To change a label can be one of the most “terrifying experiences” according to Sir George Fistonich, head of Villa Maria, who invited a full contingent of wine media to an unveiling of the new livery for his brand. The changes are all part of the evolution of Villa Maria as it moves into catering to an increasingly important international market, as well as refreshing the look for a winery that has been part of the domestic scene for over half a century. The key aim was to make the label modern, without changing it too much, retaining the identity it had already established.
I believe that Villa Maria has done it extremely well. The chevron-styled ‘Big V’ and the ‘Red V’ have been kept and are still very prominent, expressing the all-important first letter of the brand and remind consumers of the medal successes in wine shows in the form of a ribbon. The presentation is much cleaner and the detail that comes through includes the wording ‘New Zealand’, promoting the country for overseas, the ‘Est. 1961’ celebrating the 50 year heritage and a crown above the ‘Red V’ symbolic of George Fistonisch’s knighthood and triumph over the receivership in 1985. The capsule incorporates an image of mountains, as seen from the company’s ‘Seddon’ vineyard. This is a little passé for me, but I’m assured it’s vital for the export market as it captures the essence of this country as promoted by various industries such as film, recently. The textures of the paper and the colours, especially of the ‘Private Bin’ and ‘Cellar Selection’ are standout features of the revamp. All of the Villa Maria range will carry the new look from the 2013 vintage. www.villamaria.co.nz
Sir George Fistonich – Villa Maria Estates Founder
Villa Maria’s 2013 Vintage
Nick Picone, Villa Maria’s Auckland-based senior winemaker discussed the 2013 vintage from his company’s viewpoint, describing it as “a landmark vintage”, reflecting back to the best summer in 20 years. He emphasised the quality of the fruit which made it an “easy season”, there being no disease, and the greater options given to the winemakers. In general, the North Island experienced a great vintage in all aspects, while the South Island had a more “compressed vintage”.
The feature variety from the Auckland ‘Ihumatao’ vineyard was Chardonnay, though volume was down for Gewurztraminer. But quality was excellent for these as well as the Verdelho and Pinot Noir.
The Gisborne region experienced frosts in late spring which reduced yields somewhat in Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer and Viognier. Arneis was slower to ripen, but Pinot Gris, Merlot and Muscat look to be exceptional.
Perfect growing conditions in Hawke’s Bay will see some benchmark wines across the board for Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Merlot, the latter variety possibly the standout.
The Marlborough growing season was dry, as in the rest of the country, but the cool 2012 vintage resulted in reduced yields. This meant that the Awatere Valley fruit ripened earlier and came in at the same time as the Wairau Valley fruit, making it particularly busy. The key varietals Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay all performed exceptionally well.
Nick Picone – Villa Maria Senior Winemaker
Nick Picone – Villa Maria Senior Winemaker
Sustainabilty and Organics
Fabian Yukich, Villa Maria’s executive director gave a run down on Villa Maria’s progress in sustainability and organics. The company entered this area with a rush, with their 80 ha ‘Joseph Soler’ vineyard as their stake in the ground. The company’s realistic understanding and adoption of the practices saw this pared back to 21 ha, but commitment to the philosophies now sees 30% of the company’s vineyards managed organically, though not certified. Villa Maria’s first certified organic wine was the ‘Cellar Selection’ Hawke’s Bay Merlot 2009, which was a gold medal winner. An increasing number of certified organic wines from Villa Maria are being seen.
The ‘Early Release’ Sauvignon Blanc 2013
Attendees were given the Villa Maria ‘Private Bin’ ‘Early Release’ Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2013 to taste. For most, it was the first finished 2013 vintage wine. This is an interesting wine in that it was the first indicator of this harvest. Many consumers and commentators look forward to the first wine of the year, which this one is for the company. Also, the forward releases of Sauvignon Blanc have a following, reminiscent of Beaujolais Nouveau in its positive sense of freshness and newness. The ‘Early Release’ Sauvignon Blanc has been a popular wine for Villa Maria and an anticipated one.
