Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Villa Maria “Maxwell Vineyard” Sauvignon Blanc (2007)

The South Island of New Zealand contains just over half of New Zealand’s wineries, but over three quarters of New Zealand’s total vineyard area. On the North Island, in regions such as Hawkes Bay, Gisborne and Waikato, most wineries tend towards being small, family owned or boutique affairs producing just a few, or even just one wine. Arriving on the South Island though, the opposite is true.

In Marlborough, at the northern tip of the South Island, the production of a relatively small number of large wineries, is larger than the production of the rest of New Zealand combined. Really bursting onto the international wine scene with wines crafted from Sauvignon Blanc through the 1970s and 1980s, today Sauvignon Blanc accounts for 45% of all vines planted in New Zealand – a percentage which gets even high within Marlborough. Well suited to the variety, due to its cool climate, distinct changes in temperature between day and night and long ripening season, Marlborough was the region which launched Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand onto the international stage and is the region which is still the homeland within New Zealand for the variety today.

Whilst other New Zealand wineries may have come and gone in the last 40 years, amongst a blaze of publicity, awards and then a quiet slide into mass production of undistinguished wines, Villa Maria, founded by George Fistonich in 1961 has been a little different. Proud of being a large size producer of wine, the focus at Villa Maria has always been on quality rather than quantity (although success has allowed Villa Maria to purchase vineyards across four New Zealand regions since it’s foundation thereby fulfilling the quantity objective too).

Producing quite an array (no fewer than 7 different) varietal Sauvignon Blancs (in considerable quantities), Villa Maria really can lay claim to being one of the more influential wineries in New Zealand when it comes to Sauvignon. From the entry “Private Bin” Sauvignon Blanc (reviewed here), through to a selection of single vineyard and higher quality graded offerings, it really is possible to discover the full range of Sauvignon Blanc’s potential within the Villa Maria range of wines.

A single vineyard wine, this Villa Maria “Maxwell Vineyard” Sauvignon Blanc hails from the Maxwell family’s vineyard that lies part of the way into Marlborough’s Ben Morven Valley. Sitting on a gentle north facing slope, the Maxwell Sauvignon Blanc vineyard is sheltered from the prevailing southerly wind, which sees the grapes ripen easily and fully as a result. After the harvest towards the end of March, the Sauvignon Blanc grapes destined for this Villa Maria “Maxwell Vineyard” Sauvignon Blanc were pressed before a long and cool temperature controlled fermentation was done in steel tanks. After fermentation, this Villa Maria “Maxwell Vineyard” Sauvignon Blanc remained in steel for three months along with the “lees” (remnants of fermentation) which should add richness and body to the resultant wine. Bottling was in October 2007.

Bottling in is the traditionally shaped, low-shouldered bottle that has become synonymous with Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc (and indeed was synonymous with Sauvignon Blanc from the grape’s indigenous home of the Loire Valley in France before Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc became widely known). A minimalistic split label contains the basic information about the wine and the bottle is sealed with a screw cap.

In the glass, this Villa Maria “Maxwell Vineyard” Sauvignon Blanc is a clear, pale and limey green hue with perhaps the finest touch of lemon also in the glass.  When swirled, the legs of this wine are midrange for the region and grape variety with an alcoholic content of 13.5% abv.

The nose of this Villa Maria “Maxwell Vineyard” Sauvignon Blanc is clean and quite pronounced. Lime, guava and passion fruit notes explode from the glass. The vegetal aromas of asparagus that define some New World Sauvignon Blanc are not present here, and this reflects the Maxwell Vineyard’s clay based soils. Very forward initially, the aromas of this Villa Maria “Maxwell Vineyard” Sauvignon Blanc are lively and strident.

Once in the mouth, this Villa Maria “Maxwell Vineyard” Sauvignon Blanc is similarly forward, but perhaps in a slightly different way. Whereas on the nose, the tropical fruit characteristics of this wine were quite sharp and wild, in the mouth they fatten out a little to really fill your mouth with ripe and exotic fruits. The guavas and passion fruit of the nose combine with notes of capsicum and papaya to add weight to the mid palate. This weight lends this wine a medium body and whilst acidity remains typically high, it is more than adequately balanced with those tropical fruit notes. A long mid-palate eventually yields to the finish which is lifted and for the first time herbaceous notes become apparent as the wine fades.

In all, this Villa Maria “Maxwell Vineyard” Sauvignon Blanc is an excellent wine. It is conventional wisdom that New World Sauvignon Blanc should be drunk as young as possible to capture as much freshness and acidity as possible (if you wish to pursue this route and obtain a younger vintage this Villa Maria “Maxwell Vineyard” Sauvignon Blanc is now sold under the Villa Maria “Southern Clays” label) however in vinifying this wine in a manner that incorporated 3 months “sur lie” maturation, Villa Maria have created a Sauvignon Blanc which has also stood the test of time. With 4 years bottle age at the time of tasting, this Villa Maria “Maxwell Vineyard” Sauvignon Blanc has developed a weighty midpalate that is now in balance with the acidity that defines the Sauvignon Blanc grape and that many lover of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc may find more palatable than some younger wines where the acidity can overpower at times.

Vila Maria are rightly proud of their success and expansion over the last 50 years and are also proud of the critical acclaim that their wines have received over this period. This Villa Maria “Maxwell Vineyard” Sauvignon Blanc (2007) shows precisely why Villa Maria have been so successful.
Villa Maria “Maxwell Vineyard” Sauvignon Blanc (2007)

Score: 89/100 – A fantastically balanced tropical fruit punch!

Value for Money: 8/10 – Priced at £13 per bottle this Villa Maria “Maxwell Vineyard” Sauvignon Blanc  is more expensive than the majority of NZ Sauvignon Blanc, better than most NZ Sauvignon Blanc