The combination of New Zealand’s most successful wine company at wine shows, with one of the most highly awarded restaurants in the country promised to be something exceptional. Villa Maria’s Alastair Maling MW, group winemaker, was to show a strong selection of ‘Single Vineyard’ and ‘Reserve’ wines at a tasting and have his wines served at a lunch prepared and cooked by Martin Bosley. Both the wines and the food served could be seen as works of art, but when it came down to it, both wine and food were to be consumed and enjoyed – and they were.
The first wine was the Villa Maria Methode Traditionnelle NV (17.5/20), a blend of 68% Pinot Noir and 32% Chardonnay, tight and elegant with subtle aldehyde and yeasty autolysis on an acid-tinged palate. I’ve seen this look a little more complex in the past, but it’s a great first effort at this specialist style. Alastair hinted that the next release, a 2006 vintage with more Chardonnay will be a step up. However, sensational was the Villa Maria ‘Reserve Wairau Valley’ Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2010 (18.5+/20), dense and concentrated with pungent passionfruit characters, tight but simultaneously succulent, with a long dry finish. A new varietal released lately was the Villa Maria ‘Cellar Selection’ Hawke’s Bay Arneis 2010 (17.5/20), with steely, fresh stonefruits and a mouthwatering, and racy, crisp palate. Following was the Villa Maria ‘Reserve’ Marlborough Dry Riesling 2009 (18.0-/20), very backward, steely and minerally, nearly austere, with huge acidity and fruit extract. This will age 7-9+ years. The wine sits at 11.0% alc. and 8 g/L rs. The Villa Maria ‘Single Vineyard – Ihumatao’ Auckland Gewurztraminer 2008 (18.0+/20) displays ginger and spice, with lovely subtlety and finesse, rather than florals, and the palate blossoms with oiliness and unctuous textures, and a decadent, sweetish finish. Many tasters enjoyed the Villa Maria ‘Single Vineyard – Seddon’ Marlborough Pinot Gris 2010 (18.0-/20) with its classical pear, spice and stonefruit aromas and flavours, gently building, with a soft, beguiling, sweetly luscious finish. Finishing the aromatic white brigade was the Villa Maria ‘Single Vineyard – Ihumatao’ Auckland Verdelho 2010 (17.5+/20), showing exotic stonefruit aromas and flavours, with hints of tropical fruits, and fresh, lively, racy acidity, but excellent palate presence.
The serious whites began with a brace of Chardonnays. The Villa Maria ‘Reserve’ Marlborough Chardonnay 2007 (18.5-/20) has mature aromas that melded ripe citrus fruits with mealiness, spicy oak, malo butterscotch and a little hint of oxidation now. However, the palate is rich and dense with mouthfilling flavours. This was paired with the Villa Maria ‘Reserve Barrique Fermented’ Gisborne Chardonnay 2009 (18.5+/20), full of ripe yellow stonefruits and melons, a fulsome wine that also seems tight for all its boldness. This has a long and sustained finish, with beautifully balanced oak. Then a pair of Viogniers. The Villa Maria ‘Cellar Selection’ Hawke’s Bay Viognier 2010 (18.0+/20) has a firm and concentrated apricotty aroma and palate, robust and with plenty of weight, quite clear-cut in varietal expression. The Villa Maria ‘Single Vineyard – Omahu Gravels’ Hawke’s Bay Viognier 2008 (18.0+/20) is showing savoury, development, complex earthiness on bouquet, and a powerful, textured and luscious palate that combines excellent apricotty flavours along with some aging nuances. Finishing the whites was the Villa Maria ‘Cellar Selection’ Marlborough Late Harvest Riesling 2009 (19.0/20), shy and taut on nose, revealing delicate honey and lime notes, and a lovely sweet, rich, lush palate marked by beautiful botrytis.
The reds began with the Villa Maria ‘Cellar Selection’ Marlborough Pinot Noir 2009 (19.0-/20), elegant, supple, but still tightly concentrated with a lovely core of fruit, the sweetness and lusciousness perfectly backed by good tannin backbone. A good comparison was the Villa Maria ‘Reserve’ Marlborough Pinot Noir 2008 (18.5+/20) showing layers of aromatic characters from florals, spices and herbs to mushroomy secondary notes, and a seriously constructed palate with finesse and length. A surprise was the Villa Maria ‘Reserve’ Gimblett Gravels Hawke’s Bay Grenache 2007 (18.5-/20) with 7.5% Syrah and 6.5% Malbec, aged in French oak, this has an atractive earthy-sweet oaky lift and ripe sweet red berry fruited flavours with density and ripe tannins. This seems very ‘Spanish’ in expression.
