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Featured Restaurant
posted February 24 2003 features the Vine Dining series.

Gibbston Valley Restaurant and Wine Bar
State Highway 6
Gibbston Valley
Phone 03 442 6909

Open daily - Full lunchtime menu from 12 noon til 3pm

It's reputedly the busiest winery restaurant in the country and considering its location on the grand tourist route out of Queenstown, the adventure capital of New Zealand, that is not surprising.

The restaurant doesn't take bookings so we took a punt that we wouldn't have to wait too long for a table. In fact, when we arrived and squeezed our rented MGF sports car into what must have been the last space in the car park, we thought the whole of Queenstown must be here. Perhaps not, however, because when we enquired about waiting times at the restaurant reception, we were told we did not need to wait at all - if we wanted to eat inside that is. But who would want to eat inside on such a beautiful day? No-one at all it seemed as inside was empty - so our name went down for a courtyard table for three and we set about amusing ourselves while we waited. Now that wasn't hard to do.

Not surprisingly there was wine tasting on offer. Wines to taste singly by the glass or a selection of glasses on a tray to take outside to one of the wooden umbrella-shaded tables reserved for tasters. It's a good way to decide the wine you'd like to accompany your meal. There's a shop that's full of goodies and vinous souvenirs including lots of platters and plates with winey themes to browse around in. As we had already tasted the Gibbston wines and we didn't feel like shopping for a keepsake, we decided to mosey on over to the Cheesery.

Leigh Mathieson, one of the owners of the Gibbston Valley Cheesery, was surprised to see me. "Come on in", he said. We accepted his invitation. It was lovely and cool in the air-conditioned cheese shop, which as well as cheeses had all sorts of cheese related knick-knacks and some oils and preserves for sale. There was a room with a TV set where you could watch of video of the cheese making process and if you were outside you could peer through the big windows into the cheesery itself, to see the goings on. Nothing was happening today, however, as it was Sunday. We decided to give the video a miss, as it took about 20 minutes to play, and get down to the business of tasting cheese.

Cheese tasting sample platters can be purchased for $5.00. Leigh gave us one of these and also made up another platter for us to try. While he was preparing these Kali, the maitre d' from the restaurant, popped into the Cheesery. "Your table's ready whenever you are", she said with a smile. Points for service already. We took the cheese platters to the restaurant with us where Kali showed us to our table under the big sail-like canopy, which would protect us from the burning rays of the mid-summer Central Otago sun.

Today's cheese platter had five tastes

FRESH was a fresh herb and garlic cheese, a bit cottagey in style, in fact it was a Quark. I found it piquant and tasty;
WAKATIPU WHITE was camembert-style cheese and was creamy and soft and quite yummy with the apricot conserve that accompanied it;
FARMHOUSE was Brie-like but not as creamy;
BRINZA was an earthy strong flavoured cheese a bit similar to Feta but not as salty;
LUXMORE was a hard-pressed goats cheese that was very dry and I thought would be perfect washed down with a fresh young Sauvignon Blanc. Only problem here is that Gibbston Valley wines so not make a savvie so I had to try it with Pinot Gris, which didn't work so well. Perhaps it should have been matched with Pinot Noir.

On the 'special' platter there were four more tastes.

GIBBSTON GOLD, a washed rind, was very strong and a little bit stinky but both the guys loved it.
TAKATIMU GOATS LOG was another dry goat's cheese, quite firm in texture
GOAT's PYRAMID was quite crumbly in its texture and the flavour was just excellent.
And there was another, more generous serving of the Luxmore.

"Have you decided what to order", the waitperson's lyrical voice interrupted us as we were tasting and discussing the cheeses. All the Gibbston Valley wines were on the menu and most available by the glass. Russell thought a Pinot Gris would be nice, we agreed and a bottle quickly appeared. But the menus couldn't distract us from the business of talk and cheese tasting and we still hadn't decided what to order when waitperson reappeared with the wine. She was very patient. We were relaxed, so were they. Even though people might have been waiting for tables there was absolutely no pressure on us to hurry.

There was quite an array of tempting dishes on the menu ranging from simply soup to a robust poached loin of lamb ($24.50) and platters for children too. But I had just had two days of gourmet wining and dining with the Central Otago Pinot Noir Celebration at which, surprisingly, Gibbston had not made an appearance, so I asked our friendly waitperson to make a choice for me. She chose the Harvest Platter for Two ($34) which had a selection that included smoked salmon, chicken terrine, frittata, cheeses, hummus, pickles, apricot chutney, fruits and breads. "I'll ask the Chef to make up a Harvest Platter for One", she said. A safe choice and more points for service, I thought.

Neil fancied Prawn Pancakes ($20) that were cooked with octopus, red wine, coriander and cinnamon and served with a paprika dressing on a generous serving of salad.

Russell ordered Porcini and field mushrooms with barley, a tarragon omelette and sherry dressing ($18.50). The barley and mushrooms formed rounds that were stacked inches high. I had a wee taste. Divine.

Again 'Pinot Noir' was mentioned. What a great match that would have been to the mushrooms. Still the Pinot Gris was cool and refreshing and certainly matched to the fresh fruits on my plate. But the wine did not match to many to the vinegar-rich pickles. No wine would, except perhaps a dry Palomino from Cyprus. And there were definitely far too many wine -hostile pickles on the plate even if some, like the pickled cherries, were local fare. There were pickled walnuts, pickled mushrooms, pickled onions and gherkins too.

Neil thought his meal just so-so. I think, perhaps, that his early morning flight to Queenstown and then the heat of Central Otago had got to him. I wondered if the prawns had come on the same flight. They certainly would not have been local.

Desserts and coffees were on a separate menu, we didn't look at it but ordered our coffees to dilute the wine before we headed off on our merry way, with the MGF's top down, to experience more vinous pleasures of Central Otago.

There's wonderful ambience to the restaurant and even though it was packed to the hilt with perhaps 150 diners, it wasn't noisy at all.

However, because the restaurant is outdoors smoking is allowed and this can be distracting if you happen to be a non-smoker like me and the breeze allows the smoke to waft your way. If it becomes too much of a problem you could always dine indoors - alone but 'smoke free'.

Gibbston Valley Winery Café is open 7 days a week. It is definitely worth dropping by. I recommend the cave excursion too. We didn't do it this time because we had done so the previous time we had visited, about 3 years before.

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