An invitation to speak at the New Zealand Syrah Symposium in Hawke's Bay at the tail end of January was too tempting to resist. It was with a keen sense of anticipation that I packed summer clothes and headed off for the 'Land of the Long White Cloud'. I also packed 25 bottles of iconic Rhone wines to accompany my presentation which furnished me with inordinately heavy bags that I was relieved to check in at Heathrow. The principal sponsor of this cork-sniffers convention is Air New Zealand, the fringe benefits of which were a business class return ticket to Auckland & a double baggage allowance.
The flight from Heathrow to Auckland lasts a gruelling 26 hours (including a 2 hour pit stop in LA) which is a daunting prospect, only mitigated by Air New Zealand's terrific service and high-end food and wine offerings. The in-flight menus are devised by celebrated Kiwi chefs Peter Gordon, Geoff Scott and Rex Morgan and include dishes such as spicy coconut and coriander prawn curry with jasmine rice, chicken thigh stuffed with pumpkin, pumpkin seeds and chipotle chillies with maple glazed squash, and a trio of 42 Below vodka and honey cured salmon with poached prawn, sesame wasabi seared tuna and karengo (seaweed - neither had I) potato salad. This is the most ambitious and by far the best airline catering I have ever sampled with lovely clean flavours and simple presentation. Air New Zealand have clearly decided that the way to passengers' hearts is through their stomachs - it works for me!
As their informative literature tells you "Air New Zealand is the country's largest single server of New Zealand wine, proudly serving 6.5 million glasses to passengers every year." If you don't fancy a glass of several premium Sauvignons there are some great Chardonnays and 'aromatics' too. I plumped for the complex, citrus-edged Coopers Creek Swamp Reserve Chardonnay 2007 in an effort to gain some insight into the Hawke's Bay wine scene. Eschewing a comprehensive range of Pinot Noirs, I then opted for a glass of Villa Maria's Cellar Selection Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon 2007. This cruiser-weight, Bordeaux blend wasn't subtle but was well received by this weary traveller. Having dined superbly I even snatched a few precious hours sleep. If you do have to do the long haul, I couldn't recommend Air New Zealand more highly. It's a Kiwi thing!