Vineyards can be found in some of the most beautiful places and while they might lack the nightlife and sandy beaches of some holiday destinations, they make up for it with breathtaking scenery and outstanding cooking.
It may seem like a busman’s holiday for a wine buyer to holiday in wine regions but they’re always top of my holiday list. Plus, I’m always quick to recommend the likes of Rioja, Galicia and Tuscany to family and friends.
Earlier this year I got the perfect excuse to tick two further wine regions off my dream list – Marlborough in New Zealand and Hunter Valley in Australia. Neither disappointed. The scenery was unbelievable, the food was amazing and the characters were inspirational.
Marlborough, New Zealand: a very modern success story
While holidaying in New Zealand, I got to enjoy a wine tasting at the Brancott Estate in the Marlborough region with Jamie Marfell, one of their most successful winemakers. For anyone new to wine, Marlborough is best described as one of world’s greatest regions for Sauvignon Blanc. For anyone over a certain age, you might recall a time before Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc was even available in Northern Ireland. Interestingly, Jamie recalls a time when there wasn’t a single vine in the whole of the Marlborough region.
As we enjoyed the local wine overlooking the very first (and now extremely valuable) vineyards of Marlborough, he recounted stories from his childhood of playing in those exact same fields. A number of the diners enjoying lunch around us were once sheep farmers who had been able to retire quite comfortably from the sale of these fields. Perhaps it is a Kiwi trait, but the locals, while very proud, appeared to be quite humble about their global wine success. However, the moment the conversation switched to rugby, that humbleness soon diminished!
McGuigans, Hunter Valley, Australia: a very local success story
Once Neil McGuigan, the boss of McGuigans Wines, got over the fact that I chose to visit New Zealand before Australia, (“Why?” he asked, with a very straight face!) he was eager to showcase the range of grape varieties that they are successfully growing across Australia.
You would need a very good memory to remember Northern Ireland without McGuigan’s wines. NI consumes more McGuigans wine per capita than any other country in the world! Perhaps it is this amazing statistic that encouraged Neil to keep pouring as I sampled his new wines at their Winery in Hunter Valley, the wine region just north of Sydney, Australia.
The wine which I got most excited about launching back home was the new McGuigan Torode Tempranillo. Yes, the Torode within the name is the talented and famous chef John Torode. Also, many of you will recognise Tempranillo as the main grape in Rioja wines from Spain. As John Torode says “We’re taking on an old-world classic and putting an Australian spin on it!” It’s a fine Tempranillo that they’ve created, which is no surprise when your combine Neil’s winemaking talent and John’s understanding of flavour. It comes highly recommended and I’m proud to say it’s available at your local off licence.
Well you can’t finish your holidays without a few souvenirs!
Fortunately/unfortunately you can’t find a stick of rock while holidaying in wine regions but there are plenty of great wine souvenirs to be found. I like to use these wine holidays to justify a ‘souvenir’ wine purchase, that is, something I would only dream of ordering in a nice restaurant. So, for the next 20 years, I’m ageing a legendary Vat 1 Hunter Semillon from Tyrrell’s. And, as my trip down under was 4 months ago, I’ve only 19 years and 8 months to go…!