Wine of the Week – a great New Zealand Sauvignon

The view from the balcony at Villa Maria's Marlborough winery.

The view from the balcony at Villa Maria’s Marlborough winery.

I’ll be honest with you. I do not always enjoy drinking Sauvignon Blanc from the Marlborough region of New Zealand. Too many of the basic examples are a little too sweet, for a dry wine, dilute, overly tropical and somewhat one-dimensional.

However, I have always enjoyed good examples and was very excited by some of the Sauvignon Blancs that I tasted while I was in New Zealand recently. One in particular really captured my imagination and as I have discovered that it is widely available, I have made it my Wine of the Week.

Map of New Zealand's wine regions – click for a larger view – non watermarked PDF versions are available by agreement.

Map of New Zealand’s wine regions – click for a larger view – non watermarked PDF versions are available by agreement.

sv-graham-sauvignon-blanc-2011-copy2015 Villa Maria Single Vineyard Graham Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc
Villa Maria
Marlborough
New Zealand

I have known Villa Maria‘s wines pretty much my entire working life – I first sold them in 1988 – and they have always impressed me. At the very least they are reliable, pleasurable and never let you down. In fact Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc is probably the benchmark wine of the style. However, the good people of Villa Maria are very ambitious for their wines and constantly striving for quality and really do seek to make great wines.

Sir George Fistonich, the founder, owner and driving force behind Villa Maria. I took this photograph at the Esk Valley winery in Hawke's Bay, which is also part of the group.

Sir George Fistonich, the founder, owner and driving force behind Villa Maria. I took this photograph at the Esk Valley winery in Hawke’s Bay, which is also part of the group.

It helps I expect that the company is still privately owned by Sir George Fistonich, the guy who founded the company back in 1961 – his first vintage was 1962. Everyone I met at Villa Maria was, quite rightly, full of admiration for George and his achievements It seems that nothing stands still at Villa Maria for very long and the wines stand testimony to George’s belief in the quality that New Zealand can produce. He really is one of the giants of the wine business, a sort of New Zealand Gérard Bertrand, Robert Mondavi or Miguel Torres.

So, why did this Sauvignon capture my imagination so much? The Graham Vineyard is right by the sea near the Awatere River (pronounced Aw-wah-tree) where it empties out into Clifford Bay, south and east of Blenheim. It is a coastal vineyard, right on the seashore, and that really helps to regulate the temperature of the site, while the stony soils warm up quickly and retain that warmth to create wonderful ripeness. So you get a wonderful balance between warmth and cooling maritime conditions.

This little fella was basking on the beach just in front of Graham Vineyard.

This little fella was basking on the beach just in front of Graham Vineyard.

Because of those conditions the wine seems to have more density than many Marlborough Sauvignons, more savoury and pungent aromas and flavours and to be only subtly tropical – which suits the grape brilliantly.

Sedan Vineyard, Villa Maria's beautiful Seddon Vineyard is just down the Aware River a little way.

Seddon Vineyard, Villa Maria’s beautiful Seddon Vineyard is just inland down the Aware River a little way. This makes it more sheltered and so suits Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris more than Sauvignon Blanc, which enjoy the sea breezes at Graham.

The nose has hints of tropical fruit, but more tomato leaves, jasmine, oregano and something stony and slightly saline too. There are also the classic touches of gooseberry and citrus. The palate is quite rich and has real weight and intensity to it. The tomato leaves come back, as does the jasmine and oregano, together with nettles, a light touch of passionfruit, blackcurrant leaf, stony minerality and the refreshing acidity has a feel of orange sorbet about it, yet the wine finishes totally dry. This is wonderful stuff, complex and fine – 92/100 points.

A very versatile wine, it is a lovely aperitif, great with fish, oriental food or just about anything you can think of. If you think you know Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, think again and try this glorious wine.

Available in the UK from Majestic Wine Warehouse for £15.99 a bottle – £13.99 if you mix 6 bottles.
Fruit from Graham Vineyard is also used as part of the blend in the always excellent Villa Maria Clifford Bay Reserve Sauvignon Blanc.
Villa Maria wines are distributed in the US by Ste. Michelle Wine Estates.

