A review of the recently released Villa Maria Estate Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir.
By Lou Marmon
Gazette Newspapers – May 30, 2012
In 1961, George Fistonich planted grapes on 2 acres he leased from his father’s farm located in the upper region of New Zealand’s North Island. He released his first wines in 1962 and now is celebrating his 50th vintage as founder and CEO of Villa Maria Estate.
Known as New Zealand’s most honored winery, Villa Maria won its first awards in 1963 when two of its red wines were prizewinners at a prestigious New Zealand event. Over subsequent decades, Villa Maria has continued to garner numerous local and international accolades for its consistently superior wines.
Fistonich says that he selected the winery’s name because “Villa” was a common term for homes in New Zealand and “Maria” sounded international. Fistonich and his wife Gail labored alone until the 1970s when they were able to hire other full-time help and began to expand their operations.
Villa Maria now includes two state-of-the-art wineries and has vineyards in several different locations in New Zealand which gives them access to distinctive grapes for their blends and single-vineyard bottlings. His Auckland facility sits among nearly 100 acres of vines in the crater of an extinct volcano and includes a visitor’s center, restaurant, conference facilities and outdoor concert venue.
Villa Maria has embraced viticultural sustainability and has employed new technologies when it leads to an improvement in the wines. In 2001, Villa Maria began the shift from cork to screw top closures, declaring itself “cork free” in 2003.
In 2009, Fistonich received a knighthood in recognition of his numerous achievements. Interestingly, a change in government caused this honor to be rescinded. But a return of the previous administration resulted in its restoration. Sir George now has the distinction of being knighted twice.
At a recent tasting, Sir George and the Villa Maria general manager, Alastair Maling, MW, poured several of their current releases including the grapefruit and citrus scented Villa Maria Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc 2011 ($15), a medium-bodied, well balanced wine with lime, tropical fruits and peach flavors. The Villa Maria Cellar Selection Sauvignon Blanc 2011 ($22) is even more aromatic with grassy and gooseberry aromas that extend into melon, lime, and passion fruit balanced by a soft acidity.
The single vineyard Villa Maria Taylors Pass Sauvignon Blanc 2010 ($28) is expressively fruity, yet perfectly balanced with guava, pear, grapefruit and apples with hints of minerals and peppers and a long ending. Villa Maria Reserve Wairu Sauvignon Blanc 2009 ($33) is a blend of several different vineyards located on the South Island. Delightfully complex with additional body and style, it has citrus, green apple and pineapple aromas and flavors that meld with peach and gooseberries in the bright and lingering finish.
Villa Maria’s Pinot Noirs are equally as impressive including the red fruit scented Villa Maria Private Bin Pinot Noir 2010 ($20) that has raspberry and cranberry flavors that layer into red berries, cherries and hints of earth during the pleasing finish. The Villa Maria Cellar Selection Pinot Noir 2009 ($30) is a bit spicier, especially in front, and is fresh and fruit-forward with slightly sweeter red currant, strawberry and black cherry notes and a herbal accented finish. The delightful Villa Maria Reserve Pinot Noir 2009 ($45) shows dark cherry, mocha raspberry and red berry fruit intermingled with herbal spices with a well-balanced smooth finish. Elegant and refined, but still somewhat young, the Villa Maria Taylors Pass Pinot Noir 2010 ($44) begins with dried cherries and floral notes that extend into deep red and dark fruit, cola and spice with bits of leather and earth in the lengthy finish.