Mission: To respond thoughtfully and responsibly to my experiences of drinking and dining at restaurants with regard to the quality, service, preparation, presentation and overall experience received thereat. The standpoint is one who respects the crafts of the chef and sommelier and who seeks to understand their choices in the kitchen and cellar and grow in knowledge. In this, I will seek to be fair, reasoned, direct and constructive and aim to keep my ego in check on our mutual journeys through the worlds of food and wine.

Monday, April 22, 2019

IWFS Auckland Festival March 8th to 10th 2019 - Day Three

International Wine and Food Society Asia Pacific
Auckland Festival March 8th to 10th 2019

A recollection and remembrance of eats, drinks, sights, sounds, and people from across the event. Organised by IWFS Auckland in New Zealand, it brought members from all across the world to enjoy the food and wines of the country. 

Sunday 10th March 2019 - Day Three


I woke up quite fuzzy and lolled around in the bed ahead of a sluice in the shower and shave ahead of scrambled eggs, beans and buttered baguette with jam and some gruesome coffee in the Stamford Breakfast area. The first order of the day would be the APZ Annual General Meeting to which all the Asia Pacific members were encouraged to attend. There were a fair few in attendance despite the unearthly hour of 10.15am for a Sunday. 

My view of breakfast. Yes.
The APZ AGM Meeting got processed pretty quickly and smoothly, with Chairman James and Secretary Erik each giving a report. We got told of new IWFS Branches getting set up across the region along with some long term dates for the diaries for overseas beanos. And it seems the IWFS is pretty strong in financial terms. Not much comment from the floor. Perhaps everyone was suffering from the night before. Move over...


We then got herded into the main ballroom to hear the 2019 André Simon lecture presented by Bob Campbell MW on ‘The development of the NZ wine industry from 1954 up until today’. Bob Campbell MW is one of New Zealand’s most respected wine commentators and judges, and proved a very entertaining speaker who knows the New Zealand wine industry inside out. He gave a very informative and entertaining talk which got followed by a lively Q&A after. I went on stage to thank him and remember our Doc Hall Kiwiboy to him; seems they had been wine buddies in Singapore some years back. We swapped cards. One never knows... 

Bob Campbell MW
Principal Wine Writer
The Real Review

(l/r) Bob Campbell MW, IWFS IMC Hon President Dave Felton and IWFS International Secretariat Andrea Warren 

Lunch was to follow the lecture, which proved a buffet style affair, but I felt that the queue was too long and looked hugely slow. So I slunk back to the room, figuring I could better use the time by packing and filing away papers rather than queue for what looked like standard mediocre hotel buffet food. Room mate Richard clearly had the same idea; when I got there he was already packing up his bits. 

My case was looking pretty full by the time I had finished. Some space had been leveraged due to books and bits passed to Cousin Debbie earlier in the trip, but my six collected bottles of wine were filling a good third of the case. And not much had been ditched on this trip. I had continually been washing and drying two sports shirts for daytime and reusing the grey sweater over long sleeve shirts for the evening. A third of the clothes had not been worn. Also the disposable Watson's underpants proved to be easy wash and quick dry so some of them got recycled across a day or two. Some things might have to get sacrificed. And there were still some bits that needed to get bought to go home. In this sense, the absence of charity stores impeding my indulgence and predilection for scouring them for bargains was looking more like a blessing than anything else.  

After about thirty minutes of wrestling with the luggage, Richard and I we went back down to be faced with the remnants of lunch. All that was left were some ham slices, cheese, crackers and nuts and fruit. Which would do the trick - breakfast had been recent and dinner would probably be large, so some lighter style eating was eminently welcome. As was some delightful Pinot Gris and Chardonnay which helped the light fare perfectly. At conversation over the lunch, it seemed the thinking was indeed that a light lunch was preferable to heavy since the upcoming Tantalus would be big. Though I was told that some of the pilgrims whinged about the parsimony of the food offerings at lunch. Maybe the same ones that whinged about there being too much lamb. What to do? Can't please everyone, eh? And my experience is that some people just like to whinge because it is a safety and comfort zone - is often all they know what to do. There you go - takes all sorts of characters to make for a world. Who am I to judge?

