Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Waiheke Island: a North Island wine paradise

A relatively short ferry ride (roughly 40 minutes) away from Auckland lies Waiheke Island.

The South Island may be internationally famed for the wine producing region of Marlborough, but the North Island also has quality wine making regions of its own.  Hawke's Bay with its Bordeaux-blends is well-known amongst wine enthusiasts, but arguably the most famous region of the north is Waiheke, which has even earned the title "New Zealand's island of wine".

For the price of NZD 96.00 the Winter Wine & Dine package at Cable Bay Vineyards includes a return ferry ticket, a light lunch at the winery, and a shuttle bus service (ferry building-vineyard-ferry building).  The only thing I regret about this tour package is that it is relatively inflexible in terms of transportation.  You won't have enough time to explore other areas of the island.  This is aimed at bringing customers to that one particular winery only.

If you're interested in visiting multiple vineyards and getting a good look at most of the island, I recommend buying some other tour package like the Fullers tour company's "Taste of Waiheke" for NZD 129.00 (ferry & tour), which includes a guided tour ride around the main areas of the island as well as tastings at several wineries.  For more information, please visit

Alternatively you could choose another wine tour company, Waiheke Island Wine Tours, which places customers' needs first and offers "highly personalised guided tours of Waiheke Island's boutique vineyards".  The offers start from NZD 110.00 per person for shared tours, and NZD 250.00 per person for exclusive tours.  However, the prices listed by Waiheke Island Wine Tours do not include the ferry rides to and from Auckland.  For more information about the company, please visit

Cable Bay strives for a modern look to its brand image.  The ambience of the locale and the company's wine style reflect this.

Private tasting room in the cellar next to some wine barrels

In the tour package that I bought included a light lunch (two tasting plates of food) and a glass of wine.  Served in a chic dining room, the dishes I picked were pumpkin humus and paprika prawns.

The humus was extremely tasty, because it had contrasts.  First, a contrast in textures between the soft pumpkin and the crunchy toasted pumpkin and sesame seeds.  The other was a contrast of flavours: sweet pumpkin with earthy pumpkin seed oil and toasted cumin seeds.  This dish is served with griddle-pan grilled mini slices of flatbread, which offers the whole menu more taste and flavour dimensions: smoky and crispy.

The quality of the ingredients in the second menu of the ones I picked was immediately evident.  The prawns were al dente, which reflects their freshness and skills of the kitchen team in preparing and cooking them for exactly the right amount of time and heat.  The dish was made tastier by the grilled slices of focaccia which had chopped black olives in them and were rubbed with garlic after coming off the heat.

Paprika prawns and pumpkin humus

I succumbed to the temptation of ordering another item on top of the two from the tour package.  The third dish did not disappoint.  It was shoestring fries with aioli dipping sauce.  It was perfection.  The potatoes used in this menu are not peeled (in my opinion, they're tastier like this) and spent the right amount of time in the deep-fryer.  This resulted in a crispy pale gold exterior and an almost hollow and soft interior.  Garnishing the fries were little squiggles of grated parmigiano cheese and a gentle sprinkling of kosher salt.  The accompanying aioli dipping sauce was also spectacular, as the garlic flavour played first fiddle, rather than the creaminess.

The wine I tasted was Sauvignon Blanc.  Its tasting notes are as follow:

Appearance:  clear, pale hay with hints of green
Nose:  citrus fruits (pomelo in particular), slight vegetal notes and a not-so-pronounced alcohol
Palate:  crisp, clean, medium-low alcohol with grilled green bell peppers, lime, and a low astringency level
Finish:  long
Conclusion:  An elegant wine that hypersensitives will love.  Already at its peak, drink now.

Yours truly drinking a glass of Sauvignon Blanc

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