"The way to toast properly" according to 93-year-old Margrit Mondavi, of Robert Mondavi Winery in the Napa Valley, "is to always raise your glass to the right and always look the person in the eye as you toast. If you don't do this correctly you'll be cursed to endure nine years of bad sex."
I don't know what's worse, the thought of nine years' worth of ordinary sex or that I may still actually be thinking about it when I'm 93.
She is right, though. There's nothing worse than a flaccid toast. It's a bit like someone yelling "hip hip ..." and no one saying "hooray". It should always be done with gusto and laughter. It's a time to revel in the moment, to celebrate just being alive and being surrounded by good people and gorgeous food and wine.
Gorgeous wines were definitely the order of the week - but they were a smorgasbord of different styles, which was really exciting. Don't get me wrong, I love a good chardonnay, sauvignon or merlot as much as the next madam, but deliver me a glass of gruner veltliner or arneis and my enthusiasm reaches Spinal Tap proportions and goes all the way up to 11.
ELEPHANT HILL 'LE PHANT BLANC' 2011, $22
An absolutely delicious blend of viognier, pinot gris and gewurztraminer. Winemaker Steve Skinner has really thrown everything at this wine and it shows. The fruit was hand-picked and hand-sorted, meaning that despite the odds and sods vintage they were able to choose only the best looking fruit. Using a mixture of barrel and tank ferments, the result oozes exotically aromatic, spicy, peach crumble characters and the snappy acidity injects incredible freshness and length to the wine. It is multilayered and richly textured in the mouth and I love it, love it, love it! www.elephanthill.co.nz
FORREST ESTATE 'THE DOCTORS' MARLBOROUGH ARNEIS 2012, $25
1/2 Arneis is a signature white grape from the northern Italian region of Piedmont. It's easy to see why the Italians love it so much, because it lends itself to seafood and citrus and all that good Mediterranean cuisine perfectly. This local example is an exercise in subtlety and restraint, showing spicy white nectarine, lime and fresh fennel characters. It is deliciously dry and crisp and has a lovely, clean finish. www.forrest.co.nz
MAHURANGI RIVER GARDEN OF LIGHT ROUSSANNE 2010, $39
A real treat. Roussanne is seriously rare in New Zealand; its home is in the Rhone Valley in the south of France and there's a smidgen grown in Tuscany. But the team at Mahurangi River Estate in Warkworth, north of Auckland, has taken the variety under its wing. Bright yellow in the glass, it smells and tastes like freshly-baled hay and peach jam on toast. It is rich, creamy and lusciously lemony in the mouth, with just a touch of sweetness. Super tasty.
WESTBROOK METHODE TRADITIONELLE BLANC 2009, $39
Hands up who's heard of a sparkling white wine being made from dark red cabernet franc grapes? Not me. But this is exactly what the winemakers at Westbrook have done. It blends the cabernet franc with chardonnay, which then goes through traditional bottle fermentation. It's produced a golden fizz, which oozes grilled pear, dried apple and toasty, biscuit flavours. Serve chilled.
SAINT CLAIR PINOT GRIS ROSE 2012, $21
Pink pinot gris? Yes, indeed, and it really works. A splash of pinot noir has put a soft, cherry blush into this ripe, tangy pinot gris. It also provides a touch of "grip" on the palate, which adds to the texture and length. Fresh berries and stonefruit notes make this a great match with honey soy barbecued chicken wings. www.saintclair.co.nz
SPADE OAK VINEYARD SANGRIA, $16
So, let's go from wine to blended wine, to a beverage "based" on wine. Steve and Eileen Voysey of Gisborne's Spade Oak vineyard have created their own version of a Spanish summertime sensation - sangria. Based on a blend of tempranillo and a splash of syrah, combined with local cider, oranges, lemons and grape juice - it's fresh, crispy and my new favourite thing. For where to buy email firstname.lastname@example.org.
MILLS REEF MARLBOROUGH SAUVIGNON BLANC 2012, $19
This is so super-intensely tasty that I just want to shout it from the rooftops. I love the classic passionfruity, limey loveliness that this wine displays, and when combined with splashes of elderflower and feijoa, it makes for a sensational sauvignon experience. Clean, zippy on the palate and bursting with flavour. Sublime. www.millsreef.co.nz
DEEP CREEK LEPRECHAUN'S BELLE IRISH RED ALE, 500ml
A seductive brunette in a bottle. Pour it into the glass and you'll see a persistent, foamy head and smell aromas of malt biscuits soaked in molasses. These flavours carry through on the palate, leaving smoky, charred notes on the finish. Very good indeed. www.deepcreek.co.nz