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


The Villa Maria group of wineries must be the most pro-active in the New Zealand industry.  Not content with numerous medal awards in October / November wine competitions in New Zealand and Australia,  in the second week of November they toured a Roadshow through several New Zealand cities.  A comprehensive range of wines from their three main wineries Villa Maria,  Esk Valley and Vidals was shown,  plus new labels Northrow,  and Thornbury.  Where exactly the latter two fit in is yet to be made explicit.

The following reviews catch most of the wines shown,  with the exception of chardonnays.  The pinot noirs are in a separate article dated 25/11/05,  with some other New Zealand pinots.  With the goal of increasing objectivity,  or not being captured by the house style,  all these Villa family wines were evaluated in a series of blind tastings,  alongside approximately equal numbers of other well-regarded New Zealand examples of each variety.  Emerging strengths for the Group lie in pinot gris,  and the Bordeaux-styled Hawkes Bay Blends.


Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, and related blends
2004  Esk Valley Sauvignon Blanc Black Label
2005  [ Villa Maria ] Northrow Sauvignon Blanc
2004  [ Villa Maria ] Thornbury Sauvignon Blanc Steve Bird
2005  Vidal Sauvignon Blanc
   nv  Villa Maria Riverstone Sauvignon Blanc
2005  Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc Cellar Selection
2005  Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc Clifford Bay Reserve
2005  Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc Private Bin
2005  Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc Taylor’s Pass Single Vineyard Reserve
2005  Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc Wairau Valley Reserve
2004  Esk Valley Riesling Black Label
2004  Vidal Riesling
2003  Villa Maria Riesling Cellar Selection
2005  Villa Maria Riesling Private Bin
2005  Villa Maria Riesling Reserve
2005  Villa Maria Riesling Taylor’s Pass Single Vineyard Reserve
Pinot Gris
2005  Esk Valley Pinot Gris Black Label
2005  [ Villa Maria ] Thornbury Pinot Gris Steve Bird
2005  Villa Maria Pinot Gris Cellar Selection
2005  Villa Maria Pinot Gris Private Bin
2005  Villa Maria Pinot Gris Single Vineyard Seddon Reserve
2004  Villa Maria Gewurztraminer Keltern Single Vineyard Reserve
2005  Villa Maria Gewurztraminer Private Bin
Sweet / Sticky
All other white wines, blends, etc.
2005  Esk Valley Rosé Merlot / Malbec Black Label
Cabernet, Merlot, and related blends
2004  Esk Valley Merlot Black Label
2004  Esk Valley Merlot / Cabernet Sauvignon / Malbec Black Label
2002  Esk Valley Merlot / Malbec / Cabernet Reserve
1998  Vidal Cabernet Sauvignon Joseph Soler
2003  Vidal Cabernet Sauvignon / Merlot
2002  Vidal Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve
2000  Vidal Merlot / Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve
2003  Villa Maria Cabernet Sauvignon / Merlot Cellar Selection
2002  Villa Maria Malbec Single Vineyard Omahu Reserve
2004  Villa Maria Merlot / Cabernet Sauvignon Private Bin
2000  Villa Maria Merlot / Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve
2004  Villa Maria Merlot Private Bin
2002  Villa Maria Merlot Reserve
Cabernet / Shiraz
Pinot Noir
Syrah = Shiraz
2004  Vidal Syrah
2004  Villa Maria Syrah Private Bin
Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre & related blends
All other red wines, blends etc
From the Cellar. Older wines.

Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, and related blends
2005  Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc Cellar Selection   18 ½  ()
Wairau & Awatere Valleys,  Marlborough,  New Zealand:  14%;  $22   [ screwcap;  some LA including stirring;  2005 not on website,  2004 was 2 g/L RS;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
Lemongreen.  Like the Private Bin wine,  this is sauvignon taken up the ripeness scale,  so there is no hint of green or yellow capsicums,  but more emphasis on honeysuckle,  black passionfruit,  and stone fruits.  Palate goes on to show wonderful fruit,  subtle phenolics,  great varietal flavour with now some suggestions of reddest capsicums in the black passionfruit,  perfect acid,  and less sweetness than most in the ‘dry’ class.  Though the alcohol is higher than is optimal for finesse in sauvignon blancs,  it is well hidden.  Cellar to 10 years.  GK 11/05

2005  Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc Private Bin   18  ()
Wairau & Awatere Valleys,  Marlborough,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $17   [ screwcap; 2005 not on website,  2004 was 4.5 g/L RS;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
Pale lemongreen.  A wonderfully sweet ripe bouquet,  showing sauvignon taken to a ripeness level where it can be confused with riesling,  but because of the magic of the Marlborough climate with its strong diurnal variation,  the wine retains the natural acid and structure of the variety.  So while there may be even a hint of lilium florals on bouquet,  there is also honeysuckle and black passionfruit.  On palate it immediately snaps into focus as ripe sauvignon blanc,  red capsicum,  honeysuckle and black passionfruit again,  a long flavour fractionally sweeter than some sauvignons.  There is good acid,  and lovely balance,  without excessive alcohol.  Cellar to 8 years.  This is a sauvignon for those who find mainstream Marlborough sauvignon too strong.  GK 11/05

2004  [ Villa Maria ] Thornbury Sauvignon Blanc Steve Bird   18  ()
Wairau & Awatere Valleys,  Marlborough,  New Zealand:  13%;  $20   [ screwcap;  the relationship between Villa Maria and Thornbury is not clear on either www.villamaria.co.nz,  or the not-recently-updated www.thornburywines.com ]
Good lemongreen.  There is a more complex bouquet on this wine,  with ripe sauvignon smells but also some suggestions of extended lees-autolysis,  and even a hint of celery / mixed herbes.  There are reminders of Graves here.  Palate is intriguing,  with again more complexity than mainstream sauvignon blanc,  flavoursome,  good fruit,  a sweet vernal hint as if some ripe semillon in the blend,  long in mouth.  Cellar 3 – 5 years.  GK 11/05

2005  [ Villa Maria ] Northrow Sauvignon Blanc   17 ½  ()
Wairau & Awatere Valleys,  Marlborough,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $22   [ screwcap;  a Villa Maria brand label particularly associated with Villa Marlborough winemaker George Geris;  no website info. ]
Good lemongreen.  This Villa Group sauvignon is closer to the Private Bin,  very ripe,  and more the black passionfruit and stone fruits,  without greenish capsicum.  Both bouquet and palate are very pure,  but let down a little by seeming spirity and acid,  unknit.  When the labels and details are revealed,  that is indeed the case,  14.5% alcohol given.  Still pretty good Marlborough sauvignon,  though.  Cellar 3 – 5 years.  GK 11/05

2005  Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc Clifford Bay Reserve   16 ½ +  ()
Awatere district,  Marlborough,  New Zealand:  14%;  $25   [ screwcap;  some LA; 2005 not on website,  2004 3.5 g/L RS;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
More pale lemon than lemongreen.  This is more a typical Marlborough sauvignon of the 80s and 90s,  with the full range of capsicums on bouquet,  but still a honeysuckle and black passionfruit full ripeness component.  Palate is similar,  in one sense a more varietal flavour,  but due to the yellow / green capsicum component,  fractionally stronger and more assertive,  not necessarily positively.  Not a cellar wine beyond a year or two,  for it will develop asparagus complexities.  GK 11/05

2005  Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc Wairau Valley Reserve   16 ½  ()
Marlborough,  New Zealand:  14%;  $25   [ screwcap;  8% of the wine cold soak,  a percentage LA;  2005 not on website,  2004 3% of wine BF and LA 2 months,  RS 3.5 g/L;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
Pale lemongreen.  An example of the sweaty / armpit Marlborough style,  strangely liked by quite a few tasters,  largely because it has been talked up as a positive attribute by winemakers.  This is in truth a post hoc rationalisation for a fermentation character which,  beyond the merest trace,  can easily be negative for many tasters.  Beyond that,  the whole wine shows good fruit in the riper capsicum spectrum and through to passionfruit,  but the sweat knocks the florals.  A sound and rich mainstream style,  but a strange one to present as a more expensive Reserve wine.  Hold a year or two.  GK 11/05