For Villa Maria, Sauvignon Blanc is the most important wine in terms of volume of production, and the pressure on the capacity of the company’s processing facilities is eased by the making of this wine, which accounts for approximately 20% of the intake of this variety. The wine is by way of its nature and fruit sources slightly different to the ‘proper’ release, as it uses the early ripening and first picks of fruit. The general release wine incorporates more of the later ripening fruit. Nick Picone pointed out that despite the difference in fruit, the wines are remarkably similar. Villa Maria differentiation of the two wines is clear and labelling so has ensured Villa Maria’s integrity.
On tasting the wine, it was a little subdued on bouquet, but showed plenty of passionfruit notes. The palate was soft and very slippery, making it very easy to drink. I’ve reviewed the Villa Maria ‘Private Bin’ ‘Early Release’ Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2013, and the review can be accessed by clicking here.
A Villa Maria Degustation Lunch
Following the presentations on the new label, the 2013 vintage, the tasting of the 2013 ‘Early Release’ Sauvignon Blanc and discussion on sustainability and organics, the media attendees were served a five course degustation luncheon created by executive chef Rob Baxter. I must say that the quality, interest and presentation were all first-class and the fare served would be on par with top restaurants in the CBD of any main city in the country. Clearly, Rob gave much thought to the pairings of two selected wines with each course. I offer my thoughts on the wines and dishes.
First Course: Smoked tomato consommé, crab and avocado salad with micro basil
The smoked tomato was the dominant flavour, with the herb and green fruit also features. The crab and salad stack quite subtle in texture and flavour, countering each other.
Villa Maria ‘Cellar Selection’ ‘Organic’ Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2012
Fruit from the ‘Templar’ vineyard in the Awatere Valley. Still very pale and youthful in appearance, this is tight and finely textured, quite linear and driven, with grassy, gooseberry and fresh herb flavours and slick acidity. I enjoyed the match, finding the herbal and green elements in both wine and food highlighted.
Villa Maria ‘Single Vineyard – Ihumatao’ ‘Organic’ Auckland Verdelho 2012
A preview, as this wine is not yet released. Approx. 25% fermented in seasoned oak and undergoing MLF. Straw-green in colour, this has classical tropical and exotic fruits along with a touch of reduction. But rich and weighty on palate with density. Quite nutty and textural, but essentially still retaining a lightness on its feet. The smoked flavours of the dish overpowered the more subtle fruitiness of the wine, but texturally, the wine had the robustness to prevail over the food.
Both wines in this pairing were from BioGro certified fruit. Neither of the wines were complete matches with the food, only interacting in part. I felt the Verdelho has a way to go.
Second Course: New Zealand clams with spinach tagliatelle
Two seemingly separate components, tied together by the richness and unctuousness of the sauce. The clam sweetness and depth of flavour came through distinctly. Satisfyingly delicious and a star course for me despite its simplicity.
Villa Maria ‘Cellar Selection’ Hawke’s Bay Viognier 2011
80% barrel fermented with 40% MLF, the wine undergoing batonnage. Youthfully pale and still tight, steely and undeveloped on palate. Lovely phenolic presence, with perfect alcohol weight, and sleek in mouthfeel, rather than voluptuous. The aromatics of the wine and the clam flavours both enhance by the pairing, but with the pasta, the wine seemed cutting and acid, despite the acidity not being high.
Villa Maria ‘Reserve Barrique Fermented’ Gisborne Chardonnay 2011
Mainly Patutahi fruit, and 95% clone 95, the wine aged in 40% new barrels. Brilliant straw colour, this is elegant and quite tight, especially for Gisborne. Clearly with barrel-ferment integration and creaminess, quite seamless fruit and oak. This has ripe enough citrus and tropical fruit, more nutty and mealy, with the flintiness only on the finish. The savouriness of the wine became a little flatter with the clams, but it added extra layers of flavour and richness to the textures and creaminess of the pasta. An excellent match between these components.
The commonality of these two wines was their slimmer nature as a result of the 2011 vintage.
Third Course: Szechuan duck breast, vanilla butternut puree and salsify salad with fresh mandarin
Beautifully tender and rich breast meat, mild and subtle in flavour the butternut puree creamy and sweet and in harmony with the duck. I found the mandarins acidic and too prominent in flavour. If muted a little, then the perfect piquant contrast?
