Wellington Weekend…Part 2

Wellington’s Good Humour – Street Crossing Signs Doing the Haka.

Wellington Weekend Continued…

After our Moore Wilson Fresh visit, we felt our feets needed a wee rest, so we ambled back to our room & had a lie down & a bit of a read. And before you knew it, cocktail time had rolled around, so we freshened up & headed out the door.

Up front FYI: Not a lot of photos from Saturday night out as in some cases folks did not want them taken (Ascot) and other places it was very atmospheric (i.e., very dark – Capitol).

Our first port of call was a wine bar called the Ascot – a hot tip from a wine store guy. He said it was way better than the ‘stuck up’ (his words, not mine) Noble Rot, far more casual & cool (owner Cosmo Hawke calls it ‘lo fi wine drinking’), with staff that really knew their vino stuff. And all that info was spot on…not super easy to find, but the Ascot is a mere 3 flights of steps up to the rooftop where you will find a very cool space & interesting wines & gourmet hot dogs. Yes, gourmet hot dogs. Hound #2 had Googled the Ascot & was a tad puzzled to find it only got an overall rating of 2.9 with LOTS of 1 star reviews…but when you actually read the 1 star reviews, folks absolutely loved it. The bartender told us they did that on purpose to put off the Tripadvisor type of people :-). Like their thinking…

Capitol Restaurant

From the Ascot we zig zagged our way to Basque – a bar we had to pop into having lived in the real Basque Country in Spain for 2+ years. Well, the best we can say is they tried, but it does not hold a candle to the real Basque world of food, drink and culture that we came to love.

So onto the big dinner splurge of the trip – Capitol. When we did a reconnaissance trip more than a decade before to search out ideas & inspiration for my eventual restaurant London Street in Lyttelton, Capitol was one of our favourites & a model to admire. It struck all the right chords with us – excellent ingredients, cooked superbly in a casual & relaxed & intimate setting. Amazing to still see it going & I have all the more admiration for them in doing so.

We quickly made our beverage order – a bottle of James Millton’s Crazy By Nature Cosmo Red – yum – a wine to suit any occasion. For nibbles we opted for the fried squid with aioli. Perfect. Then I fell for the free range chicken breast with shaved brussels sprouts & bacon and Hound #2 picked fish of the day (Kingfish) on celeriac puree with grilled fennel salsa.

And a nightcap was had by all @ Tequila Joe’s…probably not needed & a big step down from cozy Capitol.

Harbourside Market – Every Sunday.

Sunday morning we were met with another striking day, so it found us up & at’m to check out the Harbourside Market. The market technically starts @ 7:30am but I’d ignore that time slot unless you only want some fruit & veggies. We were there a wee bit after 9am and most of the other stalls (coffee, meat, cheese, bread, etc) were still getting set up.

Common Sense Organic Food Shop

While headed off in search of another coffee, we stumbled across another old favourite – Commonsense Organic Food. We had visited Commonsense on our decades old recon trip and had been suitably impressed – as we were this time too. Hound #2 spent mucho dinero $$$$ on packet after packet of organic seeds for the garden. So glad to see Commonsense still here & thriving!

City Gallery

Then we felt like a bit of culture – so on to the City Gallery. The Gallery had a smart exhibition of Theo Schoon’s work – a bit of a controversial artist along with Gordon Walters as they apparently plucked many of their ideas & inspiration from a mental patient while working at a psychiatric hospital. Nonetheless, a fascinating exhibition  (the Gordon Walter’s exhibition  was on at Te Papa).

Theo Schoon’s works….and gourds.

Theo Schoon Quote and a Rita Angus (a contemporary) Painting

From the City Gallery we headed for the Wellington Cable Car – an easy-on-the-wallet $5 (one way) ride to the top of the hill to start a beautiful, relaxing amble downhill through the Botanic Gardens to the City centre with lots of nature pauses along the way to listen to all the bird song (LOTS of Tuis).

Once down at the main gate, we had a wee wander in the historic Tinakori precinct which is chocka with Wellington’s famous hillside clinging gingerbread houses, antique shops and is home to the  Premier House which is where the Prime Minister resides.

