Geoff Kelly Wine Reviews
Independent reviews of some local and imported wines available in New Zealand, including earlier vintages.

Villa Maria has travelled a long way,  from its first vintage in 1962.  In particular,  the 2005 opening of the show-case winery and surrounding vineyard park west of the otherwise drearily industrial zone adjoining 118 Montgomerie Road,  Mangere,  Auckland,  has been an absolute milestone.  The winery and environs are becoming a lovely place to visit,  a veritable oasis in the zone,  primarily because it is restful and attractive,  and not ostentatious.  It reflects the ethos of the firm,  which remains a family affair,  the founder George Fistonich still very much running the show,  but now surrounded by first-class staff.  Among the latter,  though it is invidious to do so,  I single out chief winemaker Nick Picone,  who is demonstrating a wonderfully refreshing re-thinking of many long-established New Zealand winemaking shibboleths.  

When it comes to impressing winewriters and wine journalists,  Villa Maria takes a lot of beating.  This is the forté of the firm's genial Export Manager,  PR and marketing-man extraordinaire,  Ian Clark.  This guy is a phenomenon,  rather like the founder,  so low-key you are scarcely aware he is selling something.  He has been with the firm almost since the year dot,  and in the industry even longer –  almost nobody knows his origins.  [ For the record,  he started while still at school,  working part-time at Waikato Breweries with the encouragement of an industry leader of the day,  Harold Innes.  In 1965 he first met George Fistonich,  but soon after was involved with setting up Mission Vineyards as a commercial winery.  In 1982 George asked Ian if he would like to join his growing company,  and he has been a vital part of the firm ever since.]  Another great thing about Ian (and the firm's approach) is this:  any technical detail you need which can't be located on the firm's website,  he has the information back to you instantly.  He has a great knack with people:  I often think he must be the most-liked man in the entire wine industry.  

Thus it was that almost every winewriter and wine journalist in New Zealand came to be invited to assemble at 11 am at the winery,  on Monday 2 November,  to share in not only their release of the 2014 and sometimes 2013 Reserve and Individual Vineyard wines,  but also a sumptuous lunch.  This was in their restaurant,  the simple name of which (The Vineyard Café) belies its quality.  There were also two completely new older wines of the utmost importance,  designated Library Release.  Others will describe the meal in more loving detail than me.  My task was not to be seduced by the hospitality,  the presentation,  and the location,  but to focus on the wines both in their setting (to a degree),  but more importantly,  to take away samples to a more clinical atmosphere,  where I could both assess them closely,  and compare the reds with a later tasting of classical bordeaux,  happily the same evening.  In all 16 wines were presented,  ranging in price from $27 to $70.  Some of them are amongst the finest examples of their genre thus far made in New Zealand.  


2014  Villa Maria Chardonnay Barrique-Fermented Reserve
2014  Villa Maria Chardonnay Keltern Single Vineyard
2010  Villa Maria Chardonnay Library Release
2014  Villa Maria Chardonnay Single Vineyard Taylors Pass
Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, and related blends
2015  Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc Clifford Bay Reserve
2015  Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc Taylors Pass Single Vineyard
2015  Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc Templar Single-Vineyard Organic
2015  Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc Wairau Valley Reserve
Pinot Gris
2014  Villa Maria Pinot Gris Seddon Single Vineyard
Sweet / Sticky
  2012  Villa Maria Riesling Noble Reserve
All other white wines, blends, etc.
2013  Villa Maria Verdelho Ihumatao Single Vineyard Organic
Cabernet, Merlot, and related blends
2013  Villa Maria Cabernet Sauvignon / Merlot Reserve
2013  Villa Maria Merlot Braided Gravels Single Vineyard Organic
2010  Villa Maria Merlot / Cabernet Sauvignon Library Release
Cabernet / Shiraz
Pinot Noir
2013  Villa Maria Pinot Noir The Attorney Single Vineyard Organic
Syrah = Shiraz
2013  Villa Maria Syrah Gimblett Gravels Reserve
Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre & related blends
All other red wines, blends etc
From the Cellar. Older wines.

