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Exploring Wines Of New Zealand – With Villa Maria on Snooth

July 8, 2017 6 comments

Wines of New Zealand need no introduction – for sure to the oenophiles. Winemaking started in New Zealand in the 1850s, but it really flourished in the second half of the 20th century, when jet travel allowed much easier access to the future winemakers to get educated and experienced in Europe. Since the 1990s, New Zealand greatly embraced sustainability and … screw tops. I’m definitely very happy about the first – sustainable farming always leads to the better wines and happier environment. The screw tops – they are fine, I’m not convinced though that they are the best for aging the wines properly. However, I don’t want to convert this post neither into a rant, nor into a debate, so let’s just move on.

Villa Maria WinesThe story of Villa Maria winery is easily an exemplary story of realizing the “American Dream” – only in this case, it is, of course, have to be called a “New Zealand dream” (I hope such a concept exists).

George Fistonich started in 1961, at the age of 21, with one acre of vines in Auckland. In 1962, he harvested the grapes and produced the wines under the name of Villa Maria. That was the beginning of the journey of one man, who had the passion, vision, perseverance and enough obsession to make it. Villa Maria was a one man operation through the 60s, hiring its first staff in the early 70s, and now employing 250 people and exporting their wines to the 50 countries. As a perfect proof of making it, George Fistonich became Sir George Fistonich, receiving the first knighthood in the country for the services to New Zealand’s wine industry.

Villa Maria today has vineyards located in Auckland, Gisborne, Hawkes Bay and Marlborough regions. The grapes range from the New Zealand’s staples such as Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir to such an obscure varietals as Arneis and Verdelho. Villa Maria became a cork-free zone in 2001. And I can tell you, they really treat sustainability seriously – the Villa Maria bottles were some of the lightest wine bottles I ever came across, which I’m sure greatly affects the carbon footprint.

A week or so ago, I was a part of the big group of winelovers tasting Villa Maria wines together in the virtual tasting organized by Snooth (no worries, the wines were real). Here are my notes from tasting and also, re-tasting of the wines.

First, two of the Sauvignon Blanc wines. First one was called “bubbly” as it was lightly carbonated – and it was definitely a fun wine, perfect for a summer picnic, fresh and delightful. And the Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc was simply a classic New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, done with a perfect restraint:

2016 Villa Maria Bubbly Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough (12.5% ABV, $15)
C: literally non-existent
N: touch of grass and currant, a classic SB, restrained.
P: nice, touch of bubbles, touch of sweetness, black currant, nice and round, refreshing.
V: 8-/8, definitely nice

2016 Villa Maria Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough (12.5% ABV, $13)
C: straw pale
N: pure cassis, beautiful, freshly cut grass, classic
P: excellent balance, acidity, currant and a touch of grass. Nice and pleasant.
V: 8, I can drink this at any time, excellent wine

Now, the Rosé and then Chardonnay. The Villa Maria Rosé is predominantly Merlot. It is light and simple, but it has enough finesse to pass one of my personal tests – I particularly like the white and Rosé wines which are well drinkable when they are a bit warm – it is annoying to maintain the wines at the ice cold level (at home, for sure). The Rosé was delicious and drinkable even at the room temperature, so it definitely passed that test. And as for the Chardonnay – I know that I will be in the tiny minority from our tasting group, but I found it to be just okay. It had all the classic Chardonnay traits, but, somehow, didn’t hit the home run for me…

2016 Villa Maria Private Bin Rosé Hawkes Bay (12.5% ABV, $14)
C: Pink
N: strawberries and strawberry leaves, round and pleasant
P: strawberries, touch of sweetness, could use a touch more acidity, but still, nice and delicate
V: 8-, definitely improved the next day, more delicate, better balance

2015 Villa Maria Single Vineyard Taylors Pass Chardonnay Marlborough (13.5% ABV, $45)
C: straw pale
N: creamy, vanilla, freshly baked brioche buns with a touch of butter on them
P: Granny Smith apples smothered in butter, good acidity, excellent midpalate weight, nicely plump, but clean. Nice cleansing acidity on the finish.
V: 7+, needs food.

