Central Otago wine and scenic tour

NZ-wine

Continuing with my New Zealand posts…
The day after our Milford Sound trip, we had a wine and scenery tour booked with New Zealand Wine Tours. The “Pinot Paparazzi Tour” includes wine tasting and three vineyards, lunch, a visit to an aroma room and many stops to admire the scenery. The wine bottle labels above are the only photos of wine you’ll see in this post, since I drank the wine rather than photographing it 😉 Those bottles are the two we purchased to bring home.

Our first stop was just outside Queenstown, for a look at the view. Jake – our guide and owner of the company – did tell us what we were looking at, but I’m an idiot so I don’t know any more.

I think it’s safe to say the scenery was stunning anyway!
Some photos from our next stop:

I can at least tell you that we took the Crown Range Road, so that’s where all these photos were taken from. I just don’t know what we’re looking at!

Next up was a stop at the Cardrona Hotel, New Zealand’s oldest hotel. Very quaint looking. I also took some photos of the surrounding buildings.

Once we’d explored the hotel, it was back into the van and on our way to the first winery of the day! While we were driving there, Jake asked us all about our wine preferences so that he could choose which vineyards to take us to in the afternoon. There were four of us on our tour, but there can be up to seven.

Jake described Rippon to us as “the vineyard with the best view in Central Otago”. It looks over Lake Wanaka, and the view truly is stunning. Here, I’ll show you:

As you can see, it was a cloudy day. The view is already stunning, so just imagine how much more beautiful it would look with the sun shining! What a place to work!

I think we tried six wines at Rippon, all of which were tasty. I liked the Gewürztraminer best.

Our next stop was lunch, which we had here:

Hahahaha!

Lunch was a meat/cheese platter, served on a wooden stand that was originally part of a wine barrel. I wish I had taken a photo! (Bad blogger. Bad, bad blogger!). The food was included, drinks were extra. I chose a rosé wine that our tour guide recommended and it was delicious! (8 Ranges Rosé if you’re interested).

Once we’d eaten, we went into the aroma room, which is also at The Nose. All around the room there are little pegs? Pins? (I don’t know!) infused with a different scent – ranging from strawberry to coffee, from apple to violet, from peach to leather. A poster above each of the sniffy things tells you what you’re smelling. We first had to go around the room trying to guess each scent before looking at the post. I managed to identify quite a few of them. The we tried out our aroma identifying skills on two types of wine – The Nose Pinot Gris and The Nose Pinot Noir. Jake told us there were no right or wrong answers – if you think you can smell something, then that’s what you can smell – but he told us the most common answers that tour groups give for each wine. It was a fascinating experience!

Sniffing done, it was time to move on to the afternoon’s wine tasting. The first place that Jake had picked out for us was Aurum Winery. On the way there, Jake explained to us about their Amber Wine, which is incredibly unique! It’s made using traditional techniques. The grapes are fermented in their skins and strained through muslim cloth. It’s almost like a red wine, but not (so hard to explain… it’s not really like a rosé either – as I said, it’s unique). We tried some other wines, and also got to taste their port which was very nice! It was a hard choice between buying the Amber WIne or the port, but the amber won just because it’s so unusual.

Outside the tasting room is a beautiful garden:

As we were leaving Aurum it started to rain, and by the time we reached our final stop – Chard Farm – it was chucking it down! This place was a lot busier, so instead of the people there doing the tasting with us, Jake collected each bottle from them and provided the explanations himself. Again, we tasted some very nice wines and even managed to find some red wines that I like! Jan’s favourite was the last wine we tasted, but I didn’t like that one so we purchased the one you see above. Overall, Chard Farm was where we tasted our favourite wines of the day – I liked all the white wines and 2 out of 3 red wines (and I don’t usually drink red wine!).

This was another vineyard with a gorgeous view, but since it was raining heavily I didn’t go and seek it out. Here’s a photo from just outside the tasting building:

DSCN6855

You can see how green it is, at least.

