Ngakirikiri The Gravels Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 ~ Tasting Villa Maria’s Maiden Icon Red Release…

New Zealand’s Villa Maria has been making wines for over 50 years from many of the North and South Island’s best appellations. But to mark Villa Maria’s 54th Anniversary, the company decided to release a new flagship red to commemorate the occasion. Called Ngakirikiri, the Maori word for Gravels, the 2013 vintage was chosen to showcase Villa Maria’s first ultra premium red.

2013 will go down in Hawkes Bay as one of the best red wine vintages in this regions history, presenting an unmissable opportunity to launch this new wine. Villa Maria owner, Sir George Fistonitch, described it as a ‘once in a lifetime opportunity’ to create and launch a flagship wine marking all the winemaking achievements of Villa Maria’s 54 year history.

The Ngakirikiri Vineyard is sited on what was an ancient riverbed in the a Gimblett Gravels sub-region of Hawkes Bay. Over 25 years ago, the site was blessed by Maori elders before vines were planted. Growing conditions can be extreme with the alluvial gravels providing a very stony, free draining environment for the vines. As a result, vines tend to be less vigorous in canopy growth with their roots delving deeper into the soils resulting in intense, deeply flavoured grapes.

Villa Maria Ngakirikiri The Gravels Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Gimblett Gravels, 14 Abv.

Although this wine is almost 5 years old, it still possesses a youthful deep plummy purple colour. A flagship red wine deserves to have an exulted, opulent, complex bouquet and this Gimblett Gravels blend does not disappoint. With 97% Cabernet Sauvignon and only 3% Merlot, the nose is lifted and elegantly perfumed with aromatic layers of intense cassis, black cherry, blueberries, damson plums and wonderful violet, dried rose petals and lavender perfume. The palate is dense and textured with opulent layers that are classically proportioned and seductive showing black cassis fruit concentration that would not look out of place on a young super premium Pauillac or St Julien Bordeaux. The supportive cedary oak is beautifully integrated and the tannins while youthful, are very fine grained lending just the right amount of Old World styled restraint. True to all great reds from New Zealand, this wine has super vibrant freshness that enhance and emphasise the majestic gravelly minerality and saline picante black liquorice finish. A truly impressive, sensually stimulating wine that deserves further ageing in the cellar for at least another 20+ years. But drinking this truly fine red now will equally bring great pleasure and enjoyment to consumers, collectors and connoisseurs alike.

(Wine Safari Score: 96/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

So what is my overall verdict? Well, my original interest in this wine started when I commented on social media that it seemed slightly incongruous that this new(ish) release could be scored by professionals with such a wide disparity … 92+/100 from the Wine Advocate, 94/100 from James Suckling and 98/100 from Bob Campbell MW. I did subsequently find out that the scores were compiled over a three year spread. Tasting the wine now, almost 5 years after production, it becomes plainly clear that this wine is both the real deal, superb premium quality and is undoubtedly improving in bottle with time.

While this wine won’t be widely available, it does seem that the £99 (R1850) per bottle price tag is more than justified. This is a supremely well made wine that deserves all the positive media attention it has received. I look forward to tasting a bottle of this wine in maybe 10 or 15 years time, when it should be realising it’s full potential.

What Does a £10’er Get You In a UK Supermarket…?

I don’t tend to write much about branded supermarket wines primarily because I rarely buy them and rarely drink them. But of course I’m no wine snob, so occasionally I am required to delve into the supermarket aisles … to pick up a bottle of something interesting if at all possible.


With my wife being very partial to a well made Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc, I decided to “trade up” from the regular Villa Maria, Brancott Estate and Nautilus brands in favour of a more premium wine who’s label suggested it offered something more complex and sophisticated.


I’m also a big fan of well made Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, regularly drinking Dog Point, Seresin, Cloudy Bay, Mahi, and Jules Taylor just to mention a few names. So today, I was hoping that this branded offering would at least deliver something close to these other, more boutique Sauvignon styles. 


Brancott Estate Terroir Series Awatere Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Marlborough, 14 Abv. 

I have drunk the regular Brancott Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2016 on several occasions, and it’s safe to say it does exactly what it says on the tin, and does it well. But for a couple of pounds more, £10 precisely, you get this more distinctive, terroir driven wine. The nose is more expressive, nuanced, bristling with tart green apple, crunchy gooseberry, lemon grass, lime peel, dried basil herbs and crushed gravel mineral lift. The aromatics feature some tropical notes of green melon, guava and passion fruit, but overall the wine has more phenolic complexity, dusty minerality and a complex nettle spice. The palate too is impressively intense and concentrated, with more revealing aromatic grip, intense peppery green fruits, and a fine, palate tingling acidity. Thoroughly refreshing, and very enjoyable to drink. If you are buying a branded Sauvignon Blanc, its very hard to fault this wine and it is probably worth the extra money to trade up. 