Cable Car Ride to the Top; Wander Down Through the Botanical Gardens

We had a 1pm booking in the tiny Hillside Kitchen + Cellar. Hillside is a vegetarian restaurant and we both agreed the experience was really wonderful, but we’d not rush back for the food – not bad, but just not quite ticking the taste bud boxes.

I started with the Wairarapa Carrot Tartare (which actually came with carrot seeds to take away & grow) which was my favourite dish of the meal and Hound #2 decided to try Smoked Broth & Dumpling Soup which also got a solid thumbs up.

Our mains were the same – Quinoa, Vadouvan & Walnut. This dish was served cold or at room temperature and for me it had an odd, almost incense-like taste which was not my cuppa tea.

Hillside Kitchen + Cellar

Top: Quinoa, Vadouvan, Walnuts; Wairarapa Carrot Tartare; Smoked Broth & Dumpling Soup

With the glorious afternoon still blazing away, we set off for the CBD to run a few errands & stopped off to lend support to the climate change protesters posited in front of Parliament – for an effing 81 days when we stopped by!

Tuatara Brewery – AKA The Third Eye

When cocktail time rolled around – so conveniently consistent – we decided to stick to our house rule & have beer before wine. To that end we set of to check out a few of the local craft brew houses. First pit or pint stop was Tuatara – VERY close to our hotel & an easy amble. I have always liked their beers ever since I carried them in my restaurant London Street (only in bottles, no kegs back then) almost 13 years ago. Quality is still there in spades & we sipped away on the Tuatara APA and the Session IPA.

The Garage Project

Next up was the Garage Project in the Aro Valley – a wee toddle but the evening was clear & crisp. The Garage Project has both a taproom and a cellar door for takeout. We first popped into the Cellar Door not knowing there was a taproom, so we did a few tastings & were told to march a block or so down the road to the taproom. All beers sampled were excellent – but one general complaint about all the Wellington brew scene is that for $12-$15 you should get or deserve a REAL pint – not this 400ml shite. Rant over.

We had made cheap dinner plans to hit Golding’s Free Dive bar & order pizza in from across the alley at Pomodoro’s, but our plan mostly fell to custard as Goldings was closed for a staff dinner…but luckily Fortunes Favours Beer was willing to accomodate us & our pizza.

Te Papa Museum

Monday morning we’d made plans to visit Te Papa – better to not be a weekend day as potentially far less kids & tourists. And we were mostly right & stuck to the art exhibition which was not a favourite of the kiddies.

Te Papa is truly a national treasure, and if I resided in Wellington I would make it a regular monthly stop as there is SO MUCH to absorb. Post an hour or more our minds were stuffed to the brim with information & visual treats so we headed off for a coffee before our lunchtime destination – Egmont St. Eatery.

Egmont St. Eatery

Grilled rice cakes, cockles, housemade XO sauce, slow egg & aromatic salad; Harissa spiced lamb, giardinera, labne, watercress pesto, polenta bread.

We are not sure when or where the term ‘eatery’ was first used or by who, but it is certainly the word de jour in the hospo business. That said, we thoroughly enjoyed a superb lunch @ Egmont St. Eatery. Being a Monday afternoon, we were able to walk right in with no problems.

My first & only choice from the menu was the harissa spiced lamb, giardinera, labne, watercress pesto on polenta bread & what a choice it was. Super flavourful with an excellent mix of spices & spiciness from the harissa and I absolutely loved the polenta bread. Hound #2 had an inclination towards the grilled rice cakes, cockles, housemade XO sauce, slow egg & aromatic salad and she did not regret her choice. And all washed down with Maior de Mendoz ‘Fulget’, Albariño, 2016, Rías Baixas, Spain. 

Well that’s Wellington done & dusted for a wee while – though Hound #2 is back in October to celebrate a sister’s birthday…with lots of recon filed away for her trip.

 

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A Wellington Weekend…Part 1

Ride the Cable Car, Get this View & then Walk through the Botanic Gardens!