As soon as I entered with my lunch I got pounced on by Yvonne to discuss the APZ newsletter which ultimately sounded quite doable. The thinking was to get something out twice a year and create pages with articles for website storage and access. I know from experience that the hard part of all this is getting people to write and send photos for inclusion. But now with Facebook and Whatsapp and different branches having their own sites and sharing events, this seemed less painful than it might otherwise have been. Hopefully once the thing gets up and running the other branches will look to develop their own stores of information and events and I can just email out links for the members to follow. Or not. The other trick is to make it all relevant and reasonably engaging to warrant people spending time poring over your photos and videos. There might also be layout issues and maintaining the look and feel across all publications. And STILL getting people to contribute. Though certainly more doable than initially envisaged. I got copies of what had gone before and started to develop an idea of a single bright and breezy single page email that will link to kind of "read more here>>" style pop up pages. And also do occasional "extras" when a good story comes about. Maybe also attach the whole thing as a PDF, though I did get told that less than 10% members download and read. Fair enough. Perhaps need to make it big size font so people can read the thing. And look to make the website a bit more relevant than the general "this is what we do at IWFS" kind of approach that necessarily prevails across most websites. 

After the discussion, some of us diehards parked ourselves around a table for a somewhat extended lunch which involved swigging the remaining booze and gossiping about the occasional politicking that some perceive to happen across the lines. Nothing like a good bottle of wine or four to kickstart the tongue. Nothing nasty, just the occasional observation on perceived motivations that drive some to seek the glory or just do the necessary. Observations on the human condition and what we perceive to drive us. Good clean fun. 

View from the Stamford Plaza room
All of this ended round about 2.45pm at which point I went back to the room for a very good power snooze to refresh ahead of the walk from the hotel to the pier to get the Waiheke ferry. Seems a 4.30pm crossing had been arranged for the pilgrims and a 3.30pm appointment (was initially 3.45) to assemble had been set. Took us all of five to ten minutes to walk from the lobby to the pier, so quite why such an early off was felt necessary was not fully clear. Though perhaps building in such a large margin was felt beneficial to account for the perennially late. There are often one or two in every group. 

On the way back to the room I ran into May and Eddie and Karen who had decided that a better lunch awaited them at the local Oyster and Seafood Bar five minutes walk to the Viaduct. Did I want to join? Not really - I am not driven by the lust and passion that some of the pilgrims have for shellfish. I also have the fear of the one Raw Prawn that can Delhi the belly with an Attack of the Whooshes and keep me parked on the toilet on the MAS flight back to Kuala Lumpur. No joke at 20,000 feet and not worth the risk, thanks all the same. And I really needed a quick power nap. They clearly had a brilliant and jolly time, judging by the Facebook post.  And no Raw Prawns. Bugger.


Our blurb told us that after our free afternoon (?) we would meet to take the 35 minute ferry ride across the harbour to the beautiful Waiheke Island for a tasting and dinner. Waiheke Island was rated by Lonely Planet Guide as the fifth best destination in the world and a must visit once in the lifetime. And although our visit would be brief, it would "give members the chance to experience exactly what it is that has put Waiheke on the map – the production of exceptional wines, of which Tantalus is the new kid on the block, but don’t let that fool you – their wines are extremely good for a young producer. You should not miss this. We will return to Auckland by ferry after the dinner, arriving Auckland about 10.30pm."

Sage and Rosemary - awesome scent when crushed
As said, we had got to the appointed assembly, er, point way ahead of time and watched enviously as the four o'clock ferry opened its gates for the boarders. I wandered up and down the queue a few times, more to stretch legs and observe. It was a glorious sunny Sunday in Auckland, in stark contrast to the bluster and drizzle of the previous day. Weather does make a vast difference in how one approaches a day. 

Everyone lurked or sat waiting for the signal to move. I got talking to a chap name of Geoff Ryder who lived on the island. Said he came to NZ forty years ago, had been living on Waiheke for 18 of them, was a Lodge member, born in Detroit, engineer with four kids spread across NZ and one in Brisbane. He was a dead ringer for Ernest Hemingway with a salt and pepper beard though I did not mention anything. We talked about Tantalus and he spoke of a gin distillery next door to it name of Dellows. He said we could see it from the Tantalus but I eventually didn't. I had thoughts of a quick taste and try to buy and take back. Didn't happen. Have to see if it would be on sale at the airport. It wasn't. Not meant to be. Om.

The boat came to dock and we all swiftly boarded. I decided to take a seat downstairs, more to avoid the blazing sun than anything, and got joined by the water and boat fearing Gloria from IWFS Western Australia in Oz. We passed the boat time most pleasantly talking away about KL and places she had lived and a cute story about a mutual friend parading on a beach somewhere in a slinky and skimpy white swimsuit many moons ago and me part wondering what the friend would look like now...

