cuckoo clock mechanisms, penny whistles and recorded loops serenade you as you make your way along the path and acclimatise your eyes. (Put your torches, phones and camera flashes away!) Native birds tell their extinction stories as talking huia, laughing owl and Haast's eagle eggs. Fireflies dance along the creek and mechanical cranes hover above while mechanical robots light up their flight path as they fly overhead before leading the way through a delightful white lit tunnel. There were more installations towards the second half, perhaps serving as a distraction for the steadily ascending path back to the bus.

It took about an hour to walk around the exhibition at a reasonable pace and spend some time at each installation. I imagine there would be fewer kids at the later sessions. We saw a couple of families trying to push baby buggies around; the path really isn't suited for this so follow the instructions and leave buggies behind. You'll need sturdy walking shoes and be prepared for some slopes; we realised all too soon while walking down a gently inclining path that we'd eventually have to walk up again - and that part of the trail (including steps) was much steeper.

There is no parking available around Otari-Wilton's Bush so take the organiser's advice and park in Ian Galloway Park (about 1.3 km away) and hop on the free transfer bus to and from the venue. Get there well before your session starts as the queue for the safety briefing moves very slowly. We had tickets for the 8.30 session and queued from 8 pm to finally set out around 8.45. Others around us had an even longer wait so plan for a later night than you may have expected.

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Afternoon tea with Wedgewood

Perhaps the height of foodie decadence comes in the form of Sunday afternoon tea with Wedgwood at The Langham hotel. I'd heard so many rave reviews about this high tea and so booked our places well in advance. The hotel restaurant were happy to accommodate our group's various dietary requirements. We decided to be ladies and wear pretty dresses for the event. Palm Court is an elegant lobby lounge bar with high backed chairs placed underneath a huge chandelier. A harpist serenaded us as we arrived and all during afternoon tea.

The food was simply exquisite. There were no less than twenty (20!) items on the menu to be served in five courses along with two beverages each. There was an extensive tea menu, the usual coffees and juices, plus choices of white, milk or dark hot chocolate.

Afternoon tea menu
We were informed that food would be delayed so started with coffee. Three courses of food arrived on a tiered stand and two more were brought out as afternoon tea progressed.

Langham afternoon tea
We began with sandwiches in the middle tier of the stand. The test of afternoon tea is often the quality and freshness of the sandwiches, which should be made or cut at the last minute. These were beautifully soft and fresh. The goat cheese, watercress and pecan triangle sandwich was a highlight.

The savouries on the bottom tier were a little bit different. I enjoyed the chilled cucumber soup with crab salad and the black garlic, lamb and cream cheese profiterole.

After finishing the sandwich and savoury courses, a plate of plain and cherry scones were served with specialty jams and clotted cream. Finally, and with the clock ticking, it was time for the dessert tier.

There were so many sweet items that we packed most of them into a takeaway box to eat later at our hotel. Delicate white chocolate macarons with raspberry filling, strawberry tartlet, pina colada verrine and a marshmallow pop cake dipped in dark chocolate and nuts were favourites for me. As we were leaving, we asked about the final three cake items on the menu and took home samples of dark chocolate torte, Battenberg cake and summer swiss roll.

At $64 for a weekend sitting, this a very expensive afternoon tea. It's pretty much a double high tea: double the food, double the drinks and double the price but in the same amount of time as a regular high tea. Having said that, there were so many food selections that we didn't need dinner afterwards and thankfully didn't have lunch either - plus there were plenty of leftovers to take home and enjoy for a midnight feast.

Tuesday, 8 March 2016


Foodies, here's one for you. Milse is a tiny but exquisite dessert restaurant hiding away in Auckland's Britomart area. You enter through an ornately carved cocoon-like tunnel and pass the counters of freshly baked goodies before reaching a tiny atrium containing just four tables for two.

Tables can't be booked in advance but it's worth waiting for one to become available and savour the full Milse experience. While you're waiting, you can sit on one of the bar stools overlooking the kitchen, watch the patissiers at work and take in all the delicious aromas. They move about so calmly (unlike in my kitchen!) and make it all look so easy.

It was incredibly hard to decide what to order. The patisserie menu is extensive and describes the contents of the counters you walk past on your way into the restaurant. Get ready for some serious drooling.

After much deliberation, and because it was a hot sunny afternoon, we settled on the special sundae of the day along with espresso and iced chocolate to drink. Caramel gelato with caramelised orange and marmalade topped with chocolate biscuit pieces and crumbled toasted macadamia nuts, this sundae was more than enough for two to share. It was simply amazing, not too sweet and with each flavour complementing rather than overpowering the others.

Special sundae
The a la carte menu is available after 6 pm and the gelato sticks also looked good to take away. Dessert at Milse is everything you've heard and more.