We felt a mid-winter’s break was in order – a change of scene, a change of faces, some new & different food & drink to try and of course, culture. We had not been to Wellington in over a decade, and our memories of it were still on the good side, so away we went for a long weekend in Wellington…

Noble Rot Wine Bar…

Since the Noble Rot Wine Bar was just around the corner from our hotel, we decided to break a Friday night rule – beer before wine – and popped in to a bustling joint (it was Friday after work). I opted for an old time fave, Samuel Gorge’s Grenache which was in peak form & Hound #2 went the bubbles route…

HUSK Brewery

The vino was a nice start, but our house rule rose to the fore & we were off in search of a bar/brewery nearby on Ghuznee Street called HUSK. This place covers a lot of bases – brewery, roastery & eatery…but it was the cervezas we were here to imbibe. Like many craft breweries / bars these days, they are quite accomodating & generous with wee tastings of a good chunk of their range and what a range it was. Hound #2 likes her stouts so a tipple of the Power of Voodoo White Coffee Stout and Shakeit Chocolate Milkshake Stout were quickly swallowed & loved, but she felt like something lighter, so a 1/2 pint of City of the Wind IPA. My choice was, appropriately,  I’m Afraid of Americans West Coast IPA. Excelente!

With a good beverage head start to the evening, it was now time for some food. So off to make our 8:30pm dinner booking @ Mr. Go’s.

This a fun & lively & affordable place folks – hard to go wrong here on any front. Packed & buzzing on this Friday night, we quickly settled into our assigned seats & perused the extensive menu. We started with a bottle of the Arriba Tempranillo which is a house fave @ home & put our order in…Hound #2, in the last month, has gone vegetarian & Mr. Go’s menu suits that preference to a ‘T’…

Mr. Go’s is designed to share & share we did: Kung Pao Cauliflower (Fried cauliflower, Kung Pao sauce, peanut salt), Tofu Popcorn (Marinated and fried tofu pieces, Fix and Fogg satay sauce), Green Beans (Dry pan-fried green beans, Chinese spices, pickled mustard greens) and Go’s Fried Rice (Bok choy, edamame, peas, spring onion, spring onion oil, furikake). Yum!!!

We awoke Saturday morning to yet another amazing day in Wellington (stayed stunning our entire visit) as for any folks that have never been, Wellington has a reputation (deservedly so) for having nasty, brutal weather…that’s why its nickname is Windy Wellington (you can add rain to that monicker too).

We quickly popped in to Hangar for some warming coffees & some edibles before heading to the Wellington waterfront / harbour. In Lyttelton where we live (on the Banks Peninsula outside of Christchurch on the South Island), we have a beautiful harbour too but access is very limited – you can always look but rarely touch. Wellington has a lot of public space waterside & we made the most of it & enjoyed…

Wonderful Wellington Waterfront…

Wellington Museum

One of the highlights for both of us was a visit to the Museum of Wellington – highly recommended & well worth your time…amazing use of modern holographic imagery to tell historical and mythical tales and the section on the tragic Wahine disaster is heart wrenching but informative.

Weeeeeeeeeeee!

Lunchtime came upon us faster than we thought (time flies when you’re having fun & food & drinks) and we made a bee-line for Pre-Fab on Jessie Street. This is a real hustling & bustling kind of industrial kitchen that was created by the folks who started the iconic Cafe L’affare, the place that kicked off the cafe scene in Wellington. Though we had to queue, everything moved quickly & within 5 minutes we had seats….

Prefab, Jessie Street

We’d previewed the menu beforehand & made our choices – the classic Rueben Sandwich for me & the Grilled Halloumi Baguette, Avocado, Smoked Beetroot & Dukkah for Hound #2. Both dishes nailed the hunger pains to the wall – some of the tastiest tucker on the trip for me.

Top: Reuben Sandwich – Yum!; Parrotdog IPA; and Grilled Halloumi Baguette, Avocado, Smoked Beetroot & Dukkah.