The lawn at Tantalus Estate
The boat docked after 40 minutes of extremely smooth sailing, and as we disembarked we got directed to gate 3 where two buses were waiting to transport us to the winery and our dinner. We swiftly scrambled aboard and found ourselves quickly making our way along a winding road heading inland. The towns along the road were all cutely pretty in a kind of California way, with lots of small funky shops in a blazing blue sky setting. Reminded a little of Carmel and Half Moon Bay on the Pacific Coast in the USA. I got a wonderful Bayside vibe and feel about the whole island and I could easily see how my new Hemingway friend had spent eighteen years here. Hugely easy place to just "be", man...

Lance, Kalsom, Hansruedi, May Peng and Amber in a... theyfie?
The bus arrived and we all dismounted to get faced with a stairway to the heaven that was seemingly set on the top floor of the complex. I did not notice a lift and no one asked if there was one. Might be an issue for those less mobile than us pilgrims. The place was hugely pretty in the blazing sun, and the scents from the herb gardens lining the route were brilliant - sage and sweet smelling Rosemary that just erupted with pungency when you crushed it between your palms. 

Dr Jag with Susan Gill, both from IWFS KL
Walking through the darkish entrance, the restaurant opened out onto a delightful lawn garden and rows of vines that stretched all around the complex. There was a wooden sculpture which dominated the lawn that lay between the restaurant and the vines and the light made for some brilliant photos. 

Tantalus Restaurant ambience
The pilgrims seemed to be thoroughly enjoying the sun and the outdoors and went at the photoshooting like first day of grouse season, snapping anything and anyone that stayed still long enough to get caught within selfie or weefie range. Everyone got welcomed with a glass of the crisp and throat warbling white fizz in the now de rigeur half white wine size stemmed glasses and started quaffing and posing and enjoying the brilliant early evening light and cooling evening air of Waiheke Island. Really nice place to chill and enjoy a setting sun and and either take photos or hope to get taken.

View from the table
I decided to wander back in to recce the bathroom and ended up chatting to some of the Auckland members about their experiences of organising and executing the AGM Festival. I told them I thought they had done a sterling job in all respects. One shared a few briquebats that had been received and seemed a shade depressed by them. I tried to console by saying some people can never be satisfied and there is no reason for this so best to just give a Gallic shrug and grab another glass of fizz. Which we did. 

Wandering back toward the outside, I noticed that some seats had already been "earmarked" and claims staked either through handbag or some other accoutrement to mark ownership and thus possession. I know in some parts of the world (eg Singapore) gazumping or squatting against someone's earmark can turn nasty and (on one reported occasion) violent. I wondered what kind of woe would visit a pilgrim who would dare transgress such occupation and claim against the world. I was half tempted to shift someone's claim to another seat to see what would happen, but resisted - no point to ruffle feathers, eh? I similarly marked my seat with a notebook and a half drunken glass...

Welcome speech from IWFS Auckland President Rowan Moss
A final wander into the fresh air and then eventually drifting back in with everyone to take their seats ahead of the dinner. I seem to recall a short speech and then it was straight into the white wine. 

The most excellent Tantalus Cachette Chardonnay
The 2017 Cachette Chardonnay was lovely. Smooth, clean, good dose of oak but not so that it overpowered and made you think you were chewing wood. Got ripe peach and apples in the mouth, large hint of the tropical with a brilliant finish. Very more-ish, and the staff were quite generous in the refills. Felt like an airy meadow breeze, made the more so given the green garden surroundings outside. Not sure if we see it outside of NZ but would certainly snap up a couple of these for the fridge. A lovely drop. 

The crusty, crisp and crunchy bread was being paired with some excellent olive oil that had an equal dose of wood and which gave it great character and taste. Lovely start to the evening.

Someone observed the music volume was a bit loud and a request to turn it down was quickly complied with. Kudos for the staff being receptive to the pilgrims' need for less background ambient noise!

The food was hugely slow in coming out. Felt like it took the age of Methuselah to get to the table but was probably about thirty minutes. Which is still pretty long. We had previously given our mains choices to the young people flitting around the tables. But they seemed a bit thin on bringing out food. We kept chugging the remains of our fizz and scarfing down the bread and desperately trying to keep the conversations going. But it does get difficult when there is little to fire the imagination and pretty much all topics have been exhausted. Had to ask for second and third rounds of bread to soak up the booze - be full before 8pm at this rate…  At least the sunset through the open window was magnificent, with the light slowly changing from perfect blue to darkling dusk to the sound of roosting birds and the sudden silence as they all shut down their cawing and the Sandman entered their world...

