Villa Maria 2013 Chardonnay – A Full Range Tasting
Villa Maria has proven to be one of the top Chardonnay producers in New Zealand. The track record of gold medal and trophy winning Chardonnay wines stretches past 30 years, and during all of that time, Villa Maria has stood among the leaders, if not dominating the field. Over the last decade, Villa Maria’s Chardonnays have been at the forefront of increasing elegance and complexity, and along with it, greater expression of minerality, site and regional, the wines becoming even more compatible with a greater range of foods and cuisines.
One of the controversial aspects that Villa Maria seems to have taken a stand on is the expression of complexing sulphides, which can be described as matchstick or gunflint-like. Three decades ago, this was seen as a winemaking fault, masking fruit and hardening the palate, but over the years, we have seen an increasing tolerance to this character, with the interpretation of it being an aspect of complexing interest. There is considerable discussion on this aspect of Chardonnay expression at present, with a number of proponents advocating its positive nature, especially in Australia. New Zealand has followed suite, but there is a more moderate approach to accepting it. I’ve come to appreciate these complex sulphides more over the last few years. As with all wine appreciation, the style goalposts change…
The Villa Maria wines, especially at the top level, in the ‘Reserve’ and ‘Single Vineyard’ labels have shown the complex sulphide characters in a most acceptable way, as confirmed by wine judging results. The Vidal wines, particularly in the ‘Legacy’ tier also exhibit these reductive characters strongly, but the Esk Valley wines tend not to. There is the perception that the complex sulphides can be ‘dialled up’, or enhanced, usually in vinification, with the processes of racking directly to barrel with the inclusion of high solids, and the influence of working the lees.
Is Gunflint an Expression of Site and Season?
Villa Maria’s senior Auckland winemaker Nick Picone, believes the sulphide characters are driven by site and season and that minimal intervention retains more of these characters in the finished wines. Degrees of intervention actually remove naturally occurring sulphides, according to Nick. It’s a subject that is the focus of many in the Villa Maria team at present. Indeed, looking closely at recent vintage releases, many of the 2010 Chardonnays display the character strongly. The 2011s less so, whereas some of the 2012s have a return to earlier levels. For me, it is noticeable that wines from the ‘Keltern’ vineyard in Hawke’s Bay possess it more than say the ‘Reserve Barrique Fermented’ wine from Gisborne, which comes from more than one site, incidentally. Nick states he is quite strict on sulphides, and that he and his team avoid sulphide expression in the more ‘commercial’ wines. They see that consumers who buy the more expensive wines accept and desire complexities and terroir-driven influences.
The 2013 Wines
In January this year, I had a preview of a selection of tank samples of 2013 Villa Maria Chardonnays, about to be bottled (click here to see my report). Those wines certainly displayed decreased expression of the reductive sulphide characters. Due to my inquisitiveness and interest, Nick thought it would be interesting to have a full range of 2013 Villa Maria Chardonnays assessed with respect to the reductive sulphide character, as well as style expression in general.
How did I find them? The wines express regionality strongly, first and foremost. The Marlborough wines are very intense with strong aromatic character and piquant acidity. The Hawke’s Bay wines are soft, broader, (riper?) and have a harmonious completeness. And the Gisborne wine shows breadth and openness. I’m still coming to understand the character of the Auckland wines, but they are closer to Hawke’s Bay in style to me. If there is a house-style, it is one of elegance and balance of all the componentry, the wines possessing lovely complex detail and interest. There’s hardly a hair out of place, yet the wines have features that put them ‘out there’. And the complex sulphide reduction character? This year, it is considerably more restrained and subtle. 2013 is now regarded as an excellent vintage generally, and outstanding in Hawke’s Bay and Gisborne. It would be difficult to put a seasonal commonality across all the wines, especially with the influences mentioned previously playing a strong role.
