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Auckland, North Island, New Zealand
Wine tour operator, wine writer and lapsed physiotherapist. "Nature abhors a vacuum. I personally hate dusting."


Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Minority Report - Coopers Creek and Villa Maria - new wines

The last time I produced a Minority Report was back in 2007.  Looking back at that article, the obscure groovy wines that I featured were Viognier, Chenin Blanc, Arneis, and Verdelho. 

Viognier and Chenin are much more mainstream today.  And the latter two though still unusual and produced in tiny amounts are still being produced and not all that hard to find.  More obscure varieties that are now being trialled and bottled in NZ include Albariño and Grüner Veltliner (as below) and even some others which I haven’t had a chance to taste yet – such as Pinot Noir-like red variety St. Laurent and French white grape Marsanne.

Auckland’s Coopers Creek winery have had a name for innovation in wine varieties, with award-winning winemaker Simon Nunns and vitculturalist Wayne Morrow experimenting with new grapes for a number of years.  Villa Maria wines, ranking fourth largest in NZ, under the leadership of Sir George Fistonich is a wine company committed to progress and originality.  I chose three wines from each company as a chance to explore some of their fringe wine styles.

Okay. Arneis (pronounced Are-Naise). The Arneis grape is indigenous to Piemonte in Northwest Italy. Its name means ‘Little Rascal’ in the local dialect – a reflection of just how difficult this grape is to grow and vinify.  Flavour profile is a bit hard to nail – but definitely citrus, grapefruit, stone fruit and marmalade.

Albariño  (pronounced Al-Ba-Reenyo). This Spanish grape variety produces crisp white wines with stone fruit flavours not unlike Viognier.  In Portugal it is known as Alvarinho. 

Verdelho (pronounced Verdelho!).  This is a Portuguese grape originally from the volcanic, tropical Island of Madeira, where for hundreds of years it has been one of the constituent grapes in the fortified and sweet eponymous Madeira wine. It is grown in Spain and Italy, and has for some time been a reliable crisp dry white in Australia.  Here, the style is more full-bodied and lush, but still with a crisp finish. Often regarded as a good match for seafood dishes.

Grüner Veltliner. (pronounced Grooner Felt-Leaner). Probably the most famous dry style wine from Austria. And rumoured to be a distant cousin of Gewürztraminer.  Produces fruity, crisp and dry drink young style wines with sometimes musky flavours.

Grenache (pronounced Gren-Arshe).  Hailing from the Rhône in southern France, this red grape is one of the constituent varieties in the famous Chateauneuf du Pape blend.  In Spain it is the mainstay of Rioja wines.
Flavours are typically floral and spicy, with liquorice and black berry fruit.

Villa Maria East Coast Private Bin Arneis 2012 $NZ 20
The Private Bin range is confusingly, the Villa Maria entry level label with prices and bang for buck taking off from there to Cellar Selection, Reserve and Single Vineyard (around $70 a bottle).  Not to say that the Private Bin wines are simple quaffers.  Aromas of apple sauce, apricot.  Crisp, light and delicate flavours of lime and stone fruit.

Coopers Creek Gisborne The Little Rascal Arneis  2011 $NZ 24
Funky yeast aromas and a hint of lantana. Flavours of grapefruit, thyme and subtle spice. Dry finish.

Villa Maria Auckland Ihumatao Verdelho 2011 $NZ 36
Aromas of honey and lemon blossom. Rich palate of stone fruit, herbs and lemon squash.

Coopers Creek Gisborne The Groover Grüner Veltliner  2011 $NZ 24
Aromas of funky yeast, herbs and minerality. Flavours of ginger and mandarin, with a creamy nuttiness.

Coopers Creek Gisborne Bell Ringer Albariño  2013 $NZ 24
Tropical fruit and herbal aromas.  Flavours of poached pear and lime. A dry style but with a soft middle palate and lengthy aftertaste.


Villa Maria Gimblett Gravels Cellar Selection Grenache 2010 $NZ 36
Blackberry, cherry and liquorice aromas.  Spiced plum and black currant flavours with mild astringent tannins.

Phil Parker is a wine writer and operates Fine Wine Tours in Auckland.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Villa Maria launches new label and first 2013 Sauvignon Blanc

Auckland’s Villa Maria held a recent function to launch of their new label design – combined with the release of the first commercial Sauvignon Blanc out of the gates this year.
John Hawkesby and Sir George Fistonich 

The new label is a slightly stylised and simplified version of the old label design with the red Villa V prominent and ‘New Zealand’ featuring twice – once on the capsule, and again on the label directly under the company name.  Company founder, Sir George explained that there had been some confusion in the USA where buyer thought it was an Italian wine.  And there was a desire to push the New Zealand origins of their wine.

Another milestone was reached last year when Villa Maria marked 50 years since the first vintage of wine was bottled. It is very much a family business, and still privately owned, with George’s daughter Karen Chair of the Villa board of directors.

Now to the wine.

Villa Maria Marlborough Private Bin ‘Early Release’ Sauvignon Blanc 2013 $15.00
Considering that the Marlborough fruit was harvested around March, the ‘Early Release’ Sauvignon Blanc was only about 12 weeks from picking to sitting on the retail shelves.  But that is the charm of Sauvignon - it is a fresh and zesty drink-young style. This one is a 50/50 blend of Wairau and Awatere fruit.  Aromas of gooseberry and citrus.  In the mouth – very approachable for a young Sav. Medium crisp with herbal, tropical fruit and gooseberry flavours and lengthy palate.  Not being a great fan of Sauvignon Blanc in general, I found this wine a refreshing change from the intensely acidic, pungent and over the top style that has dominated  the NZ scene for many years.

Phil Parker is a wine writer and operates Fine Wine Tours in Auckland.