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Tiki ‘Estate’ Waipara Pinot Noir 2018
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Tasting Reviews

Villa Maria ‘Ngakirikiri’ – The Icon Wine

Approaching 55 years of winemaking, Sir George Fistonich sees Auckland as his beginnings and his home base, but he has had a vested and significant interest in the Hawke’s Bay region for four decades, from the time he purchased Vidals in 1976. In those days fortified wine still made a significant portion of the marketplace and table wines were only becoming recognised by the general public as beverages of moderation and quality. However, the Villa Maria group only looked forward and began increasing its production of high quality table wine, those from Hawke’s Bay playing a large part of this new path.

It was George Fistonich’s relationship with Chris Pask in the mid-1980s that brought his attention to the quality of the fruit from the Gimblett Gravels area, leading him to initially purchase 26 ha. Over the next 25 years he increased his landholding so that today Villa Maria owns approximately 35% of the 325 ha delimited Gimblett Gravels area. The Villa Maria group of companies, under the Villa Maria, Vidal Estate, Esk Valley and Te Awa labels puts out some of the very best, and definitely most awarded wines from the Gimblett Gravels.

George Fistonich and his team have pondered the idea of an icon Villa Maria wine for many years. It was clear that the wine must come from fruit sourced from the Gimblett Gravels, as this is where their best and most successful wines came from. But what do you do for an icon wine when the Villa Maria group ‘Reserve’ reds from the Gimblett Gravels are among the most highly recognised and award-winning wines in the country anyway? George admits there have been earlier attempts at making an icon wine, but the parameters were now consciously set for the viticultural and winemaking teams to make a wine befitting of iconic status that had to be superior to anything made before, and distinctively different in style.

It took the 2013 vintage to give the opportunity of the making of Villa Maria’s icon wine, this year deemed to be the best in living memory in Hawke’s Bay. While not the hottest growing season, it was the driest since 1998; and the top wines show beautifully ripened fruit, brilliant vitality and energy, and sophisticated structure. Thus was born Villa Maria ‘Ngakirikiri’ ‘The Gravels’, named in homage to the Gimblett Gravels fruit source. The 2013 is the inaugural release, and it will only be made when the growing season allows supreme excellence.

The Villa Maria ‘Ngakirikiri’ Launch
To launch ‘Ngakirikiri’, Villa Maria held a black-tie dinner, attended by their key staff, loyal clientele and wine media at the Villa Maria restaurant facilities. Sir George Fistonich gave his background to the wine stating it was "25 years in the making”. Chief winemaker Nick Picone, a Hawke’s Bay man followed, introducing a mini-vertical of the ‘Keltern’ Chardonnay, the wine that could be considered the closest to an icon white wine for Villa Maria, this leading onto the ‘Ngajirikiri’ red itself. Then followed dinner, served with the ‘Library Release’ Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay 2010 and the ‘Ngakirikiri’ 2013, finishing with the ‘Reserve’ Marlborough Noble Riesling 2015. The latter wine was introduced by Marlborough winemaker Helen Morrison. I made notes on the wines offered for tasting, and at dinner, and offer my thoughts following.

Villa Maria ‘Single Vineyard – Keltern’ Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay 2015
Bright, pale straw-yellow colour, a little paler on the edge. The nose is full and deeply concentrated with rich aromas of white stonefruits, citrus fruits and complexing gunflint underlined by intense and taut notes of minerals, unfolding layers of nutty and toasty new oak. Medium-full bodied, the palate features rich and sweet white stonefruit and citrus fruit flavours along with nutty oak and complexing gunflinty sulphide detail, all harmoniously presented in an up-front, accessible style. The fruit richness and boldness is balanced by refreshing acidity and very fine phenolic textures lending a minerally edge. The stonefruit and creamy, nutty barrel notes emerge and are carried by the acidity to a very long, intensely flavoured finish. This is a sweetly rich, bold, fleshy Chardonnay with accessible flavours of stonefruits, citrus fruits, gunflint and minerals. Serve with creamy poultry and pork dishes over the next 4-5+ yeas. 100% clone 15 fruit from the ‘Keltern’ vineyard, vines up to 15 y.o., WBP and indigenous yeast barrique fermented to 13.5% alc., the wine aged 10 months in 35% new French oak with 50% MLF. 19.5-/20 Nov 2016 RRP $34.99

Villa Maria ‘Single Vineyard – Keltern’ Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay 2014
Bright straw-yellow colour with slight light golden hints. The nose is very refined with intense, complexing and interwoven detail of white stonefruits, citrus fruits, white florals and harmoniously balanced gunflint nuances adding a layering of interest. The fruit has richness, but is tightly concentrated, and displays great finesse, the aromatics building with aeration. Medium-full bodied, the palate features very tightly concentrated, but intense and vibrant fruit flavours of white stonefruits and white florals with nuts, creamy barrel-ferment notes and complexing reductive sulphide flint notes. The mouthfeel is refined with dry textures and soft acidity, but the wine has great linearity and drive, and carries to a very finely concentrated, long lingering, beautifully balanced and integrated finish. This is sheer elegance and finesse, the wine with vitality, complex and concentration. It will develop further over the next 5-6 years. 60% clone 15. 28% clone 95, the remainder 548 and Mendoza, from 14 y.o. vines from the ‘Keltern’ site, Hawke’s Bay, fully indigenous yeast barrel-fermented to 13.5% alc., the wine aged 10 months in 43% new French oak, undergoing batonnage and 100% MLF. 19.5/20 Nov 2016 RRP 34.99

