Waiter, what’s this in my wine?


New Zealanders have very conservative habits when it comes to wine. 

Kiwis insist on the correct stemware, the wine must be at a particular temperature – and God forbid anyone trying to add a slice of lemon or a splash of soda, it just isn’t done. 

Europe, however, has a great tradition going all the way back to ancient Greece of mixing wine with other ingredients. 

Honey, herbs, even seawater were used to blend away what can only have been awful wine – it must have been awful otherwise why mix it with something else? 

In Vienna, I’ve witnessed people mixing cheap red wine with Coca-Cola. In Britain, the spritzer – a mix of white wine and soda water – is hugely popular. And the French just love wine with creme de cassis. 

Yet the only additives Kiwis put in their vino are a few spices to make mulled wine, the aroma of which you won’t be able to get away from during Winter Festival. 

So why is NZ a country of such purist wine drinkers? 

Well, wine here is sold and promoted vociferously on the notion of terroir – a wine’s sense of place. To adulterate those site-driven textures and flavours with foreign objects is sacrilegious yet in reality not all wine is terroir-driven and not all NZ wine is high quality. 

If you insist on buying homogenised, mass-produced crap from the supermarket for under $10, it’s my suggestion that a splash of lemonade or a dash of honey and lemon would probably do it the world of good. 

On a recent trip to Vietnam, I witnessed the extreme end of wine mixology. 

The Vietnamese are in the habit of shoving venomous snakes and scaley lizards into their rice wine. Left for a year, the wine is then usually served in shot glasses and downed, scales and all. 

Like many foods in that part of the world, the locals believe it makes you virile. Great, if you can just get the thought of that snake out of your head. There’s no scientific evidence of its Viagra-like qualities and judging by Vietnam’s slow population growth, something doesn’t add up.

Even more macabre is an experience offered in one of Hanoi’s top restaurants, where a bat is slaughtered at the table and its blood drained into rice wine and imbibed. 

The blood is meant to be good for the eyes and the meat, if consumed, is supposed to make you randy. 

Did I try it? No. I like life without rabies. But it got me thinking that perhaps we don’t spread our wings enough – there’s that bat again – when it comes to drinking wine. 

I’m appealing to all Queenstown bartenders to lead the way and come up with some interesting, wine-based drinks. 

And if someone – anyone – can make an interesting mulled wine without the pre-mixed Mountain Thunder everyone seems to use, then you’ll have my custom at least. 

Paul Tudgay is the Queens­town Resort College business hospitality manager and a wine appreciation lecturer