If there's one thing I hate more than that jelly stuff that develops on the bottom of cooked chicken when you put it in the fridge, it's being told that I'm too old and unfit to try something new. So the other day when I was in Queenstown, I decided that rather than sitting around in the luxurious confines of my hotel, I would hoist myself up to Coronet Peak and learn how to snowboard.
Buoyed by my decision to tackle a new challenge, I went out to experience an evening of champagne and food matching courtesy of the good people at Veuve Clicquot. I'll go along, I thought. But it's unlikely they'll be able to teach me anything I don't already know. A bit of crayfish, the odd oyster maybe. We'll throw around the concepts of pairing the crisp, mineral, yeasty flavours of champagne with rich seafood such as scallops, but Southland venison with savoy cabbage and horopito? What the blazes?
At a cosy hole-in-the-wall restaurant called The Bunker we were served a perfectly rare chunk of strip loin with a glass of 2004 Veuve Clicquot Rosé Brut and much as I tried to turn my nose up, the combination was just ... wow. The wine had begun to develop a rich - but not sweet - strawberry shortcake character, with just a whiff of roasted nuts and smoke. It wrapped itself around that venison like a fizzy pashmina. Red meat and pink champagne, who'd have thought.
Next morning I zoomed up the mountain, grabbed a board, boots and some rather unflattering snowproof clothes; said no to the offer of a helmet (more fool I) and set off for the beginner slopes. How hard could it be? Turns out snow can be very hard. You see, in my head I'm still 17, singing along to Sonic Youth and able to jump on a skateboard and tick-tack my way around town no trouble at all. So anyway, seven shoulder-ripping, knee-skinning, hip-bruising hours later, I managed to prove that I am, in fact, too old and unfit. But I did try something new. For seven hours. Without giving up.
What I also tried at lunch (before the stiffness set in) was a cheese roll. Southland sushi, they call it, with a glass of champagne. Never in a million years would I have predicted that a flute of France's finest would be magic with a rolled up slice of white bread stuffed with cheese and chopped onion.
That night, despite not being able to stand up straight or lift my arms, I shuffled down to Steamer Wharf on the waterfront to get to grips with what the owner of Pier 19, Karen Hattaway, called "a bit of Bro with your Clicquot". Confused? Think 2004 vintage Veuve Clicquot with muttonbird confit, flying fish caviar and puha foam! This was also the first time I'd ever tasted muttonbird and it was a whomp of two-day-old cold mutton combined with oily, seaweedy weirdness. But the champagne cut through it and freshened it up like magic. Then there was venison haggis and scarlet ohika (ox) tongue nori maki sushi with the 2004 vintage Clicquot Rosé. Incredible.
Wide-eyed and with my attitudes to fizz and food pairing well and truly blown apart, I rolled into bed hoping and praying that I'd also be proved wrong in the "pain is worse the next day" stakes. But no - that one's definitely no myth.
Sips of the week
Harrington's Doppelbock Strong Amber Brew 500ml, $9, 8% abv
A really interesting, slightly salty, rich and malty beer with hefty hops and a long, weighty finish.
Hints of smoke and a smoothness that coats the entire mouth and makes this a meal in itself.
Veuve Clicquot NV Brut Rose, $99
Loads of people (I'm talking about men) believe that if it's pink and it's fizzy then it's going to be sweet.
In fact, this wine exudes a nutty, baked berry, full, rich mouthfeel that can be as masculine as it is exotic.
A satisfying, lengthy, food-friendly wine that has Christmas written all over it. www.advintage.co.nz
Tiki Waipara Pinot Gris 2011, $19
Aromas of honeydew melon, white peach and pear crumble, paired with a clean, succulent, juicy mid-palate texture, cleansing acidity and an ultra-yummy fruit punch finish.
Fantastic value for money. www.tikiwine.com
Mount Riley Marlborough Chardonnay 2012 $17
Juicy buttered crumpet, popcorn, peach, pineapple and toasted creme caramel. If that's not enough to make you leap out and buy it then how's change from $20? I can see loads of this delicious wine being served at spring weddings because it totally over-delivers for its price. www.mountriley.co.nz