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


Geoff Kelly,  MSc Hons

Vina Aquitania
Vina Aquitania is a joint venture between some noteworthy partners:  Bruno Prats (formerly owner Ch Cos d'Estournel),  the late Dr Paul Pontallier (formerly winemaker Ch Margaux),  Felipe de Solminihac (Chilean consultant winemaker of French origin,  now general manager of Vina Aquitania),  and Ghislain de Montgolfier (Champagne,  formerly president Champagne Bollinger).  Given that the pedigree for Vina Aquitania includes some of the big names of the wine world,  I attended this presentation of their new-to-New Zealand wines in Wellington with considerable interest.  The tasting was led in a pleasantly engaging manner by the son of one of the four partners,  Commercial Director Eduardo de Solminihac.  

Vina Aquitania have their headquarters in the famous Maipo Valley wine-making district,  33.5 degrees south,  close to Santiago.  Here at 700 m asl they have 18 ha planted to cabernet sauvignon and syrah,  all on their own roots.  Chile has managed to remain free of phylloxera,  thanks to  the original planting stock being brought to Chile before phylloxera reached Europe.  The winery also has a cool-climate vineyard in the Malleco Valley,  650 km south of Santiago.  That site is c.125 m asl,  at 38 degrees south,  still north of Gisborne in New Zealand terms,  but the Andes have a profound effect on climate.  It is planted to sauvignon blanc,  chardonnay and pinot noir.

Vina Aquitania see themselves as a small-scale,  high-quality producer,   combining all the tradition and skills of Europe and France,  with lower production costs in Chile.  Total production is surprisingly small,  at c.15,000 x 9-litre cases per annum.  They produce two series of wines.  The introductory one is confusingly labelled Reserva:  Rosé,  Cabernet Sauvignon,  Carmenere and Chardonnay.  The premium series wines are mainly under the Sol de Sol designation (sun and soil),  comprising:  Methode Champenoise Brut Nature,  Sauvignon Blanc,  Chardonnay,  Pinot Noir,  and the top 100% Cabernet Sauvignon,  named Lazuli for the precious stone (though lapis lazuli being blue,  the reasoning is not clear).  Some of these wines are in very limited quantity,  the Brut Nature for example less than 100 x 9-litre cases.

I have had an interest in Chilean wine since then-prominent wine merchant T & W Young first introduced Wellingtonians to the wines of Concha y Toro,  and then Cousino Macul,  in the early 1970s.  It has always seemed to me that climatically and topographically,  it would be (or should be) Chile more than Australia,  which provided critical competition for New Zealand's emerging vinifera wine industry.

The conspicuous feature of the Cousino Macul wines of the 1970s was their subtlety,  relative to the Chilean field then.  So I noted with interest that Eduardo cited Cousino Macul as a role model for their endeavours. In the end,  however,  I came away from the tasting feeling that the prestige of the partners was not sufficiently reflected in the wines,  to justify the prices Glengarry are asking for them.  The fact of the matter is that New Zealand is now (at best) producing some remarkable wines in the French style,  and although the price of prestige wines in New Zealand is currently (and unwisely in my view) going through the roof,   nonetheless there are still fantastic values to be had in labels such as the Villa Maria Cellar Selection range.  None of these Vina Aquitania wines seem conspicuously better than that range,  for example,  yet some of the prices are appreciably higher.


1999  Te Mata Sauvignon Blanc Cape Crest
2015  Vina Aquitania Cabernet Sauvignon Lazuli
2016  Vina Aquitania Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva
2017  Vina Aquitania Carmenere Reserva
  2013  Vina Aquitania Chardonnay Sol de Sol
2012  Vina Aquitania Pinot Noir Sol de Sol
2017  Vina Aquitania Rosé
2015  Vina Aquitania Sauvignon Blanc  Sol de Sol

2015  Vina Aquitania Sauvignon Blanc  Sol de Sol   17 ½  ()
Malleco Valley,  Chile:  12.5%;  $ –    [ cork,  46mm;  no price because not imported into New Zealand;  SB 100% all hand-harvested;  all BF in older barrels,  after two months into s/s;  bottled after 12 months;  www.aquitania.cl ]
Lemongreen,  fresh and vital.  Bizarrely,  Glengarry sequenced this wine (and the chardonnay) after the reds.  One sniff and this is closer to Graves than it is to Marlborough.  Thus it wouldn't do at all for all the blinkered New Zealand sauvignon faddists ignorant of the wines of the world (including sadly some me-too winewriters) who say sauvignon blanc must be drunk within 18 months of harvest.  The closest New Zealand sauvignon would be Te Mata Cape Crest.  The wine is very fragrant,  more hints of fragrant grasses and grapefruit,  no capsicums,  only a trace of sweet basil.  Palate is long,  tending soft but some varietal aromatics,  wonderfully food-friendly,  the touch of oak firming the finish.  A very attractive style,  but you can understand why Glengarry don't import it.  Our market being so rigid / narrow-minded,  better Aquitania send it to the United Kingdom,  where it would be appreciated.  The more I tasted it,  the more I thought about Cape Crest,  in the end opening an older one just to check – see the next review.  Like Cape Crest,  this style of sauvignon will cellar for 5 – 12,  maybe 15 years.  GK 09/18

