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A beached while

Gulls, guests, & gewürztraminer

by Thor Iverson

[tahunanui beach]

Sandy dunkin’

We’re on a beach. A beautiful, sun-drenched beach. And we’re nearly alone. It’s déjà vu all over again…

Something I’ve noticed about long trips: there’s time for parallels and patterns. On a short jaunt, there’s only the headlong rush of moving and doing. The luxury of stepping back and considering is an expensive one at a clip, but relatively inexpensive when there’s nothing but time. Here, on Tahunanui Beach, our thoughts return to Onetangi. It seems so long ago…everything was laid out before us, all was possibility, and it was impossible to know what might happen, or how things might turn out. Now, very close to leaving these shores, the possibilities are now memories. We know what’s happened, and we know how things turned out. Nearly everything is behind us.

But the water is still in front of us, the sun above us, and the sand beneath us. And lunch is all around us. If we can keep it from blowing away, that is. Beach picnics seem like a good idea, but flapping textiles, ravenous gulls, and swirling sands make for a somewhat confrontational experience. Thankfully, it’s a coarse, golden sand that’s easily seen and discarded whenever it alights on one’s plate. The gulls, however, aren’t so easy to dismiss.

Admirable Nelson

Eventually, the wind recedes. This would be an unmitigated good, except that it brings out a few exploratory black flies. Gulls and flies; it’s time to go. We drive into Nelson itself, for the first time since our arrival, to explore the town for a little while. There’s not much to it…a few shops (some functional, some quaint, some a blend of the two), a pretty central avenue, and a modernistic cathedral…but then, we’ve seen businesses flung and strewn all about the region’s exurbs, forests, and farmland, so the lack of a true urban concentration of commerce is no real surprise. The town feels active and youthful, though not like in Dunedin, where that feeling came from the people but not from the city. Here, it’s all around. Nelson is alive…and yet, there’s a sleepy, ultra-relaxed quality to it as well. Not for the first time, we’re reminded of California.


Back at the villa, I start roasting onions while Theresa does a little cleaning. And it’s a good thing we started early, because our guest arrives right on time.

Russell Briggs, self-exiled Statesider, has been of incalculable help in the planning of our extended Kiwi adventure. And never more so than here, where he lives. (Since this vacation, he’s moved northward.) We have him to thank for most of our recommended wine visits…yes, that includes Glover’s…and for a final, non-wine adventure we’ll have tomorrow. He’s done us innumerable favors, and we have to thank him somehow. So we invite him over for dinner.

Here, too, is symmetry. Back on Waiheke Island, we’d had the other people who’ve done so much for our Aotearoan travels (Sue & Neil Courtney) to our rental for a thank-you dinner. The parallels mount. The journey becomes a circle.

Russell, despite a self-description of anti-sociability , is actually a fount of endlessly fascinating stories. And, sometimes, the stories are simply endless; a given story might an hour before getting to the crucial, climactic appendix. (I kid.) As partners in loquacity ourselves, Theresa and I appreciate this in him. It gives us more time to eat. Besides, who doesn’t like a good narrative?

[trafalgar street]

Mercy street
Dinner is full of bold flavors: green-shelled Nelson clams sautéed with a little white wine and bacon, followed by a heavily-spiced venison loin atop a slurry of roasted sweet onions, blue cheese, and cream. There’s salad, and then chocolate, while the sun of the late afternoon turns into evening, and then beyond. And there’s wine, of course.

Quartz Reef “Chauvet” Méthode Traditionelle (Central Otago) – Apple and geranium, with a complex and floral nose flittering atop a crisp palate of lemon, more apple, and somewhat obvious froth. Long and lingering, precise throughout, but it could use a bit more refinement, bubble-wise.

Te Whare Ra 2004 Riesling (Marlborough) – Windy stones, but otherwise shy, with little more than the hint of underground lime and steel. Builds on the finish. Classic, dry, and intense, but it’s not for youthful quaffing.

Te Whare Ra 2004 Gewürztraminer (Marlborough) – Bitter lychee skins, pear juice, and rose petals. Lightly sweet. Lacks intensity.

Peregrine 2003 Pinot Noir (Central Otago) – Plum, dark red fruit, earth, graphite, and nuts. Complex, elegant, and gorgeous in the broad-shouldered Gibbston style.

Melness 2004 Riesling (Waipara/Canterbury) – Wet sea-stones, pineapple pie, ripe apple, and soda water thick with minerality. Lemon rind on the finish. Really interesting, though I don’t know if it’s fully-knit yet.

Black Ridge 2003 Gewürztraminer “Late Harvest” (Central Otago) – Sweaty feet, spiced lychee, and some fetid notes on the finish. Everyone but me hates it. I don’t think it’s good, but it’s at least interesting. (It’s worth noting that the “foot” element was something I noticed at the winery, as well.)

Russell takes his leave, and we take our sleep. It’s not our last night in New Zealand, but it’s our last where the morning doesn’t bring a departure. A melancholy feeling descends. The circle is almost complete.

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Copyright © Thor Iverson.