When I listed my Top Ten Chardonnay producers of the last 10 years, did I list Villa Maria? If I didn't it was a definite oversight - a definite erroneous omission because they have some glorious chardonnays.
At the Villa Maria Trade Day in November, I tasted a range of them and on the day the Villa Maria Barrique Matured Gisborne Chardonnay 2006 was my favourite by a whisker. It's developing beautifully in the bottle with a harmonious array of spicy oak, caramel and butterscotch, tropical fruit and a rich, powerful and absolutely scrummy delicious finish.
I thought the Villa Maria Reserve Hawkes Bay Chardonnay 2006 seemed a little light (tasted immediately after the Gisborne) with creamy oak and malo notes quite dominant.
Next was Villa Maria Reserve Marlborough Chardonnay 2006 - a creamy, toasty wine with toasted citrus, a touch of caramel and a rich long finish with a spicy tingle to the rounded toasty after-flavour. Mmm-mmm.
A couple of single vineyard wines followed and the Villa Single Vineyard Keltern Vineyard Chardonnay 2007 from Hawkes Bay was creamy, like the Reserve Hawkes Bay ' 06, and quite toasty, but still developing and thus a little shy right now.
Unfortunately the Villa Maria Single Vineyard Taylors Pass Chardonnay 2007, from Marlborough, was straight out of the fridge and tasted like a Chardonnay ice block. Great for lazing on the deck on a hot summer's day, but not for writing tasting notes.
The next wine was listed in the tasting booklet as Villa Maria Single Vineyard Ihumatao Chardonnay 2007. I found it to be a rich, toasty, caramelly wine, delicious and mouthfilling with beautiful tropical fruit and citrus, but a little more developed than I would have expected from the year. But when I looked at the label on the bottle I saw the vintage didn't concur with the booklet and the wine I was tasting was actually the 2006. I loved the wine but I also disappointed, as I was hoping to taste the new vintage of this Auckland wine, produced from early season grapes - and in Auckland in 2007 it was perfect weather from the beginning of January right through to picking.
Because the wine wasn't at the cellar door either (waiting for stock to arrive) the lovely people at Villa Maria arranged to send me a bottle as soon as the limited production wine was available. And it arrived in time for tasting this weekend.
Villa Maria Single Vineyard Ihumatao Chardonnay 2007 is a light lemon gold with a radiant lustre and has a delicate perfume of lightly toasted macadamia and brioche that carries through to the perfectly balanced palate. It has a luscious mouthfeel with a silky texture and although the wine is rich, it has a light, gliding, delicate touch. Spicy, lightly creamy, nutty and leesy, this is sophisticated Chardonnay, that displays its class from the outset. Slightly citrussy with a hint of anise (yes anise!) - like a gentle kiss of tarragon - now I am salivating of the thought of fresh crayfish or scallops with a tarragon beurre blanc. Ripe yet savoury, just the way it should be, the flavours expand over the fine acid backbone and show their refinement on the lasting finish.
This is a single vineyard wine from Villa Maria's Auckland vineyard at Mangere, situated inside the crater of the extinct Waitomokia volcano. The caldera's walls must be an asset in protecting the vines from the southerly elements.
According to the bottle it has 14% alcohol and is sealed with a screwcap. It retails for about $38 full price. Check out www.villamaria.co.nz.
So was Villa Maria listing in my Top Ten Chardonnay producers over the last 10 years? Yes it was. It was in No.2 position, after another Auckland producer, Kumeu River. And in the Villa Maria entry, I had a special mention for the Single Vineyard Ihumatao. Based on the tasting of the new vintage, my rating stands. Parochial maybe. Or perhaps the wine speaks for itself.
It's noted that the Villa Maria Ihumatao Chardonnay 2007 also won 'elite gold' at this years Air New Zealand Wine Awards. That means the judges scored it 19 points or above. Vidal Reserve Hawkes Bay Chardonnay 2006 (also part of the overall Villa Maria group) took out Champion Chardonnay, while the Villa Maria Reserve Hawkes Bay Chardonnay 2006 was awarded the trophy for Champion Exhibition Wine - in essence, this award means they don't have very much left.
© Sue Courtney
9 Dec 2008