Our experience with wine tasting on the North Island was a bit different than that of the South. We didn’t hire bicycles because the cost was absurd; despite warmer weather on the North we chose reds over whites; and unlike the South Island, we were actually charged many of the tasting fees. But there were similarities: most of the wineries we visited were empty of visitors save the two of us; many of the roads were similarly devoid of traffic; nearly all the cellar door personnel we met were knowledgeable and friendly; and the scenery was beautiful.



Upon arriving at Palliser Estate, first North Island winery stop, we discovered that Sauvignon Blanc would no longer be the cause of our dwindling wine budget. Unlike the lovely vegetal ones found in Marlborough, those we tried on the North Island are long on passionfruit and lime. Still enjoyable but more akin to those exported to the U.S. from New Zealand, Argentina, and Chile. Less unique from our perspective, I suppose. But we also learned at Palliser that the North Island grows – and the wineries make – some excellent Pinot Noir.


Having visited 11 wineries on the South Island and 11 on the North, plus had a full tasting experience of a North Island 12th at a farmer’s market, here’s what we decided:

  • South Island whites are better than North
  • North Island reds are better than South
  • Our best tasting experience was at Bushmere Estate in Gisborne (free food pairings with tastings are always appreciated as are passionate, well-educated personnel handling the tasting)
  • The North Island produces some damn good fortified wines
  • If you want something that sparkles, the South Island is the place to look
  • We’ve had enough wine in New Zealand that not drinking much of it in the coming months won’t be too much of a hardship. But by the time we get to Australia, I suspect we’ll be more than ready to find ourselves a few more wine regions.


Our friend Cat joined us at Mercury Bay

Wineries We Visited

Martinborough and Wairarapa                           

Winery Tasting Fee* Wines of Note Our Thoughts
Palliser Estate $5 Pinot Noir 2010 Our favorite red wine in New Zealand
Martinborough Vineyard $5 None, as far as we’re concerned Nice picnic area, might be having an off-year
Schubert Wines $5 Probably quite a few but our tasting near closing time was disorganized and the tiny tasting room was crowded The most pretentious winery we visited in NZ
Alana Estate $5 Nat Pinot Noir 2013 – the most bizarre wine I’ve ever tried, this organic wine was so hearty I swear there were still skins in it Some solid wines plus a few extreme attempts with organics


Hawke’s Bay

Winery Tasting Fee* Wines of Note Our Thoughts
Abbey Cellars $5 Cardinal Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 Reminded us how important it is to have a good person at the cellar door – fortunately for us, a great one took over from the bored guy who greeted us
Alpha Domus $5 Pilot Sauvignon Blanc 2012
AD Noble Selection 2011
Had a lovely picnic here after a long chat while tastings; bins of odds and ends meant we got a steal on two good bottles
Hawkes Ridge Wine Estate None Tempranillo 2013
Semillon 2009
Bike hire available here and oh, how I would have liked to try the Grand Reserve Tempranillo



Winery Tasting Fee* Wines of Note Our Thoughts
Bushmere Estate $5 Diavolo Rosso 2009 (fortified blend of Sangiovese and Montepulciano, like a ruby port) Best tasting experience in New Zealand with food pairings for 3 wines and 7 wines to taste; we shared a tasting but each got a full glass of sparkling pinot gris; excellent staff, facilities, and lovely wine


Coromandel Peninsula

Winery Tasting Fee* Wines of Note Our Thoughts
Mercury Bay Estate $18 for 4 wines of your choosing None, the four we tried were all forgettable Nice view and grounds near Cooks Beach


Bay of Islands

Winery Tasting Fee* Wines of Note Our Thoughts
Marsden Estate None Marsden Port 1999 Has a devoted following who come in to buy by the case (but not the Port!)
Cottle Hill Winery $5 White Port The couple who own Cottle Hill sailed here from the US in a 35ft yacht in 1996. Wish we could have talked all day!
Ake Ake Vineyard None at Farmer’s Market Sauvignon Blanc 2013 made from Marlborough grapes, Ruby Port Port is sold in a full-size wine bottle

* Tasting fees are subject to change and everywhere we went waives the tasting fee upon purchase. Some places didn’t actually charge us the fee regardless whether we bought anything.

Loved the Diavolo Rosso but don’t remember anything about the Merlot…

One thought on “North Island Wine Tasting

  • April 9, 2014 at 9:26 pm

    How did I miss this last week?! Gah!

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