If you happen to find yourself in the Central Otago region of New Zealand and you like wine, I can highly recommend New Zealand Wine Tours! Jake is an excellent guide (and I’m sure his other guide is great as well!), very knowledgeable, the aroma room is unusual and interesting, and having the afternoon vineyards selected specifically to meet your tastes is a really nice touch. This wine and scenery tour is just one of the available options – there are also ones that focus more on the wine. Basically, if you’re going to do a wine tour in Central Otago, go with New Zealand Wine Tours.

Wine tasting at Blandy’s and Madeira miscellany

This is my final post about Madeira, so I’ll start off by telling you about Blandy’s Wine Lodge and then finish with some miscellaneous stuff about Madeira that hasn’t been covered in any previous posts…

Old Blandy’s Wine Lodge is located in the centre of Funchal. Acquired in 1840 by Charles Ridpath Blandy, the old wine lodge remains an integral part of the process, and until relatively recently some wine was actually still produced there (they do the actual crushing of the grapes part up in the mountains nowadays, or so our guide told us). These days, it’s mainly used as a place for barrels of wine to mature and age, before being transferred to giant barrels for storage before bottling. These means that, while you don’t actually get to see Madeira wine being made, the premises are not there purely for tourism purposes… as evidenced by the wonderful smell of Madeira wine in the rooms where the barrels are being matured!

There are several tours available, and we chose the Premium one, which cost €5.50 per person and included a tasting at the end. I have to admit, I preferred this tour to the one we took of the Old Jameson’s Distillery in Dublin, which really was purely for tourists and seemed to be more of a marketing exercise than a tour that was actually designed to give any information! Naturally our tour guide in Madeira wouldn’t have told us that any wine other than Blandy’s is the best 😉 but at least the entire tour wasn’t a huge advertisement for Blandy’s! We were actually given some quite interesting information about grape types and the different temperatures and barrels that are needed to produce the different types of Madeira wine. It’s just a shame I barely remember any of it! At the end of the tour, we were given some time to look around the mini museum section before heading on to the most important bit… wine tasting! We were given two Madeira wines to taste… one was Malmsey, a sweet Madeira wine made from Malvasia grapes. If I remmeber correctly, Malvasia grapes are the only one of the four grape varieties used to produce Madeira wine that are actually native to the island. Sadly, I don’t remember what the other wine we tried was, but it was a dry variety. Both were very tasty, though.

Madeira Miscellany

A few more observations from our trip to Madeira that didn’t seem to fit in anywhere else. 🙂

There are dogs EVERYWHERE! I never did manage to decide whether they were all strays or some actually belonged to people. We saw at least 15 dogs just running around loose, with no owners to be seen… including two that hung around outside our hotel! We discovered at some point that one of them was called Bobby, but I have no idea whether they belonged to the hotel or had just been hanging around so long that the staff decided to name them. Either way, I’m assuming that if they were dangerous the hotel staff wouldn’t tolerate them? I still didn’t want to touch them though, and when one of them decided to follow me while I was carrying food, I did feel a bit nervous! He didn’t do anything though, and eventually seemed to realise I wasn’t going to give him anything. In the time we were there, I spotted three dogs wandering around with collars on (two in Funchal and one in Santana) – so presumably they belonged to someone – but said owners were nowhere to be seen. We also spied three dogs being walked with actual leads! Here are some of the (presumably stray) dogs we saw – the first and last photos are of the hotel dogs, while the middle one shows a dog in Monte.

On the first day, after looking around Funchal, we drove up to Cabo Girão. The most unusual thing about this cliff is that, looking down, you can see cultivated land at the foot of it. Until relatively recently, the only way for farmers to reach this land was by boat… a cable car was installed in 2003 to provide an easier way for them to reach their crops. Brochures and the Madeira website claim that Cabo Girão is the highest cliff in Europe (and second highest in the world), but Wikipedia says it’s not. Regardless, it provides a nice view – especially with the glass viewing platform that juts out over the water! If you’re scared of heights, I wouldn’t recommend  looking down…

I haven’t mentioned much about what we ate in Madeira (other than the bread and soup in Funchal on the first day) because Jan tends to tease me if I take too many photos of food, but I need to tell you about the Espetada… or meat on a skewer! This traditional Madeiran kebab-type dish is delicious! The meat is marinated, then cooked in an open fire. Traditionally the meat was threaded onto a bayleaf stick, but we had to make do with plain old metal skewers 😛

Also, have another picture of some of the garlic bread. I love how this photo turned out! If I had a food blog, this would so be my cover photo!

