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The culinary highlight of our trip to New Zealand was dinner at the Pescatore restaurant, located in the George Hotel in Christchurch. The hotel itself is located on the parkway overlooking Hagley Park (a vast green space in the middle of the city containing a golf course, rugby fields and a beautiful botanic garden).

The dining room is small and tastefully appointed. There were only about 10-12 tables. We had a fantastic server, who recognized from the outset that we were fairly knowledgeable about wine. He engaged us in long discussions about each wine and why they were chosen for each course. This added immeasurably to the experience.

We ordered the 6-course menu degustation, each paired with a different wine (roughly US $130 per person). Here is a recap of each course and the wine pairing. Click here for photos.

Amuse bouche: Panko-crusted Tuna Cake with Tomato-Cilantro Salsa
Paired with: NV Cloudy Bay Pelorus

Perfect starter and excellent pairing. The Pelorus was one of our favorite wines on the trip. It had an alka-seltzer strength fizz that never seemed to die down. There was ¾ inch foam on the top of the glass at all times. Chardonnay color. Rich and mousse-like. Not sharp or creamy. Wonderful crisp apple notes throughout. Will seek some out. 92P.

1st course: Caramelized Scallops with Prosciutto, charred tomato salsa, petit herb salad & grissini
Paired with: 2004 Pegasus Bay Sauvignon-Semillon Waipara

Perhaps the best pairing of the meal. A visually arresting and supremely flavorful dish. The Pegasus Bay (95% SB/ 5% Semillon) had a stinky sulfurous nose, but was very smooth and polished on the palate, with a slight zing on the finish (91P). It cut through the richness of the scallops and smokiness of the prosciutto, while complementing the sweetness and acidity of the charred tomato. It also picked up on some of the fresh herbs.

2nd course: Garlic Black Tiger Prawns, blue flour quesadilla with avocado corn relish & thyme vinaigrette
Paired with: 2005 Amor Bendall Sauv Blanc Gisborne & 2005 Sileni “The Strands” SB Marlborough

This was a fascinating exercise. The chef and servers selected the Amor Bendall for the official menu, but the server also brought out a glass of the Sileni to show us what they [u]almost [/u]picked.

The Amor Bendall was smoky, with a Muscat nose. Overripe pineapple, tangerine and canned fruit cocktail flavors with a dry finish. Very light and very unique for an NZ SB. (89P). It provided a lift with the cuisine, adding a tropical fruit edge to each bite and elevating higher on the flavor chart. An unlikely food wine after tasting on its own!

The Sileni had a clean nose, with melon, kiwi and herbal flavors. Tart and crisp, it worked wonderfully with the thyme vinaigrette and corn tortilla. It tended to blend with dish. I rated it 91P and on its own, and would buy the Sileni before buying the Amor Bendall. But with the food, the Amor Bendal was triumphant because of its additive properties.

3rd course: Roasted Fillet of Akaroa Salmon, bigoli pasta with golden bay crab, wasabi aioli & lemon foam
Paired with: 2004 Vavasour Chardonnay Marlborough

Akaroa salmon is farmed in the cold river waters flowing from the glaciers melting on the slopes of Mt. Cook. Very soft flesh, but not mushy. Excellent flavor. The lemon foam and wasabi aioli was delicious.

The Vavasour was touted as being made in a Chablis style. It certainly had a good amount of citrus in its profile, but also some obvious oak. I found it unsophisticated and fairly simple (86P). Not a very stirring match with the salmon, but I’ll admit I prefer pinot noir with salmon 95% of the time.

4th course: Sauteed Exotic Mushrooms, porcini wafer, sweet corn tamale & buffalo mozzarella
Paired with: 2003 Bannock Brae “Goldfields” Pinot Noir Central Otago

Being cheese-challenged, I skipped the mozzarella on this one. A creative and winning combination of Italian and Southwest American flavors, with an attractive presentation. Bannock Brae was one winery we skipped while in Central Otago and this bottle confirmed that we didn’t miss anything. It had smoky, “dusty road” characteristics. Flavors of black cherry and leather and a slightly hot finish. (86P) The leathery notes did work well with the mushrooms.

5th course: Premium New Zealand Lamb, roasted loin & tempura sweetbreads with pommes anna & truffle jus
Paired with: 2003 Trinity Hill Shiraz Hawkes Bay

Delicious entrée. Wonderfully paired with the deep, dark Trinity Hill Shiraz (92P). It was full of spice, herbs and minerals – white pepper, dill, fennel. Still very young, it operated on the very front part of your tongue, while the juices from the lamb resonated in the back. Knockout pairing. The tempura sweetbread was a kick, sort of tasted like a delicate Chicken McNugget.

6th course: Carmelised Lemon Tart, petit baklava, tawari honey infused labna & citrus fruit compote
Paired with: 1999 Giesens Late Harvest Riesling Canterbury

You know something is going to taste interesting when you have no clue what half the words mean! The honey infused labna was memorable and outstanding. There must have been two dozen layers in the thing (phyllo dough and a nutty paste). The Giesens had a bright gold color, and sweet flavors of nectarine, apricot, stone fruit, and honeysuckle (89P). Good pairing.

If you are ever in Christchurch, look into staying at The George and/or dining at Pescatore. It gets my highest recommendation.


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