2004  Esk Valley Sauvignon Blanc Black Label   16 ½  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $20   [ screwcap;  some BF, LA and batonnage components;  www.eskvalley.co.nz ]
Lemongreen,  deeper than many (and of course a year older than most).  In the blind tasting,  varietal bouquet is lacking on this sauvignon,  but there are attractive pale stonefruit qualities confusable with pinot gris.  Palate is rich,  pale peachy fruit dominant,  an interesting edge which freshens the wine up,  but not enough to depart from the blind identification as pinot gris.  Finish is long and rich on fruit,  with exceptional balance.  This will be a great food wine,  so buy it for that,  not its varietal label.  Absolutely the sauvignon for people who don't like characterful Marlborough sauvignons (by which the class tends to be judged).  This is a review where the words mean more than the score.  If strictly scored as a Hawkes Bay sauvignon,  it would rate higher.  In California,  it might be a gold medal wine.  GK 11/05

2005  Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc Taylor’s Pass Single Vineyard Reserve   16  ()
Awatere Valley,  Marlborough,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $25   [ screwcap; ‘small fraction’ BF;  2005 not on website,  info for 2004 skimpy,  but RS 3.5 g/L;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
Palest lemongreen.  A simpler kind of sauvignon in the present company,  but clean and clearly varietal,  showing mixed capsicums around the yellow capsicum point.  Palate is clean,  sound,  a little phenolic and short on juicy fruit,  and not helped by the alcohol.  A more straightforward example of the variety,  with alcohol excessive for the delicious palatability (at best) of the variety.  In fact,  a curious batch to offer as a Reserve wine.  Cellar a year or two.  GK 11/05

2005  Vidal Sauvignon Blanc   16  ()
Marlborough,  New Zealand:  14%;  $18   [ screwcap;  some LA,  2005 not on website,  2004 RS 3.8 g/L;  www.vidal.co.nz ]
Pale lemongreen.  A mild and gentle very ripe sauvignon blanc on bouquet,  sweet and clean pale stonefruits and black passionfruit,  recognisably varietal.  Palate is similar,  but tending phenolic and short.  Good QDW sauvignon.  GK 11/05

nv  Villa Maria Riverstone Sauvignon Blanc   15  ()
New Zealand:  13%;  $11   [ screwcap;  no info on website;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
Pale lemongreen.  This is more an anonymous dry white,  which only when the labels are revealed,  turns out to be sauvignon.  Blind,  it could be anything.  But as a quaffer,  it has good fruit,   gentle acid,  low phenolics,  and attractive ‘dry’ balance.  And instead of oak,  one realises the backbone is sauvignon.  Good QDW.  GK 11/05

2005  Villa Maria Riesling Private Bin   18 ½  ()
Marlborough,  New Zealand:  13%;  $17   [ screwcap;  2005 not on website,  2004 11.3 g/L RS;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
Pale lemongreen.  Purity of bouquet on this riesling matches the Felton Road and Coopers,  and the varietal characters are similar but not quite at the same volume:  white florals and freesia,  vanilla pod,  and citrus including lime.  Palate is neatly pitched between the two,  gorgeous flavours,  a little richer than the Coopers,  low phenolics,  medium-dry,  another classical New Zealand riesling.  Great to have this quality in the basic wine of the Villa Maria range,  and at an appropriate alcohol.  Cellar 5 – 10 years.  GK 11/05

