May 2013 – My husband and I decided to celebrate our anniversary in the Tahitian Islands on an 8 day/6 night trip. The reason it was 8 days is because the non-stop flights from Los Angeles to Papeete only fly at night, so we spent two nights trying to sleep on a plane, and the other 6 nights sleeping in beautiful resorts.
Naturally we packed some wine to take with us – 3 bottles – but quickly discovered that we should have brought more, or purchased it in duty free as we witnessed many other people doing. This is because wine prices are quite high in these islands. For example, we found Veuve Clicquot orange label in a grocery store on Bora Bora for 11500 Pacific francs, or approximately $127! In restaurants, it was even pricier. But since the wine must be imported a very long way, I guess this is to be expected.
Moorea – Incredibly Beautiful, With Manutea Tasting Room
After traveling 12 hours from San Francisco (SFO to LA on American, 2 hour layover, then 8.5 hours Air Tahiti), we finally arrived in Papeete, the capital and largest city on the island of Tahiti. It was 5.30 in the morning, and there was a 3 piece band singing local songs, which was quite nice, but the hour long wait in the customs line was exhausting. There were no seats, and no air conditioning in the humid 80 degree climate.
Once through customs, our luggage was waiting, and we were greeted by our travel agent rep with fragrant tuber rose leis and then asked to wait another 2 hours before our 15 minute flight to Moorea across the bay. We were happy to reach our hotel, the Pearl Beach Resort & Spa (see review on Trip Advisor link at end of post), around 9:30am, but had to wait until noon to get into our room. However, they allowed us to take a shower in the hospitality room, and relax by the beautiful infinity pool with view of the ocean.
Our first wine experience was that evening at their restaurant when I ordered a glass of the house white. It was a basic Vin de France of no clear varietals, but was serviceable with the grilled mahi-mahi with vanilla cream sauce.
The next day we rented a car to drive around the island, and the first stop – as recommended by our guide book – was the Manutea Tasting Room, a mere 20 minutes from our hotel. We were expecting to only find fruit liquors, such as their famous pineapple brandy and vanilla cream which were delicious to taste, but imagine my surprise to find they also stocked the only wine made in the Tahitian Islands – the Tahiti wine brand made on the island of Rangiroa (see below).
The next evening, we ordered some of the excellent local BBQ and had it on our private pool patio with a wonderful Alexander Valley cabernet sauvignon, which we had brought with us. The final night on the island, we walked 10 minutes to the Moorea Beach Club (see Trip Advisor review below) and had a fabulous dinner of fresh fish with a minerally 2011 Macon recommended by the French owner. Overall we were quite happy with our wine experiences on Moorea.
Tahiti Winery on Rangiroa Island – Domaine Ampelidacees
The Tahiti Winery is located on Rangiroa Island, which we did not visit, but we found their wine in several locations. The actual name of the winery is Domaine Ampelidacees, established in 1992. They currently have 8 hectares of vineyards, produce around 40,000 bottles per year, and because the climate is so warm, they have 2 harvests.
The primary grapes they are using are Carignan Blanc and Muscat of Hamburg. Both perform well in warmer climates, so they are apparently able to grow it successfully here, even though the humidity is a problem at times.
I tasted three of their wines. The first was the Blanc de Corail, made from a blend of carignan red and muscat, which they were selling by the glass at our hotel on Bora Bora – the Pearl Resort. It had a perfumed nose similar to gewürztraminer and some residual sugar on the palate, and was perfect as an aperitif by the pool.
The second two wines I tasted at the Air Tahiti lounge on our way home. The first was the Blanc Sec, which was made in an old world style (oak aged 12 months, carignan red). The next was the Rose Nacarat (same grapes as Corail), which was similar to a dry Provence rose, with muted berry and hints of earth and minerality on the palate. All three wines had a distinctive character, and I found them quite interesting.
Bora Bora – Even More Expensive Wine
We arrived in Bora Bora on our fourth day, after a 40 minute flight from Papeete (yes we had to fly back to Papeete from Moorea first). From the tiny airport, you must take a boat to all of the hotels, and we arrived at the Bora Bora Pearl around 10am, but were able to check into our over-water bungalow around noon . Even though expensive, I think this is something everyone should do at least once in a lifetime, if possible. It was one of my bucket list items, and worth it.
Bora Bora is stunningly beautiful with turquoise water, white sand, jagged mountain peaks, and some of the best snorkeling I’ve ever experienced. The first day we snorkeled off our deck, worked out in the gym, swam in the pool and just relaxed. My husband also continued to drink the local beer, Hinano, which he had discovered on Moorea and was around $5 per can.
Since the resort was so beautiful – and you had to take a boat and expensive taxi into town – we ate at their restaurant the first night and were impressed with the food. Because the weather was so hot, I was craving a glass of NZ sauvignon blanc, but couldn’t find one on menu, so I settled on a bottle of basic French rose. My husband ordered a glass of 2009 Bordeaux Superior to go with his beef, and really enjoyed it. However, I have discovered that even the cheapest 2009 Bordeaux are usually quite good.
The second day we did the Lagoon tour and went snorkeling in 4 different locations, including the Coral Gardens, which was amazing! I’ve never seen so many fish, plus a huge moray eel with sharp teeth. That night we ordered room service of fresh fish and paired it with the last bottle of wine we had brought with us – a vintage Champagne.
American Brands in the Islands – Mondavi and Barefoot
The third day we took the resort bus into the small town of Vaitape to go shopping and buy wine at the grocery story. We had noticed that Mondavi and Barefoot (Gallo) seemed to dominate at restaurants, and so I was curious about grocery stores prices. Here I found Barefoot to be 1995 Pacific Francs, which equaled to around $22 US dollars per bottle! However at our unpleasant experience eating at Bloody Mary’s restaurant that evening, I found that it cost around $40 per bottle!
At the grocery store, I ended up buying an IGP sauvignon blanc from Languedoc for around $18 to drink on the deck (the resort has small refrigerators and plenty of ice). It was pleasant when chilled. We also did other shopping in Vaitape at the local craft market, and enjoyed wondering around the art galleries.
Where is “New Zealand Wine” in Tahiti?
During our time in the island, I couldn’t help but wonder why New Zealand wine was not more prevalent. Tahiti is only a 6 hour flight from New Zealand (in fact, one of our flight choices was to fly to Auckland and then back to Tahiti), so I was expecting a lot of cold, crisp NZ sauvignon blanc in such a hot climate. However, I found very little NZ wine, with French wine dominating the market here. Obviously the French heritage of the islands and the fact that it was Gauguin’s adopted home, and is a primary reason for this.
I am very happy we had the opportunity to travel to Tahiti, Moorea, and Bora Bora. It is worth saving up for at least once in your life, though I’m not sure I would go again because there are so many other beautiful places that are less expensive. Also there is more poverty in the islands that I was expecting.
Overall, it is a very romantic place. Most everyone there was either on his or her honeymoon or celebrating an anniversary.
In terms of wine, I would recommend bringing your own, buying in duty free in LA, or just accept that you must pay high prices.