2010  Villa Maria Chardonnay Library Release   19 +  ()
Maraekakaho 75%,  Gimblett Gravels 25,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $60   [ screwcap;  all hand-picked,  the 75% Keltern vineyard immediately west of the Bridge Pa Triangle,  25% Ngakirikiri Vineyard,  Gimblett Gravels;  clone 55 is 75%,  clone 15 is 25;  both vineyards c.12 years age;  whole-bunch pressed,  some juice settling and some juice oxidation;  100% barrique-ferment,  88% wild-yeast ferments maintained 18 – 24°,  50% through MLF;  10 months in French oak 38% new,  plus older oak to 2 years, batonnage for 12 weeks only;  RS 1.9 g/L;  sterile-filtered;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
Straw,  still nearly with a lemon wash,  sensational colour for a five-year-old New Zealand chardonnay.  One sniff,  one sip,  and the short answer is:  this is one of the greatest chardonnays ever made in New Zealand.  And more importantly,  you discover that this wine has been created from the best (that is, the least-reduced) barrels of the 2010 Keltern Chardonnay (discussed below),  comprising 75% of the blend,  with 25% of the wine from Ngakirikiri vineyard.  The beauty and complexity of this wine absolutely proves the nonsense of 2010 Keltern ever being a Trophy and gold medal wine.  Yes,  even here,  there is a just-detectable trace of reduction,  but it can reasonably and constructively be described as gun-flint / gun-smoke / cracked greywacke / 'minerality',  intimately entwined with stunning fruit and mealy and toasty barrel fermentation  characters,  all producing smells very close to to crushed hazelnuts (or,  if you are particularly sensitive to it),  crushed walnuts.  The palate is magical,  great richness,  the peaches a little yellower now,  oak framing the fruit,  the mealy / nutty flavours and textures extending the palate marvellously.  Great New Zealand wine,  one to rejoice in,  and buy by the case,  quickly.  There are only 190 cases (of 12) available.  Cellar 5 – 15 or more years.  GK 11/15

2014  Villa Maria Chardonnay Barrique-Fermented Reserve   18 ½ +  ()
Gisborne,  New Zealand:  14%;  $37   [ screwcap;  hand-harvested mendoza 47% and clone 95,  whole-bunch pressed;  BF in French oak 40% new,  balance second year,  56% wild yeast,  75% MLF;  10 months LA and weekly batonnage,  RS 1.8 g/L;  no price increase in 10 years;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
Lemonstraw,  twice as deep as Keltern,  yet still more lemon than straw.  This is a much more regular chardonnay,  with the emphasis on the fruit,  not the artefact – thus showing the skills and versatility of the Villa Maria winemakers.  Bouquet shows rich white nectarine and pale peach stonefruits,  careful oak,  some mealy complexities,  and a hint of white mushrooms.  Palate is equally rich,  the oak still a bit prominent in youth,  great peachy and mealy flavours,  and good length.  Perhaps the alcohol is slightly high,  but it too will marry away.  In another couple of years there will be a palest buttery richness to the palate which will satisfy adherents to the 'big Californian-style chardonnay' school.  This is a very good Gisborne chardonnay indeed,  to cellar 3 – 15 years,  longer if you like old wines.  GK 11/15

2014  Villa Maria Chardonnay Keltern Single Vineyard   18  ()
Maraekakaho,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $35   [ screwcap;  hand-picked from a vineyard immediately west of the Bridge Pa Triangle,  maybe fractionally cooler than the Gimblett Gravels,  clone 15 60%,  clone 95 28%,  balance mendoza;  average vine age 16 years;  whole-bunch pressed,  some juice settling and some juice oxidation;  100% barrique-ferment and wild-yeast ferments maintained 18 – 24°,  all through MLF;  10 months in French oak 43% new,  plus older oak to 2 years, batonnage weekly throughout;  RS 2 g/L;  sterile-filtered;  one of New Zealand's high-profile chardonnays;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
Rich pale lemon,  fractionally deeper than the Taylors Pass wine.  Keltern is a contentious wine.  It has become trendy / fashionable to mark up reduced sulphur complexities in 'complexed' chardonnays,  under the influence of winemaker-judges sitting on judging and writing panels.  These people in discussion (and sometimes with a measure of vested interest) resort to oxymoron sophistries such as the term 'noble sulphides'.  And sheep-like,  both wine judges and winewriters immediately tag along.  What these people overlook is,  there is a large percentage of the population who are sensitive to reduced sulphurs,  and anything related to the Rotorua pong,  and simply do not like these smells at all.  It is a simple fact that surprisingly many winemakers,  wine judges and winewriters (let alone wine journalists) are insensitive to,  or even blind to,  reduction in wine.  So people are misled.  

