While the Lake Taupo region in the centre of the North Island is not renowned for producing wines, there are nonetheless some great opportunities to sample the best of New Zealand wines.
One such opportunity is at Scenic Cellars, the largest retail wine shop in New Zealand, offering 4,000 different labels and 100,000 bottles in stock including a wide range of rare and fine wines. Tastings are available at Scenic Cellars via a revolutionary Italian system called Enomatic. Select one of the 32 wines available on the carousel, push the button and the machine provides you with a 25ml pour to savour, for a small fee. It is a great way to sample before you purchase, taste worldwide varieties, or to try something new.
Another opportunity is at one of the many luxury or boutique lodges in the region. Several of these properties offer complimentary pre-dinner drinks and hors d'oeuvres, giving guests a fabulous opportunity to sample New Zealand wines in a relaxed and convivial environment. Some even offer guests complimentary wines and beers at any time.
Yet another opportunity is to take a day trip to Hawkes Bay, 2 hours southeast of Taupo. Hawkes Bay is home to more than 30 wineries, with free tastings available at most cellar doors.
New Zealand wine has received critical acclaim throughout the world. Sauvignon Blancs from Marlborough are widely regarded as the best in the world. And New Zealand Pinot Noir is rapidly acquiring a similar reputation. Less well known internationally, yet savoured within New Zealand, are our Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Bordeaux-style reds and our Syrah.
Central Otago - an area surrounded by mountains which trap the heat in the summer but make for cold winters - has laid claim to being Pinot Noir country. However unlike Sauvignon Blanc where Marlborough is the undisputed king of regions, excellent Pinot Noir is being produced in a number of areas, including Martinborough, Marlborough, Nelson and Canterbury. Similarly with Pinot Gris.
For Chardonnay, Nelson, Marlborough, Hawkes Bay and Gisborne regions all offer excellent examples. For Bordeaux-style reds, typically blending Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and often either Malbec or Cabernet Franc, it is hard to beat the Hawkes Bay region. The same is true for Syrah, but in both cases Waiheke Island in Auckland harbour and Matakana Wine Country which is about an hour north of Auckland are also offering some fine examples.