Wine of the Week 34 – your own personal summer, in a glass

Funny time of year Winter. The weather gets pretty cold, here in the UK anyway and the days swing between being fiercely cold and crisp with clear blue skies, or dark, damp and grim. Those days in particular get to me and spoil my mood, which is especially bad for me as my birthday is in January. The 17th january in case you were wondering and I am 50 this year, which just does not seem possible at all. There I was happily getting on with my life and suddenly I am half way to 100!

Anyway, at this time of year my thoughts often focus on the weather and I find myself hoping for Spring and Summer to rush towards me and make everything seem better. Well, help is at hand. We no longer need to wait for the weather to turn, we can just open a bottle and get our very own personal early Summer in a glass.

I recently tried this delicious white wine made by Miguel Torres in Chile – in many respects it is the partner to the exciting red wine I featured here – and it just seems so bright and enjoyable that I have made it my Wine of the Week:

Miguel Torres Chile, vineyards. Photo courtesy of the winery.

Miguel Torres Chile, vineyards. Photo courtesy of the winery.

DoS2013 Days of Summer Moscatel
Miguel Torres Chile
D.O. Valle de Itata

Miguel Torres is nearly important to the story of Chilean wine as he is to the Spanish. Torres was the first outsider to come to Chile, in 1979 and he was the first to bring true modern winemaking concepts to the country and the results are clear for all to see. He was a trailblazer and his influence can be widely seen in the country. Just as in Spain though, where Torres started out as the standard-bearer of the new – especially of international grape varieties – and has now become the champion of traditional and indigenous grapes, the Torres winery in Chile has changed enormously since its early days. It still produces exemplary Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Cabernet, of course, but the focus has changed slightly to the grape varieties that Chile’s wine revolution has left behind. What’s more he is at the forefront of the sustainable viticulture movement in Chile.

Chile was ruled by Spain for hundreds of years, yet how many of Chile’s wines reflect that cultural past? Very few indeed, yet planting of Spanish grapes do exist in the country and are slowly being brought back into the mainstream. In recent years Torres have nursed Cariñena / Carignan plantings back to life, as well as the long neglected País and now Moscatel / Muscat.

Muscat has been grown in the country since the Spaniards first arrived and I doubt if there is a more Spanish grape than Muscat? Very few Spanish regions do not produce a sweet style of Muscat in one form or another and increasingly some dry examples too.

Map of Chile – click for a larger view – non watermarked PDF versions are available by agreement.

Map of Chile – click for a larger view – non watermarked PDF versions are available by agreement.

Chile’s so far little known Itata Valley, a long way further south than most of the famous vineyard areas, is home to much of Chile’s old vines material and so tends to have grape varieties that are not as famous r international. So it is here that much of Chile’s Cinsault  – or Samsó – can be found, as well as some of that old vine Moscatel. John Byron, the future Admiral and grandfather of the poet, was shipwrecked off the south coast of Chile in 1741 and wrote about his experiences of leading a group of survivors north to Santiago and a ship home. He wrote glowing reports about the wines of Chile, especially the Muscats / Moscatels (scroll to the bottom of this piece to read a bout a wonderful and very old fashioned style of Muscat of the sort Byron might have drunk) which he compared favourably to the wines of Madeira. Given that it is certainly on the way to Santiago, then it is entirely logical that Byron was in Itata at the time.

This wine is a real delight – and I don’t always like Dry Muscat. The aromas are light, fresh and lively with flowers, grapes, apples and honey as well as a cut of lemon – it smells like wild flowers. The palate is also light and fresh – the alcohol is 12%, but feels lighter – with green apple, grape and the merest touch of tropical fruit – pineapple – too. What really makes this work so well is the acidity, there is plenty of it making it fresh and lively and giving a touch of grapefruit to the wine, whilst a tiny bit of sweetness stops the wine from being watery and inconsequential. Clever winemaking and lots of style and finesse make this a delight. Try it with any light dishes, salads, fish or chicken, as well as with oriental food, spicy food or just drink it as aperitif – 89/100 points.

Available in the UK for £9.99 per bottle from Majestic Wine Warehouses.

It has to be admitted that this is a perfect Summer wine, but why wait? A drop of this gives you your own personal Summer in a glass.