Wines from Sir George’s cellar
Sir George Fistonich, founder/owner of Villa Maria and associate companies, including Vidal Estate and Esk Valley, invited a few friends to join him, and his wife Gail, to dinner at their Parnell home. Guests included Ian and Katherine Clark, Michael and Linda Cooper, Vic Williams and my wife, Marion. The main purpose of the evening was to try some Villa Maria wines from Sir George’s cellar.
We started with Villa Maria Fletcher Vineyard Chardonnay 2000 (cork – 14.5%), which was maderised but still quite interesting. A high-ish alcohol contributed toward a slightly bitter finish. Eighteen years is a big ask for a chardonnay, even in a temperature-controlled cellar. There were murmurings of appreciation from most of the guests.
Next was Villa Maria Marlborough Reserve Chardonnay 2001 (screwcap – 14.5%), which steered the conversation into cork vs screwcap. Villa Maria was one of screwcap’s early adopters. A screwcap had certainly extended this wine’s life. An appealing chardonnay from a different era when big and buttery ruled.
The following wine, Villa Maria Ihumatao Chardonnay 2010 (Screwcap – 13.5%), was from their Auckland vineyard adjacent to the winery and close to Auckland airport. Bright, fresh and probably at its peak. An interesting wine but just a tad too oaky for my taste. It made a useful comparison with the more modern Villa Maria Keltern Vineyard Chardonnay 2008 from Hawke’s Bay (12%) that followed. A stylish wine, with a nice level of reductive struck flint character and less oak influence allowing bright citrus and white peach flavours to occupy centre-stage.
The Villa Maria Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 1987 from Auckland (cork – 12%) was quite developed but still had good primary fruit flavours and a backbone of moderately firm tannins. This fine-boned, stylish wine had been harvested at a modest sugar level of 20 Brix.
The Malbec-dominant Esk ‘The Terraces’ 2002 (Screwcap – 14.7%) from an excellent Hawke’s Bay vintage proved to be a big, rich wine showing some development, with a slightly rustic edge and heat from a generous alcohol. Still kicking but probably at, or close to, peak drinking.
The Esk ‘The Terraces’ 1998 (cork – 14%) was from a legendary drought vintage. Fleshy and still a tad closed with plump, ripe fruit flavours and a remarkably long finish.
My favourite from the Villa Maria stable was the Vidal Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2000 from Hawke’s Bay (Screwcap – 13.5%), a wonderfully aromatic wine with beautifully fresh cedar, blackberry and cassis fruit flavours. Impressive wine with a firm tannic backbone and plenty of life ahead.
By contrast, the rather simple but deliciously drinkable Villa Maria Reserve Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon 1998, also from Hawke’s Bay (cork – 13.5%), still had strong fruit with plum, berry and floral characters.
The Villa Maria Reserve Merlot 2001 (Screwcap – 14%) was a light, fresh and almost pinot noir-like red. Agreeable but a little simple.
Next was a slightly corked magnum of Vidal Joseph Soler Cabernet Sauvignon 1998 (14%), together with a 750ml bottle of the same wine that was clearly fresher and more intense than the magnum. Still youthful with appealing berry and cedar characters.
The wine kept flowing with a Villa Maria Reserve Merlot 1998 (cork – 13.5%), which was delicious with impressive fruit purity and a perfect structure.
Even better was Villa Maria Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2002 (Screwcap – 14.5%). It was still quite youthful with ripe berry, blackberry, cassis and spicy oak flavours. Probably close to its peak but no rush. High alcohol but the wine seemed to handle it beautifully.
Star wine if the evening was a mystery bottle brought by Cooper. Its identity was revealed before we had a chance to make fools of ourselves. It was a delicious Penfolds Grange 1982. A little later research suggests that 1982 was not an outstanding vintage, but this bottle really delivered, perhaps because it was in peak drinking form.
Clark contributed a bottle of Chateau d’Yquem 1967, my favourite vintage of one of the world’s greatest sweet wines. Despite the bottle having a good fill level, it was well past its best and oxidised. I savoured the wine anyway, comforted by the thought that I was travelling home by taxi.