Villa Maria is New Zealand’s largest family owned winery and the continued commitment to producing not only great value wines, but also exceptional, ground breaking wines has to be admired. As part of the move to sustainability they have made a commitment to being fully organic by 2020.

Helen Morrison is Villa Maria’s Senior winemaker at the Marlborough winery. It was nice to have Helen here as she has fond memories of attending our tastings when she was studying at Lincoln. Tonight the tasting mainly focused on the Cellar Selection range compared to Reserve and Single site wines from Marlborough and Hawkes Bay. Although a familiar label to many, the Cellar Selection range also includes several wines only seen in Fine Wine Independent stores – Hawkes Bay Chardonnay, Organic Merlot, Grenache, Syrah, Pinot Noir.  These wines offer excellent buying. The Reserve wines step it up to another level and as we’ve said before, are some of New Zealand’s top wines – the Keltern Chardonnay and the Braided Gravels Merlot are exceptional wines.

Villa Maria Cellar Selection Sauvignon Blanc 2016 $14.99

A blend of Wairau Valley and Awatere Valley fruit. Soft balance of the ripe herbal, jalepeno flavours from the Awatere, with passionfruit, tropical fruits of the Wairau. There is a good core of flavour, with easy drinkability. This is Michael Coopers “Best White Wine Buy 2017”

Villa Maria Reserve Wairau Sauvignon Blanc 2016 $22.99

From 3 sites in the Wairau – Southern Valleys, Northbank and Waihopai. This is obviously a much more serious style being completely dry with more crunchy texture and acidity. This almost demands food. An excellent Sauvignon Blanc that deserved its number one ranked Sauvignon Blanc Cuisine January 2017.

Villa Maria Cellar Selection Hawkes Bay Chardonnay 2015 $14.99

One of our biggest selling Chardonnays. You can see the relationship to the following Keltern Chardonnay (most of the fruit comes from the Keltern vineyard). Initial impressions are of a well rounded, easy style of Chardonnay with classic Hawkes Bay summer fruits – white peach, nectarine, then the subtle complexities make themselves known – hints of smokey, gunflint, grapefruit. This is quite a serious style considering its modest price with hand picked fruit, some wild ferment in new oak, and plenty of lees contact.

Villa Maria Single Vineyard Keltern Chardonnay 2015 $33.99

Located on the red-metal soils east of the Maraekakaho region in Hawkes Bay, the Keltern vineyard is recognized as one of New Zealand’s great Chardonnay sites (alongside the likes of Kumeu Mates, Sacred Hill Rifleman’s, Neudorf Moutere etc.) The portion of vineyard that is designated for the Keltern Chardonnay is carefully managed to reduce yields (1 bunch per shoot for example), fruit is hand picked, whole bunch pressed, wild fermented in 35% new oak and aged on less for 10months. This is a full-on Chardonnay with the fruit weight to carry the wine-making input. Smokey sulphides drop away in the glass to reveal a beautifully portioned wine of class. Outstanding wine that will develop nicely over the next few years and drink for 10+ years.

Villa Maria Reserve Pinot Noir 2014 $45.99

From Marlborough’s Southern Valleys clay soils and the loam of the Awatere. Seductive is the first word that comes to mind. Think sweetly ripe dark blue fruits that are held in check by silky fine tannins. Quite silky on the palate with just enough ‘grit’ to make it seem real.

Villa Maria Cellar Selection Grenache 2014 $20.99

New Zealand’s only Grenache comes from a small 1 ha block in the Ngakirikiri Vineyard in the Gimblett Gravels regions. A warm climate variety, it is the last red to ripen in the Hawkes Bay and with its thin skins needs to be handled gently in the winery, in much the same way as Pinot Noir. One innovation used is the large rotating cuve barrel used to avoid hand plunging of the fruit during fermentation where it stayed on skins for 10 months. A dark colour in the glass, there is no mistaking Grenache’s sweet, cherry spice fruit wafting out of the glass. The palate weight is similar to Hawkes Bay Syrah with quite a sweet/sour note (in a good way!) A good wine that is interesting and different.

Villa Maria Cellar Selection Syrah 2014 $20.99

In last year’s Cuisine Syrah tasting this was the number 2 wine … number 1 was its big brother the Reserve (tasted next) to go along with 2 gold medals and a 94/100 by Bob Campbell. From the Twyford and Omahu vineyards, in the heart of the Gimblett Gravels. Quite mellow with hints of black pepper and ripe black fruits.

Villa Maria Reserve Syrah 2014 $53.99

In addition to being Cuisine’s Top Syrah 2016, this wine also was the Trophy winner at the NZIWS in 2016. All from the Gimblett Gravels. A dark, inky colour. Big, sumptuous, velvety, strong – gorgeous (my notes get less verbose as the tastings progress!)  Very good.

Villa Maria Cellar Selection Organic Merlot 2014 $14.99

The fruit for this is from the famed Soler vineyard which has been organically farmed since 2001. The fruit is gently handled during fermentation in open top fermenters. Only a small portion is aged in new oak, preserving the fruit and freshness. This is a juicy dark fruited wine with hints of olive, fruitcake, charcuterie and a feather of dust. Merlot may not be number one in the fashion stakes (c.f. Pinot Noir), but you get plenty of value from this and is deservedly very popular.

Villa Maria Single Vineyard Braided Gravels Organic Merlot 2013 $49.99

One of New Zealand’s greatest Merlot wines… no small claim, but this is one impressive wine! From an excellent vintage this is from selected parcels within the Soler vineyard. Inky dark colour, the taste lives up to this. Very, very rich; plush feathery tannins and very weighty with loads of extract on the palate. If this were from Pomerol (Bordeaux), you be paying many hundreds of dollars. Exemplary. A great way to finish the tasting!