What it means to be a wine icon.

 


There are lots of wine brands out there, but only some can be called iconic. These brands shape winemaking in a forward-positive direction. They lead the charge on new initiatives and dare to be different. They are established purveyors of consistent quality.
 
Just a few weeks ago I had the opportunity dig deeper into an icon of this type. Villa Maria has paved the way for New Zealand wines since Sir George Fistonich bottled his first vintage in 1961. The winery – still family owned – has helped put New Zealand wines on the map. Villa Maria is New Zealand’s most awarded winery for good reason. In the words of Sir George Fistonich himself,  "...the desire to leave something for the next generation is an ever-present and overriding business objective”.  Villa Maria has shown a commitment to organic and sustainable farming practices. They’ve created a line of wines suitable for every palate and occasion. The wine, and the consumer, always comes first.
 
Fan favorite winemaker Helen Morrison joined me live, in the company of forty wine writers, to discuss Villa Maria’s past, present, and future. We tasted through a selection of six wines from the Villa Maria portfolio, still available today on Snooth at a great price. Read more about them below and pick up a set of your own.
New Zealand offers a unique – and delicious – perspective on well-known varieties like Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. This collection of Villa Maria wines demonstrates why New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir are canon, but also shows the wide range and depth that is possible from others varietals.

Villa Maria Bubbly Sauvignon Blanc 2015
 
Recently made available in the United States, Bubbly Sauvignon Blanc is turning heads this summer. Sauvignon Blanc lovers jump at the chance to enjoy a favorite varietal in the frizzante style. A little sparkle injects an extra bit of celebration into any occasion. Wine writer Martin Redmond finds "passion fruit, lime, grapefruit and a bit of green apple flavors" on the palate. He notes, "…this a fun, vibrant wine whose affinity for food is amplified by its effervescence…pair with fish tacos, deep-fried seafood, pasta with light cream sauce (pasta with clams comes to mind).”
 

Villa Maria Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc 2016
 
Villa Maria has helped bring New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc to great renown. Here, that signature dash of capsicum you’ve come to love from New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc rides on a wave of delightfully tropical citrus. Wine writer Cindy Rynning notes “powerful aromas of gooseberry, white flowers, flint, fresh citrus, subtle herbs, and ocean breeze.” This Sauvignon Blanc is created to be consistent, as wine writer Nancy Brazil says, “Find a [Villa Maria] wine you like in this range and you can be sure it will taste the same to you each vintage, a quality many consumers appreciate.”
 

Villa Maria Private Bin Bay Rosé 2016
 
Wine writer Wanda Mann notes, “With the unwavering popularity of Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand, it is easy to forget that this island nation in the south-west Pacific Ocean produces an array of beautiful wines.” Rosé, a favorite among wine drinkers from casual to serious, is a New Zealand wine to remember. Villa Maria’s Merlot-based rosé is part of their Private Bin collection. Private Bin wines represent Villa Maria’s commitment to approachable, consistent quality wines at fantastic values. Wine writer Jim van Bergen notes “fresh-cut wildflowers and berry compote” on the nose, with “fresh strawberries…ginger, lemon pepper, and allspice” on the palate. It calls for an Amaretto chicken pairing, says wine writer David Nerishi.
 

Villa Maria Taylor’s Pass Chardonnay 2015
 
This wine is part of Villa Maria’s Single Vineyard tier. These wines put terroir front and center. Minimal intervention is a key to their success, and distinct vineyard characteristics shine in every glass. Wine writer Michael Chelus points to Helen Morrison’s “deft touch” which has created an “excellent balance between oak and fruit” in this wine. The Chardonnay is grown in Marlborough’s Atawere Valley. Generally the Awatere Valley is quite windy, but Taylor’s Pass vineyard enjoys an advantage. It is tucked away in a corner of the valley, which shields the grapes from extreme wind and enhances ripening. Wine writer Michelle Williams finds “pronounced aromas of ripe stone fruit, apples, lemon zest, buttered brioche and nutmeg” in the glass.
 

Villa Maria Cellar Selection Pinot Noir 2014
 
These grapes hail from both the Awatere and Wairau Valleys in Marlborough. Cooling ocean influences ensure that the Pinot Noir’s delicate nuances are preserved. Wine writer Anatoli Levine points to “Oregonian notes of dark power, espresso, mocha, with a sweet core of cherries and plums.”  Wine writer Pamela Heiligenthal suggests pairing it with “vodka and dill cured gravlax served with capers and red onion accompanied with a biale pastry.”
 

Villa Maria Cellar Selection Merlot-Cabernet 2013
 
These grapes hail from the Hawkes Bay region. The area is defined by its patchwork of soils coupled with additional warmth and less rain – ideal for both Merlot and Cabernet. Here, the winemaker has expertly blended sixty percent Merlot, thirty-two percent Cabernet Sauvignon, and eight percent Cabernet Franc to achieve perfect pitch. This was wine writer Jeff Burrows’ top pick of the evening. New Zealand’s cool climate allows for a “sexy and elegant interpretation of Merlot and Cabernet”, he says.  Wine writer Will Pollard notes “black fruit, spice, rich with blueberry, chocolate, tar and blackberry on the long lingering finish.” He suggests pairing the wine with “beef, mushrooms or anything off of the grill”, but also says it can be enjoyed alone – a high compliment for any wine.  
 
To bring it all together, wine writer Rick Fillmore delivers with an excellent quote: “Most wine stores only seem to stock Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir in their New Zealand section but there are so many more good varietals out there…” He suggests speaking to our local retailers and requesting more Villa Maria wines from the entire portfolio, and I couldn’t agree more. Villa Maria represents the success of the New Zealand wine industry in the 20th and 21st centuries. Fifty years later, the winery continues to lead the charge.

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