A walk in the Seyssel vineyards

140427.113 Seyssel Visit, Savoie_blog

This weekend the seventh Balade Gourmande dans les Vignes de Savoie, a walk in the Seyssel vineyards. Seyssel is Savoie’s only single-village appellation, located on that mighty wine river, the Rhône, 32km south of Geneva on the western edges of the French Alps.

Balade dans les Vignes, Abymes

A walk amongst the vines is always a treat, especially in the summer when the plants are resplendent with leaves big enough to cover Adam’s shame and the bunches of grapes are showing through provocatively.

Last year we joined the sixth Balade Gourmande an organised walk through the vineyards of Savoie at Abymes with the magnificent back drop of Mont Granier.

Mont Granier towers ovver the vineyards of Abymes, Savoie

Mont Granier towers over the vineyards of Abymes, Savoie

We visited Seyssel in the early spring to learn what was planned for the walk in the Seyssel vineyards as well as visiting some vineyards and wineries. The producers, with the help of 250 volunteers, are proud and keen to show off their attractive but little known small region.

The port of Seyssel used to be very busy especially for the transport of salt.

 The vineyards looked barer than they will this weekend.

 Tasting with some of the producers.


Along the designated route the walkers (or trampers as ‘we’ say in New Zealand!) will be able to discover the local history, architecture, culture and the work in the vines, as well as strategically placed musicians!

Balade dans les Vignes, Abymes

But most importantly are the seven gourmet stops where you will be able to taste seven courses, all prepared using local produce by local chef, Michaël Arnoult of the two Michelin-starred restaurant Les Morainières. Each dish will be complemented, of course, by Seyssel wines.


There is an extra celebration for Savoie this year as it becomes the latest French wine region to be allowed to label its sparkling wines “Crémant”Historically, the most important sparkling Savoie has been from the Seyssel appellation and they will be allowed to continue using their own appellation. So that will put a sparkle in everyone’s step as they take their walk in the Seyssel vineyards this weekend!


The vignerons of Seyssel welcome you!


A tale of two beaches, part two – Piha

Winter has arrived in Auckland with a week of rain and fog although now there a couple of sunny but cold days. However when we we arrived here six weeks ago we were spoilt with mild weather so it is a pleasure to be reminded of our earlier visit to our second beach in New Zealand – Piha.

Piha map

Heather and Paddy, the owners of WineJobsonline, picked us up on Sunday afternoon and whisked us off west out of Auckland. Through the suburbs, past Wink’s office at Wine-Searcher, then through the ‘botanic garden’ of the Waitakere Ranges Park to arrive at Piha Beach.


Lion Rock is a natural formation dividing North and South Piha beaches

Our hosts were concerned that it would be too cloudy but when we arrived above the beach the sky cleared in preparation for sunset.

Piha is New Zealand’s most famous surf beach. Situated on the west coast of the North Island, 40 kms from the city of Auckland, this black iron-sand beach has a reputation for awesome surf which rolls in over the Tasman Sea. It can be moody, misty and mysterious, wild, wet and wind-swept. The power goes off, the phone lines come down, sometimes the road in (and out) gets blocked. Living here is not for the faint-hearted.


Last wave of the day?


Time to chat – remember this is winter in NZ!


Home time


The local custom is to buy fish and chips from Blair’s on the Beach to eat with your fingers watching the sunset from the beach.


Sommelier Paddy in action!

All enhanced, of course, with a good New Zealand wine…


Sacred Hill Sauvage Sauvignon Blanc, Hawkes Bay, NZ 2008 A barrel fermented and aged Sauvignon showing good complexity and mature fruit, underpinned, but not masked, by the oak.


PihaAll too soon it was time to go home.


Thank you, Heather and Paddy, for introducing us to one of the many very special places in New Zealand!

School Lunch in Auckland

Last week I was invited to a school lunch in Auckland, a school lunch with difference.

