Of the wine regions I have yet to visit, New Zealand is near the top of the “most wanted” list. Every time I speak to someone who has toured the wine country there, they insist I have to go.
Some day, I hope.
Until then, I will have to settle for trying some of the many wines that reach the U.S. I was recently asked to participate in an online tasting for Snooth.com of some wines from Villa Maria, one of the larger producers in New Zealand. Here are my thoughts on the wines:
2017 Villa Maria Bubbly Sauvignon Blanc New Zealand: Retail $16. While Villa Maria also makes a traditional method sparkler, this wine is actually infused with CO2 under the screw cap, which is not by any means a bad thing as I have had some really fun wines made this way. The nose is rather classic New Zealand Sauv Blanc with bright fruit, a bit of freshly cut grass, and a healthy dose of cat pee. The bubbles are smaller and less intrusive than I expected (it is a spumante style, meaning lower pressure with smaller and less aggressive bubbles). The palate comes off as rather austere despite its nearly 6 grams of residual sugar—they must have picked these grapes quite lean. Still, a solid effort. Good to Very Good. 86-88 Points.
2017 Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc Private Bin, Marlborough, NZ: Retail $12. A slight green tinge to this otherwise brilliant yellow wine with aromas of lemon, slightly roasted pine nuts, and just a hint of that characteristic New Zealand cut grass. On the palate, I recall that this is one of my favorite NZ Sauvignon Blanc producers: creamy yet tart, fruity but also some depth. For the price? This is a solid choice. Very Good. 87-89 Points.
2017 Villa Maria Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc, Taylors Pass Vineyard, Marlborough, NZ: Retail $26. Black labels distinguish the Single Vineyard wines from the standard Villa Maria fare as do much more intense aromas, flavors, and depth. Paler in color than the Private Bin, but still with the distinctive green hue, this Sauvignon exudes much more citrus on the nose. In fact, it is difficult to discern much more than the intense grapefruit and the hints of freshly cut grass. The palate is also dominated by fleshy grapefruit, so much so that my wife asked if the wine were made from the citrus fruit (I am working on her). Great acidity, a touch of creaminess, and a lingering finish are all hallmarks as well. While the Private Bin was a great value, this is a fantastic Sauvignon Blanc. Excellent. 90-92 Points.
2017 Villa Maria Rosé Private Bin, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand: Retail $12. “Predominantly Merlot.” From what I could ascertain, this is indeed a True Rosé, as the fruit is crushed and pressed soon after picking. Bright pink as it poured out of its screw-top bottle into the glass, with aromas of sweet strawberry and cherry. The palate is fruity and inviting, with a touch of residual sugar (4.8 grams/liter), but barely enough to notice. There is also oodles of fruit, an intense tartness, and a fruity, lingering finish—all made me question if this wine really retails for a hiccup over $10. One could likely find this wine for less than a sawbuck, but it is a steal at its Suggested Retail Price. Very Good to Excellent. 89-91 Points.
2017 Villa Maria Pinot Noir Private Bin, Marlborough, NZ: Retail $18. As I have stated countless times on this site, I firmly believe that it is difficult to produce a high quality Pinot Noir for under $30. While I still support that contention (with a couple of dissenters), this, at under $20, is a very nice wine. Fruity on both the nose and the palate, with tart cherry, a bit of earth, and hints of white pepper. The palate is upfront and fruity, but held together by nice acidity and suggestions of weight. As I like to say, this is not a game changer, but you might want to revisit the rules. Very Good to Excellent. 88-90 Points.
2017 Villa Maria Single Vineyard Pinot Noir, Taylors Pass Vineyard, Marlborough, NZ: Retail $45. I have come to realize that when delving into Kiwi Pinot, one needs to set aside all that one has learned in Burgundy and California/Oregon. More than any other variety, it seems, Pinot adapts and mutates to its environment. While I have not been fortunate enough to visit New Zealand, its Pinots make it a must-see at some point during my time on this beautiful third rock from the sun. Dark cherry fruit and black pepper emanate from this uncharacteristically dark and opaque Pinot. The palate is initially very fruity, but also rich and deep with plenty of acidity to hold it all together. For one not all that familiar with Pinot from this island nation, this might come off as a bit light, but this is a fairly complex wine with a ton to offer. Excellent. 91-93 Points.