Happily the Villa Maria winemakers do not fall into this camp,  but are exploratory,  and versatile.  Since their famous / infamous 2010 Keltern Chardonnay,  which was undrinkable to any normal palate but still won gold medals and Trophies (the sheep syndrome again),  they have backed off this aspect of 'complexity' in Keltern – somewhat.  They now consciously practice it as a seduction technique,  since medals in Competitions are important to them.  Personally,  I still protest,  but it works for them,  as explained.  So … freshly opened the wine is still pretty stinky.  If you are going to try one for dinner,  open it at midday,  pour it into a jug,  take another jug,  and pour the wine back and forth 8 – 10 times as splashily as you can.  Then leave it uncovered in a wide mouth jug till dinner-time.  On return you will find a transformation,  a wine with rich golden queen peach / stonefruit qualities remarkably entwined with mealy / toasty / barrel-ferment characters,  still some burnt toast,  but now all on the right side of the line.  Palate in youth is still a little hard,  but there is tactile rich Hawkes Bay-quality fruit of great length,  the fruit richness extended by barrel-ferment and perfect MLF practice to give a long,  long aftertaste.   If it tasted like this freshly opened,  it would be clearly a gold-medal wine,  and marked accordingly here,  but it doesn't,  so it isn't.  Cellar 5 – 15 years,  maybe 20,  in the sense I have shown 1986 Villa Maria Reserve Chardonnays (from Gisborne) twice in the last two years in formal tastings of 12 chardonnays,  and they still have much to say,  as old golden wines.  GK 11/15

2014  Villa Maria Chardonnay Single Vineyard Taylors Pass   17 +  ()
Awatere Valley,  Marlborough,  New Zealand:  14%;  $35   [ screwcap;  95% of the wine is hand-picked clone 95,  5% clone 5 chardonnay,  whole-bunch pressed;  all BF on highish solids in French oak 30% new,  a wild-yeast component;  all of the wine through MLF;  8 months LA in barrel;  RS 1 g/L;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
Gorgeous lemon.  Bouquet is unequivocal chardonnay,  white stonefruits mainly,  a mealy undertone,  slightly lactic,  high-volume.  Palate is not quite so good,  spirit seeming a bit high and making the oak too noticeable,  good fruit but the MLF component too apparent with lactic flavours,  and the acid noticeable too.  It may marry up in another couple of years,  but at this stage it is a caricature Marlborough chardonnay illustrating why Hawkes Bay is the premier New Zealand district for the grape.  This wine certainly has the richness to mellow and marry up in cellar,  so  the score gives it the benefit of the doubt.  Cellar 3 – 12 years.  GK 11/15

Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, and related blends
2015  Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc Taylors Pass Single Vineyard   18 ½ +  ()
Awatere Valley,  Marlborough,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $30   [ screwcap;  machine-harvested cool at night,  short skin contact,  all s/s fermentation again cool;  RS 3.1 g/L;  2015 seen as a quality year for Marlborough sauvignon;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
Good pale lemongreen,  twice the apparent weight of Templar.  Given the same caveat as for Templar,  the bouquet is immediately 'sweeter',  more complex,  and yet more 'regular' and desirable good Marlborough sauvignon than Templar.  It is characterised by beautifully aromatic black passionfruit aromas,  complexed with sweet sautéed red capsicums,  plus a hint of elderflower blossom.  Palate is a great improvement on the Templar,  being both richer and drier.  The richness and length of pure ripe sauvignon varietal character here is exemplary:  it must reflect a conservative cropping rate.  This wine is up there with the 'definitive' workaday Marlborough sauvignon,  Astrolabe Province,  but even for the quality of the wine,  $30 is expensive.  It's not really relevant that Cloudy Bay Sauvignon is more expensive again:  only name snobs buy it.  It's been years since that wine has been a leader in the Marlborough sauvignon game.  This is beautiful sauvignon,  to cellar 3 – 8 or  even 10 years,  if you like the changing flavours of sauvignon as it matures.  GK 11/15

