Kia Ora! New Zealand's Wine Tasting And Cooking Party

Cooks in training

It was that atypically warm, sunny September afternoon that brought LA Splash to Fort Mason in San Francisco’s marina for Constellation New Zealand’s ‘Kia Ora! Wine Tasting and Cooking Party’. The brisk day was the perfect accompaniment for that rare chance to savor New Zealand’s delectable Sauvignon Blancs – best served chilled and thus, couldn’t be more suitable for the day. Longing to sate our thirst, we trudge on, up and down the hilly slopes of the ‘City by the Bay’, towards our destination.

Upon entering the establishment, we were greeted by the professional team helmed by Chief Winemaker, Darryl Woolley, and two of his Head Winemakers, Anthony Walkenhorst and David Edmonds. They invited us into the passionate realm of winemaking, one that needed a fair amount of schooling at the casual observer’s end.

Anthony Walkenhorst, Darryl Woolley and David Edmonds

With the formalities of introduction over and done with, Darryl introduced the 2010 vintage of three brands: Drylands, Nobilo and Kim Crawford. Those gathered were treated to an informative presentation on the wine growing regions of New Zealand along with their variations in productions and blends. The wines on display unleashed a spectacularly pleasant amalgamation of fruity flavors; of which passionfruit being most dominant. Once sampled, it should be simple for the layperson to distinguish the uniqueness of these New Zealand wines when compared to those grown on US soil.

David explaining the wine growing regions in Marlborough

The experts hesitated not with detailing their wine growing business in Marlborough and the influences they gain from their distinct regions. Marlborough, perhaps the most well-known of New Zealand’s wine producing regions, is located in the north part of the South Island, and is one of the country’s sunniest and driest regions.

The trio counseled us on the infinitely delicate and time-consuming winemaking process that takes numerous factors into consideration; the commonly understood ones being soil types, grape variety and climate. This journalist does not purport to be a seasoned oenophile, merely a casual drinker, but the team kept the crowd’s interests piqued with the unique flavors of their wines – some with searing intensities, others with mild and light tones and still a few with herbaceous goodness. It was rather splendid to finally understand the intricacies of viticulture and the vinification process before a wine is finally bottled.

The untrained tongue will find similarity in most wines grouped within the same category, unable to differentiate between the subtle flavors that each brand. Employing the following trick will assist one in singling out the distinct notes in a wine: If accompanied by the odorous partnership of fruits (in our case, passionfruits, nectarines, peaches), spices or herbs, untold flavors come bursting to the forefront of the tastebuds. Give this bit of olfactory exercise a go and you will find it a refreshing way to experience an as-of-yet virginal vintage.

Walkenhorst was gracious enough to grant us a moment of his time, explaining how Sauvignon Blancs generally take six months to process from grape to bottle, and compares that with Pinot Noirs, with their longer sixteen to eighteen months. Kim Crawford markets a selection of limited release wines, which include their Small Parcels ‘Spitfire’; derived from small batches of exceptional grapes in each vintage. His team manages the painstaking process that each batch undergoes to ensure high standards, rejecting those that are subpar. As head winemaker, Walkenhorst has the fortuitous privilege of having his word bear weight when the decision calls for what goes into a consumer’s hand.

He proudly expresses how “their wines have that distinct fruit-forwardness, employing lots of big flavors. The real fullness and range of flavors keep this brand interesting”. Their wines having been stateside for approximately twelve years, he is happy to report that local demand has grown steadily. Marketing it as a luxury brand, Kim Crawford is aimed towards the more affluent and appreciative of wine drinkers. On a side note, when asked of the perfect pairing, he unequivocally mentioned seafood, singling out scallops as the perfect morsel, especially those derived from New Zealand.

Oysters go perfectly with Sauvignon Blanc!

Then, Chief winemaker, Darryl Woolley, who respectfully leads his team that span across the aforementioned brands, explained how their wines have managed to garner the top two positions in our local market, when it comes to New Zealand imports: “Fruit expression is important to everyone, including the casual drinker and people tend to gravitate towards our range of full-flavored, luscious wines”. Proud of their achievement, he expresses utmost confidence at being able to maintain their one-two reputation with the upcoming 2010 vintage coupled with their skilled marketing and public relations team, all hoping to thrust brand consciousness levels into the mainstream. He repeated on the obvious distinction that comes with wines from Marlborough; how they stand out based on the intensity of fruit; what with the climate, working in tandem with the soil, thus producing such a concentration of flavors.

Wrapping up the wine tasting, all attendees were posed with the question, “What goes oh so perfectly with wine?" The not-so-obvious answer: Food that you prepare yourself! The participants initially hesitant, were soon prepped and led to what would turn out to be without a doubt, a smash ending to a smashing evening. The brilliant people at Benson Marketing commissioned ‘Parties That Cook’ to manage the event, risking their reputations for what could have easily been a disaster at the hands of the presumably unskilled, but on the contrary, ended up being such fun! Kudos to the team for such a unique experience!

We were divided into six groups and were expected to produce no less than six courses! This ‘chefsperimenter’ ended up in a group that produced beef skewers served alongside a creamy peanut sauce imbued with the magical richness of coconut milk – and absolutely no dish went horribly awry! The perfect activity for a group of strangers who ended up chatting, mingling and sharing amongst ourselves tales of wines gone good. All of which got us down and dirty but all in good fun and admittedly, never has cooking for oneself and others been so gratifying.

Attendees of the event

Thanks again to the groups at Constellation and Benson Marketing for a truly remarkable experience and a magnificent occasion.

For more information about Constellation New Zealand's group of wines, please click here.

For more information about 'Parties That Cook', please click here.

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