The Bordeaux varietals began with the Villa Maria ‘Cellar Selection’ ‘Organic’ Gimblett Gravels Hawke’s Bay Merlot 2009 (18.5+/20), deliciously bright and plump with dark plum flavours on a supple, accessible, fine-grained palate that shouts “drink me now!”. At the serious end of the scale was my wine of the tasting, the Villa Maria ‘Reserve’ Gimblett Gravels Hawke’s Bay Cabernet/Merlot 2008 (19.5/20), with bright black berryfruit and dark plum aromas, polished with spicy new oak, and a classically fine-textured and well-structured palate with beautifully sweet, ripe fruit. Almost decadent, but oh so stylish and lush. Then the new star varietal, Syrah. The Villa Maria ‘Cellar Selection’ Hawke’s Bay Syrah 2009 (18.0+/20) has spicy black pepper and florals, intense and concentrated in a drier, rather than sweet fruited style. This will develop more gamey elements with time. The final wine of the tasting, the Villa Maria ‘Reserve’ Hawke’s Bay Syrah 2007 (18.5-/20) is very rich and ripe with firm densely-packed flavours of black fruits and spices, just entering a complex and savoury stage. Tight, fine textures ensure a good future ahead.
The entrée was Citrus custard, wild snapper sashimi, salmon roe, jamon de bellota cream and Marcona almonds. Very fine textured, fresh and delicate fish, sweetened and smoked by the cream, enriched in texture too by the custard and the distinctive, fresh nuttiness of the almonds made this another palate teasing start. The wines served were: Villa Maria ‘Single Vineyard – Keltern’ Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay 2009 (18.5+/20), pale straw-yellow with slight green hues, this has a very stylish, restrained yellow stonefruit and citrus fruit nose complexed by a little reduction. Very fine, tight and concentrated on palate, this is truly elegant, with a leanness and sinewy backbone to the fruit, and finely balanced oak along with complexing sulphides, very much in the contemporary white burgundian model. And the Villa Maria ‘Single Vineyard – Taylors Pass’ Marlborough Chardonnay 2007 (19.0+/20), pale straw-yellow with youthful green hues, the bouquet is marked by sulphides covering mealy stonefruit aromas. On palate, this is marvellously rich with citrus fruits and layers of mealy notes, nuts, toast oak, along with fresh acidity. The richness and full textures, weight and power are the features and more than compensate for the reductive bouquet. This will keep another 4-5 years. The latter wine maintained its integrity with all the food components, its power and depth of flavour too much for the delicacy of the fish. Creamy textures of both wine and food worked well together here. The more subtle nature of the ‘Keltern’ picked up on the sweetness of the roe and the fish. The oak component of both wines and the jamon and almonds in the entrée intensified each other.
The main course was Duck and smoked eel pie, pea puree, braised oxtail juices and prunes. The pie very much eel in flavour and distinctly salty, but very much shredded duck in texture. The prunes were a powerful feature on the plate and palate. The wines served were firstly the Villa Maria ‘Single Vineyard – Southern Clays’ Marlborough Pinot Noir 2008 (19.0-/20), dark purple-red in colour, this has rich, lush and dense, yet open dark cherry-berry aromas and a beautifully rich, plump and plummy dark-fruited palate with an iron core underneath. Fine supple tannins back the fruit and the flavours blossom on the finish. This was followed by the Villa Maria ‘Reserve’ Hawke’s Bay Merlot 2007 (19.0/20), very dark, near impenetrable black-red with youthful, purple hues to the colour. This has a powerful, concentrated nose of cassis, violets, minerals and ink. The palate is powerful with plenty of primary black plum fruits, ink and florals, and the most subtle nuances of smoky meat and game lurking. Tannins are significant and the fresh acid will ensure 15 years of development ahead. The Pinot Noir was too light in flavour and texture for the pie and prunes, while the Merlot was too concentrated and flavoursome for the pie. Here the sweetness of the prunes clashed with the dryness of the wine. The Grenache was deemed to be intermediate in style and an ideal match to the dish.
Finishing was an unpasteurised cheese – Tomme de Savoie, with seasoned grapes and crackers. Gently firm and dry with excellent aged, but mild creamy notes.