2015  Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc Templar Single-Vineyard Organic   17 ½  ()
Awatere Valley,  Marlborough,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $30   [ screwcap;  machine-harvested cool at night,  short skin contact,  all s/s fermentation again cool;  RS 4 g/L;  2015 seen as a quality year for Marlborough sauvignon;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
Palest lemongreen.  Bouquet improves in the glass to show fairly classical modern Marlborough  sauvignon,  ripened to the black passionfruit stage of physiological maturity,  some red capsicum,  trace armpit,  only a suggestion of green.  Palate does not follow perfectly,  there immediately being a 'thyme and sage" savoury herbes quality giving the impression of drying the palate.  There is good fruit below,  but slightly firm phenolics masked by the sweetest residual in these four sauvignons.   Good wine,  but (though one ideally should not draw conclusions about current-vintage Marlborough sauvignons till 9 months have passed from vintage) not really Single Vineyard quality,  so too expensive,  I think. Cellar 3 – 8 years,  if you like older sauvignons.  GK 11/15

2015  Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc Clifford Bay Reserve   17 +  ()
Awatere Valley,  Marlborough,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $27   [ screwcap;  machine-harvested cool at night,  short skin contact,  all s/s fermentation again cool;  RS 3.2 g/L;  2015 seen as a quality year for Marlborough sauvignon;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
Glowing pale lemon with a wash of green,  exciting.  Again,  given the same caveat as for Templar,  the bouquet on this one illustrates a very particular phase of the sauvignon ripening curve and its ripening chemistry,  which the Brits rather like.  The key character can be summed up as elderflower blossom,  but here there is a clear sub-theme of snow-pea letting it down.  The days of green sauvignons are over.  Wine aroma / sensory researchers in the sauvignon field have an arcane lexicon of descriptors which appear to bear no relation to what the great majority of sauvignon blancs actually smell and taste like,  in the field,  one might say,  so I wonder how they describe this wine.  In mouth body is good,  the total acid seems a little high,  and the green notes become obtrusive,  making the wine seem phenolic.  There is some overlap with under-ripe English gooseberry,  but the phenolics are higher than comfortably matches that descriptor.  Interesting wine,  strictly for salads and suchlike,  I suspect.  Again,  too expensive.  Cellar 2 – 4 years,  only.  GK 11/15

2015  Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc Wairau Valley Reserve   14  ()
Wairau Valley,  Marlborough,  New Zealand:  13%;  $27   [ screwcap;  machine-harvested cool at night,  short skin contact,  all s/s fermentation again cool;  RS 3.3 g/L;  2015 seen as a quality year for  Marlborough sauvignon;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
Pale lemongreen,  a lovely colour.  And the good news ends there.  I can't imagine what the Villa winemakers were thinking about,  bottling this at all,  let alone as a Reserve wine.  For anybody old enough to recall,  this wine might aptly be named 'the gasworks sauvignon',  so laden is it with complex reduced sulphurs already including mercaptans.  This is not a question of a touch of thiol producing musky armpit characters,  as Saint Clair have perversely exploited with the help of uncritical wine judges,  via their Wairau Reserve.  Even that bouquet was offensive to anyone sensitive to complexed sulphurs,  and there are many people in that camp.  What the name of the pong is,  is irrelevant:  it is just unpleasant to many people.  The negative chemistry persists on the palate,  making it bitter,  and spoils otherwise good rich fruit.  An expensive mistake,  not to be cellared.  GK 11/15

