The development of Villa Maria is a great success story. From modest beginnings in 1961 to having 250 employees in more than 50 countries, this family owned business has grown and survived due to a focus on quality, hard work and innovation. For example, 2001 was Villa Maria's first cork-free wine bottle year. They also have armfuls of awards from around the world.
As a testament to how much Villa Maria Estate founder, Sir George Fistonich, loves wine, he was quoted as saying something like, "I love wine. During the past 50 years, there are only three days where I have not drunk wine." [Badly paraphrased by me, but you get the picture.] Wow, he must really love the stuff! We couldn't help wondering though which three days were the ones where he took a break from wine and why. A hospital visit? Bad planning on a public holiday? In transit to another world where wine doesn't exist?
Villa Maria produces a huge range of wines from vineyards all around the country. We got to try three wines from their Private Bin Light range. We were given detailed tasting notes, meaning that all I really had to do was enjoy each sample then put a tick or cross on each page once I'd decided whether I liked it or not.
- Pinot Gris 2014 - Private Bin Light. With just 9% alcohol, this was a really light wine and pale in appearance. It's produced in Marlborough and tasted ok, but I didn't really like the floral aftertaste.
- Rosé 2014 - Private Bin Light. I'm coming to like light rosés, but this dry rosé was far too light for me, so much so that there really wasn't much flavour to it at all. Made from Hawkes Bay pinot gris and merlot grapes, it was served lightly chilled.
- Sauvignon Blanc 2014 - Private Bin Light. I enjoy a dry Marlborough sav, but I just couldn't get a full taste from this 9% alcohol wine. I think I'll stick to full bodied wines in future.
During the second half of the evening, we were introduced to Left Field, a new wine range from Te Awa Collection that was only launched a few weeks ago. These full bodied wines boast "something a bit different", either in the way they are made or their palette.
- Hawkes Bay 2014 Left Field Rosé. More fruity than the light rosé, I couldn't quite work out why I didn't like this dry rosé. It's on the 'no' list for me.
- East Coast 2014 Left Field Pinot Gris. I was the only one at our table that seemed to get a strong smell of yeast off this oily pinot gris. Another 'no' for me.
- Marlborough 2014 Left Field Sauvignon Blanc. This had a very strong flavour with passionfruit and stone fruit coming through and a slightly bitter, acidic aftertaste. My pick for the evening.
- Hawkes Bay 2014 Left Field Chardonnay. If there's one thing that I've learned about chardonnay, it's that I like it unoaked or half oaked. This chardonnay was oaked for 8-9 months in young oak barrels - far too strong for me to get past the oaky smell and taste the flavours underneath.
- Marlborough 2013 Left Field Pinot Noir. Our final sample was a fruity pinot noir that had a light, warm aftertaste.