BEST WHITE WINE BUY OF THE YEAR
Villa Maria Cellar Selection Hawke’s Bay Viognier 2014
‘A great buy’, I jotted down, when I first tasted this wine in August. Full-bodied, fleshy, rich and dry, with strong, ripe stone-fruit flavours and complexity from fermentation in French oak barrels, it’s the sort of wine for which you could easily pay well over $30. But as a winemaker told me recently, ‘People here won’t pay for high-priced Viognier.’
A pity, because this classic grape of the Rhône Valley – 40 years ago in danger of extinction, but now internationally trendy – yields sturdy, deeply satisfying wines that are well worth discovering. Past vintages of Villa Maria’s consistently classy wine offered great value at $25, but at just under $20, this is not to be missed.
Bright, light lemon/green, it is mouthfilling and sweet-fruited, with concentrated peach, apricot and spice flavours, moderate acidity, a gentle seasoning of toasty oak, and a lasting, seductively smooth, dry finish. Already highly enjoyable, it should be in full stride from mid-2015 onwards; Villa Maria suggests drinking it from now to 2019.
Never heard of Viognier? That’s no surprise – there are only about 50 New Zealand Viogniers on the market. In France, Viognier’s most famous expression is the exotically perfumed, robust wines of Condrieu. Plantings spread into the south of France, California and Australia during the 1980s. Around 1990, Dr Neil McCallum established a few vines at his Dry River vineyard in Martinborough; this may have been the first planting of Viognier in New Zealand. Te Mata Estate established the country’s first commercial plot of Viognier in 1994, at its Woodthorpe Terraces vineyard in Hawke’s Bay.
Viognier (pronounced Vee-yon-yay) still accounts for only 0.4 per cent of the national vineyard, but the area of bearing vines has expanded from 15 hectares in 2002 to 158 hectares in 2015. About 75 per cent of the vines are clustered in Hawke’s Bay and Gisborne.
Why is Villa Maria’s wine so delicious? The 2014 growing season was warm – essential for attaining full ripeness in Viognier. Grown in the Gimblett Gravels and Bridge Pa Triangle districts, the grapes were harvested by hand and machine, and the juice was fermented in a 50:50 split of French oak barriques (15 per cent new) and tanks. A sturdy, high-alcohol wine (14.5 per cent), it has gentle acidity and a fully dry finish.
Full-bodied, elegant and softly textured, Villa Maria Cellar Selection Hawke’s Bay Viognier 2014 is a versatile wine that goes well with a wide range of dishes. Enjoy it as an especially stimulating partner for white meats or spicy Indian dishes.
BEST RED WINE BUY OF THE YEAR
Brancott Estate Hawke’s Bay Merlot 2013
‘This wine shows characters of Merlot that only the best vintages can produce. It has excellent fruit weight, fine tannin structure and ripe berry flavours.’ That’s the opinion of the chief winemaker for Brancott Estate, Patrick Materman – and he is right. If you are looking for a delicious, flavour-packed red that slips down easily and is highly affordable (when it’s on promotion, you can pick it up for less than $15), look no further.
Densely coloured, Brancott Estate Hawke’s Bay Merlot 2013 is a powerful red with blackcurrant and plum flavours, showing excellent vibrancy and depth. Showcasing its bold, ripe fruit flavours, it has a gentle seasoning of oak and a seductively smooth finish. As a drink-young charmer, it’s hard to beat, but it should also mature gracefully in the bottle for several years.
Why is it so good? 2013 has gone down in history as one of the great red-wine vintages in Hawke’s Bay During the notably sunny and dry – but not blazingly hot – summer, Hawke’s Bay old-timers were reported to be coming out of the woodwork, saying things like: ‘This is like the summers we used to have when I was a kid.’ Several producers reported that 2013 was a ‘great’ vintage for Merlot.
Brancott Estate sourced the grapes from vineyards spread throughout the region, planted in stony soils, which yield firm, structured wines, and richer, deeper, clay-based soils, which produce more fleshy, soft wines. ‘This diverse range of soils and consequent grape characteristics enables us to blend a Merlot that is balanced, fruit-forward and well-structured,’ says Materman. To add complexity, both French and European oak were used during the wine’s maturation.
Cuisine magazine recently awarded the wine 4.5*, praising it as ‘an outstanding buy’. Enjoy it with meat dishes, such as casseroles, pork, eye fillet or roast lamb.
OTHER SHORT-LISTED WINES
Brightwater Vineyards Nelson Sauvignon Blanc 2014 (, $20)
Church Road Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay 2013 (, $20)
Church Road Hawke’s Bay Pinot Gris 2014 , $20)
Harakeke Farm Nelson Riesling 2013 (, $18)
Villa Maria Private Bin Organic Hawke’s Bay Gewürztraminer 2014 (, $17)
Georges Road Rosé Les Terrasses 2014 (, $20)
Omihi Hills Limestone Ridge Pinot Noir 2013 (, $20)
Stoneleigh Marlborough Pinot Noir 2013 (, $17)
Villa Maria Private Bin Hawke’s Bay Merlot 2013 (, $17)
Church Road McDonald Series Hawke’s Bay Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 (, $27)
Couper’s Shed Hawke’s Bay Merlot/Cabernet 2013 (, $27)