Villa Maria ‘Cellar Selection’ Gimblett Gravels Hawke’s Bay Grenache 2010
From 1 ha on the Ngakirikiri vineyard, blended with 6% Malbec and 2% Syrah. Deep purple-red, this is a robust wine with dark raspberry fruit along with black pepper and spices on nose and palate. Zesty acidity belying its cooler nature but quite rugged and firm mouthfeel from youth, though the tannins are reasonably fine. Very Syrah-like, or more correctly, Rhone-like in style. This was a very good match with the duck, providing extra richness and a flavour boost. The puree did not soften the wine significantly, though the citrus flavours prevailed.
Villa Maria ‘Reserve’ Marlborough Pinot Noir 2010
Southern Valleys and Awatere fruit, 100% destemmed. Deep purple-red, the bouquet in comparison with the Grenache quite ethereal and subtle, but with waves of aromas and flavours. Very sweet and succulent, great acid drive and extremely fine, supple mouthfeel. A wonderful match with the duck, quite seamless interaction and lovely melding together. The sweetness meeting the butternut. But again, the mandarin component was aversive with the wine.
These two wines were on the same flavour continuum, but differed in texture significantly. Both superb wines.
Fourth Course: Smoked lamb loin, spiced eggplant, roasted artichoke and aniseed
An excellent piece of lamb, perfectly cooked, still a little redness inside, and positive lamb flavour with the char hints. The eggplant was very spicy and dominated the dish in flavour, the nutty artichoke and aniseed very much in the background, though providing soft, creamy, moistness.
Villa Maria ‘Reserve’ Gimblett Gravels Hawke’s Bay Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon 2007
An equal blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, aged 20 months in 70% new oak. Just released. Impenetrable black-red and intensely concentrated with perfumed black fruits. Still very primary, with a combination of great finesse with real cut, power and drive. Elegance is the result. This is classical Bordeaux, but with greater purity and finer concentration. A good match with the lamb, bringing sweetness herb spicing and cut to meet the wine, and the lamb softening the wine in return. The spices of the eggplant grew to dominate the pairing.
Villa Maria ‘Reserve’ Gimblett Gravels Hawke’s Bay Syrah 2010
100% Syrah, 94% from the ‘Twyford Gravels’ site, aged 17 months in 60% new oak. Impenetrable black-red, still extremely tightly bound, with beautiful lifted spices and black fruits, the piquancy and energy of this wine the highlight. There’s still intensity, clarity and richness, but the poise juxtaposed with power is sensational and almost decadent. This was even better with the lamb, lifting the meat, and holding up to the spict eggplant just a little longer.
These two wines are still very youthful, at the start of their lives. The richness and clear varietal expression is faultless. To be better wines for food matching, some savoury development from bottle-age would be necessary.
Fifth Course: Walnut tomato cake with lemon and passionfruit icing, charred apricot, marscapone and chocolate tuille
Excellent baking, nutty flavoured with outside influences adding interest. The chocolate a little superfluous (?), but always welcome!
Villa Maria ‘Cellar Selection’ Marlborough Late Harvest Riesling 2011
Fruit bunch selected for botrytis from the ‘Fletcher’ vineyard, 11.0% alc. and 130 g/L rs. Pale straw yellow, this is elegant and fine, not overly sweet or luscious, but with clear botrytis talc aromas and flavours a little more obvious than the fruit. Restrained richness, and an element of cut and clarity. A match with the cake, enriching it, and picking up on the apricot. Good and very workable as well as pleasingly so.
Villa Maria ‘Reserve’ Marlborough Noble Riesling Botrytis Selection 2011
Fruit selected for botrytis over several passes, from the ‘Fletcher’ vineyard, 10.0% alc., 188 g/L rs. Full straw colour, with golden hues. Fully rich and packed with opulent and luscious aromas and flavours of tropical fruit, citrus fruits, marmalade and honey. Layers of decadence unfold, and the balance of sweetness is matched by acid liveliness. A brilliant wine, and one that added sweetness and detail to the dessert, tying the componentry together.
A wonderful comparison of dessert wine quality, the Late Harvest with botrytis character prevailing, and the ‘Reserve’ Noble decidedly richer and sweeter, but importantly also more fruit integrity.