2004  Esk Valley Riesling Black Label   18 ½  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  11%;  $20   [ screwcap; 14.5 g/L RS;  www.eskvalley.co.nz ]
Pale lemon.  Compared with the others,  bouquet is sweeter and more floral and nectary on this riesling,  and is slightly perfumed in the sense jasmine is perfumed.  Palate is in a bigger style,  the flavour components a little more hoppy and strong,  good acid balance,  all a little bolder and warmer-climate than the best South Island wines.  Stylewise,  this could end up in cellar as challenging top Eden and Clare Valley wines (except it is sweeter than their best,  just outside the dry class by taste,  more by analysis).  It is wonderful that Esk Valley are moving towards releasing their whites in their second year,  a policy much more in accord with serious European practice.  Cellar 5 – 10 years.  GK 11/05

2004  Vidal Riesling   17  ()
Awatere Valley,  Marlborough,  New Zealand:  13%;  $20   [ screwcap;  several months LA,  RS 5 g/L;  www.vidal.co.nz ]
Lemon,  a hint of straw.  Bouquet is soft and winey,  not immediately stating riesling,  with an interesting glucose-y suggestion which is nearly floral.  Palate firms up to resiny riesling,  a bolder drier wine than the Esk,  closer to the Clare Valley style,  full of flavour.  In truth,  it is a bit phenolic.  This should mellow in cellar,  probably inclining to the keroseney (+ve) style.  GK 11/05

2005  Villa Maria Riesling Reserve   16 ½  ()
Wairau Valley,  Marlborough,  New Zealand:  9%;  $25   [ screwcap;  hand-picked;  2005 not on website,  2004 was 17.7 g/L RS;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
Water-white.  It is an absolute mystery why Villa Maria,  with its vast resources,  would release this bleached wine at this point.  It looks and smells as if it has had an SO2 miscalculation.  Palate however has the fruit richness,  medium sweetness balanced to good acid,  and length for the wine to recover its poise, and some colour and bouquet.  At that point,  it should be released.  The above score is of necessity a punt.  In two years time it may well be marvellous.  GK 11/05

2005  Villa Maria Riesling Taylor’s Pass Single Vineyard Reserve   16  ()
Awatere Valley,  Marlborough,  New Zealand:  8.5%;  $30   [ screwcap;  hand-picked;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
Pale lemongreen.  Bouquet is very pure,  very clean,  but pretty anonymous as to variety – faint yellow florals.  Palate shows great fruit weight and pear flesh flavours,  more phenolics than are ideal for riesling,  and seems more like pinot gris.  The richness is amazing,  and not all due to the medium sweetness.  It comes as a shock at the unveiling of the blind tasting,  to find the wine is labelled riesling.  Fair to say I would score the wine more highly as pinot gris.  Even though I have scored some current vintage rieslings highly in these notes,  it remains true that riesling demands time in cellar.  It will be a sign of our maturing as a wine country,  when New Zealand rieslings are NOT released in their year of vintage.  Both these Villa Marlborough Reserve wines are perfect cases in point.  Their premature release benefits nobody,  and in fact does the company a disservice,  since many customers will be disappointed with what they find in bottle now,  particularly having paid a premium price.  Doesn’t make sense.  Cellar 5 – 10 years.  GK 11/05

2003  Villa Maria Riesling Cellar Selection   16  ()
Awatere & Wairau Valleys,  Marlborough,  New Zealand:  12.5%;  $22   [ screwcap;  8.4 g/L RS;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
Pale lemon.  A light clean vinifera bouquet with suggestions of pear flesh and apple sauce is the first impression.  Palate is rich,  and the resiny notes point to riesling,  but like the Taylor’s Pass wine,  it is in a strong non-floral idiom a long way from classical European riesling.  Pleasant on its own,  medium-dry,  but hard to score highly as the named variety.  Will cellar for several years,  but gaining interest is dubious.  GK 11/05

