Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Back home...

...and married! "Sunny" Napier failed to materialise, although we were extremely lucky that the actual ceremony, which we had thought would have to be transferred to the indoor venue, coincided with the only 2 hours of sunshine that day. The officiating reverend (the Kiwi's uncle) clearly has a hotline to the powers that matter...Shelley and I had a wonderful time on the day. I was in fear at our first dance, but Shelley had realised early on that the elaborate steps we had been taught (but not in any way practised) were impossible in her dress, so we didn't really have to dance properly at all. That left my speech, which I don't mind saying was the most nerve-wracking experience of my life. It was not the thought of speaking to a large number of people that disturbed me, but rather the fact that the speech was my introduction to a substantial part of Shelley's family that I had not met before. But I quickly realised that being rude about the Australians is an easy way of raising a laugh from New Zealanders (although I had some issues the next day with the two Australians in the audience) and they seemed to appreciate a few anecdotes about the culture clash of a Kiwi-English marriage.

We had a wonderful honeymoon in South Africa, spending equal time in Cape Town, the winelands of Franschhoeck and on safari in Kruger National Park. Shelley's uncanny ability to sniff out good winebars ensured we found plenty of watering holes in Cape Town. Unfortunately we missed the opening times of the castle but we did manage to visit a newly-excavated part of the old Dutch fortifications; I will post some pics and information about that in a few days. The safari was a real once-in-a-lifetme experience, although I never really managed to reconcile the concept of being on holiday yet at the same time being woken up at 5am every morning by a burly man in uniform banging on my door: I'm pretty sure that's what happens when you're in prison, not on honeymoon. Maybe there's a metaphor for marriage in there somewhere...

As usual, a key part of our holiday was wine and it featured heavily in both New Zealand and in South Africa. In NZ, I was again impressed with the quality of the rose wines, which I had already noted when in Hawke's Bay in 2007. Rich, elegant but still light and fresh, these wines are miles away from the dreary and/or sickly European offerings that still give rose a bad reputation (I think the best Kiwi roses are those made from merlot and malbec in the North rather than from pinor noir in the South). But South Africa was a revelation. Expecting bland whites and reds that were marred by "burnt rubber", we found wonderful wines of real character. During the course of visits to 27 wineries in Stellenbosch and Franschhoeck (which together with 13 in NZ made a grand total of 40 wineries visited, which aint bad..) and numerous bars and restaurants I noted only half a dozen red wines that exhibited earthy, "burnt rubber" characteristics, mostly at the lower end of the market and always either in cabernet or pinotage (although I think the latter variety might possibly benefit from the smokiness of "burnt rubber"). But the reds were universally much better than I had expected; the Bordeaux blends were particularly impressive. As for the whites, whilst I found SA's sparklers a little flavourless the sauvignon blancs were extremely good, capturing a tasty middle ground between the acidic Kiwi style and the more minerally Sancerre style - perfect for a lunchtime picnic of chicken and seafood. We were also bowled over by the quality, luxury and size, of the SA winery cellar doors. This is clearly a country with a wine industry that has ambition, and the recent requirements for the (predominantly white) producers to put something back into their local communities made for enlightening cellar-door conversation.

So for those who are interested in such things, wine highlights were as follows. In NZ: Unison Hawke's Bay Cabernet Sauvignon 2006; Te Phau "The Point" 2006; Kennedy Point Waiheke Island Rose 2008; Mission Estate "Jewelstone" Chardonnay 2006; Elephant Hill Rose 2008; Vidal "Soler" Syrah 2005; and pretty much anything by Craggy Range. In South Africa: Waterford "Kevin Arnold" Shiraz 2005; Springfield Special Cuvee Sauvignon Blanc 2008; Diemersdal Estate Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2007; Vilafonte "Series C" 2005; Ataraxia Sauvignon Blanc 2008; Rustenberg "Five Soldiers" Chardonnay 2006; Vergelegen "The Red" 2000; Alluvia "Ilka" Sauvignon Blanc 2008; Le Riche Cabernet Sauvignon 2003; Rupert and Rothschild Baroness Nadine Chardonnay 2006; Fairview "Primo" Pinotage 2007; Beaumont "Ariane" 2004; Cordoba "Crescendo" 2003.

A few random photos are below, for what they're worth; I now appreciate just how difficult a job wildlife photographers have. I have been inspired to dig out my old Foundry/Copplestone Darkest Africa figures, so more wildlife photos might appear as and when I get around to painting some animals.