It's not often these days that travelers report a hitch-less trip, but from beginning to end, our New Zealand adventure was terrific. I'd choose to go back there again for many reasons: The people are some of the nicest on earth. The scenery is magnificent. The wines are unforgettable. And they've got a darn fine airline. Air New Zealand offered consistently on time flights, decent food, clean bathrooms, and well-staffed, relaxed, friendly and helpful cabin crews.
(An aside... Keens make fabulous long-distance travel shoes. Comfortable and easy to slip on and off through security, perfect for sloshing in river and sea, with enough grip for an uphill hike, they are perhaps the best shoes I've ever owned. For what it's worth.)
Landing in Aukland after 18 hours in transit, we then picked up our "steering wheel on the right, drive on the left" car and this invaluable gadget. Best $83 I've ever spent. She didn't get us lost once. Or maybe just once.
We then took the vehicle ferry to the island of Waiheke for a couple of nights. This is the vacation island for many Kiwis. It is laid back, has tropical beaches (unlike most of the rest of the NZ coastline) and is spectacularly beautiful. The wines? Very unique in the best of ways.
I took this sign on the ferry as good advice not just for the short voyage, but for the whole trip.
We stayed on Waiheke's Onetangi Bay. Here's the view we had. It was in my new and dear husband's prescient brilliance that he chose for our first few days to be decompression-focused after all the wedding hubbub. He couldn't have chosen a better place for us to simply be.
After a quick change and freshening up, our long hours of meal-lessness set is in search of our first delicious findings. Our lodging hostess recommended a few places with heavy emphasis on Miro Vineyard and its Casita Miro restaurant.
Down a semi-secluded narrow gravel drive, alongside a verdant vineyard and multi-hued plantings of not quite wild but not quite tame flowers and ferns, we arrived at the doors of the most beautiful building I've ever seen. The place is stunning. I was besotted at first glance.
Casita Miro is composed of huge glass walls on three sides, supported by an ironwork frame and heavy wooden beams. The view out one of the walls overlooks their dazzling vineyard and out to the vast sea beyond. Nearly every seat in the house captures a bit of the view. The building itself spoke to me in terms of juxtaposition. Antique and modern; sparkle and heft; airy and sturdy; expansive and homey; chic and rustic; simplicity and detail. I was blown away, and had an affinity for this place for the structure alone more than anywhere I've ever been.
Behind one solid, rich, velvety red wall is the kitchen.
Casita Miro's proprietress and our spectacular host is Cat Vosper, who along with Barnett Bond came to Bond Estate and Miro Vineyard with the purpose of making phenomenal red wines, she explained. We discovered that their whites are very special as well. Cat had an élan that was at once charming and refined, making it easy to put ourselves in her hands. The menu offered a five-course chef's choice tasting menu, which we each ordered, and I explained that she was to bring us a glass of wine that she felt best complimented each course. "Surprise us." She lit up and said, "Well, that's the best way to do it." And we agree.
Cat's first offering was Miro 2010 Rosé, made in the French style. I adored her description of the color as "onion-skin" pink. I believe this was a Rosé of Merlot, and it was stunning. I'm still learning to accept that such a pretty, softly-colored wine can have such enormous flavor and texture. This was scented with strawberry and allspice, and was lush and soothing.
With the Rosé came our first course of Beetroot and Feta Whip, a bright pink spread for the springy focaccia, along with a big, bold, citrusy New Zealand olive oil and the most wonderful honey-roasted olives. I'd give anything to have this again. I am on a mission to learn to reproduce both the spread and the olives.
Next came a Galantine of Duck, which had been cooked on the bone, deboned, then wrapped in it its skin and cooked again along with a rich paté. Served with spicy mustard, cornichons, and a lightly dressed herb salad, this was beautiful with the Pinot gris we were served.
By this point I was already enraptured and forgot to make any specific notes about the Pinot Gris, other than that it was terrific, and quite unlike our familiar Oregon Pinot Gris.
Here's the deep, earthy roasted potatoes in a smoked paprika and tomato (or as Cat said, "To-mah-to") reduction with house made chorizo. With this and another course of Lebanese couscous (Israeli-sized cous-cous on steroids) made with Moroccan spices, red bell pepper, and dates, was served with their flagship Bordeaux blend they call Miro, of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and a touch of Malbec.
My favorite quote from My Baby that day was, "I wish every wine we drank was as interesting as these." I believe that we were unprepared for how refined, deep, complex and balanced we were already finding the wines of New Zealand; nothing at all like we had expected from our New Zealand wine experiences in the US. (More on that thought in an upcoming post.)
All of the dishes were wonderful, but the one we agreed was the most scrumptious was the Chicken Apricot Tangine with Moroccan spices and thick, creamy yogurt. We went back to our glass of Pinot Gris with this dish for the perfect pairing, to our palates.
A whimsical staircase at Casita Miro.
It did feel dreamlike.
Our time at Casita Miro was so cherished. I hated to leave, I really did. When the place, people, their purpose, the food, wine and company are so lovely, it's precious and hard to let go of. But our day was not yet over. And I got to take the good company along with me.Back at our apartment, we took the short walk through huge, happy succulents to...
... the beach. The cool, clean sea air refreshed us as we explored.
We came upon this huge gnarly tree...
...which begged to be climbed. It will be one of my saddest days when I can no longer climb a tree, so I do it whenever I can. It makes me feel like a young girl.
From high in the branches, my view...
... was this. How lucky am I???
And this was only day one.