Pinot Gris
2014  Villa Maria Pinot Gris Seddon Single Vineyard   18 ½ +  ()
Awatere Valley,  Marlborough,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $30   [ screwcap;  all hand-harvested;  whole-bunch pressed;  mostly s/s cool ferment,  20% fermented in older oak with wild-yeast;  RS 8 g/L;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
Pale lemongreen … with a shadow in it,  not quite the perfect hue of the sauvignons,  reflecting the red-pigmented skin of pinot gris berries.  After the rocky road through the sauvignons,  here is a bouquet of great florality,  precision,  accuracy and charm.  So many winemakers in New Zealand over-ripen pinot gris,  forgetting the grape is in the pinot family,  blindly following warmer-climate uncritical assumptions that bigger is better.  The result is lost florality,  exactly as in pinot noir.   Here there is enough appropriately ripe fruit to secure the exact pinot gris varietal aroma:  old-fashioned English primroses.  Below the florality is beautiful white stonefruit,  and the subtlest mealyness component from barrel fermentation in old oak.  The wishy-washy pear flesh characters marked up by so many unthinking commentators are completely absent – glory be.  Palate is even better:  this is one of those rare wines where the florality on bouquet permeates the palate totally.  Body is good in a pinot sense,  the barrel ferment components a model of how this technique should be employed with subtle varieties,  and the whole wine is simply gorgeous.  Ideally the residual sugar would be less than the 8 g/L present,  but you can't have everything.  This wine gives many an Alsatian or German pinot gris / rulander a run for its money.  It cries out for scallops.  Cellar 3 – 10 years.  GK 11/15

Sweet / Sticky
2012  Villa Maria Riesling Noble Reserve   18  ()
Wairau Valley,  Marlborough,  New Zealand:  10.5%;  $37   [ screwcap;  sequentially hand-harvested;  cool-fermented totally in s/s;  held in tank 10 months;  sterile-filtered;  RS 198 g/L;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
Fresh light gold.  Bouquet is sweet,  intense and pure,  Villa Maria over the years having shown unerring discrimination in weeding out any ignoble botrytis smells and flavours from their sweet wines,  in marked contradistinction to many New Zealand practitioners.  It is more botrytis-honeyed than varietal on bouquet,  so not immediately clearly riesling,  and there is also a faint suggestion of leaf.  You would swear there was a barrel-ferment component,  the bouquet having quite a mealy underlay,  but they are not admitting to it.  Palate is rich and sweet as you'd expect for a residual sugar of 198 g/L,  but there is a faint butterscotch quality to its flavour,  which lets it down slightly.  It is as if the raisined quality of the fruit is coming through too clearly,  simplifying the wine and reducing the freshness.  Perhaps this reflects the very late cool season,  and the protracted hang time,  in 2012.  It will be great with appropriate food,  but it is not quite magical.  Cellar 2 – 10 years:  I suspect it will not be one of the long-term ones.  GK 11/15

All other white wines, blends, etc.
2013  Villa Maria Verdelho Ihumatao Single Vineyard Organic   16 ½ +  ()
Mangere,  Auckland district,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $30   [ screwcap;  two picks,  first for citrus notes,  second for richer fruit;  20% of the wine BF in old oak only,  with full MLF for that fraction and some months on lees;  balance s/s;  RS 4.2 g/L;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
Lemongreen,  still,  two years later.  Bouquet is beautifully pure,  but quite empty.  One has to think hard to imagine a variety less relevant to New Zealand than verdelho,  it being little better than a distilling grape in its European homeland.  The Villa Maria Group have a 'thing' about it,  however.  Like the pinot gris,  this wine has a 20% barrel-ferment in old oak component,  adding complexity,  and this fraction is exemplary in its purity and subtlety.  But the base wine upon which their art is being practised is flavourless reasonably-bodied dry white,  tending phenolic though that aspect is neatly masked by 4 g/L residual sugar.  It reminds of some 'Hunter Riesling's of  bygone years,  though they were dry and less phenolic,  and other such things,  Houghton's White Burgundy also of yesteryear,  maybe.  Hard to score:  some say if this is good as verdelho can be in New Zealand,  it should get a gold medal.  But in truth,  that approach derails the industry.  The variety simply doesn't merit recognition.  You only need to taste the current Trinity Hill Marsanne / Viognier alongside,  to see the difference between noble grapes and near-worthless ones.  Even though this is pleasant dry white,  giving such a grape Single Vineyard status is extraordinary,  therefore.  If there is a (perverse) point to be made,  Villa's Cellar Selection label would achieve that more appropriately,  both ampelographically and monetarily.  Cellar a year or two.  GK 11/15