Yum, yum!
Yum, yum!

Finally, I want to finish my Madeira series with a photo taken from the aeroplane shortly after take off. This was shortly before the evil turbulence got hold of us (so bad that I actually felt like we might be blown out of the sky, and the pilots changed their plans slightly and got permission to fly at a lower altitude than originally intended!). The sheer beauty of the sunrise above the clouds made for a fitting end to a wonderful holiday.

Leaving Madeira... very early in the morning!
Leaving Madeira… very early in the morning!

And that’s it… the end of our trip. Now I believe it’s about time I started thinking about where to go next! Any suggestions?

~ I am counting Madeira as my January 2014 trip in the Take 12 Trips challenge, even though we started the holiday in December ~

Heilbronn

With exactly one month to go until my birthday (aarrghh!!), I really need to get a move on with my 30 German Towns Before 30 posts! Here’s one that I visited a few years ago!

Heilbronn is located in north-western Baden-Württemberg on both banks of the River Neckar. It’s best known for its wine-making industry, and the very first time I went there was for that very reason – it was the week of the annual Weindorf (literally Wine Village) festival and some ex-colleagues had arranged to meet up for a tour of the vineyards followed by wine tasting at the Weindorf. I wrote all about that trip to Heilbronn here, but without pictures which is why I’m re-doing Heilbronn for 30 German Towns Before 30.

Heilbronn is about 75-80 km from Karlsruhe, and is quite convenient to get to using public transport – there’s an S-Bahn (suburban train) that goes directly from one town centre to the other… and if you manage to get an Eilzug (express train) it’s even fairly quick, taking just over an hour.

Heilbronn/Karlsruhe Stadtbahn train pulling in...
Heilbronn/Karlsruhe Stadtbahn train pulling into the station outside of Heilbronn Hauptbahnhof (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As I mentioned in the post I’ve linked to above, Heilbronn was bombed extensively during the Second World War, with 62% of the city being destroyed, including the old town area. Unfortunately, this means that, today, Heilbronn is nowhere near as pretty as most other towns in the region – admittedly one of the towns it has to compete with is Heidelberg, which makes things a little unfair! Here’s a photo taken from up in the vineyards. Heilbronn is down there somewhere:

Heilbronn from above
Heilbronn from above

And here are some of the grapes in vineyards:

Grapes, waiting to become wine
Grapes, waiting to become wine

After a guided tour of the vineyards, we went down into Heilbronn itseld for some wine tasting at the Weindorf. There were a lot of stalls selling wine down there, but all the ones we tried were from the same producer.

Welcome to the Weindorf!
Welcome to the Weindorf!

My second trip to Heilbronn was with Jan for the Christmas market – we had been to Bad Wimpfen that day and werde disappointed to find the market there closed so we headed to Heilbronn so I could get my Glühwein fix (he was driving). Before hitting the Glühwein stand, we took a walk down to the river where I took my only photos in the town that day. Sorry people of Heilbronn, but concrete and glass shopping centres do nothing for me! Here’s the Götzenturm (Götz Tower), which used to sit at the south-eastern corner of the city wall:

Götzturm, Heilbronn
Götzturm, Heilbronn

Being the middle of November, it started to get really dark soon after I took the photo above, so we went and looked round the Christmas market, failed to find any gifts then I had a Glühwein before we headed home. Here’s a terrible shot of the Christmas market, with a church in the background (all the photos in this post were taken with my old camera, which was even worse than my current one… and my current one isn’t the best!)

Christmassy Heilbronn
Christmassy Heilbronn

All in all, I can’t say Heilbronn is my favourite town in Germany, but if you’re into wine the Weindorf is worth a visit.

