Food & Drinks

A day at Wither Hills: The most delicious way to learn how to match wine and food

We take a whirlwind tour of Wither Hills' Marlborough home to celebrate the heritage wine brand's 25th birthday.

By Fiona Ralph
I've been given the enviable task of tasting 25 years of Wither Hills' sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and pinot noir in one day.
Not only that but each of tasting comes with expertly matched food pairing.
I get to taste how perfectly their fresh sauvignon blanc pairs with New Zealand's prized seafood, indulging in an Kaikoura crayfish focaccia roll slathered with béarnaise butter.
Their silky chardonnay, a natural fit for creamy chicken, seafood and pasta, is served alongside incredible Ōra King Salmon sashimi, with wasabi, ponzu and pickles.
The dining experience finishes with a pinot master class showcasing just how well the deep, rich taste of their pinot noirs team with gamey meats such as the Mountain River venison saddle that's enjoyed with confit potato, baby vegetables and truffle jus.
It's all in aid of Wither Hills hitting a quarter century.
This year will mark the heritage wine brand's 25th vintage, and a team of viticulturists and winemakers are taking a group of journalists on a trip down memory lane via a series of tastings at some of the Marlborough sites that have helped to make the New Zealand company such a success.
The vines at Wither Hills' Rarangi vineyard is cooled by the delicate sea breeze.
Our vertical tasting starts with a 1996 sauvignon blanc at Rarangi, a vineyard nestled into the bush just 600m from the ocean.
Sauvignon blanc is Wither Hills' hero variety (alongside chardonnay and pinot noir), with 72 percent of the label's wines made from the grape.
Rarangi is one of the company's largest vineyards at 160 hectares, plus 50 hectares of natural wetlands, and it's where a lot of the company's sauvignon is grown.
The fresh, fruity characteristics the variety is known for are at the forefront in the more recent vintages, while the wines that have aged a couple of decades are surprisingly well-rounded, if a little richer and darker in colour.
Head winemaker Matt Large with Nadia's Fiona Ralph
"Balance is everything," says head winemaker Matt Large. He and the team strive to produce wines where you can't taste too much oak, alcohol, sugar or fruit.
Matt has been with Wither Hills for eight years, and says "the passion that people have to go the extra mile, and make the products the best we can," is key to the company's success.
Although single-vineyard wines are also available, Matt points to batch-production –blending grapes from different vineyards – as another strength. This allows the brand to "maintain quality and consistency of style," he says, and create such strong, award-winning wines.
Our sauv tasting was matched with a Kaikoura crayfish focaccia roll with béarnaise butter.
After tasting seven sauvs and downing a delicious crayfish roll, a breathtaking helicopter ride over the Wither Hills cellar door takes us to Ben Morven on the outskirts of Blenheim.
One of the smallest of the company's 13 vineyards, Ben Morven is tucked under the hills that give the brand its name.
Here the grapes are grown organically, with beneficial weeds growing around the vines.
We taste our way through eight chardonnays and sample fresh salmon sashimi whipped up by Ross Harrison, head chef at the Wither Hills restaurant.
Chardonnay is a great match for creamy chicken, seafood and pasta. Our tasting was served with delicious Ōra King salmon.
Next on our tour is the brand's cellar door, just down the road.
Instead of settling in at the flagship restaurant, we head into the cellar, where all the barrels are stored.
The cool, dark room is a fitting setting for our pinot noir tasting.
After sampling styles from 1997 to 2016 – all beautiful, with 2007 a standout – we enjoy a feast of venison.
A pinot noir tasting is held in the cellar room.
Finally, we move upstairs to the restaurant and courtyard, where we take in views over the vineyards.
Here, we try a few of the brand's craft styles which are usually only sold through the cellar door.
To celebrate its 25th birthday, Wither Hills has made the Cellar Collection available online for the first time, with limited bottles of a premium pinot noir named The Honourable, a sweet, light, bubbly called Frivoli, and a Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc available until the end of April.
We leave with a bottle of The Honourable, a taste of Marlborough to take home after a memorable day celebrating 25 years of success in the New Zealand wine industry.

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