Sommeliers and chefs have known about the place for years. World renowned wine critics from Oz Clarke to Jancis Robinson have given the country a big thumbs up. And now, with new nonstop flights, Canadians are getting the chance to sample the joys of southern hemisphere hospitality in New Zealand.
Wine and cuisine can sometimes be shrouded in snobbishness, but not in New Zealand. This is a place without pretension and a people with a natural gift for hospitality. The stunning beauty of the country is reflected in its award winning wines and cuisine.
Altogether, there are 10 major wine growing regions and nearly 400 wineries sprinkled across New Zealand. Why not start near the top of the North Island in the seaside city of Auckland. Kick off the tour with lunch at 'dine', a restaurant owned by Peter Gordon, a local boy made good. Gordon, who is a consulting chef with Air New Zealand, is the creative genius behind The Providores and Tapa Room, two of London's top restaurants.
While in Auckland make the mini-pilgrimage to Waiheke Island for some of New Zealand's most celebrated wine and food pairings - it's only a 35 minute ferry ride from the city's downtown harbour. With its stony soil and constant summer sunshine, the island's dozen boutique wineries are becoming increasingly celebrated for their rich cabernets.
Keep an eye out for The Kennedy Point Vineyard, which is perched above the sea and tucked beneath a grove of pohutukawa trees. The vineyard is open daily for wine, olive oil and honey tastings. Its restaurant features terrific tasting plates including Te Matuku oysters served on the half shell with shiso.
Hawke's Bay outside of Napier on the east edge of the North Island, is New Zealand's oldest wine growing region and one of its most bountiful with more than 70 wineries - because of the relatively flat landscape mixed with the gorgeous sea views, Hawke's Bay is an ideal spot for a bike wine tour. Plan at least a half day at the New Zealand Wine School in Napier which includes overviews on everything from aromas to how to build a wine cellar. The morning is wrapped-up with a four-course degustation lunch which is matched with the area's top vintages.
Wellington is New Zealand's vibrant capital city and home to some of the southern hemisphere's best restaurants including the Boulcott Street Bistro where chef Rex Morgan works magic with the local salmon, beef and lamb. Make the one hour drive to Martinborough and discover the country's finest pinot noirs. From Martinborough's pretty village square you can walk, cycle or even take a horse and carriage to a handful of highly rated wineries.
Despite living in one of the world's most beautiful countries, the Kiwis are a modest bunch but even the humblest New Zealander can't help bragging about the Marlborough region in the northeast corner of the South Island. The area produces not only the best sauvignon blanc in the country, but arguably the very best in the entire planet. The wineries at Marlborough are threaded through the Wairu Valley, on the edge of the Richmond Ranges and the Pacific Ocean. It is New Zealand's sunniest spot but the cool maritime winds have combined to produce grapes with big, bold intensity. Pencil in a visit to a couple Marlborough's top wineries including Cloudy Bay - Captain Cook named the nearby bay during his exploration of New Zealand in 1770. Cloudy Bay is now exported to 30 countries around the globe.
New Zealanders know how to celebrate especially in the month of February when they host a handful of Food and Wine Festivals. Among the best are the Whangarei Festival in the Northland Region, Harvest Hawkes Bay outside Napier, Toast Martinborough in Wairarapa and the Pinot Noir Festival in Wellington.
With Air New Zealand's unique Concierge Service, passengers on international flights can get an insider's guide to the country's best wines and restaurants as well as suggestions of award winning wines to pair with the inflight cuisine. A member of the Star Alliance, Air New Zealand features non-stop, overnight flights from Vancouver to Auckland.
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