Post a wonderful lunch, we were in the hood of Moore Wilson’s Fresh – my absolute fave food store in all of New Zealand. I mean, what’s not to like or love here? One of the biggest & best offerings of food & et al in the country, with everything from fresh as fruit & veg to meat & fish to cheeses of the world to condiments galore…heaven. And it has certainly grown over the years, but managed to maintain its super high quality while expanding its breadth of offerings. Only draw back is: (a) we had no kitchen or fridge where we were staying so no cooking and (b) we had only brought 1 checked bag so not loads of space for transport home :-(…

Moore Wilson’s Fresh – Estupendo!

Cheese! Cheese! Cheese!


Meat & Fish…

The Wine Section….

So onto Part 2 of the trip in the next posting….

 

The Bicycle Thief…A Winter’s Day Lunch

Birdlings Flat, Banks Peninsula, New Zealand

It was the Sunday of the long Queen’s Birthday Weekend (only in NZ  – not the UK – go figure) and another dull gray, wintery & chilly morning greeted us. But we stuck to our plan – drive over to Little River via Gebbies Pass for a coffee & a quick squizzy at the sweet art gallery & local crafts station and then a drop in @ Birdlings Flat for a walk on the beach so that Hound #2 could harvest some sea water (for the joints).

But in the same vein of our Lincoln tiki tour, we were also keen to re-visit Tai Tapu (as we had been before & remembered going there – unlike Lincoln) which means ‘sacred water’ in Māori. There is not much to Tai Tap (as the locals call it) as it is a wee rural town with just enough (i.e., pub, cafe & dairy & gift shop – The Store, auto mechanic, petrol station, etc…) to be of interest & serve the locals & Sunday drivers like us.

We had a bit of a wander through the drizzle, up & down the town’s main street & ducked into The Store to have a quick look but equally to have a few minutes out of the piss. Then, since it was past noon, it seemed we had crossed the definitive line where a pint or two might be in order, so we made a bee line for the Tai Tapu Hotel (also called The Tap & proudly serving food & drink since 1856). Satisfyingly beverage refreshed, lunch was next up & we decided to take a bit of a gamble & head over to the Bicycle Thief to see if we could score a table (can be a bit hard on a Sunday as it is VERY popular). 

We had always loved & enjoyed the CBD version of the Bicycle Thief, but par for the course, the earthquakes altered their plans. Fortunately, they were able to re-invent themselves in the old Rossendale Winery space (which is now next door & called The Vineyard) and they seemed to have never skipped a beat. And just like the old CBD location, they have done a superb job of making it a very cosy, warm space to relax & hang out in with great lighting, wee booths & secluded spaces. And we lucked out – upon arrival we were quickly shown one of the excellent 2 top table booths & had menus in hand.

The Very Cosy Spaces @ the Bicycle Thief…

The Bicycle Thief does a lot of food & drink really well, but our pizza cravings had returned so that was how we were going to roll. Hound #2 took about 2 or 3 seconds before declaring that the Fungi (field mushroom, caramelised onion, gorgonzola + truffle oil – $26) was the bee’s knees while my pizza of choice was the Agnello (san marzano tomatoes, house cured lamb prosciutto, black olive, confit garlic, artichoke – $26). And it was all washed down with a pint of Founder’s ‘2009’ IPA ($10.50)…super yum for a Sunday arvo. 

The Fungi Pizza…

The Agnello….

We will be back to The Bicyclce Thief for a more substanital feed…maybe once we have turned the corner on this dastardly weather and Spring is in the air & outdoor seating (which they have) is a decent possibility…or another set of winter days could see us back in a cosy booth to be tempted by the rest of the menu…

Day Trip’n to Lincoln & Pub Lunch @ the Laboratory…

We had read an article in the Press a few weeks back that profiled the booming town or area of Lincoln, home to Canterbury’s esteemed Lincoln University. The boom has been happening post the earthquakes and seems to be on an uninterruptable rise with many folks escaping Christchurch for a more sedate, tranquil rural life. 

None of the Hounds could remember if we’d ever been to Lincoln, and if we had, we had complelely forgotten it…so on a recent gray, winter’s Friday we headed off for a visit.