1999  Te Mata Sauvignon Blanc Cape Crest   18 ½  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13%;  $ –    [ cork,  47mm high-quality;  probably SB 100% at that stage,  hand-harvested;  BF in French oak around 30% new,  then 6 – 8 months LA with some batonnage,  nil MLF,  nil RS;  www.temata.co.nz ]
Glowing rich lemon,  a sensational colour.  Bouquet shows sweet vernal,  English gooseberry and green kiwifruit aromas,  complexed with a hint of sweet basil,  plus lees autolysis / barrel ferment qualities which have a suggestion of crushed oyster-shell to them.  Total bouquet is sophisticated,  enticing,  and almost saliva-inducing.  It just cries out for sea-foods.  Flavour is a little stronger than the bouquet descriptors,  resting on bottled English gooseberries and white stonefruits,  in which there is sweet basil and suggestions of bouquet garni,  but scarcely any sign of even sautéed red capsicum.  Oak is fractionally high for perfect harmony with food.  Nonetheless there is beautiful fruit weight and length,  and a dry / stony / mineral finish,  all with no suggestions of undue age.  

This is sauvignon blanc beautifully ripened in an international sense,  no hints of Marlborough,  yet still retaining freshness and excitement.  It is the barrel work and elevation complexity which makes the wine so compelling.  It is little short of a national tragedy that New Zealanders have been so brain-washed by ill-informed winewriters,  to believe that sauvignon blanc does not cellar.  This wine is the vivid embodiment of the nonsense of such views.  But to achieve this excellence,  the fruit must be ripened appropriately,  cropped conservatively,  and then fermented and raised with respect to Bordeaux tradition,  not Marlborough.  Kudos to Peter Cowley,  Te Mata chief winemaker.  A wonderful wine at the peak of maturity.  GK 09/18

2013  Vina Aquitania Chardonnay Sol de Sol   18  ()
Malleco Valley,  Chile:  13%;  $43   [ cork,  50mm;  Ch 100% planted in 1993,  all hand-harvested at 4 t/ha = 1.6 t/ac (which is noteworthy for us in New Zealand);  all BF in French oak 10 – 15% new,  c.5% through MLF,  twice-weekly batonnage,  8 months in barrel;  production c.650 x 9-litre cases;  www.aquitania.cl ]
Lemonstraw to straw.  Note the vintage,  yes,  this is the current release.  You feel the wine has had a somewhat reductive upbringing,  but unlike the New Zealand market,  the winemakers have the grace to not inflict it on the consumer while it is still offensively youthful and reductive.  There is now some shy stonefruit augmented by lees-autolysis on bouquet,  a smokey suggestion retaining threads of reduction,  the whole bouquet understated.  Palate manages to be both moderately rich,  attractively ripe with suggestions of peach fruit even including golden queen,  yet also austere,  a chardonnay in the style of some grand cru chablis,  but a little more oak.  Some of the flavours also remind of certain West Australian chardonnays with little or no MLF,  but the Chilean wine is tauter,  with seemingly natural acid.  Attractive and interesting wine which will cellar well,  5 – 15 years or longer,  but at $43 it is looking expensive.  GK 09/18

2017  Vina Aquitania Rosé   17 ½ +  ()
Maipo Valley,  Chile:  13.5%;  $20   [ screwcap;  CS 90%,  Sy 10,  all hand-harvested;  made by the saignée approach,  run off after 3 – 4 hours skin contact,  then all s/s ferment etc;  RS 3 g/L;  www.aquitania.cl ]
A pretty pink rosé,  a little redder than salmon in hue.  Bouquet is immediately clean and fragrant,  totally vinifera but not obviously varietal,  attractive and refreshing,  substantial,  not wishy-washy like so many pinot noir rosés.  The instant you taste it,  it is clearly a rosé made via saignée,  a serious wine showing attractive drying tannins which will make it very versatile with food.  It has good body and mouth feel,  and a lovely long but still scarcely-varietal flavour,  in which the residual is pretty well invisible.  At $20 it competes with the best New Zealand rosés,  and shows up well.  Cellar to 5 years,  to gain bouquet and complexity.  GK 09/18

