If you’re a wine traveler, vino can make you feel like a local.

Blair Pleasant of Santa Rosa and her husband Dan recently went to New Zealand for two weeks and they were able to fit in plenty of sipping.

“Wine is universal,” Pleasant said. “You can have a wine discussion with anyone, anywhere, and form an instant camaraderie … We met some lovely people in hotels and B&B’s, some from the UK, some from Australia, some from New Zealand, all of them wine drinkers. Wine is a non-controversial topic that works anywhere in the world.”

Pleasant said it was refreshing to see some places ask for charitable donations instead of a tasting fee.

“The two main areas where we did some wine tasting were Central Otago and Marlborough, which is on the northeast tip of the island,” she said. “We also tasted wine in Hawkes Bay (in the North Island), and we were also in Sydney for 3 days and of course tried various samples of shiraz … We then spent 2 days in Marlborough, visiting wineries around Renwick and Blenheim.”

The couple took a wine tasting class about 20 years ago and joke it was the most expensive class they ever took because it made them like more expensive wines.

“We liked the Marlborough wines much better than the Central Otago wines,” Pleasant said. “We should mention that most of the wines grown on the South Island are the cool-weather varieties – sauvignon blanc and pinot noir.  Neither of us has ever developed a taste for sauvignon blanc, and pinot noir is simply hard to make, judging from the few really good pinot noir wines that can be found anywhere.  Overall, we found that the New Zealand wines were generally a little “flabby” – you might say weak and watery – with the Otago wines being the weaker of the two areas we visited (and the further south as well).”

Are they wine geeks?

“We’re somewhat avid wine drinkers,” she said. “We belong to a couple wine clubs in Sonoma County and go winetasting more often than we should!  We don’t have a formal cellar, but we certainly stock up on wine and the crawl space under our house holds about a dozen cases, not counting the everyday wines we keep in the garage (during the cool months).”

Pleasant said it’s fun to tell people they’re from Northern California Wine Country when they sip abroad.

“It’s fun to hear about the great experiences they had visiting California wine country in the past although usually it’s about Napa, not Sonoma, so I have to tell them to go to Sonoma County next time.”