Walking around Würzburg in the rain

Würzburg

Jan and I decided to take the opportunity that the long weekend offered us and go somewhere for the day on Saturday (four days off in a row meant we could fill the entire day and still have two days of relaxing at home – bliss). Since there was rain and cold forecast* for everywhere that was within day trip range, we figured it didn’t really matter where we went and spontaneously decided on Würzburg. My verdict: not one of my favourite German towns. Unfortunately, about 80% of Würzburg was destroyed during World War 2, and when they rebuilt it there wasn’t exactly a tonne of money lying around, so all the new buildings are basically ugly (but were cheap to build). There is the odd nice building here and there, either because they managed to escaped the bombs or have since been restored, but in general the town isn’t the prettiest I’ve seen. Of course, it has Tübingen and Heidelberg to compete with, and the horrid weather didn’t help much either.

We didn’t arrive until around 1 p.m. (Würzburg is roughly 2 hours drive from here and Jan didn’t get up til 9 a.m.), so after a quick walk down to the river (The Main) for a look at the old bridge and take some photos of the fortress up on its hill, our first stop was lunch. I had Wiener Schnitzel, which was very tasty, and tried the local beer, Würzburger Hofbräu.

Beer! And a candle in a cool looking holder

After lunch (which took a while because we started with soup to warm us up and hung around long enough to have a coffee after our main course), we headed over the the Fachhochschule (University of Applied Sciences) to see the Röntgen-Gedächtnisstätte (Röntgen Memorial Hall). Wilhelm Röntgen is famous for discovering the X-Ray – they’re named after him in German: Röntgenstrahlen. I guess that was just too complicated for English speakers to be able to pronounce. And, random piece of useless information, he received the first ever Nobel Prize for Physics for his discovery. See, my blog is educational! 😉

Our next stop was the Juliusspital Weingut (Wine Estate is the translation on their website…). The Juliusspital (hospital) was set up to provide treatment for poor people (especially old poor people) who couldn’t afford to go to an ordinary hospital. It still continues that tradition today, and raises part of the money it needs by producing wine, and by giving gided tours of the winery. This included a look at the bottling facility, followed by a tour of the wine cellars including three different wines to taste. The tour guide wanted to take our money at the entrance to the cellars, at which point we discovered that Jan didn’t actually have enough money left to pay for his entry (I had enough for myself, but not enough for him). A lovely couple from near Cologne helped us out, completely disproving the stereotypes about rude, unhelpful Germans! We then bought them a bottle of wine in the shop at the end, where you could pay by card.
This is the fountain where we met to start the tour. You can just see a hint of blue sky trying to make its way through at the top. Unfortunately, that didn’t last for long.

Fountain in the garden of the Juliusspital

Apparantly it represents the four rivers of Franconia (Würzburg is in an area of Bavaria called “Franken”) but I’ve no idea what those are, other than the Main.
By the time we’d finished the tour, just about everything else of interest was closed due to it being Saturday, and the Easter weekend at that, which was a shame. I would have quite liked to go in the Residenz, but instead I just took a photo of the outside.

Würzburg Residence

The Cathedral (St. Kilian’s) was closed as well, for renovation. It wasn’t our day for going into things!
I also took lots of photos of lanterns, just because I like them. One day I’m going to have a huge collection of lantern pictures. I’ve even got Jan pointing them out to me now!
Doesn’t the sky above this one look threatening:

That’s pretty much how the sky looked all day, apart from a brief interval while we were waiting for our tour of the winery to start. And it was cold too! So much for spring.
All in all, it was a nice day with my boyfriend, and gave me a chance to see another part of Germany that was new to me, but I don’t think I need to go back there again. Sorry Würzburg, you’re just not my type of town!

*A mere two weeks ago we had gorgeous sunshine, and now winter seems to have returned. Not impressed, weather gods!

Grapes, glorious grapes

Yesterday I went to Heilbronn with some of my ex colleagues. The southern branches of the company had arranged to meet up and I was invited too. There were 10 of us in all. We had booked a walk through a vineyard, complete with guide, followed by wine tasting at the Weindorf (wine village), an annual wine festival that started in Heilbronn last week.