Villa Maria ‘Single Vineyard – Keltern’ Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay 2010
Bright, light golden-hued straw-yellow colour. The bouquet is full, soft and broad with intense aromas, fully layered unfolding savoury yellow stonefruits and creamy, nutty, toasty oak, with white floral and gunflint and mineral detail. The aromatics are complex in detailing, and quite harmoniously integrated, still with freshness, but now showing the beginnings of soft restraint. Medium-full bodied, the palate is rich and luscious with a softly concentrated heart with layers of harmonious and integrated flavours. White stonefruits, nuts, toast, mealy elements and subtle gunflint notes show a savoury nuance. The mouthfeel is soft and fine in texture, the acidity mellowing with the richness, and the wine carries to a long, gently thirst-quenching, dry finish. This Chardonnay has developed layers of harmoniously integrated complexity and is fully mature. It will hold for another 4 years. 62% clone 95 and 38% clone 15 from the ‘Keltern' site near Maraekakaho, WBP and fully-barrel fermented to 13.5% alc., 25% by wild yeasts. The wine was aged 10 months in 45% new French oak with 88% MLF and batonnage. From 1.5 L magnum. 19.0+/20 Nov 2016 RRP $N/A

Villa Maria ‘Library Release’ Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay 2010 
Bright, light-golden hued straw-yellow colour. The bouquet features beautifully rich, vibrant, finely ripened aromas of white and yellow stonefruits with citrus and mealy notes, creamy barrel-ferment and toasty elements, nuances of complexing flint and minerals. The freshness and vitality of the fruit and oak is startling, and very rich and voluminous, and unfolds to show immense depth. Medium full bodied, the fruit richness and freshness are remarkable, with ripe yellow stonefruits, citrus fruits and tropical fruits, nuts and creamy, mealy oak, with harmoniously integrated flinty and mineral detail. This has concentration with sweetness and vibrancy, the mouthfeel plush and juicy, and enlivened by lacy acidity. There is power, elegance and finesse with a very long finish. This is a remarkably vibrant, rich and lusciously complex Chardonnay with 5-6 years of development ahead. 75% clone 95 and 25% clone 115, fruit from 75% ‘Keltern’ and 25% ‘Ngakirikiri’, vines 11-14 y.o., WBP and 88% indigenous yeast, all barrel-fermented to 13.5% alc., the wine aged 10 months in 38% new French oak barriques with batonnage and 50% MLF. A barrel selection before blending ‘Keltern’, made on restraint and fruit purity. 190 cases made. 20.020 Nov 2016 RRP $59.99

Villa Maria ‘Ngakirikiri’ ‘The Gravels’ Gimblett Gravels Hawke’s Bay Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot 2013 
Full, even, black-hued ruby-red colour, near impenetrable. The nose is finely proportion with very firm and intensely packed and dense aromas of ripe blackcurrants along with nuances of blackberry and suggestions of plums. The oaking is very sensitive and integrated, providing the most subtle lift, and the bouquet unfolds a very refined layering of iron-earth and black minerals. This is expressive of pure black fruits and minerality. Medium-full bodied, the palate is wonderfully concentrated and rich, yet stylish is in restraint, showing pure, layered flavours of blackcurrants, cassis and black-berried fruits harmoniously interwoven with iron-earth and black minerals. The fruit is vibrant and possesses vitality, but exudes a drying restraint. The structure is serious and sophisticated with very fine-grained powdery tannin extraction, balanced by a very fine acid line. The wine has great drive, power, intensity and finesse. This is a wine of sheer elegance and finesse with rich, restrained fruit and the minerality of the Gimblett Gravels. It will live 20 years. A blend of 97% Cabernet Sauvignon and 3% Merlot from the Gimblett Gravels, vines planted 1992-1995, fermented to 13.8% alc. with 35-42 days cuvaison, the wine aged 18 months in 52% new French oak barriques. 500 dozen made. 20.0/20 Nov 2016 RRP $150.00

Villa Maria ‘Reserve’ Marlborough Noble Botrytis Selection Riesling 2015
Brilliant, light golden yellow colour with some depth, a little paler edged. The nose is bold, rich and opulent with aromas of ripe tropical and citrus fruits with pineapple and apricots, marmalade, honey and nectar, along with a subtle musky layer. The varietal fruit gives way to the exoticism of botrytis. Very sweet to taste and medium-bodied, the palate is decadently luscious with opulent flavours of tangerine, marmalade, honey, apricot and musk flavours. This has a deep and packed, rounded core. The richness and unctuous mouthfeel are the feature, and the flavours mouthfilling. The wine is underlined by fine, ripe acidity that lends cut and brilliant tension, the freshness and vitality combining with the sweetness to carry to a very concentrated, long lingering finish. This is a wonderfully rich and opulent Noble Riesling with layers of exotic unctuousness and beautiful acid vitality and balance. This will develop greater complexity over the next 4-5+ years. Hand-picked fruit from the ‘Fletcher’ vineyard, Wairau Valley, sorted and fermented in stainless-steel to 10.0% alc. and 240 g/L RS, TA 9.0 g/L and pH 3.5, the wine aged 8 months on lees. (375 ml) 19.5+/20 Nov 2016 RRP $36.99


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