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St Vincent's Cave in Queenstown

Managing director, Sophie Cotter, visited our customers in Queenstown last week, and she wrote a little journal of the trip to share with us her experience. If you are planning on visiting this beautiful city, read about the best tapas bars in town and cosiest resorts to stay:

Pinot Noir, Cardrona Lamb and Spanish Tapas

Ah, Queenstown. What’s not to love about it? There’s something magical about this magnificent and dramatically scenic place that spins on its own vortex of energy. I believe this is down not just to the scenery itself, but to the people that this attracts, adventurers with an appreciation of the aesthetic and a sense that they are fortunate to find themselves there. Last week I went down there to introduce the new range of our wines to the Queenstown Sommeliers Club, a group of largely international sommeliers (I think I was the only NZer in fact) presided over with great flair by Claudio Heye from Surveyor Thomson. Via an informal tasting on Monday night at The Spire Hotel, the sommeliers were excited to try a line-up of purely Spanish wines and made me very welcome. Bar Managers Jake and Connor from The Spire proclaimed each wine to be their “new favourite” – very rewarding from a selection point of view. Everyone’s overall nominated favourite was Taberner (by Huerta de Albalá), closely followed by Marqués de Riscal Reserva and Sin Palabras Albariño. We all went out to dinner from there at Italian restaurant Sasso, where the Italian wine highlight ironically was a superb Vinsanto produced by local winemaker Grant Taylor at Valli winery. I found myself at the end of the night quite literally wanting to join the Queenstown Sommeliers Club myself and move down there.

I stayed at The Sherwood Hotel which was an experience in itself. Known for iconic Ponsonby bar The Golden Dawn, owners Stephen Marr and Sam Chapman have managed to inject the same feeling of hip yet comfortable to the hotel. This is no mean feat in what has traditionally been the last bastion of sterility and lack of imagination. With solar panels that provide the hotel with its own electricity and lighting, the bar and restaurant area is full of natural wood, delicate lighting, funky music and a roaring fire, it seems so natural that it’s a wonder no one has done this before. The wine list is as an extension of this, championing natural and organic wines and challenging you to try something new. Manager Jess and ex Wellington charismatic bartenders Fraser and Pauline make it hard to go for dinner anywhere else.

Tuesday was time for a trip to Arrowtown, where I caught up with Brendan from Arrowtown Wine Store. Brendan has a carefully selected range of local and international wines and is passionate about selling quality and finding each person who walks in the right wine that will match their meal. Fiercely local, he admitted to yelling at a tourist once who was criticising Arrowtown and told them to leave his shop. From there to La Rumbla, local tapas restaurant and champion of Spanish food and wines, where owners PJ and Sam run a slick and successful operation with great food and an adventurous wine list. The jamón croquetas are a great match with Moritz Lager from Barcelona.

After a walk to the top of the gondola on Wednesday, it was time to pay a visit to one of Queenstown’s classic establishments, Eichardts. Eichardts does a great line in perfectly formed tapas, has an extensive wine list, and is small and cosy with a view out to the lake and mountains that makes time slow down. I met with Lauren, the restaurant manager, and tasted with her a range of our Spanish wines. It was interesting to hear that, although they of course have a lot of tourists through, they also cater to many locals. The locals as it turns out are keen to try wines that are not Central Otago Pinot Noir, and there is a growing interest in other regions of reference around the world. Eichardts is in the midst of building a new restaurant next door, so watch this space.

What are the local wine shops up to? The Winery on Beach Street has a rotating selection of wines in their wine preserving displays, that you can taste or buy a glass of. It’s a great low risk way to try something new before you commit to a bottle. Past the big leather armchairs there is a large beautifully made table constructed of fine wooden wine boxes – it’s worth paying a visit just to see this. Manager Maryann said there is some following for Rioja, and if people can try it in the wine preserving system then they are quite likely to buy it. Despite the emphasis on local wines, there is also an appreciation for historical and unusual regions, and The Winery is the stockist of the last of the Acústic White Garnacha from D.O. Montsant. On the road towards Arthurs Point, Raeward Fresh sell delicious Mediterranean and locally sourced foods – the local granola made by two friends in Wanaka is better than any I have tried to date.

Kim the manager champions interesting international wines, and while the selection is small, it is very carefully hand-picked and well worth checking out. Kim likes to know the story behind every wine, as well as food matches and ingredients that will work with it, so she can recommend with confidence the wine that will work with the ingredients that you have bought. Championing the Alvear Pedro Ximénez 1927, Kim has the Movida Cookbook slow cooked beef cheeks in Pedro Ximenez recipe, so ask her for it if you would like to treat yourself to something incredible. For dinner I popped in to Number 5, the restaurant in The Spire Hotel. Do not come in here and not order the Cardrona lamb rack rubbed with harissa - it literally falls off the bone when you look at it.

Thursday brought light rain, with mist drifting around the mountains above the lake. It was the perfect weather to visit elegant Matakauri Lodge, 7km past Queenstown and set on its own in the bush with a dramatic view over the lake. This boutique hotel does degustation lunches and dinners, and you can book a table even if you are not staying in the hotel. The hotel sleeps just 35, and is luxuriously classy. Despite the end of the spectrum where they are operating, lodge manager Stephen McAteer and his executive assistant Jodi are both very down to earth. Again, that classic Queenstown quality of genuineness and lack of pretention. The wine list boasts starts from Italy and the United States, but the “World” section was entirely missing Spain! Hopefully we can remedy that down the line.

I went to Wild Ginger that evening to see what a fusion of Asian and Spanish tapas looked like. General Manager Davide, originally from Venice, has a vast knowledge of the local wines, but appreciates having some points of difference on his wine list. We agreed that Barbazul Syrah-Merlot-Cabernet would make a great match with their duck spring rolls. Rachel, Wild Ginger’s Irish Bar Manager, has a great palate as well and the two are very good company and excellent hosts.

After a week and two changed flights later to extend my stay, the heart of the alps exerts an undeniable pull to stay. There is a real sense of regional identity and local produce at the restaurants in Queenstown and Arrowtown, and particularly regional pride. However despite the beauty of the place and the high quality of the restaurants, what really makes it as a place is the character of the people.

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