The Big Glory Bay Salmon. Total darling...
When the starter did come, it was darling. I had opted for the salmon and it was absolutely one of the freshest I have ever had. Lightly pan seared for a crisp skin, the sour cream and ponzu gave great umami taste and texture whilst the shallots brought spice and bite and the elderflower lent a hint of floral grace. It was a fantastic combo of creamy mouthfeel and melting salmon texture that brought home the fact that this is why we join the IWFS - to get tastes like this. Imagine excellent multiplied by three with a hint of wicked and it gets close. Really, really good. Can't remember if the wine was a match. Didn't matter if the food was this good…  

The Tenderloin. Jus disappointed, but lovely meat
Those opting for the pork belly looked a bit disappointed. If I heard correctly, the aim was to reproduce a Spicy Chinese style cuisine - Sze Chuan taste but without the firepower. Normally a pork default, I opted against - no one does Chinese cuisine styles better than the Chinese, and given this level of expectation the dish might prove disappointing. Judging by the look on some on the table who selected the pork, I might not have been far off. 

Mossie's Fish dish. Looks good, yes?
The beef followed on quite quickly. Sad to report it was not stunning and a bit on the bland side. Lovely tender meat, with some good char and season and chew and bite, it was the jus that let the thing down. Rich, thick, and a bit starchy. Reminded of the Bisto we would get at school. Lacked a bit of finesse that I would have liked to match beef of this quality. However, once it all got a bit mixed up with the other bits on the plate it started to make a bit of sense. The notes are a bit confusing and spiderish at this point. 

Goat's Cheese Ice Cream - nice.
The reds…  none really distinguished themselves. I have no notes, but I recall excellent textures, full meaty mouthfeels…  but nothing that really stood out as Wow. Sorry. Perhaps they were all a bit young. Didn't stop the pilgrims guzzling them down like cherry-cola and clamouring for more whenever a bottle came within sight. Probably the reason for the spidery notes - it must have been good stuff. The memories go downhill from here...

I seem to recall enjoying the Goat's Cheese Ice Cream with the sweet honey and pop of orange blossom - very nice. 

More wine for you? Absolutely...
I also seem to recall there were a couple of people who got up and said something. I have observed that these usually seem to follow a similar pattern - everyone goes quiet for a bit and when the speaker starts failing to engage then people start to natter with their neighbour and the noise level eventually ascends sufficiently to drown out the speech. The best speeches are always short, make the points, thank the people and get out of the way to let the party move on. The smart ones know how to gauge the audience, and know when to stop. Been there, done that…

And then it was out and back on the bus. I have a drunken memory of singing Blue Suede Shoes whilst hanging onto the bannister on the top deck of the double decker. Brought back great memories of the school buses when I used to hang on the rails and roll with the barrelling bus that would transport us to the school. It is all in the movement of the legs and keeping the head on a fixed point. Great, great fun. 

I think I slept on the ferry back to Auckland. No more memory. No photos neither. I clearly made it into bed because I was there the next morning. Phooo....

Tantalus Estate - Vineyards and Winery
70 - 72 Onetangi road
Waiheke Island
Auckland  New Zealand
tel +64 21 051 9111


The Three Course Set Menu

Handcrafted Bread with Matiatia Estate Olive Oil

Entree - choice of
Big Glory Bay Salmon - Cultured Sour cream, Elderflower, Ponzu, Shallots (gf, nf)
Twice Cooked Pork Belly - Popcorn, Orange, Grapefruit, Shoyu, Spring Onion (gf, nf)
Sorrel Ice Cream - Avocado, Kaffir Lime, Peas, Marigolds, Black Olive (vg, gf, nf)

Main - choice of
Angus Beef Tenderloin - Wild Rice, Apricots, Tamarind, Cos, Szechuan (gf, nf)
Longline Market Fish - NZ Mussel, Green Tomato, Cucumber, Succulents (gf, nf)
Charred Sweetcorn - Red Capsicum, Tofu, Nutritional Yeast, Rima, Kale (vg, gf, nf)

Dessert - choice of
Goats Cheese Ice Cream - Apricots, Orange Blossom, Honey (gf, nf)
Hogarth 66% Chocolate Tart - Spent Grain, Malt, Red Plum, Cherry (nf)

The Wines

Tantalus Cachette, Chardonnay, Waiheke Island 2017
Tantalus Evoque, Merlot/Malbec/Cabernets, Waiheke Island, 2014
Tantalus Voile, Syrah, Waiheke Island, 2015
Ecluse Cabernets/Merlot/Malbec, Waiheke Island

This way to Day Four>>>>

Back to Day Two<<<<


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