NZ School of Food and Wine

The New Zealand Food and Wine School, run by the mercurial Celia Hay, offers a variety of courses such as Restaurant & Cafe Management, Cookery, Sommelier, WSET Wine, Stewardess Super Yacht Training and a Foundation Programme in Cookery & Hospitality.

School Lunch in Auckland

Ready for lunch surrounded by Celia’s family photos, sharing a lot of history.

It was the students of the Foundation course who cooked for us and served us, the twenty or so guests.

School Lunch in Auckland

Greeted with a refreshing kiwi juice spritzer.

Between us, the four of us on our table choose each of the dishes between us so that we could at least sample everything.

Helen, who was waiting our table, described all the dishes on the three course menu to help us with our order – and also gave us a quick explanation of each of the four wines that would accompany the dishes.

 Click on photos for details of the first course and wine

The tortellini, stuffed with pumpkin, sage butter was made of the finest pasta and its stuffing full of autumn flavours. The cream of mushroom soup with spiked chicken (tender,tasty chicken hearts!) was a delicious winter warmer.

 Click on photos for details of the main course and wines

Braised lamb shank, pearl barley, mélange of root vegetables (the lamb from Celia’s family farm) melted in the mouth. My choice, the seared gurnard, winter spinach, risotto, beurre blanc, was just what I’ve come to expect from Southern Ocean fish, especially when it is cooked as well as here,

 Click on photos for details of the dessert course and wine

As you can probably guess I chose the chocolate mousse which was indeed rich but not too sweet so matched pretty well with the wine. But it was the tarte tatin that sang a fine duet with this mature Barsac.

It was a great pleasure to enjoy this School Lunch in Auckland, especially with the three other guests at the table with whom I shared our enthusiasm for good food and wine.

School Lunch in Auckland

Celia introduces and thanks the team for a fine lunch


Two prize winning stars amongst the enthusiastic team of Foundation students under the watchful eye of their tutor, Stefan Lötscher.

The New Zealand School of Food and Wine will be hosting their W & F Wine & Food New Zealand experience from September 14 – 22 2014 at their premises in the Viaduct, with special star guests Tim Hanni and Juliet Harbutt

Hot Red Hawkes Bay Wines

Hot Red Hawkes Bay Wines

The Hot Red Hawkes Bay Wine Show is an annual event held in Wellington and in Auckland, where I caught up with a few producers, particularly those whom I’ve not seen in the UK – yet.

Hot Red Hawkes Bay Wines

The tasting venue – The Viaduct Events Centre surrounded by working fishing vessels

Hot Red Hawkes Bay WinesHawke’s Bay is the oldest wine region in New Zealand, the second largest and the leading producer of red wines. Located at 39.4°S. in the North Island of NZ the climate is maritime and similar to Bordeaux. Although red wines dominate with over 80% of New Zealand’s plantings of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah grapes, serious white wines are also produced.

rHot Red Hawkes Bay Wines

The fickle finger of fate?

My first visit was to Elephant Hill where my good friend Steve Olley works. Steve wasn’t there so I met Vince Labat (centre), sales manager, who introduced me to their wines.

An innovative winery estate and restaurant located on the idyllic Te Awanga coast, where the climate is temperate and dry with an extended growing season. All grapes are hand picked and Elephant Hill is accredited by the Sustainable Winegrowers of New Zealand and their Gimblett Vineyard is certified organic.

Hot Red Hawkes Bay Wines

Elephant Hill Viognier, Hawkes Bay 2013
Mid gold, with spicy white blossom and hints of toast. Dry, good acidity, ripe phenolics with plump passion fruit notes.

Hot Red Hawkes Bay Wines

Ashley Jones, left.

Ashley Jones and a colleague were also at the Hot Red Hawkes Bay Wine Show to celebrate the Elephant Hill Best Winery Restaurant, Cuisine NZ Good Food Awards 2014 by preparing a huge risotto to share with the consumers in the evening.

