Friday, February 2, 2007

I’ll start with the Sauvignon Blanc, please.

Marlborough Country. It has nothing to do with cigarettes in New Zealand. It’s all about wine. And it’s much bigger than we ever expected, although many of the wineries are quite close together. So close, in fact, that some people tour them by bicycle. But we chose to drive and walk to quite a few that were in the vicinity of our Vintners’ Retreat Resort, our vineyard accommodation. Although our favourite, Oyster Bay did not have a cellar door. After a day of tasting, and sniffing, Sally couldn’t find a sauvignon blanc she didn’t like. But, having become accustomed to Californian, Australian, and BC cabernets, she couldn’t adjust to the pinot noir, which is the most prized red in this region.

Many of the wineries have very good and (by our standards) reasonably priced restaurants. We ate at Vintners the first night, and could have stopped after the two bowls of bouillabaisse, with large banana prawns that are regularly flown in on ice from Australia. But we didn’t. NZ restaurants feature a lot of very creative, and oftentimes ‘fusion’ dishes. For example, at Whitehaven we had lemon and mussel chowder with capers; scallops on gingered sushi with coriander and tamarind sauce; rack of lamb with honey tossed spring vegetables; and venison with sautéed grapes, red wine honey and espresso sauce. Speaking of espresso, the coffee here is excellent, although early in our travels, our beautiful waitress had absolutely no idea what Sally was talking about when at breakfast she ordered a ‘regular decaf’ coffee after enjoying a couple of flat whites. There’s no such thing as a brewed cup of ‘regular’ coffee. Each cup is individually prepared, either with an espresso machine, or coffee plunger. Most of our accommodation has a coffee plunger in the room, (or what the French call, café filtre).

At Whitehaven, we met two couples from Colorado, who didn’t like being asked by New Zealanders whether they were from America or Canada. There is quite a bit of anti-American sentiment here, although it’s not as pronounced as the good natured anti-Australian sentiment. While we haven’t met that many Americans, there are a lot of tourists from UK, which recently voted New Zealand the number one tourist destination for Brits. They are treated well, as long as they don’t win at cricket. Actually, that’s not true. The New Zealanders don’t mind the British winning at cricket from time to time. They just don’t want the Australians to win. As for Canadians, we are considered ‘one of their own’. Everyone has a cousin living in Vancouver!

We left the wine region and headed south. I was in search of crayfish, and they were easy to spot along the road. "How much are they?" I asked once inside. "Just look at their tails," I was told. After I gave the salesgirl a puzzled look, she opened a cooler and I knew what she meant.

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