It struck us as pretty much what was accurately descibed in the article, with lots & lots of new subdivisions going up like weeds, one pretty much indistinguishable from the other. The town centre had all the mod cons & required services (the library was super cool), including a decent choice of places for a drink & a bite to eat…We’d recently picked up the latest NeatPlaces pamphlet & the sweet description of The Laboratory ticked all the right food boxes and it is a craft beer joint to boot!

The Laboratory @ Lincoln… 

The Laboratory is the wonderful fruition of the blood, sweat and thousands of tears of Martin & Lisa Bennett who came to New Zealand to craft fine English style ales. The original incarnation for this effort was the Twisted Hop, which many folks will fondly remember on Poplar Lane. But like many CBD businesses, the earthquake was a fatal blow and while their partners moved on to re-open the Twisted Hop in Woolston, the Bennetts wanted to do something closer to home where they had settled down in New Zealand. And as fate would have it, in 2011 the Selwyn District Council approached them to be an anchor business in the new town centre plan. Bravo!

A Real Pub Feel…At Least Hound #1 Thought So…

Having lived in England from 2012 to 2015 (Hound #2 is 100% English), we had stuck our noses into a substantial number of pubs and this was mos def a pub! They even let Hound #1 in which certifies it as a pub in our books!

We had a quick perusal of the menu & as an early taste treat we opted for the Handcut Chips with Aioli ($9). Perfecto…hot & crisp and aioli heaven. We especially liked the serving cone – classic Kiwiana. Our beverages to accompany the chips: for me, a pint of the Twisted Hop’s Little Brother American Pale Ale ($9.50) and Hound #2 took the beer-less-travelled route & had a low alcohol Ha’Penny IPA ($9.50) which still was chocka with flavour. They have a more than decent selection of beers (both tap & bottle) to imbibe and please any hop preferences…

Even though we were very tempted by the wood-fired pizzas (we’d had our fill of pizzas that week), for our next course we decided to pick from the Small Plates & Salads menu. Hound #2 veered towards the Spiced Lamb Shoulder with Hummus & Yoghurt ($17) while the Braised Oxtail with Pappardelle & Parmesan ($14.50) was the ticket for me. We were both more than pleased with our respective selections and both plates were left spik’n span clean…we even used the left over flat breads to scrape up the residual tomato-y oxtail sauce!

Da Food: Top Left – Braised Oxtail with Pappardelle; Spiced Lamb Shoulder with Hummus & Yoghurt; and Super Chips & Aioli.

So if you fancy a tiki tour of the Lincoln area (Tai Tapu too – next blog post) and develop a bit of a thirst and some hunger that needs satisfied, The Laboratory will do you right…

A Walk On The Wild Side – The French Basque Country…

Village of Bera, País Vasco…

The weather forecast called for a near perfect Spring day recently, so we decided a Sunday tiki tour was in order to: (a) shake the cobwebs off Gertie, the 1975 Land Rover, and (b) to explore & visit a bit of the French Basque country since it’s just over the border.

We sorted out a circular road trip which had us headed for the Spanish village of Bera as our first stop of the day. We arrived earlier than planned, so the village was more than quiet, though it was quite obvious that things be shake’n in Bera as for a village its size it appeared that it could feed Napolean’s army with the number of dining establishments spotted.

We wandered up to the town church and puttered around the graveyard which was peppered with fascinating old, Basque tombstones. Then a wander down a crooked laneway for a wee stroll & then a return via a path along the village river. The water looked sweet & we quickly spotted numbers of trout holding their feeding positions…one looked to run to more than 1 pound which is a decent size for these parts. Hummmmm????

We decided it was time to move on if we were to make our lunch date in St. Jean de Luz & be able to pay a visit to 2 or 3 other French Basque towns. As we left town though, headed for France, we were a tad disappointed that we had not wandered farther along as Bera has a decently sized Old Town section where they were hosting an agricultural machinery fair…damn!

Crossed to the French Side – Cute As Village of Sare…

From Bera you climb up & over the foothills of the Pyrenees and descend down into the first Basque Country village of Sare. You have or hate to admit it sometimes, but the French truly do have a grand sense of style and that was on display in spades in Sare. Tidy as, almost movie set perfect & clean as a whistle…we tested one of the local cafes with a café au lait & it passed more than a muster. A bit of souvenir shopping was completed, then a good zig zag wander round the village lanes & back to Gertie the Land Rover.