Now, the reds. Pinot Noir was unusual compared to what I typically expect from the Marlboro Pinot Noir. It was heavier than I expected, and on the day 3, it became a lot closer to the powerful Oregonian Pinot (which is a good deal at $26, right? ). The Merlot blend was an enigma. It opened up beautifully as I just opened the bottle, but then it went back into its shell and never came out of it, even on the day 3 …

2014 Villa Maria Cellar Selection Pinot Noir Marlborough (13.5% ABV, $26)
C: bright ruby
N: touch of sweet cherries, violet
P: tart cherries, tart acidity, touch of tobacco
V: 7, 7+ on the day 3 – showed a lot more fruit on the palate, Oregonian notes of dark power, espresso, mocha, with sweet core of cherries and plums.

2013 Villa Maria Cellar Selection Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon Hawkes Bay (13.5% ABV, $20, 70% Merlot, 23% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Malbec)
C: dark garnet, almost black
N: medium intensity, baking powder, vanilla, sweet mocha
P: black currant, ripe and sweet, touch of espresso, tar, dark fruit, dry, tannic finish
V: 7, unusual experience …

Have you had any of these wines? What are your thoughts? Cheers!

Life’s Happy Moments – Virtual Lodi Wine Tasting on Snooth

October 26, 2016 7 comments

When I got an offer to participate in the Lodi wine virtual tasting on Snooth, my first reaction was “that’s okay. I just was in Lodi just recently for the Wine Bloggers Conference (WBC16), and still perfectly remember it”. Then the second thought came in – “but it is Lodi, remember? Great wines, great people, why not”?

Lodi Wines Snooth tasting

When I opened the box with samples, huge smile embellished my face (this post would be perfect for the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge #28 (#MWWC28), as the theme was “Smile” – if only it would be written on time, sigh). Do you smile when you run into a good old friend who you are genuinely happy to see? Yep, that was me at that moment.

Looking at the bottles one by one, you can imagine me talking and thinking.

Acquiesce. I heard people raving about their wines, but never tried it – great, now I will! LangeTwins – the flow of happy memories – we visited the winery with the group of bloggers and had an incredible time there; so glad to be drinking their wine again. McCay – an immediate image of Mike McCay, pouring his Zinfandel out of the double-magnum during the dinner at the WBC16 – another huge happy smile. So looking forward trying this Grenache. Klinker Brick – had their Zinfandel during speed tasting, but heard a lot about the Syrah – now I can taste it, great!

Then the day of the tasting arrived, and for an hour, I was among friends, feeling more like a WBC16 reunion – the fact that we didn’t see each other was not a problem – it was easy to imagine happy and smiley faces, tasting delicious wines, and excitedly talking across each other. Exactly as we did in August back in Lodi.

I have to be entirely honest – we had great hosts for this session – Tim Gaiser, Master Sommelier, Stuart Spencer, who represented both Lodi Winegrape Commission and his own winery,  St. Amant,  and Mike McCay of McCay Cellars – but I was entirely focused on the chat window, so I don’t have much of their conversation to share with you. But – I’m happy share the tasting notes for these delicious Lodi wines.

2015 Acquiesce Belle Blanc Mokelumne River Lodi (13.5% ABV, $26, 45% Grenache Blanc, 45% Roussanne, 10% Viognier, 288 cases)
C: light golden
N: intense lemon, lemon peel, candied lemon (hint of), white stone fruit
P: creamy, plump, touch of candied lemon, long acidity-dominated finish
V: 8, easy to drink from the start. The wine kept evolving for the next 5 days – definitely an age worthy wine which will bring you lots of pleasure.

2014 LangeTwins Vineyards Nero d’Avola Red Tail Vineyard Lodi (13% ABV, $20)
C: bright garnet
N: ripe sweet plums and earthiness, medium intensity
P: clean herbal profile first, sweet basil, then layer of fresh, ripe blueberries – clean, well-structured, perfectly balanced.
V: 8-, excellent pop and pour wine, should be easily a crowd pleaser

2013 McCay Cellars Grenache Abba Vineyard Lodi (14.2% ABV, $32, 309 cases)
C: smokey Ruby
N: intense gunflint, granit, underripe plums
P: smoke, mix of tart and sweet cherries, clean acidity, firm structure and medium body, crisp
V: 8+, outstanding. Once you start drinking, you can’t stop

2013 Klinker Brick Farrah Syrah Mokelumne River Lodi (14.9% ABV, $20)
C: dark garnet, almost black
N: intense aromatics, espresso, mocca, mint, raspberries, red fruit, very inviting and promising
P: wow, intense, mint, eucalyptus, blueberries, tar, spicy core, good acidity, velvety present texture, long finish
V: 8/8+, very good from get go, should improve with time

I would like to thank the kind folks at Snooth for arranging this delicious tasting. And for you, my friends – yes, those wines are made in a very small quantities, but if you will make an effort to find them (many might be available directly from the wineries), you will be well rewarded. These are the wines worth seeking. Cheers!

