A sommelier experience at Cloudy Bay Vineyards is a reminder of Marlborough's premium place on the international wine map.
Came a hot Friday, and I was seated with six strangers in an upstairs room at Cloudy Bay, watching the wind ruffle the vines below.
In front of me was a six-glass spread of sparkling glasses and the silver service setting for a three-course lunch.
At the head of the table sat Cloudy Bay sommelier Stephanie McIntyre. As our glasses were filled, she talked about the ways she had matched wines' flavours with food cooked by the Blenheim-based Swiss chef Alain Hauswirth.
Stephanie qualified as a sommelier after working in the hospitality industry around the world. Sommeliers are trained in serving wine correctly and teasing out wine flavours with food matches.
In Marlborough, she found a job at Cloudy Bay and her Kiwi husband Jay. She is events and wine communications manager for the company that was at the forefront of the Marlborough sauvignon blanc charge to international stardom.
On this afternoon, across the table was Moet Hennessy spirits brand manager Jean Conrie. Moet Hennessy, like Cloudy Bay, is owned by luxury goods group Louis Vuitton.
Sydney-based Jean is on a full-time high, fuelled by his love for top-of-the-line cognacs, whiskies, wine and food and the people who make them.
Completing the table were Linda and Andrew Buttjes from Vancouver in Canada and Jean's parents Jean-Francois and Marie-Francoise Conrie from the Basque region of France.
The long lunch opened with a flute of Pelorus Rose, handed to guests as they arrived and started mingling.
The first course was a succulent sheep's milk cheese made by Neudorf in Nelson served with pancetta, a smokey Italian bacon, and a golden-coloured slice of brioche.
A 2007 Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc bounced off the dish's wood-smoke flavours while the 2011 sauvignon brought out the citrus in the dressing.
Thyme was the signature flavour in the next match, of pan-seared snapper served with a thyme risotto and pesto butter. Marie-Francoise and Andrew's eyes lit up at an accompanying Cloudy Bay Te Koko 2007 which went through a wild ferment in 15-year-old French oak barrels.
A well-rounded Cloudy Bay Chardonnay 2008 was a more obvious but less exciting accompaniment to this buttery dish.
Then came a slow-cooked leg of duck, farm-raised in Canterbury. Somewhere between the rich fattiness of Peking duck and a game flavour, the duck shared its plate with Swiss dish potato rosti.
A Cloudy Bay Pinot Noir 2007 was voted the best pairing with this course, but everyone also enjoyed an as-yet unreleased 2009 single vineyard Cloudy Bay "Mustang" Pinot Noir.
The meal over, a finger of velvety smooth Hennessy XO (extra old) cognac was nothing like the brandy I pour over my Christmas cake. This was the perfect end to a lunch which offered a peek into the world of luxury brought together under the Louis Vuitton empire.
Cloudy Bay Experience lunches for up to 10 people will be held on the second Friday of each month, at $89 per person. To book, contact the winery at 520 9147.
- The Marlborough Express