The launch of the Villa Maria Single Vineyard Series on the 4 November 2003 gave a chance to taste wines made in a similar fashion from different individual sites. "We only make single vineyard wines when they express something special about the Terroir", said George Fistonich as he introduced the range. "It because our winemakers have recognised something interesting, something that would usually get blended away". It adds a lot more wines to the Villa Maria range but "quality is paramount", says George. "It's an evolution of the New Zealand wine industry as it grows".
The wines are sealed with screwcaps and have new 'refined' packaging to differentiate them from the other Villa Maria wines.
Firstly two Sauvignon Blancs, both from the Awatere Valley - the Seddon Vineyard on the south side of the river and the Taylor's Pass Vineyard on a stony site on the northern side of the river, almost directly opposite.
Villa Maria Seddon Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2003
Melon and gooseberries characterise this dry fleshy wine with a core of gooseberry, a hint of citrus and a smoky cut grass finish. It's a powdery textured wine with tropical fruit, melon, passionfruit, citrus and hints of pineapple lingering - a rich sauvignon that I found almost too overpowering to drink on its own, but what a great accompaniment for summer food. 14% alc. 2.0gL residual sugar.
Villa Maria Taylors Pass Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2003
This is what I'd call more 'classic' with its green, grassy, crisp, herbaceous and intense gooseberry aromatics. It's a dry racy wine, slightly grainy textured, with a fantastic array of juicy exuberant fruit from crisp and zingy gooseberry to underlying passionfruit and tropical feijoa with hints of tobacco on the finish. It's a fruit bowl of a wine with terrific palate weight. This one doesn't need food - if you want to sip on it unaccompanied, it will do quite nicely, thank you. 14.5% alc. 2.0gL residual sugar.
There are five chardonnays in the Single Vineyard release, two from Hawkes Bay and three from Marlborough. Along with the three 'Reserve' wines, one each from Gisborne, Hawkes Bay and Marlborough, this makes eight prestige chardonnays in the Villa Maria Range. It's going to be confusing for the consumer, especially if they can't remember which one they should be buying, but unlike other brands that have confusing labels, the Villa Maria prestige chardonnays are all superb.
It's like they've come full circle. When Villa Maria made their first chardonnay in the 1960's it was most likely a single vineyard wine. Then in the 1980's, oak was discovered. Soon Villa Maria was drawing fruit from other regions and the 'Reserve' wines were introduced. The 1986 Villa Maria Reserve Barrique Fermented Chardonnay from Gisborne, in particular was quite outstanding. By 1989 they were producing wines from three regions - one was Auckland. Today they concentrate on Gisborne, Hawkes Bay and Marlborough and have many vineyards to draw from. "It's a challenge to create wines of interest from different site locations" said George. Wine of interest they certainly are. They've been in bottle since February and are just being released to the market now.
These two Hawkes Bay Chardonnays both come from vineyard sites inland on 'Highway 50' near Maraekakaho.
Villa Maria Waikahu Vineyard Hawkes Bay Chardonnay 2002
Yellow gold, bright and clear, it smells aromatic with stonefruit and apricots overlain with a mellow nuttiness from the funky and slightly earthy wild yeasts and just a suggestion of grapefruit emerging with time. Lovely balance and harmony in the palate, the rich mealy characters giving great palate weight while melon characters linger with the apricot juice flavours coming forth again on the finish. Palate filling and persistent, I like the complexity and rate this simply outstanding. 14.5% alc. 1.8gL residual sugar. Nine months in 75% new French barriques.
Trophy and gold medal @ A & P Wine Awards 2003. Gold medal @ Air NZ Wine Awards 2003.
Villa Maria Keltern Vineyard Hawkes Bay Chardonnay 2002
Yellow gold, bright and clear, it smells just a little more tropical than the Waikahu beside it. Smoky tropical fruit on the nose with smoky, savoury, toasty notes continuing into the palate providing a firm foundation for the melon and tropical fruit. It seems to have brighter acidity and there's more buttery, butterscotch things happening on the spicy finish. It seems a more traditional style with sweeter, riper fruit, though the full-bodied, mealy finish is dry and long. 14.5% alc. 2.0gL residual sugar. Nine months in 40% new French barriques.
Trophy and gold medal @ Air NZ Wine Awards 2003
Three Chardonnays from different sites in Marlborough
Villa Maria Waldron Vineyard Marlborough Chardonnay 2002
This vineyard is in the Rapaura district of the Wairau Valley in Marlborough.