Cabernet, Merlot, and related blends
2013  Villa Maria Merlot Braided Gravels Single Vineyard Organic   19 +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $60   [ screwcap;  DFB;  Me 100%,  all hand-picked from c.12-year old vines planted at 2,775 vines / ha and cropped @ 6 t/ha = 2.4 t/ac;  cuvaison 21 – 28 days,  cultured-yeast;  MLF in barrel;  18 months in French oak c.35% new;  RS 0.24 g/L;  not sterile-filtered;  production 250 x 9-L cases;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  not as deep as the Cabernet / Merlot Reserves.  Like the Library Release 2010 Chardonnay,  here again one needs only one sniff,  one sip,  to say:  this is probably the most beautiful and perfect pure merlot ever made in New Zealand.  The depth of florality here,  bespeaking a perfection of ripening hard to achieve even in Bordeaux (as recent tastings of Chx Petrus and Trotanoy confirmed) indicates both great sensitivity on the part of the winemakers,  and the wisdom to pick before over-ripening.  Below the dark red-rose floral beauty is deep dark berry,  not quite cassis,  not quite blackberry,  more a particularly wonderful dark plum,  fragrant in the sun,  all nestled in gentle oak which will become cedary.  Palate is every bit as good,  a wine of total harmony,  great berry richness and plummyness,  oak still a little apparent,  immense promise.  I had this wine open alongside 2010 Ch Palmer,  and allowing for youth,  there are elements of shared beauty.  It is infinitely sad that wines like this,  the Reserve Syrah,  and the 2013 Trinity Hill Syrah Homage do not seem to be examined objectively by the British wine press.  Oh,  yes,  they are 'objective' by their own lights,  but they seem to not assess the wines in totally blind mixed line-ups,  with matching vintages of comparable Bordeaux,  Californian or northern Rhone wines.  So subconsciously,  because the wines are judged by them as New Zealand wines,  not the European wines they are used to and calibrated to,  the New Zealand wines are never marked totally blind and totally objectively.  And thus are scored lower,  quite subconsciously.  Buy as much of this stellar wine as you can afford,  keep it 10 years at least without touching it,  and then be prepared to be immensely proud of it,  as great New Zealand merlot.  Wine of this purity and delicacy simply cannot be made from a variety as subtle as merlot,  in Australia,  for climatic reasons.  It will be a reference wine for years to come.  Cellar 5 – 25 years,  and longer if you like old wine.  GK 11/15

2010  Villa Maria Merlot / Cabernet Sauvignon Library Release   18 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $70   [ screwcap;  Me 62%,  CS 38,  12 – 14 years age,  cropped at 5 t/ha = 2 t/ac;  25% hand-picked,  balance new-generation Pellenc Selectiv harvester;  cuvaison up to 28 days for Me,  up to 42 days for CS;  MLF in tank and barrel;  18 months in French oak 60% new;  RS nil;  not sterile-filtered;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
Ruby and velvet,  still almost some carmine,  remarkable,  near-identical to the great 2010 Ch Palmer,  seen the same day.  The quality of bouquet here is wonderful,  showing vibrant cassis-led berry of great excitement and freshness,  on darkly plummy fruit and potentially cedary oak.  It is very fragrant but not markedly floral,  more darkest roses melding with brown pipe tobacco,  totally bordeaux-like.  In mouth the freshness of cassisy berry is dramatic,  fruit weight is good but not quite the magic amplitude of the Braided Gravels Merlot,  and oak might be fractionally higher.  2010 in Hawkes Bay was not as ripe and beautiful as 2009,  and this wine therefore reflects a certain tautness.  But it is ripe and remarkably under-developed,  being under screwcap,  so its beauty and full flowering lies in the future.  This wine immediately sets the challenge:  is this the best cabernet / merlot blend in Hawkes Bay in 2010 ?  The fruit sweetness is phenomenal.  An essential wine for future 2010 New Zealand / Australia / Bordeaux / California  comparative tastings,  provided the wines are decanted to standard bottles so a certain class of taster cannot dismiss the wine,  having noticed (even in brown-bags) that it is closed with screwcap.  Cellar 5 – 20 years,  maybe longer.  GK 11/15

