NZ #8: Blenheim

By: | Post date: January 4, 2010 | Comments: 1 Comment
Posted in categories: Countries

First, some housekeeping announcements.

  • Note to the dude who stole my seat as I got back on the bus to Christchurch at Kaikoura. (a) If you were sitting there before, how come my History of New Zealand is on the seat next to you? (b) I trust you have had a satisfying holiday and in general a full life, because I will fricking murder you.
  • Note to self: watch less action movies. A lot less, they’re giving me ideas. That film Wanted last night on the Movie Channel was a thuggish mess, albeit with de rigeur impressive special effects. It’s all the more annoying because vengeance scenarios are seductive—though maybe less so when the (anti-)hero is shooting his pursuers through his main adversary’s head.
    Although as a mechanism to discourage tourists from stealing others’ seats on the InterCity bus, it does have something to recommend it…
  • Note to the manufacturers of “Sea Legs” anti-motion sickness pills: it ain’t working. I am minded of a book on Cretan grammar I have somewhere, which is a fitting example sentence, begotten of the same combination of mountainous roads and long-distance bus transport that I am currently undergoing: “I hate the devil’s galley, the bus (του διαόλου το κάτεργο, το λεωφορείο): every time I go on it, I end up vomiting.”
    Maybe that would be a more effective mechanism of discouraging bus seat theft.
  • Note to the visually minded readers of this blog: I am still taking pictures, though I emphatically won’t be taking pictures from a moving Devil’s Galley. At this rate, I will probably do photo essays when I go back, instead of on the road.

That concludes this morning’s announcements.

I am on the bus from Blenheim to Christchurch; I’ve kept my eyes shut on the first leg, because “Sea Legs” haven’t really been working. The first leg has taken me up to Kaikoura, site of whalewatching and overpriced crayfish, As it happens, that is what Kaikoura means in Maori: kai, “food”, koura, “crayfish”, and Ø, “overpriced”. (The “overpriced” is silent.)

Blenheim is pronounced not [blɛnhaɪm], but [blɪnəm], “Blinnum”. Blenheim is a small flat country town of three thousand souls, with several churches, a nice public square, five pharmacies none of which were open on Sunday January 3 to dispense “Sea Legs” anti-motion sickness pills, and an on-hotel restaurant, Nikau, offering quite tasty seared Nelson scallops. This makes up for me getting lost in the Nelson waterfront, trying to find Nelson scallops closer to the source.

The reason why tourists stop off at Blenheim is that it is the gateway to the Marlborough wine country of New Zealand, the land that has given the world the best Sauvignon Blancs ever quaffed. Delights of dry and refreshing amber fruitiness.

Although there has been talk of viticulture in New Zealand for a long time, wine here is fairly recent—starting in the seventies. It’s also been explosive: the winery count has gone from a dozen twenty years ago to 130, and it’s now 90% of arable land or thereabouts. The experts on the winery tour I snuck in on dropped the science on us as to why this is nonpareil wine country: lots of rivers but little rain, microclimates in the valley, Wellington-force winds that keep the bugs away, geologically eventful soil. Well, I just know the wine tastes good.

I didn’t make it to a full-day tour, which is truly just as well: four wineries were enough to throw me into a couple of hours of stupor afterwards. For any readers who might be of the oenophile persuasion, these are the highlights:

  • The Chardonnay is refermented in the bottle, which is supposed to give it a buttery taste. It truly was buttery, and I hadn’t noticed that kind of thing before. Best in breed: Bouldevines Chardonnay 2006. I think they’re too small a company to export.
  • Gewürtztraminer is supposed to taste like a combination of lychee and Turkish delight. The Gewürtz I nursed in Wellington, shielding myself from gales and tumbleweeds at the hotel bar, didn’t. The Gewürtzen I had here all did, although in line with the rest of what they do, the Bladen went easy on the lychee, and just did the Turkish delight.
  • It didn’t help that Bladen were the last winery I went to, but if Hamlet feared that high tragedy was caviar to the general, then you can call Bladen Beluga, and point out that I live on Ulysses S. Grant Street. Bladen wines are subtle and delicate, their flavours hinted at rather than proclaimed. This wins them awards with wine critics. With my blunt palate, all it wins them is, “WHAT’S THAT? SPEAK UP SON, I CAN’T HEAR YOU. YOU’RE A PINOT QUI?”
  • Framingham specialise in Riesling (and in very cool cellars, both literally and figuratively). I didn’t understand their Dry Riesling: its flavours clashed. But both the Classic and the Select Riesling were very good; the Select in particular was candied on entry, but clean going down, without the cloying aftertaste it seemed to presage.
  • It helps Forrest that wine tourers are greeted by a walking encyclopaedia of viticulture, but I was taken with both their Doctor’s Riesling, and their Chardonnay—the latter easier on the butter than the Bouldevines, and with more of a kick, the former unexpectedly apple-tasting.

I didn’t actually seek out the Sauvignon Blancs in the tour, which are the majority of what most wineries do here. The default Marlborough Sav Blanc you see overseas is that bottled by the local behemoth, Montana (who also owns Stoneleigh); behemoth it might be, but its Sav Blanc holds up against its more boutique competitors. The Rieslings were the real surprise here. All of them went down very smoothly, more smoothly than a Riesling should by rights.

“Sea Legs” anti-motion sickness pills proclaim themselves incompatible with alcohol, though, so I need to take leave of talk of Marlborough wine, as I’m taking leave of Marlborough itself. I think I’ll close my eyes again, and visualise happy thoughts.

Such as the demise of the dude who stole my seat at Kaikoura….

One Comment

  • John Cowan says:

    True Facts:

    U.S. Grant always ate his meat extremely well-cooked, because he couldn't stand the sight of blood. He said he only knew two tunes: one was "Yankee Doodle" and the other wasn't.

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