A decade or so ago, my friend Whitney and I made a pact – to visit every wine region of New Zealand and sample the best drops our great nation has to offer.
It’s a pact we’ve taken very seriously – and we’re almost there. As, er, very enthusiastic of Aotearoa’s finest vinos, most holidays we plan together centre around discovering new varietals, new cellar doors and new takes on the classics.
I mean, is there anything better than sitting under a leafy tree on a summer’s day, a tasting rack of five different wines and a cheese platter next to you as you stare out at laden vines and rolling hills? No. The answer is no.
We’re so lucky in New Zealand to have such incredible regions that differ so much – of course, the Sauv in Marlborough is going to be fantastic, as is the Pinot Noir in Central Otago. But there’s so much more to the true wine experience holiday than the wine itself – its the scenery, the cellar doors, the food and the vibe.
We’re not winemakers, or viticulturists, or even wine writers.
We’re just two mates who bloody love a good glass of vino, a well put-together platter and meeting the people behind the wine.
In part one of our ultimate guide to New Zealand’s best wine regions, we’ve compiled our list of top-five must-visit wineries and cellar doors for your next girls’ weekend away in the City of Sails.
Ok full disclosure, as we’re both from Auckland Waiheke’s vineyards are very familiar to us, and we adore jumping on the ferry for a spot of day drinking. The island boasts around 30 boutique vineyards, with the island known particularly for its delicious reds, especially cabernet blends – and as you’ll see from our list, some stand-out rosés that satisfy even the most snobbish of drinkers (oh hi that’s me).
But we’re also a fan of some of the most, in our opinion, overlooked wineries on the mainland – and one is in a very unlikely place.
Ok so no-one hears Mangere and thinks wine (yes, we know the airport is important!) but you’d be remiss not to check out Villa Maria’s gorgeous estate in the heart of South Auckland.
As New Zealand’s most-awarded winery, Villa’s range of the classics is impressive – but it’s their production of some of the more niche varietals such as Albarino, Verdelho and Viognier that’ll interest wine buffs, as well as those of us who like trying something a little different.
Their cellar door is currently being refurbished – we hope in time for the summer! With a lake view from the cellar, as well as beanbags and ample outside seating, it’s the perfect place for a girls’ lunch – no boats involved!
The Hunting Lodge
Head out west for some good wine and great food. The Hunting Lodge boasts both a lawn bar, featuring sharing plates and platters, as well as a full restaurant. But it’s their always-interesting wine range that makes it worth venturing out to Waimauku, including their delightful twist on a Kiwi classic, sparkling pink sauv, and the crowd-blended White Mischief which is an insanely good drop.
One of Waiheke’s coolest spots, Casita Miro is both a restaurant and vineyard, with 4.2 hectares of grapes being grown a stone’s throw away from Onetangi Beach. Expect amazing reds – as well a surprisingly good pinot gris – and delicious Spanish-style food. Perfect for a birthday or other celebration, or for just rocking up with a pal to try a few different drops.
You’re not a real Aucklander if you haven’t enjoyed Mudbrick’s classy wines and gorgeous views back to the city. As one of the closest vineyards to Matiatia Wharf, it’s a short taxi up the hill (crucial – Waiheke taxi fares are criminally expensive) and you’re in the lap of luxury. It’s also where every second rich kid gets married – and it’s easy to see why. As well as some clean chardonnay, Mudbrick boasts delicious reds too, and a damn fine rosé.
Dwarfed by the huge Stoneyridge next door, Te Motu might just be Waiheke’s best secret – and the home of the best rosé on the Island (ok, in our opinion but trust me, we’ve done a a lot of testing).
A gorgeously rustic cellar door and restaurant belies the elegant food and the complex blend of their signature Cabernet Sauvignon. Head there for an intimate lunch or late afternoon snack with the girls.
Stay tuned for our top picks for New Zealand’s other wine regions – up next, Hawke’s Bay.
All images/ Instagram