The tour started with a bus ride up the mountain, during which a female guide told us all about the town and especially about its history of wine growing. It seems Heilbronn was bombed to death in December 1944, which is why it’s now full of not particularly pretty modern buildings. A shame as it could be such a pretty town, located among the mountains as it is.

On the mountain we met with a male guide who we walked back down with, pausing every once in a while for him to explain something to us. We also got to try some of the grapes. That there on the left is a picture I took of some before we plucked and ate them. Close to the bottom of the mountain we were taken to a small winegrower’s residence where we were able to try our first wines, one white and one red. The woman explained what we were supposed to taste but as usual it just tasted like wine to me. Supposedly the white one was meant to have a hint of bell pepper in it(!) but I couldn’t taste anything like that. To be honest I’m quite pleased… pepper flavoured wine really doesn’t sound appealing to me! We then had a tour of their facilities before heading down the mountain, into town and to the Weindorf. At the Weindorf we were given some bread and cheese then had the chance to try six different sorts of wine – two red, one rose (there should be an accent there but I can’t make wordpress do one) and three white. The rose one, called Musketto, was very nice, as were two of the white ones whose names I unfortunately don’t remember. After the wine tasting we headed to Lehners for some food. I ate Käsespätzle, a  speciality from this region consisting of small dumplings with lots of melted cheese. Very nice – if you’re ever in Baden-Württemberg definitely give it a try. And of course we drank wine – what else? It just so happened that the wine we chose was made by the same people we’d just had a tour with! It wasn’t one of the wines they’d given us to sample though.

By the time we’d finished eating it was nearly 10pm, time to head home. I caught a tram back with the other people who had come from Karlsruhe, finally arriving home at about 11:30pm. I had a quick look at my photos to see whether any of them had actually worked (screen on the camera is still broken) then went to bed, where I was thankfully not bitten. I’m still itchy from where the mosquito got me on Friday night!

Music man

You know, I don’t think I’ve mentioned in any of my many posts (according to wordpress this is my 119th!) that my boyfriend is a musician.
Well, he is. Not like a full time musician. He has a degree in computer science. But on the side he’s a musician. A drummer to be exact, or at least that’s the instrument that he actually learned to play. As in took official lessons. He plays guitar as well though, and he sings. He even tried out bass guitar at his work’s Christmas party last year. Makes you wonder why he’s with me, the girl who can’t even yodel (ha, I totally stole that last bit from Beaches).
Anyway… I am going somewhere with this, honest.

So every winter there’s a big party in my student residence, the Heimfest. It’s on the first Friday in December usually and it’s a public party – anyone can come in for a small fee, and each of the floors sells various food and drinks throughout the night. There’s also a band. (Do you see where I’m going with this yet?).
So the last couple of years, in addition to the “ordinary” band (usually some local group) some people from here in the building decided to form their own band who would perform before the main act. Naturally the boyfriend was involved.

Since the residence band went down so well last year the people who are in charge of this year’s Heimfest have asked some people whether they would like to perform again this time round. Naturally they would. And naturally my boyfriend wants to be part of it too, even though he doesn’t actually live here any more. That doesn’t matter though – it doesn’t have to be people who actually live here. They just have to be connected to the residence in some way. And Jan did live here for (way too many) years.

Tonight the band are having their very first meeting. I won’t call it a practice because I think tonight is more about discussing than actually practicing, although Jan did take his guitar so you never know. The meeting started at 7pm, although Jan didn’t turn up til half past. It’s now 10:30pm. I’m hungry. I’m tired. I got three hours sleep last night. I’m currently debating whether to just go and eat something, running the risk that Jan will turn up just as I finish complaining that he’s hungry too. Decisions, decisions.
They’re having another band meeting tomorrow. Luckily I actually have plans tomorrow – while he’s playing guitar I’ll be in Heilbronn tasting wine with my ex-colleagues. I have a feeling it’s going to be a long time before I actually get to spend another weekend with my boyfriend though.
*Sigh* Roll on December!