Yellow gold, bright and clear and with yeasty influences on the nose, it's not exuberant in fruit like the two Hawkes Bay wines. It smells of fig, cedar and perhaps a little honey. The funky-smelling indigenous yeasts play a big part in the flavour of this complex barrel-fermented style that's subtle but powerful. It's rich and mealy with layers of stonefruits, grapefruit and nuts and figs, honeyed spiced oak lingers with citrus and it's just starting to pick up some caramel too. I can see it will develop some rich caramel and butterscotch traits with time. 14% alc. 1.0gL residual sugar. Nine months in 100% new French barriques. Gold medal @Air NZ Wine Awards 2003.
Villa Maria Taylors Pass Vineyard Marlborough Chardonnay 2002
Yellow gold, bright and clear, at first it emits a steely aroma but opens up to become quite cream biscuity with the fragrance of citrus blossoms - it is the most fragrant of the five chardonnays and quite inviting. It's lifted, zesty and mouthfilling with rich citrus, orange and apricot fruit overlain with butterscotch, building in the palate to a juicy, fruity, lees-influenced finish. The oak is there but it's terrifically well integrated and the finish is sweet and mealy with spicy, honeyed citrus and biscuity flavours lingering. It is, perhaps, just a little hot and although all these wines have high alcohol, this was the only one that the alcohol seemed so obvious. 14.5% alc. 1.0gL residual sugar. Nine months in 60% new French barriques.
Alcohol levels are something the industry needs to address. Wine writer Michael Cooper, who was at the tasting, remarked that wines have 45% more alcohol in them these days compared to what we were drinking about 18 years ago. In the mid-1980's we were drinking Muller Thurgau - or Riesling Sylvaner as it was often called - with alcohol levels around 10%. Today 14.5% alcohol by is common.
Villa Maria Fletcher Vineyard Marlborough Chardonnay 2002
This vineyard is on the Wairau Plains in Marlborough.
Yellow gold, bright and clear, there's hints of grapefruit integrated into the mellow smoky cedar on the nose of the big powerful wine. It's a much rounder and softer wine than the zesty Taylor's and is harmonious throughout its attack, delivery and finish. Lemon and grapefruit merge into honeyed apricot with nuts, figs and mealy barrel-ferment characters and honeyed butterscotch starting to develop, this is the most savoury and oak spicy of the three Marlborough wines. 14.5% alc. 2.0gL residual sugar. Nine months in 75% new French barriques.
Villa Maria Seddon Vineyard Pinot Gris 2003
Deep yellow gold, quite colourful for its age, it's richly aromatic and floral with pears, stonefruit, nuts, citrus, honey and a full-on savoury leesy character. Ripe and delicious already the lemon, pear, musk and honey float on the satin texture and the savoury finish is long, persistent and rather appealing. It has the lush factor, the viscosity of a sweet wine without being sweet and is the style of Pinot Gris we've been aching to find. It definitely needs food. This wine has not seen oak. 14.5% alc. 8.0gL residual sugar. Gold medal @ Air NZ Wine Awards 2003.
Villa Maria Seddon Vineyard Pinot Noir 2003
Inky magenta, it's the colour of a Hawkes Bay Syrah. , rich chocolate/mocha, cherry and plum on the otherwise savoury nose. Very savoury in the palate too, rich and dense with firm tannins, a reasonable dollop of oak, spicy leather and succulent black cherry and plums on a velvety texture. It's quite earthy and savoury and to me a pleasing departure to the choc/cherry wines that abound in Marlborough. Although delicious now it has potential for those characters to mellow. I'm pleased to see that the alcohol has come back after a couple of the monster pinots that Villa has produced the last couple of years. 13% alc. 0gL residual sugar. Nine months in 60% new French barriques. Gold medal @ Air NZ Wine Awards 2003.
All wines are sealed with a screwcap wine seal. They are available from the Villa Maria Cellar door at Mangere near Auckland International Airport and may possibly be found at quality fine wine retail outlets as well as at discerning restaurants.
The Sauvignon Blancs retail for about $25, the Pinot Gris for about $30, the Chardonnays for about $35 and the Pinot Noir for about $50. Prices are approximate only.
Villa Maria Estate is on the web at www.villamaria.co.nz.
Copyright Sue Courtney