Pinot Gris
2005  Villa Maria Pinot Gris Single Vineyard Seddon Reserve   18 ½  ()
Awatere Valley,  Marlborough,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $30   [ screwcap;  hand-harvested;  5 months post-fermentation LA and occasional stirring,  RS 12 g/L;  2005 not on website yet;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
Pale lemongreen.  Bouquet is beautifully pure,  in the pale pear-fleshed style that is coming to characterise most New Zealand pinot gris,  unlike the yellow florals and flesh of the best Alsace.  But this wine does have suggestions of white florals,  and hints of nutmeg adding to complexity and interest.  Palate is rich,  with more flavours than most New Zealand examples of the grape,  and perhaps the promise of more bouquet to develop in cellar.  The excessive alcohol is well hidden in the fruit richness,  and the finish is attractive ,  the intrinsic phenolics of the variety well covered by medium-dry sweetness.  This should cellar 3 – 8 years.  GK 11/05

2005  Villa Maria Pinot Gris Cellar Selection   18 ½  ()
Awatere Valley,  Marlborough,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $24   [ screwcap;  hand-harvested;  2 months LA in s/s with occasional batonnage,  2005 not on website but 2004 was RS 9 g/L;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
Lemon.  Bouquet on this wine shows real varietal character,  and even some suggestions of the yellow florals of the wines that epitomise pinot gris magic – best Alsace.  (In this case subtlest oak may be contributing to my interpretation).  There is great fruit and richness,  even on bouquet.  Palate shows a little more flavour than the Seddon wine,  but perhaps fractionally less ultimate richness,  and hence it is slightly more phenolic on the finish.  Both are medium-dry.  These are two fine New Zealand pinot gris,  and well illustrate the impressive grasp Villa Maria is building with this variety,  in a few short years.  Cellar 3 – 8 years.  GK 11/05

2005  Esk Valley Pinot Gris Black Label   17 ½ +  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $23   [ screwcap;  hand-harvested;  whole-bunch pressed,  25% BF in old French oak,  LA and batonnage;  RS 7.3 g/L;  www.eskvalley.co.nz ]
Pale lemon.  A light clean fragrant white bouquet,  not clearly varietal to first impression in the blind tasting.  Palate however is immediately pear flesh and pinot gris,  good body and length of flavour,  richer and more finesse than the Villa Maria Private Bin,  ‘dry’.  This should cellar well,  3 – 8 years.  GK 11/05

2005  [ Villa Maria ] Thornbury Pinot Gris Steve Bird   17  ()
Marlborough,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $20   [ screwcap;  10 weeks LA and stirring;  the relationship between Villa Maria and Thornbury is not clear on either www.villamaria.co.nz,  or the not-recently-updated www.thornburywines.com ]
Light straw.  Clear-cut pinot gris in the stonefruits / nectarine style is attractive on bouquet.  Palate is a little more developed than some,  fair stonefruit,  a faint hint of quince,  seemingly drier than the main Villa Maria labels.  With the lower alcohol,  this will be an attractive food wine.  It probably won't cellar quite as well,  though,  say 2 – 5 years.  GK 11/05

2005  Villa Maria Pinot Gris Private Bin   16 ½  ()
East Coast = Gisborne & Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $17   [ screwcap; first release of var. under PB label,  reflecting Villa’s increasing familiarity with the variety;  2 months post-fermentation LA and ‘regular’ stirring;  not yet on website;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
Pale straw hinting at a flush,  as can be appropriate for a reddish-skinned variety.  Bouquet is attractive on this wine,  combining nectarine suggestions with pear flesh and button mushrooms,  but it is not exactly floral.  Palate however is lighter,  with less body than the Marlborough wines,  seemingly acid-adjusted and thus appearing drier relative to the more expensive wines.  Good introductory pinot gris,  clearly varietal.  Cellar 3 – 5 years.  GK 11/05

2004  Villa Maria Gewurztraminer Keltern Single Vineyard Reserve   18  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $30   [ screwcap;  hand-harvested;  5 hours skin contact,  wild yeast fermentation in French oak 20% new,  5 months LA and weekly batonnage,  RS 13 g/L;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
Lemongreen.  This is less aromatic gewurz than the Corbans and Lawsons,  with rose petal and Turkish delight bouquet qualities and light stonefruits,  plus some VA lift,  on good total fruit.  Palate is more flavoursome than the bouquet initially suggests,  with good lychee fruit and some root ginger,  and attractive mouth-feel helped by residual sugar (and possibly an MLF fraction).  Palate develops some gewurz bite on the finish,  making it even more clearly varietal.  Medium-dry.  It is inspiring to read of the effort that goes into making a wine like this,  and the result is great.  It should become more impressive in cellar,  3 – 10 years.  GK 11/05