2012  Vina Aquitania Pinot Noir Sol de Sol   17 +  ()
Malleco Valley,  Chile:  13.5%;  $43   [ cork,  46mm;  PN 100% planted 2002,  all hand-harvested;  all de-stemmed,  some fermented in oak containers,  12 months in French oak,  some new;  www.aquitania.cl ]
Elegant pinot noir-weight ruby,  some development appropriate to its age.  Again this is the current-vintage – a pity a withholding policy does not prevail for the Carmenere.  Bouquet is understated,  clearly varietal,  hints only of florals,  a dry savoury version of pinot noir more Martinborough than Otago,  interesting.  Palate shows true pinot noir flavours,  Pommard as an analogy springs to mind,  that is,  relatively simpler and less fragrant than Cote de Nuits,  beautifully judged oak,  not a big wine but attractive drinking.  Cellar 2 – 6 years.  GK 09/18

2017  Vina Aquitania Carmenere Reserva   16  ()
Maipo Valley,  Chile:  13.5%;  $26   [ cork,  50mm;  Ca 80 – 85%,  grapes contract-grown,  planted 1993,  CS 15 – 20;  minimal oak,  all the wine 3 – 4 months in used barrels only;  for New Zealand,  significant to record that the Chileans consider carmenere  requires a warmer site than cabernet sauvignon;  www.aquitania.cl ]
Lurid carmine and ruby,  some velvet.  The colour is a worry,  and the bouquet confirms it.  The logic of importing a far too young and still fermentation-reductive example of an 'unknown' variety into New Zealand is beyond me.  The answer I was given is,  the previous vintage is sold out.  Therefore if Glengarry wanted to proceed,  they should put it all in warm / ambient storage for a year before release.  Behind the reduction there is potentially fragrant darkly plummy fruit trying to be heard.  Palate is (apart from the dulling and hardening reduction) clean,  dry and reasonably rich,  more merlot flavours than cabernet sauvignon,  but selling this at $26 looks hard.  There is nothing 'Reserva' about the quality of this wine.  All of this is pretty sad,  because carmenere is a variety we need to know more about in New Zealand.  Cellar 5 – 15 years,  noting Eduardo commented it is best before 10 years.  Not so with this degree of reduction,  I suggest.  GK 09/18

2016  Vina Aquitania Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva   16 ½ +  ()
Maipo Valley,  Chile:  14%;  $26   [ supercritical Diam cork,  45mm;  CS 90% planted 1991,  Sy 10,  all hand-harvested at c. 5t / ha (2 t/ac),  vines planted 1991;  8 months in second,  third and fourth-year French oak;  www.aquitania.cl ]
Ruby,  some development showing,  surprisingly light.  Bouquet immediately has the Chilean slightly earthy note which differentiates so many Chilean cabernets from Bordeaux on the one hand,  or Hawkes Bay / Waiheke Island on the other.  Behind that,  there is muted cassis and red plum in a bouquet of good vinosity,  including a suggestion of oak.  Palate is more Bordeaux than Hawkes Bay,  a drier presentation of cabernet sauvignon than many in New Zealand,  clean berry,  balanced oak,  totally unshowy.  I can certainly see the link to those Cousina Macul cabernets of the 1970s,  which like this wine,  were understated.  This is much more what one would expect from the title Reserva.  It should cellar well,  5 – 12 years,  in its tending-austere style.  Again at $26,  it is not a bargain.  GK 09/18

2015  Vina Aquitania Cabernet Sauvignon Lazuli   17 +  ()
Maipo Valley,  Chile:  14.5%;  $53   [ cork,  50mm;  CS 100%,  planted 1991,  all hand-harvested;  16 months in French oak,  30% new;  intended to be more age-worthy than the Reserva;  www.aquitania.cl ]
Ruby,  a little lighter and older than the Reserva.  Again bizarrely,  this wine was presented not alongside its sister Cabernet Reserva,  but after an interpolated pinot noir.  Like the Reserva it shows some of the Chilean regional earthy quality,  and rather more cedary oak.  There is good berry,  but it is hard to characterise.  Palate is clean,  fresh,  seemingly natural but firm acid,  quite long berry flavours suggesting muted cassis and red plum,  extended by oak to a max.  Again this is closer to the Medoc than to New Zealand,  but it is reserved even in comparison with there.  It is richer than the Reserva,  and needs to be at $53.  Cellar 5 – 15 years,  maybe 20.  GK 09/18