We literally made a pit stop in Ascain, it was nice but did not seem to hold a candle to Sare and there appeared not to be a soul on the streets. We made a pause for a bit of refreshment (local brewed beers), in some sun facing deck chairs before making the decision to move on to our lunch destination…

Lunch on the French Basque Coast @ St. Jean de Luz…

Hound #2 had read somewhere, about some cafe or bar that was someplace on the beach, somewhere near or close to St. Jean de Luz – I know, not exactly the directions you can put into Google & achieve success. But lo & behold we managed to find not 1, but 2 bars/bistros on the beach & opted for La Guinguette d’Erromardie. It just had the too cool for school look, with lots of hip folks taking in the sun & beach vibe and clearly tasty food & drink.

Yum Food @ La Guinguette d’Erromardie – Top Left: Caesar Salad; Grilled Fresh Sardines, Baked Potato & Salad; Coastal View with 2 Hounds; Drinks & Flowers Beachside…

The Daily Special was all Hound #2 had to see – grilled sardines with a baked potato & salad – choice made & she was happy as Larry (so was Billie). I thought I’d be healthy & have the Caesar Salad & get my dose of greens, but was disappointed to see the chicken in my Caesar came deep fried, not simply grilled. No serious complaints – all very tasty & washed down with some red vino & chilled cerveza & sweet, sweet staff. This place must rock @ night on the summer weekends.

Top: The Company Car; Beach View Towards St. Jean de Luz; Sunday Buzz…

This type of day needs, needs to be repeated before we depart for the UK, then New Zealand…so close & so interesting…and they have trout!!!!

Basque Artisanal Beer Fest In Irun…

txingudibwkartelona

Artesanal Cerveza Fest!!!!!

Another week in Spain, another festival! It seems a week just cannot go by without a festival or carnival or big event happening here. This past weekend was the artisanal beer fest hosted by our next door neighbour, Irun. Artisanal beers have, as in the rest of the world, hit Spain like a big cerveza tsunami. People seem to be craving for and are enjoying brews with a bit more punch or flavour than the bog standard bar pours like Heineken or Amstel. And like elsewhere, the Big Boys are taking notice with several small breweries being snapped up by the corporate big fellas.

beersigns

The Beer Bash Kicks Off…

This was a 2 day event held at the Irun event centre called FICOBA. It is a vast hall with garage doors an 18 wheeler could easily pass through with space to spare and there were at least 2 dozen breweries in attendance as well as a dozen or so pop up food trucks. The admission fee was €5 which got you in and a ‘special’ tasting glass, but to actually drink the beer costs a wee bit extra :-(. As a general if not universal rule, artisanal beer cost a tad more than your normal pour, and that was the case here. Our special glasses held 200ml of the precious liquid (a normal caña of local beer like Mahou or Keler is around 350ml or more depending on the pour & runs 2 euros – $3NZ, $2.80AUS, £1.72BP, $2.1US) and the general price was €2.5 ($3.75NZ, $3.5AUS, £2.15BP, $2.65US) but sometimes €3. We have a great specialty beer bar in the Casco Antiguo area of Hondarribia called EtxeBerria, which only serves artisanal brews and a small pour is normally €3-4 and a caña size is in the the €5-7 range (sort of like the rest of the world).

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Serious Artisanal Brewing on show here…also very high alcohol levels…like 7% or 8% for most.

One of my all round favourite styles of beer is the IPA (India Pale Ale), so that was the theme I stuck to for the day and sampled about 5 or 6…tough to do much more embibing as the alcohol levels averaged 6-8%, so even after just 2 you could feel the buzz and drinking during the day is not my usual modus operandi. I tend to like my IPA a bit chunky, with serious flavour & what can be described as chewiness so the Little Bichos (‘bicho’ translates to ‘creatures’) IPA took the fist place prize. And it was slightly ironic given my fave beer in Australia was Little Creatures…not sure who copied who!

beerfestfood

Da Food Trucks – Big Help!

