The Villa Maria pinot noir is simple but structured — a fine value for pinot noir
There’s no reason why the Villa Maria pinot noir should be such a value and taste so much like pinot noir. It’s almost a Big Wine product, for one thing, and it’s almost impossible to find quality pinot noir at this price.
Nevertheless, that’s the case – a welcome relief in these days of sweet, focus grouped pinot. In fact, you can’t ask more from the Villa Maria ($14, purchased, 13%) at this price. It isn’t complex, but it is structured, with an almost Burgundian forest floor aroma, some herbs and tannins, and lots of bright berry fruit in the New Zealand pinot style. It’s especially impressive for an entry level product.
So how does this happen? For one thing, Villa Maria is still owned by the Fistonich family; its Big Wine deal is an import agreement with Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, and the latter is lot more hands off when it comes to telling its “partners” what to do. Second, I was lucky enough to meet Villa Maria founder Sir George Fistonich early in the blog’s history. He impressed me as someone who cared about the wine his company made in a way that too many others don’t.
Serve the Villa Maria pinot noir with the usual suspects, like lamb and salmon, but don’t be afraid to experiment with it. It would make terrific coq a vin, both as the wine for the chicken and to drink with the dinner. Highly recommended, and a candidate for the 2021 $10 Hall of Fame.
Imported by Ste. Michelle Wine Estates
The Villa Maria sauvignon blanc remains classic New Zealand white wine — and a more than fair value
When the blog was new, so was New Zealand sauvignon blanc, and the Villa Maria was among the best – and it cost just $10.
Those days are gone. New Zealand is acknowledged as the leader in sauvignon blanc, and even the French copy the style – lots of citrus, usually grapefruit, and little else for wines costing less than $15. But the Villa Maria remains consistent, quality wine. And if it isn’t $10 any more, it does offer more for your dollar than the shelves and shelves of cheaper monkey-labeled, bay-themed bottles.
The Villa Maria sauvignon blanc ($12, purchased, 12.5%) offers classic Kiwi style, sitting just a notch below the two I think are the best, Jules Taylor and Spy Valley. Yes, there is lots of grapefruit (more white than red), but the wine also has the three flavors all well-made wine should have regardless of price – the grapefruit in the front, some sort of white stone fruit in the middle, and a refreshing, clean stony finish.
Highly recommended, and a bargain for anything less than $13.
Imported by Ste. Michelle Wine Estates
Reviews of wines that don ?t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the final Friday of each month. This month, four more wines for Labor Day.
? No l Bougrier Muscadet 2012 ($8, purchased, 13%): This French white wine, a private label for the Total Wine chain, was tart and sour, with little varietal character. Muscadet, made with the melon de bourgogne grape, should be light and refreshing. This reminded me of bad cheap French wine in the old days.
?Stoller Dundee Hills Pinot Noir 2012 ($25, sample, 13.8%): Delicious Oregon pinot noir, with berry flavors, zingy tannins, and as balanced as it should be. A fine value, even at this price. Highly recommended, and another example of the fallacy of scores. It scored 86 on CellarTracker, the blog’s unofficial wine inventory app, while the barely drinkable Bourgier scored 88.
? Deccolio Prosecco NV ($13, sample, 11%): This extra dry Prosecco is not too sweet, which is saying something. Extra dry is sweeter than brut, the most dry, and can be almost syrupy. It’s well put together with lemon fruit, a little minerality, and better bubbles than I expected. But extra dry cava will give you the same thing for a couple of dollars less, as will something like La Marca Prosecco.
? Villa Maria Pinot Noir Private Bin 2012 ($15, sample, 13%): A wine I desperately wanted to like, but that shows again Villa Maria’s fall from grace. This New Zealand red is nothing but sweet cherry fruit, without any pinot character.
The Wine Curmudgeon long ago accepted the fact he would never get to taste most of the world’s great wines. Even if I could afford them, what with prices like $500 for a bottle of Cheval Blanc from an ordinary vintage, availability is difficult.
Which is why I’m always grateful when The Big Guy brings a bottle of Burgundy to the house. These French wines — the red is pinot noir and the white is chardonnay — are his favorites, and we always have a terrific time marveling at how well the Burgundians put them together, and always seem to get a whole that is greater than the parts.
The Hudelot-Noellat ($60, purchased, 13%) is no exception. The producer is one of the most respected in the region, one of those family businesses that make Burgundy what it is. We tasted the about 18 months ago, and it was still young and lively, with a zingy, almost tangy fruit aroma and a wonderful burst of red fruit (strawberry, as hard as that is to believe) in the middle.
He brought another bottle over last month, and the wine had calmed down quite a bit. It’s probably ready to drink; the fruit is starting to become part of the wine, and isn’t something that stands out. It’s a wonder of oak and tannins, a lesson in how to use oak in pinot noir and how to craft tannins that give the wine structure but don’t overwhelm it.
This is an elegant, subtle wine, one that is gone before you notice what has happened, and then you wonder why there isn’t any left. It’s a reminder of just how good red Burgundy can be, and why it’s so expensive.
Reviews of wines that don ?t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the final Friday of each month.
? Da Vinci Chianti 2011 ($12. sample, 13.5%): Much, much better than the past couple of vintages of this Italian red, with an effort made to make it taste more like Chianti and less like merlot from California. This means less soft fruitiness and more earthiness, plus sangiovese’s tell-tale sour cherry.
? Fetzer Gewurztraminer Shaly Loam 2012 ($8, purchased, 12%): This white wine won a platinum at the 2014 Critic’s Challenge, and if that seems to be a bit of a stretch, it’s still an excellent example of an off-dry gewurtzraminer (though it could be a little more crisp), and especially for the price. Look for apricot fruit and white pepper spice.
? Villa Maria Unoaked Chardonnay 2013 ($14, sample, 13%): Surprisingly dull white wine from an otherwise fine New Zealand producer, lacking fruit, crispness, and with a very bitter finish. If it didn’t have a screwcap, I’d think it was corked.
? Santa Cristina Cipresseto Rosato ($12, sample, 11%): OK Italian rose made mostly with sangiovese, but nothing special, and especially for $12. Could use a little more interest, be it fruit or elegance or even a little acidity. More thin than anything else.
New Zealand is known for sauvignon blanc. And, as much as its wineries have tried to convince the world that they can make something else, they have run into huge problems. That ?s because their sauvignon blanc is not only terrific, but cheap. Even with the weak U.S. dollar, they ?re still mostly around $10 and exceedingly well made.
Which is why the Wine Curmudgeon was so excited to find this red blend from Villa Maria, one of the oldest family producers in New Zealand. It ?s not typical; if you see a red from that country, it ?s usually pinot noir because New Zealand is supposed to be too cold to grow cabernet and merlot.
But the cabernet-merlot blend ($14, sample) shows progress has been made with those varieties. It has black fruit that is obvious but not over-ripe, and it ?s not as harsh as a similarly priced wine from France. Also impressive: long tannins and surprising balance.
It's a simple wine, and would be a whole lot better at $12, but given the dearth of drinkable red wine at this price, it's more than worth buying. Serve this with any red wine dish, and it wouldn ?t be bad by itself, either, when you run into someone who will only drink red wine.