Waiheke cellar doors destinations in own right

If we had been able to make it to a Waiheke Winegrowers show last year, Peter may not have chosen to visit this wine-producing paradise in July. Peter picks up the story . . .

After a sticky start - (well, when the resident feline embarrasses herself on the way to the cattery, you know it's going to be a bad day) - things only got worse. Fog at Auckland Airport put paid to our direct flight so it was off to Wellington to catch a bigger plane that could handle the fog.

By the time we arrived in Auckland we were six hours late, it was dark and we were hungry and tired. First task was to locate our rental car. We were told the office would be closed when we arrived but not to worry. “We've a Toyota Corolla for you, just head for the rental car sign,” the man had said. “The keys will be resting on the front wheel.” With no lighting, this task was not as simple as it sounded, so after feeling up every Corolla in the car park we located our jalopy and headed off.

Initial thoughts were to head straight to our motel, but being fed and watered soon became a greater priority and it wasn't long before a bemused waiter delivered a beer and a gin and tonic to our table - both for me. With some sanity restored we now turned our attention to locating our accommodation.

“How do we get to the motel?” we asked. “You follow the dots,” was the helpful waiter's reply. Dots? Presumably "dots" meant the cats- eyes on the road, so follow the dots we did. By this time I was connecting a few dots myself - some first impressions and all that. On arrival I remarked it had been a long day. “Tell me about it” was our motelier's reply, “we were expecting you two hours ago!”

More dots, I was thinking darkly!

The next morning dawned cold and foggy. Great, I thought, more fun. Fortunately my pessimism was misplaced as the fog soon cleared and the warming sun lifted our mood. Evidently this joie de vivre was catching - with the motel man regaling us with the best cellar doors to visit, so there were no more dots this morning.

After breakfast at Waiheke's Get Stuffed cafe (seriously) we made for Te Whau cellar door. With glorious sunshine, the sparkling Hauraki Gulf and a coastline looking particularly green and lush, our mood improved on the drive. We soon discovered that Te Whau wasn't just a cellar door, it was a destination. Perched on a hill overlooking Putiki Bay, it has 360-degree views and a fine-looking restaurant with a menu and wine list to die for.

Waiheke Island is renowned for Bordeaux-style reds. By this we mean blended wines using a mix of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and merlot. Te Whau was tasting just one wine this day but it was available as a three-year vertical 2007, 2008 and 2009.

Age aside, the wines were generally elegant in style, each having a green herbal note in common. Christmas cake fruit notes and spicy nutmeg were the dominant flavours across the three vintages. All the wines were taut and too young to really show their full potential, but with a quality cork seal these wines will reward the patient drinker.

Next it was off to Man O' War, situated in splendid isolation at the eastern end of the island. Well worth a visit, the scenery included sheep farms, forest and endless sea views. This part of the island is mostly privately owned with none of the suburban feel of the western end where the majority of the population live. Man O' War cellar door is situated across the road from the delightful Man O' War Bay. On arrival we noticed visitors enjoying bubbles and antipasto on the picnic tables while children played on the grass.

Highlights included a juicy, vibrant 2011 sauvignon blanc and a 2010 Valhalla Chardonnay with apricot/peach stone-fruit flavours and a clean crisp finish. The range of three top reds included the 2009 Man O' War Merlot/Cabernet and the 2009 Ironclad with a cabernet franc base. From the same vintage came Dreadnought Syrah. Common to all these wines was depth of flavour based on dark fruit characters, gentle herbal spiciness and a long, rewarding finish.

Despite our rather inauspicious start the visit was well worth while and as a general comment I thought the level of service at the cellar doors and elsewhere is best described as friendly professionalism. This is in marked contrast to some regions where the service is sometimes indifferent.

No doubt this is due to the close proximity to Auckland with its constant flow of international visitors and locals looking for an experience to remember.

I think Waiheke Island is well worth a visit and is a destination in its own right.

The Marlborough Express