BEST WHITE WINE BUY OF THE YEAR
Villa Maria Cellar Selection Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2019
From one year to the next, this is one of New Zealand’s greatest wine bargains. When the 2016 vintage featured as Best White Wine Buy of the Year in the 2017 Buyer’s Guide, I enthused that ‘this classy wine has pretty much everything you could hope for in a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, for $20 or less . . . often a lot less’. Now comes the 2019 vintage, offering equally irresistible value.
Ripely scented, it is weighty and sweet-fruited, with deep, vibrant passionfruit/lime flavours, and a crisp, dry, long finish. As usual, it’s a great buy, especially on special at under $15, and for downright drinkability, it’s hard to beat.
Positioned above the popular, huge-volume, low-priced Private Bin wines and below the rarer, more expensive Reserve and Single Vineyard ranges, Villa Maria’s Cellar Selection wines often offer a magical combination of high quality and affordable price. Made in sufficient volumes to be sold nationwide in supermarkets, when on special, they can offer simply unbeatable value.
In Marlborough, January and February 2019 brought high temperatures, abundant sunshine and just 12 mm of rain, compared to 261 mm in 2018. Helen Morrison, Villa Maria’s senior Marlborough winemaker, observed early that the warm growing season meant ‘the wines don’t have as much acidity as they normally would have. While we will make some very good Sauvignons, with good palate weight, I’m not sure they will have that striking acidity we are used to.’
If you are looking for a pungently herbaceous, grassy, zingy Sauvignon Blanc, with leap-out-of-the-glass intensity, the 2019 Cellar Selection will probably not be your first choice. Rather, I enjoy its satisfying fullness of body, rich, ripe flavours and well-rounded finish.
Vineyard blocks from the warmer Wairau Valley were selected for their concentrated tropical-fruit flavours, while the cooler, windier Awatere Valley gave grapes with herbal and green-capsicum characters. Harvested in cool night temperatures, to protect the grapes’ aromatics, the juice was cool-fermented in stainless steel tanks, and the wine was matured on its yeast lees ‘to build palate weight and texture into the wine, without compromising freshness’.
According to one retailer, the gold label on Villa Maria’s Cellar Selection is ‘the gold standard in wine value’. Given the 2019 Sauvignon Blanc’s ‘normal’ retail price of $18, frequently discounted to around $15, it’s hard to argue.
BEST RED WINE BUY OF THE YEAR
Alexander Dusty Road Martinborough Pinot Noir 2018
‘I’m very cynical about wine competitions,’ Michael Finucane declared in 2003, ‘but I’d love to win one, because that’s what guides the consumer.’ Finucane, co-owner of Alexander Vineyard, is still sceptical about the variation in results from one show to the next, but Alexander’s reds have since won a host of accolades. On the same day I spoke to him about giving the Best Red Wine Buy of the Year award to Alexander Dusty Road Martinborough Pinot Noir 2018, he learned that the judges at the New Zealand International Wine Show had also given the wine a gold medal.
Designed for early drinking, but also age-worthy, the Dusty Road Pinot Noir 2018 is an estate-grown, single-vineyard wine, hand-picked and matured for 11 months in French oak barriques (20 per cent new). Bright ruby, with a fragrant, savoury bouquet, it is mouthfilling, with concentrated, ripe, plummy, spicy flavours, showing good complexity, and the structure to mature well. Approachable now, it should be at its best from 2022 onwards.
Alexander’s wines stand out not only for their quality but also for their consistently great value. Dusty Road, the second-tier red, is sold at $27, compared to $38 for the top label, Alexander Pinot Noir, which is barrel-selected, with a slightly stronger new oak influence.
Over many vintages, I have rated Dusty Road Pinot Noir with four or four and a half stars, out of five, on a quality level that matches many Pinot Noirs in the $40–$45 category. The 2016 and 2014 vintages of Dusty Road Pinot Noir were also awarded gold medals at the New Zealand International Wine Show.
Finucane, a surveyor, and his partner, Roz Walker, a clinical psychologist, arrived from the UK in 1996. Today, their 5-hectare vineyard is planted principally in Pinot Noir, with pockets of Merlot and Chardonnay. Both are involved in the winery, with Walker in overall charge of the winemaking.
The couple’s description of Dusty Road Pinot Noir sums up its quality and style so well, it will surely whet your appetite. ‘Made from hand-picked fruit off our home Hinakura Vineyard, the newly released 2018 vintage has a full and densely packed nose of ripe, dark raspberry, cherry and dark berry fruits, with liquorice and spicy notes on a well-structured, elegant palate with plenty of fruit weight. A concentrated, full-bodied Pinot Noir with fine-grained tannins, energy and power with a smooth finish and great mouthfeel, it should be matched with duck, venison, grilled meat and game dishes over the next five to six years. Cellaring will be rewarded with greater complexity and subtle expression.’
Dusty Road has been described by retailer Fine Wine Delivery Co. as ‘always a great Pinot Noir that could well be New Zealand’s best-kept secret’. Being a tiny operation, Finucane often finds himself serving in the winery’s cellar door. ‘People often say: “What’s wrong with your wine?” They’ve earlier been somewhere else and seen Pinot Noirs selling at $50 or $75, and then they see Dusty Road at $27. So I invite them to try it, and they say ours is better. Then they buy a bottle or often a case.’
OTHER SHORT-LISTED WINES
Askerne Hawke’s Bay Gewürztraminer 2018 $23
Askerne Hawke’s Bay Viognier 2018 $23
Dashwood by Vavasour Marlborough Riesling 2019 $16
Dashwood by Vavasour Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2019 $16
Delegat Awatere Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2019 $20
Delegat Crownthorpe Terraces Chardonnay 2018 $20
Durvillea Marlborough Pinot Gris 2019 $15
Esk Valley Hawke’s Bay Pinot Gris 2019 $20
Greenhough River Garden Nelson Sauvignon Blanc 2019 $22
Kumeu Village Hand Harvested Chardonnay 2018 $18
Main Divide North Canterbury Gewürztraminer 2018 $21
Mount Brown Estates North Canterbury Pinot Gris 2018 $16
Mount Riley Marlborough Gewürztraminer 2019 $15
Old Coach Road Nelson Sauvignon Blanc 2019 $14
Seifried Nelson Gewürztraminer 2019 $18
Thornbury Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2019 $16
Vidal Reserve Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay 2018 $20
Vidal Reserve Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2019 $20
Villa Maria Private Bin East Coast Pinot Gris 2019 $15
Villa Maria Reserve Clifford Bay Awatere Valley Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2019 $25
Brookfields Back Block Syrah 2018 $20
The Crater Rim Waipara Valley Pinot Noir 2016 $28
Delegat Gimblett Road Merlot 2018 $20
Domaine-Thomson Explorer Central Otago Pinot Noir 2018✩ $29
Mission Hawke’s Bay Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 $16
Nor’wester by Greystone North Canterbury Pinot Noir 2017 $32