Fun #GrenacheDay Celebration on Snooth

September 17, 2016 2 comments

Does Grenache, a.k.a. Garnacha, deserves its own celebration? It used to be the third most planted red grape in the world (in the year 2000), and the most planted red grape in Spain; now it is 5th most planted red grape in the world, and second most planted in Spain. In this particular case, size might not matter (how many of you drunk the wines made from Airen, the most planted white grape in the world?) – what important is that Grenache is an essential part of lots of amazing wines, coming from everywhere in the world – France, Spain, California, Washington, Australia, Italy, there is really no limit here. Grenache is capable of amazing solo performances (think Clos Erasmus, Sine Qua None, No Girls), but more often than not, it is a great team player (Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Southern Rhone, Australian GSM and thousands of others).

Yes, Grenache is worthy of a celebration. Grenache wines are quite mendable at the hands of the winemaker, giving you a wide range of expressions. What is even more important, unlike Cabernet Sauvignon, even budget level Grenache wines (read: less than $10 a bottle) are very enjoyable, especially when they come from Spain. And don’t forget that under the word “Grenache” there can be three different grapes – Grenache Blanc, Grenache Gris (rare), and Grenache (or Garnacha Tinta).

spanish grenache wines

A large group of “winos” assembled last night on Snooth, one of the leading online wine communities, to discuss virtues of Grenache grapes and, of course, to taste some Grenache wines. All the Grenache wines in the tasting came from Spain, two white Grenache Blanc and three of the 100% Grenache reds. Not only the wines were tasty, all of them also represented great value and great QPR, all priced under $14. The discussion was hosted by Master Sommelier Laura Maniec and Master of Wine Christy Canterbury – but to be very honest, the online discussion felt to me more like a wine bloggers conference attendees’ reunion, with lots and lots of familiar “voices” in the chat room, so I had a hard time paying attention to the presentation and was more focused on multiple dialogs taking place at the same time. Either way, it was a great fun, and wines perfectly supported the conversation.

Here are my notes for what we had an opportunity to taste:

2015 Cellers Unio closDalian Garnacha Blanca Terra Alta DO (12.5% ABV, $9, 100% Garnacha Blanca)
C: pale straw
N: intense, aromatic, white stone fruit, citrus
P: white fruit, lemon, herbal undertones, good acidity, fresh
V: 7+, very nice, food friendly (many people in the chat craved oysters)

2013 La Miranda Secastilla Garnacha Blanca Somontano DO (13.5% ABV, $14, 4 month in French Oak)
C: light golden
N: intense, vanilla, freshly crushed berries, golden yellow raisins, borderline Riesling profile with touch of petrol
P: plump, good body weight (medium to full), crisp acidity on the finish, round, firm structure – outstanding
V: 8, excellent overall

2015 Castillo de Monséran Garnacha Cariñena (13% ABV, $9)
C: dark Ruby
N: intense, freshly crushed berries, young
P: sweet fruit (restrained, not overly) with surprising structure and good acidity on the finish. Distant touch of earthiness and smoke.
V: 7+, simple and pleasant

2015 Evódia Varietal de Aragon Red Wine (15% ABV, $9, 100 years old vines, high elevation 2400–3000 ft)
C: Dark Garnet
N: very intense pure nose of fresh blueberries and blueberry pie, you don’t even need to be next to the glass
P: layered, soft, velvety, roll-off-your-tongue mouthfeel, fresh black fruit in background
V: 7+, needs time

2014 Coto de Hayas Garnacha Centenaria Campo de Borja DO (14% ABV, $14, 100% Grenache, more than 100 years old vines, 4 months in French oak)
C: garnet
N: lavender, anise, cherries, fresh, intense
P: smoke, earthiness, sage, roasted meat, sweet fruit and tobacco finish, wow; added peppery notes on the second day
V: 8+, outstanding complexity, amazing value

I would like to thank kind folks at Snooth for arranging this fun tasting and providing such an excellent selection of the value Grenache wines.

How did you celebrate #GrenacheDay? What was your most memorable Grenache wine ever – if you have one of course? Cheers!