And thank the Food Gods that be that there were a series of decent pop up food trucks on hand, otherwise it may have all been over before it began! We had a good squizzy and everyone opted for the appetising Gala hamburger stall – Hamburguesa Tex Mex to be precise. Generally an excellent dish (which I washed down with another IPA from Naparbier) but Hound #2 complained – ‘Not spicy enough for a Tex Mex burger’…oh well, she’s a tough one to please.

All in all a most fun event – not too tough an assignment to drink well crafted artisanal beers on a semi-rainy Saturday arvo with next to no crowd hassles & loads of way cool beermeisters manning the stalls to talk shop. Can’t wait till the next fest ;-)…

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Top Left: Box of Special Fries & Hot Sauce; Gala Food Truck Burger Menu; Gala Burgers on Display; Our ‘Special’ Beer Glass

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Top Left: Bob’s Beer (Bob’s English) from France; Brew & Taps from Bar Boulevard; Dos Borachas (2 Drunks); Naparbier from Navarra; Free Lions Beer Coaster

beerscenes5

 

 

GOÑI Ardoteka Vino Market…

ardotekasign

One of the things I really miss since leaving New Zealand and Australia to live in the UK & Spain for a wee while, is a decent amount of regular, interesting & affordable wine tastings. Melbourne was a seriously sick place for wine tastings as it was almost harder to sort out & decide what not to do versus searching to find a wine event to do. Usually, every weekend some wine store (like the Prince Wine Stores or Seddon Wine Store or even your local Dan Murphy’s) was featuring a tasting & typically with the producers doing the pour – for free. And to add wine tasting insult to injury, there was almost always a massive wine event happening every other week or so with the likes of the Barons of the Barossa rolling into town or The Taste of Tasmania making a Melbourne splash. My head (and liver) hurts just remembering all of these vinous opportunities!

The UK is pretty much bereft of these kind of gustatory pleasures unless, of course, you are able & can afford to live in London or even Bristol or Bath, or some decently sized pueblo. And we couldn’t, so we didn’t, so we did not  have easy access to a regular rasher of sipping & tastings…for effing out loud people, even Christchurch, New Zealand (population 350,000 más o menus) puts on a decent juice show with Vino Fino or Decant doing the city honours.

winemkt

When we first arrived in Hondarribia, I discovered GOÑI Ardoteka in San Sebastián quite early on, and it is, by almost any measure, an estupendo wine store – great selection, knowledgeable and pleasant staff, fair prices and easy peasy access from Hondarribia via the marvellous E21 autobus. I signed on to their regular email newsletter for updates & started to see some notifications of tasting events. But I was a bit hesitant to jump right in & sample as, to me anyway, many tasting sessions seemed a wee bit dear – like €40 to €60 dear for the option to test out a few new unknown vinos. As I mentioned above, many of the regular Australian tasting sessions were 100% free and if not, they would hit up your wallet for a modest debit of round $20+ or so (same thing in New Zealand) which is like €13…eso es no problema.

So I was more than delighted to see in my inbox the news notice for the Christmas Wine Market @ GOÑi Ardoteka – wines & bubbles & beer & producers and FREE! I have no hesitation in stating it was the best wine event, so far, that I have attended in either Spain or the UK – and the producers were: (a) super knowledgable and generous with their information & time and pours (and my crappy Spanish) and (b) they be pouring the good shite! We are talking the top of da vino line folks – the cava bodega I started with finished our tasting round of 5 different bottles of bubbles with their 2005 Reserva that would set you back a tidy €93 ($140 NZ), so clearly not in the Lindauer league.

ardotekawines

The Wine Market Bad Boys…

And to add more foam to the froth, all the wines (not just the Wine Market wines) were smacked with a 15% price reduction – whoa nellie, hold on to my wallet! Fortunately (for my wallet), I was a bit constrained as I only had my modestly sized backpack with me and my allowable maximum wine allowance (by weight) was 5-6 bottles. So purchase I did & hauled my delicious treasure back to Hondarribia on the E21 autobus to savour at a later date…keep it coming GOÑI Ardoteka!