2005  Villa Maria Gewurztraminer Private Bin   16  ()
East Coast = Gisborne & Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $17   [ screwcap;  2005 not on website,  but 2004 was 9 g/L;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
Straw with a flush,  nearly light gold.  This wine has plenty of varietal bouquet,  but in a developed style:  lychee,  root ginger,  golden peach,  plus a marcy / stalky quality hinting at cardboard and over-pressing,  letting it down.  Palate is likewise full flavoured,  a little VA lift,  not a subtle wine – but one has to reward the quantity of flavour.  Finish is tending phenolic,  so sweetness is hard to judge – just above ‘dry’,  I think,  neatly covering the coarse tendencies.  A bit developed to be a good cellar wine – just a year or two would be best.  GK 11/05

2005  Esk Valley Rosé Merlot / Malbec Black Label   18 ½  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $18   [ screwcap;  Me 91%,  Ma 9;  24 – 36 hours skin-contact,  low-temperature fermentation,  no mention of any oak;  RS 6 g/L;  www.eskvalley.co.nz ]
Very full rosé,  deeper than the Unison.  Bouquet continues the benchmark-setting standard of most years of this wine:  great fruit clearly from red grapes,  already some vinosity,  simply terrific rosé with so much more to say than most rosé d’Anjou styles.  This is more fine Tavel quality,  but not quite as dry and smelling of Bordeaux grapes.  Palate is rich,  with the fruit complexed and winey,  as if there a kiss of oak,  not the one-dimensional stainless steel / fruit juice style which is so common,  as illustrated here by the Longridge.  Tannin ripeness and balance is superb for serious rosé,  acid is harmonious,  and the finish is long,  not bone dry,  but close.  The New Zealand standard for rosé,  which will cellar to five years.  GK 11/05

Cabernet, Merlot, and related blends
2000  Villa Maria Merlot / Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve   18 ½ +  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13%;  $40   [ cork;  18 months French oak;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
Ruby and some velvet.  A richly fragrant Bordeaux-styled bouquet,  with plenty of cassis now complexing out into the oak,  and cedary,  pipe tobacco and savoury components,  including a little brett.  Palate is similarly showing some signs of development and softening,  with real temperate-climate complexity of ripe berry flavours,  good acid balance,  more oak than most Bordeaux,  but less than some New Zealand.  Lovely complex relatively low-alcohol wine which can be enjoyed now,  or cellared for another 10 years.  GK 11/05

2002  Esk Valley Merlot / Malbec / Cabernet Reserve   18 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $50   [ screwcap;  hand-harvested from 10 and 12-year vines;  French oak for 21 months;  www.eskvalley.co.nz ]
Dense ruby,  carmine and velvet.  Berries and plums pour from the glass on this wine,  with suggestions of violets  too,  and oak below.  This is a much more vibrant bouquet than the Omahu.  Fruit on palate is superb:  this is another Villa Group wine really heading in a Bordeaux direction (alcohol aside),  like the 2000 Villa Merlot / Cabernet Reserve,  except our versions are oakier (as yet).  In five years time,  this will be softening,  developing cigar box and dark tobacco complexities,  and starting to be ready to drink with food.  A case-buy wine.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 11/05

2002  Villa Maria Merlot Reserve   18 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $40   [ screwcap;  Me 85%,  Ma 10,  CS 5;  hand-harvested;  18 months in French oak 100% (?) new;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
Great ruby,  carmine and velvet colour.  This wine is looking as good as it did when written up in these reviews 5/04 and 12/04.  It is slightly less oaky than the same year’s Esk Valley Merlot / Malbec / Cabernet Reserve.  Another wine to cellar by the case,  since it is an absolute mystery why the wine is still available.  This is great New Zealand red wine,  showing relative to virtually all Australian merlots,  just how appropriate our more temperate ‘Bordeaux’ climate in Hawkes Bay is for this variety.  GK 11/05