2013  Villa Maria Cabernet Sauvignon / Merlot Reserve   18 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $50   [ screwcap;  CS 75%,  Me 25, 100% hand-picked from c.14-year old vines planted at 3,125 vines / ha and cropped @ 5.5 t/ha = 2.2  t/ac;  cuvaison up to 28 days for Me,  up to 42 days for CS,  cultured-yeast;  MLF in tank and barrel;  18 months in French oak c.30% new;  RS 0.44 g/L;  not sterile-filtered;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  the second deepest of the Villa Maria reds.  Bouquet on this wine is nearly as beautiful as the Braided Gravels Merlot,  being deeply and darkly floral,  darkest roses and maybe violets,  on cassis-led darkly plummy fruit.  Below is fragrant oak,  potentially cedary.   Palate is not quite so exciting right now,  maybe simply reflecting its extreme youth,  there being great aromatic berry,  but also a firm tannic streak,  perfectly reasonable in a classic but very young bordeaux blend.  This definitely needs to cellar at least five years,  preferably 10,  to harmonise.  At the moment,  2013 Trinity Hill The Gimblett is a more advanced,  mellow and bordeaux-like wine,  its colour suggesting a rather different elevation.  Its not quite as rich though,  I suspect,  this Villa achieving the magic 30 g/L dry extract.  Cellar the Villa Reserve 10 – 25 years,  at least:  it will be an investment well worth making,  as the score suggests.  GK 11/15

Pinot Noir
2013  Villa Maria Pinot Noir The Attorney Single Vineyard Organic   17 +  ()
Southern Valleys,  Wairau Valley,  Marlborough,  New Zealand:  14%;  $60   [ screwcap;  hand-harvested,  100% de-stemmed then 10 days cold-soak;  14 months in French oak 20% new;  RS nil;  minimal filtration;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
Big pinot noir ruby.  Bouquet is on the big and weighty side for pinot noir,  very pure,  fragrant and floral to a degree / in an unusual way,  almost a perfumed pink / cream roses as well as darker roses,  on burly fruit which by-passes cherry as a descriptor,  offering more omega plums (fresh and bottled).  There is an undertone I can't quite place,  perhaps hinting at aniseed.  Palate is very rich pinot noir,  but again burly rather than fine,  quite aromatic,  flavours of blackboy peach and bottled plums,  quite a lot of oak still to marry away,  distinctly unusual but just squeaking into the conventional concept of pinot noir.  May marry up and harmonise,  and rate higher,  but for now,  not quite the perfect pinot – too big.  Cellar 5 – 12 years.  GK 11/15

Syrah = Shiraz
2013  Villa Maria Syrah Gimblett Gravels Reserve   19  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $60   [ screwcap;  Sy 100%,  25% hand-picked from c.14-year old vines planted at c.3,125 vines / ha and cropped @ c.5.8 t/ha = 2.3 t/ac; cuvaison 21 – 28 days,  no whole-bunch component,  cultured-yeast;  17 months in French oak 35% new,  with MLF in barrel;  RS 0.34 g/L;  not sterile-filtered;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  the deepest and brightest of the reds.  Bouquet is simply reference-quality straight Hermitage-style syrah,  showing classic wallflower florals and fresh-cracked black peppercorn spice,  on deep dark cassisy berry,  with underlying very dark plum qualities plus new oak.  Flavour is sensationally concentrated,  again comparable with the finest Hermitage,  but the wine is a little new oaky,  at this stage.  Even greater syrah beauty would be apparent with a much lower ratio of new oak,  say half the present.  Even so the wine has the fruit weight (>30 g/L dry extract) and volume to marry away the oak,  over 10 years or so.  2013 was such a strong vintage for reds in Hawkes Bay,  there may well be other contenders,  but for the moment,  this Reserve Villa Syrah and 2013 Trinity Hill Homage form the flankers of a wonderful suite of glorious Hawkes Bay syrah wines. The Villa Maria is the 'straight' syrah,  with no whole bunch component,  more Hermitage in style,  and the Homage as soon as you have it alongside can be seen to be totally different,  more floral, more Cote Rotie,  reflecting its 30% whole-bunch component.  Both wines are benchmark quality.  Exhilarating wine,  to buy as much as is practical,  and wait.  Under screwcap,  it will be slower to evolve than under cork.  Cellar 10 – 25 years.  GK 11/15