Villa Maria 2013 Chardonnay – A Full Range Tasting

Villa Maria has proven to be one of the top Chardonnay producers in New Zealand. The track record of gold medal and trophy winning Chardonnay wines stretches past 30 years, and during all of that time, Villa Maria has stood among the leaders, if not dominating the field. Over the last decade, Villa Maria’s Chardonnays have been at the forefront of increasing elegance and complexity, and along with it, greater expression of minerality, site and regional, the wines becoming even more compatible with a greater range of foods and cuisines.

One of the controversial aspects that Villa Maria seems to have taken a stand on is the expression of complexing sulphides, which can be described as matchstick or gunflint-like. Three decades ago, this was seen as a winemaking fault, masking fruit and hardening the palate, but over the years, we have seen an increasing tolerance to this character, with the interpretation of it being an aspect of complexing interest. There is considerable discussion on this aspect of Chardonnay expression at present, with a number of proponents advocating its positive nature, especially in Australia. New Zealand has followed suite, but there is a more moderate approach to accepting it. I’ve come to appreciate these complex sulphides more over the last few years. As with all wine appreciation, the style goalposts change…

The Villa Maria wines, especially at the top level, in the ‘Reserve’ and ‘Single Vineyard’ labels have shown the complex sulphide characters in a most acceptable way, as confirmed by wine judging results. The Vidal wines, particularly in the ‘Legacy’ tier also exhibit these reductive characters strongly, but the Esk Valley wines tend not to. There is the perception that the complex sulphides can be ‘dialled up’, or enhanced, usually in vinification, with the processes of racking directly to barrel with the inclusion of high solids, and the influence of working the lees.

Is Gunflint an Expression of Site and Season?
Villa Maria’s senior Auckland winemaker Nick Picone, believes the sulphide characters are driven by site and season and that minimal intervention retains more of these characters in the finished wines. Degrees of intervention actually remove naturally occurring sulphides, according to Nick. It’s a subject that is the focus of many in the Villa Maria team at present. Indeed, looking closely at recent vintage releases, many of the 2010 Chardonnays display the character strongly. The 2011s less so, whereas some of the 2012s have a return to earlier levels. For me, it is noticeable that wines from the ‘Keltern’ vineyard in Hawke’s Bay possess it more than say the ‘Reserve Barrique Fermented’ wine from Gisborne, which comes from more than one site, incidentally. Nick states he is quite strict on sulphides, and that he and his team avoid sulphide expression in the more ‘commercial’ wines. They see that consumers who buy the more expensive wines accept and desire complexities and terroir-driven influences.

The 2013 Wines
In January this year, I had a preview of a selection of tank samples of 2013 Villa Maria Chardonnays, about to be bottled (click here to see my report). Those wines certainly displayed decreased expression of the reductive sulphide characters. Due to my inquisitiveness and interest, Nick thought it would be interesting to have a full range of 2013 Villa Maria Chardonnays assessed with respect to the reductive sulphide character, as well as style expression in general.

How did I find them? The wines express regionality strongly, first and foremost. The Marlborough wines are very intense with strong aromatic character and piquant acidity. The Hawke’s Bay wines are soft, broader, (riper?) and have a harmonious completeness. And the Gisborne wine shows breadth and openness. I’m still coming to understand the character of the Auckland wines, but they are closer to Hawke’s Bay in style to me. If there is a house-style, it is one of elegance and balance of all the componentry, the wines possessing lovely complex detail and interest. There’s hardly a hair out of place, yet the wines have features that put them ‘out there’. And the complex sulphide reduction character? This year, it is considerably more restrained and subtle. 2013 is now regarded as an excellent vintage generally, and outstanding in Hawke’s Bay and Gisborne. It would be difficult to put a seasonal commonality across all the wines, especially with the influences mentioned previously playing a strong role.

My reviews follow, and they are from the perspective of a consumer rather than a technician.


  • Villa Maria ‘Cellar Selection’ Marlborough Chardonnay 2013
  • Villa Maria ‘Cellar Selection’ Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay 2013
  • Villa Maria ‘Reserve’ Marlborough Chardonnay 2013
  • Villa Maria ‘Reserve’ Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay 2013
  • Villa Maria ‘Single Vineyard – Taylors Pass’ Marlborough Chardonnay 2013
  • Villa Maria ‘Single Vineyard – Keltern’ Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay 2013
  • Villa Maria ‘Single Vineyard – Ihumatao’ Auckland Chardonnay 2013
  • Villa Maria ‘Reserve Barrique Fermented’ Gisborne Chardonnay 2013

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