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Villa Maria Trumps in Cuisine’s Chardonnay Tasting

By April 27, 2013No Comments

In any tasting or judging of New Zealand Chardonnay, if there’s a Villa Maria wine included, it’s very likely that it will feature among the leaders, especially if it’s one of the ‘Reserve’ or ‘Single Vineyard’ wines. Villa Maria dominated last year’s Air New Zealand Wine Awards Chardonnay class, and has done so again in the Chardonnay tasting as reported in Cuisine magazine for the May 2013 issue No. 158. Villa Maria group wines took out the top four places as well as seventh place in the ‘Top Ten’. It’s a testament to how the Villa Maria team has recognised the quality parameters for the finest expression of the variety, then grown the fruit and made the wine to fit into them. Of 118 wines judged, only 10 wines were rated 4 ½ stars and above, with 14 rated at 4-stars. This is a reflection of the difficult 2011 and 2012 vintages, and Cuisine’s writer John Saker notes “that adversity made Villa Maria’s achievement even more impressive”. www.cuisine.co.nz

Chardonnay Styles and Trends
Any enthusiast of Chardonnay recognises the trends towards more refined and complex styles that resemble the best examples of white burgundy from the Cote d’Or that is occurring across the world. However, it’s not a matter of dialling wines as it all too easy to misjudge the balance with wines that veer towards fault being the result. The judging panel led by veteran John Belsham, with experienced winemaker and judge Ben Glover, with Villa Maria’s senior winemaker Nick Picone noted the influence of the ‘struck match’ sulphide reduction in the styles that are being rewarded currently, in a special sidebar panel in the article. I’m certainly wary of too much, as essentially it is a fault, as I was taught in my early days of judging. When present in support of the fruit, it is an added layer of complexity that is highly valued. The bar has undergone a shift over the last decade with the character more recognised and tolerated, for sure.

In judging, it is crucial to recognise and reward quality across many styles, and it is good to see that the Cuisine panel also endorsed other styles in the ‘Top Ten’. The old, traditional, broad and buttery expressions are certainly less favoured now, and quite rightly as they develop dull, unexciting flat characters too quickly. However, there is no denying there is still a segment of the market that enjoy and actively seek out such ‘big and butter’ Chardonnays. At the other extreme, the unoaked style seems never to be appreciated in the same light as other more-worked wines. Will the bar ever shift with these? Genuine Chablis wines appear to be in a separate category and are loved by winemakers and consumers alike. Are unoaked or delicately oaked Chatrdonnays from everywhere else apart from that of the Chablis region that poor?

A point in the judging process should be noted. All wine shows discount a judges score if that judge has made a wine that is in the judging. Usually the scores of the remaining judges are only used, and often the scores of the chairman of judges are inserted into the mix, as can be the score from an associate judge who is upgraded to senior level. Thus the Cuisine results are not biased by Villa Maria’s winemaker Nick Picone being on the panel.

For the record, the ‘Top Ten’ New Zealand Chardonnays, in order are: Vidal ‘Legacy Series’ 2011, Villa Maria ‘Single Vineyard – Keltern’ 2011, Villa Maria ‘Reserve’ Hawke’s Bay 2011, Villa Maria ‘Reserve Barrique Fermented’ Gisborne 2011, and Kina Beach ‘Reserve’ 2010 – these rated 5-star, followed by Martinborough Vineyard 2011, Villa Maria ‘Single Vineyard – Taylors Pass’ 2010, Elephant Hill 2010, Hunter’s 2011 and Lawson’s Dry Hills 2009, these letter five gaining 4 ½ stars.

Viognier and Specialty Whites
The Viognier variety is usually assessed for the same issue of Cuisine magazine which features Chardonnay. Villa Maria again gained a top rating. The Villa Maria ‘Cellar Selection 2011 was judged first equal with Coopers Creek ‘SV Chalk Ridge’ 2011. Simon Nunns and Coopers Creek are also no strangers to Viognier success. Of 21 wines. the above two were the only 5-star wines. There were no 4 ½ star wines, but there were five 4-star wines. The Cuisine panel discussed the variation of style in Viognier still prevalent, asking the question: ”What style should New Zealand winemakers be aiming for?” “Too soon to tell” was the consensus.

The Cuisine panel also looked at 23 ‘Specialty Whites’, new and emerging varieties and styles. There were no 5-star wines, but there were three 4 ½ star wines which they decided to highlight equally. They were Brancott Estate ‘Letter Series – R’ Marlborough Sauvignon Gris 2011, Man O’ War ‘Gravestone’ Waiheke Island Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon 2012 and McCorkindale ‘Love Seafood’ 2011, a blend of Viognier, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Gewurztraminer.

Cuisine Wine Website
Followers of my ‘Blog’ articles will be aware of my concern with how Cuisine magazine is handling the wine content. Often, the tastings just don’t seem to be as comprehensive as they should be to be useful to the wine buyer. Also, the content is restricted, so that often there’s nothing but tasting notes and reviews. I had a good discussion with Kathie Bartley and Susan Buchanan of Cuisine who were very aware about these points, and it seems that the requirement of recognising and publishing reviews of the better wines in the tastings left no room for the important ‘other’ content.

Cuisine is about to launch a ‘Cuisine Wine’ website to put right these difficulties and hopefully restore Cuisine to its place as one of the most influential publications on New Zealand wine. The latest issue of Cuisine has a page advertising the launch of the website, inviting readers to sign up to receive the new wine e-newsletter. I’ve already done so, and am looking forward to the changes where there will be access to much more wine content. Go to www.cuisinewine.co.nz

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