Requiem for a Wine List

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Auckland’s greatest wine list is in its death throes.

Like many Aucklanders, I have been enthusiastically partaking of the ambiance and revelry at Golden Dawn for the last seven years. I have also been a long-time fan of its magnificent wine list, discovered with great glee when I returned from the vinous abundance of Europe.

I learned of its passing from a text message from a friend that simply said “Golden Dawn!” (which, incidentally, is also how I learned of Whitney Houston’s death). Confused, I went searching on Facebook, knowing that it would only confirm my worst fears — that Auckland’s best and most interesting wine list was about to be put to sleep.

Golden Dawn’s rustic and abundant clipboard of treats was a bright spot in a city awash with Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. Instead of relying on big distribution companies to build them a wine list from a single portfolio, Golden Dawn picked out the weirdest, most interesting wines from around New Zealand.

But they didn’t stop there: Golden Dawn was one of the few bars around Auckland where wines from other parts of the world gave New Zealand wines a run for their money. Since the bar opened, European wines have become a lot more widespread and accepted in New Zealand, making moving back here from France not as much of a chore as it might once have been.

Arriving at Golden Dawn and flipping open the winelist was always tinged with excitement. What would I be partaking of tonight? A natural Grüner Veltliner from Austria? A lightly sparkling Riesling from Canterbury? Or a fresh, stony red wine from the volcanic slopes of Mount Etna? I enthusiastically tried them all.

Instead of being arranged in the usual boring and distinctly new-worldian fashion (by grape variety), the list cut wines up into their general vibes — juicy, crunchy whites, or my favourite, cool, fun reds. The list would remain on the table during an afternoon at the bar, next to the little pottle of forks and the frequently topped-up water glasses, turned to a page that was almost entirely dependent on the outside temperature and position of the sun in the sky.

Of course, there was plenty of Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir to be had, but it was always of the more boutique variety. Sauvignon Blanc would be fermented completely dry or aged in new oak, instead of the pineapple lolly water that seems to be a favourite of New Zealanders today. Pinot Noir would be from a tiny vineyard between river braids in a tiny region in northern Otago, rather than from a too-famous and thus too-expensive producer from Central Otago.

Norms were eschewed in the hallowed pages of the Golden Dawn wine list, and punters were willing to take a chance on weird and wonderful wines that you don’t often see by the glass. This was complemented by a menu that served the wine list well and staff who were genuinely interested in feeding you something delicious.

Golden Dawn is not dead just yet, but the end is nigh. There is just one more summer to celebrate its diversity. I can only hope a wine list of such magnitude and imagination pops up again in some other bar or restaurant soon.

Claire Adamson