Don Kavanagh: Thanks for a great birthday
I've said before that it's not all beer and skittles in the life of a drinks writer.
I do this so you guys don't have to and you'd be amazed at how many iffy drinks I am forced to sample to find the wonderful things I write about here each week.
Sometimes, though, it really is all beer and skittles.
Take last week, for instance, when I was invited - on my birthday - to a wine tasting. Not just any old wine tasting but the entire current range of wines from Villa Maria and its associated labels. I leapt at the chance, naturally, being unable to think of a more marvellous way to spend my birthday than sipping 84 of the country's most consistently good wines.
And what a line-up. I don't like to gush, as a rule, but it's hard not to feel a certain soft spot for Villa Maria. Family-owned and committed to quality, it has been a standard-bearer and flag-waver for New Zealand wine and New Zealand generally for decades.
The tasting also served as something of a preview for the much-vaunted 2013 vintage, which, on the evidence produced here, is set to be glorious. The sauvignon blanc is in fine form, already drinking well and the riesling looks great, too.
Villa Maria is sometimes a victim of the very success that propels it, however. With so many tiers of labels, from the affordable and reliable $12.99-on-special private bin range to single-vineyard wines of great finesse and effortless beauty, the company really does cover all bases. That can be a challenge in itself; people often fail to appreciate the difference between the label tiers and find themselves outraged when confronted with a $60 price-tag for a wine that carries the same basic name as one they've been happily slurping for less than $15.
New rules around discounting in supermarkets may see a reduction in the amount of deep-cut discounting going on, which will be good news for wineries but not for the hard-done-by consumer. Making hay while the sun shines may be the best advice on this issue.
Back to the tasting, though, and when you add in the Vidal, Esk Valley, Thornbury and Te Awa labels to Villa Maria you get some idea of the sheer range of wines and wine styles the company produces. From the lush, creamy Vidal Reserve Series Chardonnay to the Villa Maria Single Vineyard Southern Clays Marlborough Pinot Noir, there isn't a dud wine to be found.
It's always nice to be able to write good things about subjects that deserve it and I always enjoy a visit to Villa's beautiful HQ in Mangere. You should, too, if you haven't already; the restaurant is excellent and just sitting outside, watching the ducks and pukeko waddle and twitch their way along beside the little lake is one of the best ways I can think of to spend a Sunday afternoon.
Just make sure you have a glass of something local in your hand.