Don’t be jealous… ok, be jealous! I had the distinct privilege to be part of a virtual tasting involving Villa Maria Wines, facilitated by Snooth’s very own Mark Angelillo. We were joined by winemaker Helen Morrison.
Every Villa Maria wine is crafted in the unique, fruit driven style typical of New Zealand’s most prestigious wine regions. They source their fruit from both Marlborough and Hawke’s Bay and have facilities in Auckland and Marlborough.
In 1961, owner Sir George Fistonich had the vision of creating exceptional wines in a time where most were people were drinking European sweet fortified wines, not dry table wines. He had a passion, and knew he needed to follow it. The journey began when he leased an acre of land in Aukland from his father. Today, still family owned, Villa Maria (Villa as a common name for a house in NZ and Maria a popular name from Croatia where George is from), stands as an icon for superior quality and innovation in New Zealand winemaking. In fact, Drinks International just named Villa Maria the most admired wine brand in New Zealand and the fourth most admired in the world.
A Tale of Two Regions
With both vineyards and processing facilities in the two main regions of New Zealand, Villa Maria’s Senior winemaker Helen Morrison discussed the positiveness collaboration. Throughout the year, and especially during blending trials, the winemaking team gets together to discuss the wines. “It’s nice to have other palates from other regions.” Villa Maria strives to have consistency across the brand from vintage to vintage.
Marlborough has a lucky climate the majority of time. Located in the Northern/Eastern tip of south islands it doesn’t see the colder- straight up air from the Antarctic. The cold fronts come up the east coast of south island but bypasses Marlborough. It is in a protected warmer microclimate. Marlborough is often the sunniest region of NZ. It does experience cool winters, with snow on the mountains, but snow rarely makes it lower. The crisp mornings are followed by warm days with moderate rainfall- usually in winter and early spring. The region can suffer from drought and has low humidity. The primary red varietal planted is Pinot Noir.
Hawkes Bay sees a different climate. And with this warmer climate we see Merlot being the primary red varietal planted. Located in the central part of the north islands. the fruit sees a longer hangtime. The summer temperatures are similar to those in Marlborough, but much warmer nights. The diurnal changes are much less. Hawkes Bay is known for more moderation and less fluctuation in temperatures which is extremely important for Merlot ripening. (low herbal influence)
Tiers of Villa Maria Wines
Private Bin “Approachable, consistent, and excellent value” is the most widely distributed across the world. It is the most recognized label. These wines are developed with consistency in mind. People looking to this label won’t see much difference between vintages. They are looking for the fruit to be the shining star. It’s the fruit forwardness that the customers can recognize and be sure to obtain.
Cellar Selection “Intensely flavoured, elegant, food-friendly wines” These wines have a gold label. Here, you are looking at vineyard sites. The wines show more intensity, depth, and concentration. Fruit, which comes from both valleys, are kept separate, until final blending. This allows for added complexity and the ability to cellar the wine.
Single Vineyards “Individual vineyard expression from unique sites” These wines are full of site expression. The consumer will find vintage variation. Villa Maria allows these wines to speak of where they are from. Expression of terroir drives these top tier wines.
All of the wines were under screwcap. Even the Bubbly! (only 3 atm vs. the 6 of Champagne) Villa Maria has committed to screwcaps. Helen explained that initially all of their wines were under cork. However, in the 1990’s the quality of the cork was really poor. These substandard corks led to the astounding statistic that about one bottle in every case failed, not only TCA but also to oxidation. Fear of quality loss inhibited the shipment or storage of the wines. The screwcap came on board in 2001 and has shown evidence of allowing wine aging. It also provided assurance that the wines being sent anywhere in the world would maintain their freshness and fruit. while still allowing red wines to evolve, just at slower pace.
Bubbly Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (SRP $15)
Composition: 100% Sauvignon Blanc. Alcohol 12.5% Fruit from Marlborough. Appearance: clear, pale, clear lemon color with tiny bubbles that dissipate quickly. Nose: clean, medium (-) intensity, lime and floral aromas, fully developed. Palate: off-dry, low acidity, low alcohol. Light body with light flavor intensity. Flavors of lime, green apple and hints of grass. Medium (+) finish.
Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc 2016 (SRP $15)
Composition: 100% Sauvignon Blanc. Alcohol 13% Fruit from Marlborough. Appearance: clean, pale, light lemon green color. Nose: clean, medium intensity, aromas of grapefruit, lime and tangerine. Youthful in development. Palate: dry, medium (+) acidity, low alcohol, light body, medium intensity, flavors of lime grapefruit, grass, and dry hay. Medium finish.
Private Bin Bay Rosé 2016 (SRP: $15)
Composition: Primarily Merlot. Alcohol: 12.5% Fruit from Hawkes Bay. Appearance: clear, deep mandarine color. Nose: clean, medium (-) intensity. Aromas of strawberry and watermelon. Palate: dry, medium (+) acidity, low alcohol, light body, medium intensity, flavors of strawberry, cherry and cranberry. Medium finish.
Taylors Pass Chardonnay 2015 (SRP: $45)
Composition: 100% Chardonnay. Alcohol: 13.5% Fruit from Awatere Valley, Marlborough. Appearance: clear, medium intensity, lemon green color. Nose: clean, medium intensity, toasted oak, citrus, coconut. Palate: dry, low acidity and alcohol, medium body and intensity. Flavors of oak, lemon and butterscotch. Medium (+) finish.
Cellar Selection Pinot Noir 2014 (SRP: $26)
Composition: 100% Pinot Noir. Alcohol: 13.5%. Fruit from Awatere and Wairau valleys in Marlborough. Appearance: clear, medium intensity, garnet in color. Nose: clean, medium intensity, aromas of earth, eucalyptus and cherry. Palate: dry, low acidity, medium (-) tannins, medium alcohol, medium (-) intensity. Flavors of dust, cherry, spice and red currant. Medium finish.
Cellar Selection Merlot-Cabernet 2013 (SRP: $20)
Composition: 60% Merlot , 32% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Cabernet Franc. Alcohol: 13.5%. Fruit from Hawkes Bay. Appearance: clear, medium itensity, garnet color. Nose: clean, medium intensity, aromas of red currant, black cherry, black plum and hint of oak. Palate: dry, medium (-) acidity, medium (-) tannin, medium alcohol body and flavor intensity. Flavors of black currant, cigar, black cherry, baked fruit. Medium (+) finish.
Villa Maria Fast Facts:
- Villa Maria uses over 500 sheep to graze the vine rows over the winter
- Approximately 70% of the packaging used to bottle Private Bin wine is made from recycled material
- Villa Maria also produces other varietals including Viognier, Verdehlo, and Albarino
- Villa Maria employs more than 250 permanent staff and exports wine to over 50 countries worldwide
- Villa Maria instigated the first grape grower bonus where grapes were paid for based on quality and not on quantity
- In 2009, George Fistonich received the country’s first knighthood for his services to the New Zealand wine industry
Find out more about Villa Maria and their wines on their website. Thank you to Snooth for asking me to participate in this virtual tasting. If you would like to watch the virtual tasting and hear about the wines directly from Helen Morrison, click HERE.
Disclosure of wine sample submission: I received these wine at no cost for participation in the tasting; however I wasnot required to write a positive review and the opinions I have expressed are entirely my own.