If you’ve been lucky enough to explore the Marlborough region, you’ll know what we’re talking about when we say wine is the sole, most important thing there.
The Urban List was lucky enough to be invited down to Blenheim to check out the newly revamped restaurant, Wither Hills. And boy, did we have a great time.
Bright'n'early at 6.45am I was picked up in a taxi and taken to the airport. While the plane was one of the smallest I’ve been in (I guess not that many people fly to Marlborough midweek), I was lucky enough to have the exit row all to myself. Happily saying hello to the extra leg-room, I managed to sneak in a quick nap before the day’s adventures.
It was a little wet when I arrived and we were told we were pretty unlucky to have an overcast day for a usually very sunny Marlborough (that’s why they can make such good wine, FYI).
We spent the morning at the (organic!) Ben Morven vineyard, that makes Wither Hills’ Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. I I learned more about wine in five minutes here, than I have ever learnt in my ripe young years.
After much discussion about how wine is made, we were whisked away to the highly anticipated, Wither Hills restaurant and given a tour. The amazing, oversized, oak wood doors made it feel like we were walking into a castle. Oak is one of the key materials used in the fit-out and the fresh wood scent wafts through the restaurant.
Then it was time to be wined and dined. Starting the session with a glass of rosé, we were told in detail about where each wine comes from, what it’s blended with and the keynote flavours we should taste. I practiced my swirling, sniffing and tasting skills to look like a true pro. It was the chardonnay that plays favourite for me, which comes as a surprise, given I’ve been a ‘Pinot Noir only’ girl for the past couple of years.
Here, winemakers Matt Large, and Sally Williams decided in their revamp of Wither Hills’ restaurant, to make it the place with the best wine in the Marlborough region (big call, I know).
So this is how, when they started hiring a chef, their valued question was, “Do you mind if your food is not the most important part of the restaurant?”
And, while they received a fair few funny looks, they found head chef Ross Harrison, who agreed and understood the importance of wine and food pairing.
On the menu, you’ll find the wines that match the meal before the description of the food. Guests are welcome to choose the wine they feel like drinking and then to find the food to match.
Chef Ross prides himself on sourcing local produce, and in a region that is close to the coastline, known for its plentiful seafood and land rich in produce, you’ll be served the best of the best. That’s why the menu states where each meat, or seafood is from, with ‘North Canterbury Lamb,’ ‘Mountain River Venison,’ and ‘Havelock Mussel Fritters’, just to name a few.
And it was delicious! The seared scallop with confit potato and lime aioli was my favourite dish of the day. And, if I were to play by the rules and choose the wine first, I couldn’t say no to the SN Ben Morven Chardonnay matched with the Marlborough Salmon.
After plenty of wine and very full tummies, we headed off to drink more wine! Say what? Sally Williams took us to ‘the lounge’, where we got to hang out and try our hand at blending our own wine. Who knew that wine had to be blended with other wines and ingredients to actually taste good? I had no idea! Oh so much to learn. This is something the public can book in to do at Wither Hills and I highly recommend it. Also, the most confident person in the group will probably be the worst!
After a day filled with drinking perhaps too much vino and delectable food, we said our say farewells and headed back to the airport.
Let’s just say, I’m convinced that I’ll be back again and I’m looking forward to having a glass of chardonnay with my newfound knowledge of wine!
To find out more about the restaurant, check the deets here.