2002  Villa Maria Malbec Single Vineyard Omahu Reserve   18 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $55   [ screwcap;  18 months in French & American oak,  60% new;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  great density.  This quietly-spoken but giant-sized velvety red was written up in these reviews 12/04,  18.5 (q.v.).  In this blind tasting of 25 cabernet,  merlot and related wines,  it showed up absolutely consistently.  Cellar 5 – 20 years.  GK 11/05

2004  Esk Valley Merlot / Cabernet Sauvignon / Malbec Black Label   17 ½ +  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $23   [ screwcap;  12 – 14 month in French & American oak some new;  www.eskvalley.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and some velvet.  The total purity of bouquet on this wine is marvellous,  showing slightly floral cassisy and plummy berry,  and a little more vibrant fruit than the Villa Merlot PB.  Palate is cassis,  broadened out with malbec,  less oaky than the Reserve wines,  lean in one sense as cabernet often is,  but rich,  too,  with good acid balance.  This will cellar very well indeed,  and become a fragrant and delightful food wine in 5 – 10 years.  GK 11/05

2004  Villa Maria Merlot Private Bin   17 ½  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $17   [ screwcap; unknown percentage of the wine in French & American oak 16 months;  not on website yet;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
Ruby and some velvet.  It is hard to imagine a wine from the cabernet / merlot family smelling more plummy than this,  real cooked omega plums,  though there is not as much floral component as one hopes for in merlot.  Palate is terrific though,  soft rich and mouth-filling.  If you want to know what good merlot tastes like, here is an excellent opportunity at under $20.  Not being a reserve wine,  there is not so much oak – though it is still oaky alongside comparable (un-classed) Bordeaux.  This release is a terrific achievement:  Bordeaux-styled wine of this quality in the standard Private Bin ( = basic,  in this case) label would have been unthinkable in New Zealand,  just 10 years ago.  What strides our industry (as epitomised by Villa Maria in this context) is making !  Cellar 5 – 10 years.  VALUE  GK 11/05

2000  Vidal Merlot / Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve   17  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $40   [ screwcap;  hand-harvested;  3 – 4 weeks cuvaison,  MLF and 20 months in unspecified oak;  www.vidal.co.nz ]
Older ruby.  Bouquet is maturing berry developing tobacco and cedar complexities.  Palate has fair fruit richness and ripeness,  but is too oaky for the fruit to shine through.  Attractive in that style,  and will cellar 3 – 8 years.  GK 11/05

2004  Esk Valley Merlot Black Label   17  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $23   [ screwcap; 11 months in French & American oak;  www.eskvalley.co.nz ]
Ruby,  some carmine and velvet.  A quiet bouquet,  undefined red fruits,  slightly marcy,  clearly youthful.  Palate is much more together,  darkly plummy and clearly merlot,  quite rich,  a cassisy undertone,  oak in balance.  A lighter crisper wine than the competing Villa Maria Merlot,  but one which will be fragrant and pleasing in another two years or so,  and will cellar 5 – 8 years.  This upward creep of alcohols,  as if we wished to emulate Australia – which is the last thing we should be doing with our reds – is unwise.  A generation ago,  13% was rare in Bordeaux.  GK 11/05

2003  Villa Maria Cabernet Sauvignon / Merlot Cellar Selection   16 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $24   [ screwcap;  CS 62%,  Me 29,  Ma 7, hand-harvested;  20 – 25 days cuvaison;  18 months in French oak 65% new,  with MLF in barrel;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
Ruby,  some carmine and velvet.  Bouquet is richly fruity on this wine,  but also a bit closed,  with suggestions of retained fermentation odours.  Palate is quite austere,  confirming the bouquet thoughts,  but there is also good fruit.  It should open up with two or three years in cellar,  have much more to say,  and rate higher.  Cellar 5 – 10 years.  GK 11/05