My reviews follow, and they are from the perspective of a consumer rather than a technician. www.villamaria.co.nz
FEATURED WINES IN THIS REVIEW
Villa Maria ‘Cellar Selection’ Marlborough Chardonnay 2013Chardonnay from New Zealand - MarlboroughReview Date : 28-May-2014Brilliant, light straw-yellow colour with pale green-gold hues, lighter on edge. The nose is tightly bound and elegant, initially shy, with aromas of fresh citrus and stonefruits with minerally lees notes. The aromas build in intensity and concentration, unfolding aromatic lift, minerally and nutty lees, subtle buttery MLF notes and toasty oak. Medium-full bodied, bright, vibrant, tight, penetrating and intense flavours of juicy citrus fruit are intermixed with mealy and nutty notes. There is plenty of lively, crisp and racy acidity and underlying power forming a driven core. The palate flows with steely acid energy and fine textures to a very long, lingering finish with buttery MLF and toasty nuances. This is a firm and intense, steely and racy Chardonnay with bright citrussy fruit and toasty and buttery elements. Serve with grilled seafood and poultry over the next 4+ years. Chardonnay fruit from the Wairau and Awatere Valleys, hand and machine picked, with whole bunch and whole berry pressing, fully barrel-fermented on solids, partially by indigenous yeasts to 13.5% alc., the wine aged 8 months in 13% new oak, with 100% MLF. 18.5/20 May 2014 RRP $18.99
Villa Maria ‘Cellar Selection’ Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay 2013Chardonnay from New Zealand - Hawke's BayReview Date : 28-May-2014Bright straw-yellow colour with pale green hues, lighter on rim. The nose is soft, even and gently full with well packed and deep aromas of citrus fruit, white peaches and an array of yellow stonefruits. The aromatics are restrained and a little shy, contributing to the softness. Full-bodied with good mouthfeel and presence, the fruit flavours are discreet and harmonious with stonefruits, citrus fruits nuts and oak all integral and softly interwoven. The palate flows smoothly and effortlessly, underlined by ripe, lacy acidity that leads to a soft, mealy finish with good length. Thiis a soft, harmonious and well-balanced Chardonnay with integrated stonefruit and mealy flavours. Serve with seafood, poultry and pork over the next 4-5 years. Clones including Mendoza, 95 and 115 from ‘Waikahu’, ‘Te Awa’, ‘Keltern’ and ‘Lyons’, 80% hand-picked and fully-barrel-fermented, 20% with indigenous yeasts to 13.5% alc., the wine aged in 20% new French oak with 85% MLF. 18.0+/20 May 2014 RRP $18.99
Villa Maria ‘Reserve’ Marlborough Chardonnay 2013Chardonnay from New Zealand - MarlboroughReview Date : 28-May-2014Mixed clone fruit all hand-picked, from the ‘Waldron’ and ‘Auntsfield’ vineyards in the Wairau and the ‘Taylors Pass’ vineyard in the Awatere Valley, WBP and fully barrel-fermented, partially with indigenous yeasts to 13.5% alc., the wine aged 8 months in 30% new oak with 100% MLF. Brilliant, even straw-yellow colour with pale green-gold hues, pale edged. The bouquet is elegantly concentrated with a soft, rich and creamy amalgam of barrel ferment and MLF, detailed by waves of stonefruits, citrus fruits and flinty, minerally lees elements, the aromatics showing real density and depth, revealing toastiness in the glass. Full-bodied, richly broad and mouthfilling, layers of ripe citrus and stonefruits are complexed by mealy, flinty lees work, buttery MLF and nutty oak. The mouthfeel is fresh, lush, vibrantly juicy, the vitality enhanced by fine acidity. A firm core with refined phenolics carry the flavours to a mouthwatering, crisp and long lingering finish. This is a rich, fully complexed and layered Chardonnay with refined textures, breadth and acid vitality. Match with roast pork and veal over the next 4-5+ years. 19.5/20 May 2014 RRP $31.99
Villa Maria ‘Reserve’ Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay 2013Chardonnay from New Zealand - Hawke's BayReview Date : 28-May-201445% Mendoza, 30% clone 15, 15% clone 95 and 10% clone 548, the fruit from 35% ‘Lyons’, 32% ‘Te Awa’, 28% ‘Waikahu’ and 5% ‘Keltern’, all WBP and barrel fermented with 40% indigenous yeasts to 13.5% alc., the wine aged 10 months in one-third new French oak the wine undergoing batonnage and 100% MLF. Bright, pale straw-yellow colour with slight green hues. The nose is full, soft and reserved, revealing ripe stonefruit, grapefruit and subtle tropical fruit aromas lifted with delicate oak vanillins. With aeration, the aromatics build in depth and breadth, showing harmoniously interwoven detail. Medium-full bodied, softly expressed flavours of sweetly ripe yellow stonefruits, peaches and lifted tropical fruits are smoothly melded with vanilla-like oak and toasted nuts. The mouthfeel is creamy and lush, but the palate follows a positive, fine-textured line, guided by alcohol power and drive with underlying ripe acidity. Refreshing, steely, citrus fruit and nutty nuances are carried to a concentrated long finish. This is a harmonious, weighty and softly concentrated Chardonnay with gentle layers of complexity. Match with pork, veal and poultry over the next 4-5+ years. 19.0-/20 May 2014 RRP $31.99