Hot Red Hawkes Bay Wines

The Ngatarawa team ready to pour! All the wines on show bar one were their Stables label, named to honour the historic racing stables that now house the winery. Early land holders and families helped transform Hawke’s Bay into an important horse racing centre. And more recently the Glazebrook family pioneered viticulture.

Hot Red Hawkes Bay Wines

Ngatarawa Alwyn Winemakers Reserve Merlot Cabernet, Hawkes Bay 2009
Deep dark ruby, with deep dark red fruits. Dry with bags of tannin (this is still a baby) which is aging in perfect balance with the rich concentrated berry and plum flavours.

I’ve enjoyed Ngatarawa wines in the UK and the Stables wines on show are a decent introduction to Hawkes Bay wines. However, at nearly four times the price, the star was the Alwyn Winemakers Reserve Merlot Cabernet, Hawkes Bay 2009. Just released it’ll need time to become a real beauty.

Hot Red Hawkes Bay Wines

Rod McDonald has neat little portfolio of wines and is a Hot Red Hawkes Bay Wine Producer! Rod established himself as one of Hawke’s Bay’s leading winemakers during his nine years at Vidal Estate, where he earned the title of New Zealand Winemaker of the Year in 2006. Rod set up on his own with several differently named wines, from different areas of Hawkes Bay – some contracted growers and some leased vineyards.

Click on labels to see my notes

Hot Red Hawkes Bay Wines

My last port of call was to meet the delightful Rosie Butler of Lime Rock Wines, specialises in Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Merlot and Grüner Veltliner, believing that the limestone underlying their vineyards contributes sought-after mineral characters.

Hot Red Hawkes Bay Wines

The underlying limestone base is derived from an old sea bed from 3 million years ago. The crumbly limestone structure, called coquina, is made up of crushed shells.

Rosie returned to New Zealand with Australian husband, Rodger Tynan, in 2000 to set up their small 10ha vineyard in the limestone hills of Central Hawke’s Bay. Rosie is the winemaker and Rodger the viticulturist. They embrace an attention to careful vineyard management using their particular style called Vit-Ecology. Since the 2010 vintage, is certified by Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand (SWNZ) - the Lime Rock vineyard having been certified since 2004.

Click on labels to see my notes

I only scratched the surface of all that was on offer so I look forward to visiting Hawkes Bay soon to better understand this, one of the exciting wine regions of New Zealand.

Happy tasters!

Like the sound of these wines and would like to try them? Find where they’re sold by using Wine-Searcher.

A tale of two beaches, part one – Cheltenham

Two beaches

Piha and Cheltenham beaches, Auckland

One weekend in June, a warm winter weekend, we visited two beaches in Auckland, the first Cheltenham Beach on Devonport.

two beaches

Saturday morning we took the push-me-pull-you ferry across the harbour to Devonport, north east of Auckland CBD. We were able to use our At Hop travel cards (similar to London’s Oyster card) as, of course, the ferries are an integral part of the Auckland transport system.

two beaches

We disembarked and set off to walk up Mount Victoria which is known to the Māori as Takarunga.

Along the road we passed the Signalman’s House which was used in the past to inform residents about the arriving and departing ships. Many houses in the Devonport area were built to provide a direct line of site to the signal station so the inhabitants could easily read the flags.

two beaches

Today the Signalman’s House is home to the Michael King Writer’s Centre, which both supports and promotes New Zealand literature.

There are great views all around from the top.

two beaches

Pause for thought on the way down…

two beaches

After a simple lunch, sorry, brunch at the Olive Press Bistro it was time to walk to the beach on the eastern shore.

After a walk along King Edward Parade we cut through to Cheltenham Beach.

A glorious sweep of sand with a backdrop of a variety of colourful houses.

two beaches Across the bay is Rangitoto Island, another of the many volcanoes of Auckland.

There was a lot of nautical activity.

And there’s nothing like a winter dip in the sea!

two beaches

Sunset over Devonport

As the sun set over Devonport at 5.30pm (remember it’s winter down here in New Zealand!) we took the ferry back home.

Coming soon – A tale of two beaches, part 2 – Piha!