New Zealand is justly famous for their distinctive sauvignon blanc featuring grapefruit (and herbal notes sometimes described as cat pee!) and pinot noir full of bright fruit and violets.
Recently Sue and I were reminded why we love NZ wine when we participated in a twitter tasting of three from Villa Maria’s Taylor’s Pass Vineyard located on the banks of the Awaretere Valley in Marlborough, a region that gets the most hours of sunshine in New Zealand with 2435 hours a year!
At the age of 21, George Fistonich started Villa Maria in 1961 — and nearly 60 years later it is still family owned which is important because ” being family-owned which means everything we do is for the good of what’s in the glass.” He started by leasing five acres from his dad and growing vines — over 50 years later, “Villa Maria sources grapes from New Zealand’s premium grape growing regions, including Marlborough and Hawkes Bay, and produces wines in state -of-the-art winemaking facilities in Auckland, Hawkes Bay and Marlborough.” In 2012, George Fistonich received the country’s first knighthood for his services to the New Zealand wine industry and “Drinks International named Villa Maria the most admired wine brand in New Zealand for the fourth consecutive year.”
Going green is important to this family owned and operated business. In 2010 Villa Maria “started measuring all carbon emissions from the growing of grapes, winemaking and bottling as well as contributing emissions from vehicles, freight, air travel and manufacture of packaging” figuring that: “If you can measure it, you can manage it!” As you can see from the chart above, 30% of the vineyards are organically managed as well as other earth-friendly practices.
In the recent twitter tasting of three of Villa Maria’s Single Vineyard Taylor’s Pass wines with two of Villa Maria winemakers, we were VERY impressed with these high end yet available wines. I received this wine free from Ste. Michelle Wine Estates and Villa Maria as part of their First Sip of Summer twitter tasting; I was not required to write or tweet a positive review and the opinions I express here and there are entirely my own — and Sue’s!
During the twitter chat, Villa Maria winemaker Helen Morrison tweeted:
- We have constant coastal breezes or cool mountain breezes so fog would very rarely settle in Marlborough.
- Taylors Pass picturesque river terraces on northern bank of Awatere River in cooler subregion of Marlborough
- Tucked next to Awatere River various soil types allow us produce this array of Single Vineyard wines.
- Taylors Pass Single Vineyard wines are pure expressions of soil and climate and varietal interactions.
- High intensity UV light in New Zealand produces such intense flavours but cool ocean breezes protects acidity.
- Fruit is the focus, but complexity from wild ferments, barrel ageing, but subtlety to let the vineyard speak.
These Villa Maria wines are one of those example where you definitely get what you pay for: in this case, an abundance of complexity that many might not expect from NZ wine if they are used to those easy to find and easy on a budget of $10-15 a bottle. While you are paying more for these wines, they definitely deliver.
- 2017 – Villa Maria Single Vineyard Taylor’s Pass Sauvignon Blanc -12.5% alcohol – $26
- 2016 – Villa Maria Single Vineyard Taylor’s Pass Chardonnay – 13% alcohol – $42
- 2015 – Villa Maria Single Vineyard Taylor’s Pass Pinot Noir, – 13% alcohol – $42
2017 -Via Maria Single Vineyard Taylor’s Pass Sauvignon Blanc -12.5% alcohol – $26
100% stainless steel tank fermentation
Color: Pale pale silver gold
Nose: Grapefruit, gooseberry, lemongrass, elderflower
Palate: Lively zing, grass and minerals front palate, citrus mid palate, saline finish, there is some jalapeño vegetal in there as well.
In the chat, winemaker Helen Morrison tweeted that the “minerality on the finish comes from the stony riverbed soils” and she says she loves “jalapeño as descriptor but also lemongrass and fresh herbs.” This is a more expensive sauvignon blanc than most people expect to pay for a NZ SB, but it offers more texture, palate weight and definition of flavor points out Helen.
Pairing: Would be lovely with oysters, great with traditional pairing of goat cheese, no surprise there, also great with the goat milk brie, not as great with the aged sheep milk cheese. It likes goat milk much better.
Helen agrees about the oysters, and adds “freshly steamed green lipped mussels or even clams are good.”
What’s the difference between this single vineyard wine and the “Private Bin”? Helen says “Taylors Pass Sauvignon Blanc should be more textural and emphasis on minerality than our usual Private Bin SB.”
2016 – Via Maria Single Vineyard Taylor’s Pass Chardonnay – 13% alcohol – $42
100% hand picked and whole bunch pressed. Fermented 100% barrel 28% new French oak, 72% seasoned oak, Natural malolactic fermentation encouraged.
Color: Pale yellow buttercup
Nose: Sweet oak, caramel, vanilla, lemon, fresh bread.
Palate: Fairly typical Chardonnay, nice on its own, minerality, grapefruit, lovely creamy texture but so much more interesting with rich creamy foods. Helen tweeted that she let the wine stay for “nine months in oak on yeast lees to develop creamy characters 28% new french oak to enhance fruit and minerality.”
Helen: “Power with elegance across the palate is the plan.”
Pairing: Fantastic with rich triple cream brie on a simple cracker. Pair with shrimp scampi, or sand dabs with beurre blanc sauce, or any rich fish and a beurre blanc sauce. It wants rich and creamy foods for the bright fruit and minerality to shine. Helen suggests lobster (or Crayfish in NZ) on a charcoal BBQ with preserved lemon butter.
2015 – Villa Maria Single Vineyard Taylor’s Pass Pinot Noir – 13% alcohol – $42
Helen says that fourteen acres of Pinot Noir are grown at Taylors Pass vineyard and that this Single Vineyard Pinot Noir has been produced since 2003; the vineyard was planted in 1999. “Stony soils showcase floral red fruits, silt soils showcase dense structure, dark berries, earthiness,” she tweeted. “100% hand picked gently processed wild fermented letting the vineyard speak.”
Color: Beautiful semi translucent, purplish red, nice bright color
Nose: Rhubarb, cherry, violets, herbs, earth. Helen said that a small portion of whole bunches fermented give this fragrant herbal character as well as structure to Taylors Pass Pinot Noir.
Palate: Bright red fruit and satisfying minerals, pomegranate and cherry, a long lingering finish with watermelon.
Pairing: Our favorite pairing of pinot and pate did not work with this wine at all! It does however work with our mushroom brie and even better with a small dab of pate which brings out a richness in the wine. We imagined that this would pair well with duck with a cherry reduction sauce, or even roast chicken. Fatty fresh rich Alaska salmon brings out even more bright fruit.
Coming soon: more New Zealand Wine! I attended a NZ Wine Navigator lunch and wow do these wines deliver — if you can find them!