Villa Maria ‘Single Vineyard – Taylors Pass’ Marlborough Chardonnay 2013Chardonnay from New Zealand - MarlboroughReview Date : 28-May-2014Bright, even, pale straw colour with slight green hues, pale on rim. The bouquet is very tightly bound, fresh and cutting with aromas of white stonefruits and saline mineral notes, subtly entwined with mealy, nutty, toasty oak. Buttery, nutty MLF elements unfold in the glass and balance the slender, penetrating nose. Full-bodied, the flavours of white stonefruits, minerals and nuts are intense and expressed with real precision and focus. The fruit has concentration underlined by alcohol drive and slippery, racy acidity forming a very fine-textured palate line. An intricate array of buttery MLF, nutty oak and seaside mineral nuances unfold, leading to a concentrated linear finish with excellent length. This is a tightly concentrated and intensely focussed, minerally Chardonnay with real power and length. Match with seafood over the next 5-6+ years. Hand-picked clone 95 fruit from the ‘Taylors Pass’ vineyard in the Awatere, WBP and fully barrel-fermented, partially with indigenous yeasts to 13.5% alc., the wine aged 8 months in 30% new oak with 100% MLF. 19.5-/20 May 2014 RRP $36.99
Villa Maria ‘Single Vineyard – Keltern’ Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay 2013Chardonnay from New Zealand - Hawke's BayReview Date : 28-May-201455% clone 95, 35% clone 115 and 10% Mendoza, from the ‘Keltern’ site on red metal soils, WBP and full- barrel-fermented with indigenous yeasts to 13.5% alc., the wine aged 10 months in 40% new French oak barriques, the wine undergoing batonnage and 100% MLF. Bright, very pale straw-yellow colour with youthful, pale green hues. This has a very tight, concentrated and discreet nose of refined white stonefruits, white florals, nuts and chalky minerals that reveal depth and intensity, unfolding mealy and high-toned, lifted, toasty oak and some flinty reduction nuances. The nose is very harmonious with its detailing. Fullish-bodied, a softly dense, rich and succulent fruit core features on the palate. Stonefruit, citrus fruits and subtle mealy elements flow seamlessly with lifted tropical fruit, nutty oak and delicate flint and mineral elements. The mouthfeel exudes finesse and precision, with fine, ripe acidity and subtle creamy barrel-ferment textures that carry through to a very long, nutty finish. This is a softly rich and harmoniously succulent, refined Chardonnay with poise and concentration. Serve with roasted poultry and pork over the next 5-6 years. 19.0/20 May 2014 RRP $36.99
Villa Maria ‘Single Vineyard – Ihumatao’ Auckland Chardonnay 2013Chardonnay from New Zealand - Northland & AucklandReview Date : 28-May-2014Fruit from the ‘Ihumatao’ vineyard near the Manukau Harbour, hand-picked, WBP and full-barrel-fermented, 50% with indigenous yeasts to 13.0% alc., the wine aged 10 months in 27% new French oak, with 100% MLF. Bright, pale straw-yellow colour with slight green hues, very pale on rim. The nose is elegantly proportioned with lifted white peach, yellow stonefruit and nutty aromas, unfolding soft mealy, nutty and delicate flinty complexities. A degree of exotic fruit opulence is melded with oak toast, and the nose intensifies with aeration. Medium-full bodied, the palate is tightly bound with refined and concentrated flavours of white stonefruits and subtle tropical fruits. The palate follows a very fine, dry and textural line, with underlying soft, ripe acidity. Spicy oak and nutty elements emerge and carry through to a rich, acid-enlivened and lifted finish. This is an elegant, tight and dry-textured Chardonnay with subtly exotic and opulent detail. Serve with roasted poultry dishes over the next 4-5+ years. 19.0-/20 May 2014 RRP $36.99
Villa Maria ‘Reserve Barrique Fermented’ Gisborne Chardonnay 2013Chardonnay from New Zealand - GisbornReview Date : 28-May-2014Bright pale straw-yellow colour with slight green-gold hues. This has a full, open, but well-packed nose of ripe white and yellow stonefruits, along with tropical fruit notes, entwined with nutty, toast oak and buttery elements. The aromatics are stylishly up-front and quite accessible, revealing soft oak vanillin, creamy barrel-ferment and buttery MLF nuances. Full-bodied, bold and open, mouthfilling flavours of ripe tropical fruits, buttery MLF, creamy oak and toasty flavours show with opulence and succulence. The fruit is supported by a soft, fine-textured phenolic line and enlivened by ripe acidity. The mouthfeel is one of presence and weight, carrying the flavours with good drive to a full, lively, fruit-rich, lingering finish. This is a full, open and weighty Chardonnay with stylishly bold tropical fruit flavours and a sense of opulence. Match with roasted pork over the next 4-5+ years. 60% Mendoza, 36% clone 95 and 4% clone 115, 75% from the ‘McDiarmid Hill’ and 25% from the ‘Katoa’ sites on the western hills, hand-picked and WBP, fully barrel-fermented with 30% indigenous yeasts to 14.0% alc., the wine aged 10 months in 38% new French oak barriques, the wine undergoing batonnage and 100% MLF. 18.5+/20 May 2014 RRP $36.99