1998  Vidal Cabernet Sauvignon Joseph Soler   16 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $89   [ cork;  two weeks cuvaison,  MLF and 21 months in unspecified oak;  www.vidal.co.nz ]
Old ruby and velvet.  A maturing wine on bouquet,  with fair browning cassis,  berry and plum,  but far too much oak.  On palate the richness and ripeness are good,  but the oak is seriously excessive,  and out of balance.  Oakniks will love at,  but I do not believe it will ever become harmonious,  in the sense one could run it competitively in a tasting of cabernet-dominant wines from around the world.  Cellar 5 – 10 years plus,  for the oak will live for ages.  GK 11/05

2004  Villa Maria Merlot / Cabernet Sauvignon Private Bin   16 +  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $17   [ screwcap;  12 months in older French and American oak;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet.  Bouquet is tending hard,  with some retained fermentation odours.  It is quite richly fruity,  but not clear as to any variety.  Palate is surprisingly rich,  with a quantity of grapes per bottle more usually associated with Australia.  The flavours have a hard edge,  though,  from the entrained fermentation components.  Should soften up in cellar,  and may require re-rating in a couple of years.  As noted for the Esk Merlot Black label,  this upward creep of degrees of alcohol,  pandering to lowest common denominator marketing interests,  is unwise for New Zealand.  Cellar 5 – 12 years.  GK 11/05

2002  Vidal Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve   16  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $40   [ screwcap;  wine not on website;  www.vidal.co.nz ]
Dense ruby and velvet,  some carmine.  A big rich ripe red bouquet,  but the generous fruit is overwhelmed by oak.  Palate is even more oaky,  a great woomph of phenolics and tannins totally obliterating any charm the fruit might have in mouth,  making the wine seem acid and hard.  It will cellar for ages,  but is too out of balance to come right,  in my view.  Cellar 5 – 20 years.  GK 11/05

2003  Vidal Cabernet Sauvignon / Merlot   15  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13%;  $19   [ screwcap;  CS 75%,  Me 14,  Ma 8,  others 3;  up to 35 days cuvaison,  15 months in French and American oak;  www.vidal.co.nz ]
Ruby and velvet.  Rich dark fruit is veiled by reductive characters on bouquet,  raising doubts.  Palate confirms those doubts,  with hard sulphur-related flavours fighting the darkly plummy underlying fruit,  making the whole wine austere.  Yet one can sense the fruit richness.  There is a chance the wine will emerge from the reductive cocoon,  in two or three years.  Cellar 5 – 10 years,  dubiously.  GK 11/05

Syrah = Shiraz
2004  Villa Maria Syrah Private Bin   17 ½  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $17   [ screwcap;  first release of var. for Villa Maria;  not on website yet;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
Ruby,  some carmine and velvet.  Bouquet is fresh and edgy on this wine,  very youthful,  showing cassisy berry and aromatic oak not much integrated,  and some black peppercorn.  It is closer in style to the Selak  than the Vidal.  Palate is firm,  cassis dominant,  medium weight,  slightly acid,  but a clearer expression of syrah varietal character than the Vidal,  though crisper.  Will mellow in cellar 5 – 10 years.  May rate as VALUE in another 6 months – the above score is a bit tentative.  GK 11/05

2004  Vidal Syrah   17 +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $25   [ screwcap;  hand-harvested,  100% de-stemmed,  75% whole-berry fermentation,  MLF and 14 months in French oak;  www.vidal.co.nz ]
Ruby,  some carmine and velvet.  A straightforward berry and oak bouquet,  showing cassis and plums and oak,  all faintly lactic / buttery and oaky.  Palate is more flavoursome,  with good cassisy berry spiced with black pepper,  good ripeness,  all softened on oak to the maximum,  sound wine.  Cellar 5 – 10 years.  GK 11/05