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I recently participated in an online tasting conducted by Snooth, which featured a half a dozen wines from one of New Zealand’s top producers, Villa Maria. Founded in 1961 by George Fistonich, Villa Maria has become New Zealand’s benchmark over the last 55 years. Although I have never been to the island nation, once I do make it there (and I will), Villa Maria will likely be my first stop.
The accolades have been many: one of Wine Spectator‘s World’s 50 Greatest Wine Producers, New World Winery of the Year by Wine Enthusiast, and George Fistonich was even knighted by the New Zealand government for his service to the wine industry.
Yeah, I have to go.
Until then, these samples will have to suffice….
2016 Villa Maria Bubbly Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand: Retail $16. I tasted it. And it was fine, even more than fine: classic Sauvignon Blanc aromas and flavors with a spritz to it. Since it is closed with a screw cap, I assumed it was Charmat method wine (the same procedure to make Prosecco). Then I asked to confirm that I was right. “No, actually, we inject the CO2 into the wine to create the bubbles.” Huh? I honestly had not heard of that for any wines costing over than say, $6. So I decided to not like the wine, determined to pour it down the drain just due to my inherent Champagne-snob tendencies. Just before I did, I had one more sip. Darn it! I actually like it. No one will mistake this for champagne, but it is fruity, light, and ever-so refreshing. Good to Very Good. 86-88 Points.
2016 Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc Private Bin, Marlborough, New Zealand: Retail $15. They call it “Private Bin” but this is their biggest production, by far. Grassy grapefruit with dabs of minerality, this is what one expects when they think “New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.” Racy and precise with oodles of tart citrus, this wine captivates up to the somewhat short finish. For the price? Solid. Very Good. 87-89 Points.
2016 Villa Maria Rosé Private Bin Hawkes Bay New Zealand: Retail $15. I consider myself a researcher. Sure, my “expertise” (as much as I have any) is in education, but I know my way around Google. Nonetheless, after sever minutes of intense search engine research, I still have two burning questions regarding this wine: 1. Is it a “True Rosé” (i.e., not a saignée)? and 2. What is the blend? I am pretty confident that the answer to the first question is “Yes” I believe this is a true rosé—it is fruity, yet tart, with a lingering finish. The answer to the second question is not as simple. Some state that it is a blend of Pinot Gris, Merlot, and Malbec, while others add in Syrah (and take out the Pinot Gris), and yet another adds Arneis (a rare white grape that up until this point I thought only existed in Tuscany). Whatever the case, this is a delightful wine. Plenty of rich strawberry fruit with just the right amount of tartness. Very Good to Outstanding. 89-91 Points.
2015 Villa Maria Chardonnay Taylors Pass Vineyard Marlborough, New Zealand: Retail $28. Noticeably different in style and approach, as this wine is barrel fermented (25% new oak) and goes through malolactic fermentation. Citrus and buttered popcorn predominate the nose with ample acidity and the palate introduces notes of white peach and almond. Not a big oaky Chard by any means, but this certainly has some gravitas that it is not afraid to throw around a bit. Outstanding. 90-92 Points.
2014 Villa Maria Pinot Noir Cellar Selection Marlborough, New Zealand: Retail $20. I am particularly picky when it comes to Pinot—most of the red wine in my cellar (53% to be precise—thanks Cellar Tracker!) is made from the grape that calls Burgundy its home. While Oregon and California battle it out to be anointed the second best place on earth for quality Pinot, New Zealand is quietly sneaking up on them. This wine is fairly light in color and stature, but high on flavor: blackberry, anise, and even a touch of campfire smoke, this wine shows how this is perhaps the variety that has the most variety of styles from top to bottom. Very Good. 87-89 Points.
2013 Villa Maria Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon/Malbec Cellar Selection Hawkes Bay, New Zealand: Retail $18. Again. I tried to research the heck out of this wine, to no avail. Out of all the six I tasted, this is perhaps the one wine that falls a little flat for me. Sure, there are nice aromas of black pepper, cassis, and tobacco, but after that? Rather thin and a bit lacking. Based on the other wines, I was hoping for more. Good to Very Good. 85-87 Points.