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Wine of the Week for week ending 21 November 2004
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Villa Maria Reserve Pinot Noir 2003
Marlborough, New Zealand

Villa Maria Reserve Pinot Noir 2003 from Marlborough. Wow. What can you say when the wine keeps on winning show competition trophies against awesome line-ups of some of the country's highly thought of pinot noir labels.

First of all it was the Liquorland Top 100 in October when the Villa Maria Reserve Marlborough Pinot Noir 2003 won the Champion Pinot Noir trophy and went on to take the Champion Wine of the Show trophy as well. Now it has duplicated that exact result in the Air New Zealand Wine Awards announced in the weekend.

So why would I write up a trophy wine like this? Well, because as well as being a show success story, it is also one of the most deliciously drinkable Pinot Noirs around at the moment . And that is the whole point of wine isnít it, to drink it, that is.

It is the kind of wine that is enjoyable from the first drop to the last, which makes a change from some previous show trophy pinot noir winners (including a previous vintage of Villa Maria Reserve Pinot Noir) that are simply too overpowering with alcohol richness. Halfway through the glass I've had to push them aside.

Not the Villa Maria Reserve Marlborough Pinot Noir 2003, though. A brilliantly ruby-hued wine with lightly floral, slightly herbal, savoury scented and very appealing aromatics, there's a smoky backbone to the savoury flavours that are accented with violets, spice and just a hint of anise all melding into the silky tannin structure. Beautifully balanced with wonderful mouthfeel and good acidity matching the beautifully ripe fruit, it just flows.

Made from Marlborough fruit by Villa's Marlborough-based winemaker George Geris, some of the secrets behind this wine were revealed to me over a glass or three of this wine at a dinner the other week.

  • The hand picked fruit came from mostly from selected vineyards in the Awatere Valley with additional fruit coming from the Wairau Valley

  • Reaching the winery, the grapes were sorted by 8-10 people to ensure that only clean fruit goes through, a very challenging process!

  • The whole berries were removed from their stems and put into 7-9 tonne fermenting vessels without being crushed first

  • High levels of SO2 were added

  • The ferment was chilled to 4-6 degrees for 8-9 days for cold soaking and colour extraction

  • The ferment was then warmed up so the fermentation process could begin

  • Hand plunging was done 3 to 4 times a day

  • Looking for gentle extraction the fermentation process took about 15 days

  • After fermentation the juice was left on the skins for cold soak and post ferment maceration until the cap drops

  • Most of tannin comes from seeds and the alcohol assists in leaching those tannins out. So ripe seeds as well as ripe fruit is important.

  • Pressed off into French oak barrels, of which 50% were new, for 9-10 months

  • Undergoes malolactic fermentation in the spring

  • Comes out of barrel to be blended, fined & bottled.

The Villa Maria style is perhaps at the heavier end for Marlborough Pinot, a result of low cropped vineyards, I'm told. Especially in 2003 when late spring frosts reduced the yields even more. And though they donít deliberately set out to make a 14% alcohol wine (as this one is) they believe that as the vineyards mature the alcohol levels will naturally drop. Well at least they have managed to get it down from the 15% of the 2001 vintage award winning wine.

What to eat with Villa Maria Reserve Marlborough Pinot Noir 2003. I started with a Parfait (patť) of Duck Liver served with bitter leaves. The Pinot Noir was sensational with this smooth creamy-textured treat.

Then there was a carpaccio of Salmon with crab and coriander, and while made to match to Sauvignon Blanc, I just loved it with the Pinot Noir.

Lastly, a char grilled eye fillet of Beef with pancetta and celeriac, the Pinot Noir combining beautifully with the juiciness of the smoky meat and the slightly herbal flavours that were introduced by the accompaniments.

A versatile wine with food, a delicious wine to drink. Congratulations Villa Maria, a very deserving trophy winning wine.

It retails around town in the mid-$40's mostly and of course, as it is a Villa Maria wine, it is sealed with a screwcap.

Find out more from the Villa Maria website.

© Sue Courtney
14 November 2004

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