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Around the Table | DineOut Articles

Mr Lu

A JOURNEY OF CULINARY and OENOLOGICAL SIGNIFICANCE

by Mr Lu, Fri 5th Jun 2009 10:23am

It seems to me that our vibrant young country has come a long way in the past 40 years, in more ways than one. I chanced upon a 1969 edition of the New Zealand Weekly News recently and found it to be nothing short of a riveting read, not because of any deeply philosophical or ideological treatise contained therein, but because it convinced me on a page by page basis that our world, the New Zealand of fine wine and food that exists in 2009, has blossomed from the infancy of earlier times.
The front cover of this particular NZ Weekly News advertised, inter alia, a special feature entitled “A Taste For Wine” and the nine pages of wine related articles, which appeared after a series of photos of the 19 year old Princess Anne and a report on the closure of the 100 Year Old Tophouse Pub in the Nelson Lakes area, comprehensively covered matters oenological in some detail.
Apparently we Kiwis were consuming 4.8 bottles of wine a year in '69, sherry in its various forms was a much favoured drop and advertisers were asking us to, “Do the right thing....ask for Seppelts.”
Well just how sophisticated or unsophisticated were we, in fact? The range of subject matter would have me believe that our fingers were poised very much on the pulse as there were articles on the matching of wine and food, cooking with wine, trends towards drier wine consumption and the significance of Hawkes Bay as a winegrowing area. Most telling of all, perhaps, was an article entitled, “Should We Export Wine?” written by Alex Corban, in which he tells us that the condition of the world's wool & dairy markets at the time necessitated our looking for other exports. In those days we were exporting increasing quantities of “sweet sherry, sweet table wine, dry white table wine & dry red table wine” to California and Canada where they were being very well received. Alex went on to quote Denzil Batchelor of the Los Angeles Herald Examiner who wrote, “One of the most overwhelmingly unexpected pleasures of the year is a wine labelled 'Dry White made and bottled in New Zealand' . I opened a tasting at New Zealand House and met this wine which is not yet on the market. When it does come (as come it will) order a few bottles of this well-balanced, dry, delicious hock-type and be duly impressed by the quality.”
Clearly, the signs were there for the wine industry but it would take many years including the much needed ripping out and replanting of vines, numerous industry shake-ups and the development of both viticultural and vinification expertise before the meteoric rise of our wine exporting industry really took off. In the 1960s and 70s there was widespread replacement of hybrid vines with the classic vinifera varieties and the consequential trend toward production of table wines as opposed to fortified styles, also aided and abetted by the introduction of modern equipment.
Look at us now? For a small country we have garnered enormous respect in a highly competitive, traditional, centuries old industry for producing better than world-class wine capable of giving some of the Bordeaux , Burgundy and Rhone vintages a run for their money. Of course, these will be highly contentious words to our European cousins but I am sure I'm not alone in espousing this view.
Putting the wine bottle aside for the moment I think you'll all agree that we have also travelled with enviable speed along the culinary highway of excellence in that we have chefs and restaurants creating, constructing and delivering exciting, memorable, top class dishes & executing very superior service by any international measure, in skilfully decored premises, the envy of many of their overseas counterparts. It is my firm belief that we have yet to impress the world with the fundamental essence of New Zealand cuisine, whatever that may actually be! Our day is yet to come!
Not only have we attracted fantastic exponents of the culinary art from other countries to our kitchens and restaurants but we have also nurtured and trained a new generation of aspiring professionals who will, it is with the utmost confidence I declare, someday soon start to WOW us all. By jove, haven't we come of age? I certainly believe so! By dining out, experiencing & enjoying what is on offer and going back for more of the same, you are contributing to the success of the food and wine industry and participating in the raising of standards by becoming more discerning diners.
It should be clear to all, therefore, that the aforementioned elements, of fine wine, fine food, professional excellence and critically minded but fair consumers, brought together in correspondingly commensurate surroundings represents a formidable, superlative & winning combination.

I will be actively and enthusiastically, perhaps even with a touch of passion, extolling the virtues of New Zealand wine, New Zealand restaurants and New Zealand food whilst in Shanghai later this month for the glitzy launch of an NZ wine label at a function to be attended by food & wine journalists and wine- appreciating Shanghainese. I will do this with confidence and in the knowledge that what I say will be said with conviction and with a profound belief in Product New Zealand.

And so it was written... until next time.
 

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