(Wine Safari Score: 91+/100 Greg Sherwood MW) 


Accolades: 

Gold – Air New Zealand Wine Awards 2017

Gold – New Zealand International Wine Show 2016

(Both for the 2016 vintage)

Tasting the New Zealand Wines of Rising Marlborough Star Jules Taylor…

I don’t seem to write about New Zealand wines enough. Is it perhaps because I don’t often get surprised or stopped in my tracks by an exciting new release Pinot Noir, Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc? Possibly. Don’t get me wrong, I love all New Zealand wines including commercial supermarket Sauvignon Blanc brands etc. But they don’t necessarily inspire me to wax lyrical and share them with followers of my blog.


But yesterday the lovely Jules Taylor hosted a tasting of her full range of wines for me. Jules launched her own label in 2001 and made her first batch of Jules Taylor wines including 200 cases of Pinot Gris and Riesling. Today those 200 cases have been joined by Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Rose, Gruner Veltliner and Arneis.


Jules produces very smart wines as you’d expect from someone who previously worked at Cloudy Bay and Kim Crawford Wines, both kiwi Icon brands. But her Jukes Taylor wines are much more artisanal and characterful with real complexity and attention to detail. I’m especially a big fan of her Gruner Veltliner but it was her 2016 Pinot Gris that unexpectedly just blew me away.


Made from new clone M2 and 52B Pinot Gris planted in the last 6 years, they produce beautiful little berries which are full of concentrated flavours of spice & stone fruits. The grapes for this Pinot Gris come from the Lower Wairau, Southern Valleys and Lower Dashwood sub regions of Marlborough. A portion has been hand-harvested with the balance picked in the cool of the morning by machine. The machine harvested portion of this fruit was fermented with selected commercial yeast strains chosen to enhance the natural flavours of the variety. The hand-picked portion was whole bunch pressed, then wild fermented with natural yeasts. This also underwent a full malolactic fermentation. Lees stirring in the barrel has also added an extra textural component to the wine. The wine was blended, stabilised and bottled in July 2016.


Jules Taylor Pinot Gris 2016, Marlborough, 13.5 Abv. (RRP £16-17pb)

A beautiful textural Pinot Gris with lucious pear, white peach, tangerine peel and aromatic stone fruit flavours. The partial wild ferment imparts extra richness, and exotic complexity while the lees stiring contributes a complimentary nutty, biscuity minerality. There is no flabby fat on this taught, beautiful Pinot Gris with the wine remaining almost bone dry at 1.8 g/l RS. The palate is layered and textured but underpinned throughout by a vibrant crystalline acidity and great fruit intensity. I don’t think I’ve enjoyed a kiwis Pinot Gris this much in years! 

(Wine Safari Score: 93/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Tasting Fine Marlborough Pinot Noir with the Kiwi Legend Brian Bicknell of Mahi Wines…

I first met Brian Bicknell way back in 2000 when he was still making the characterful wines of Seresin. I thought he was a real cool dude back then and certainly still think so today. So it was wonderful to catch up with Brian this afternoon to taste through his lovely Mahi wines. 


Brian is an ex-Roseworthy graduate and chose Marlborough to settle down in way back in 1996 after making wine all around the world for 15 years. His first Mahi vintages were in 2001, buying fruit from a dedicated group of growers. In 2006 Brian acquired the old Cellier Le Brun winery, finally giving Mahi wines a true home.


Working very naturally in a hands-off manner, Brian focuses on making wines that speak of their terroir and origin. Sourcing fruit from the same vineyards continuously, for many years, has also allowed his knowledge and understanding to grow with every vintage. All his single vineyard wines use wild yeast ferments while his estate wines are a combination of innoculated and wild yeast vinifications.


Tasting Note: Mahi Wines 2013 Pinot Noir, Marlborough, 13.5 Abv. – This wine shows very pretty black fruit aromatics and wonderfully lifted, fragrant perfume. Sweet roses, pink musk, red plums, black cherry and black currant notes waft out the glass intermingled with graphite, gravelly spice and pithy foresty bramble fruits. The palate is vibrant, slightly crunchy and fresh revealing sour plums, stewed cranberries and salty black berries with fine, spicy, savoury mineral tannins on the finish. Has all the hallmark elegance of fine Marlborough Pinot Noir with ample minerality and sappy choc spice oak complexity on the finish. A wine starting to show real promise at 4 years old. Drink or keep for another 5 to 8 years.

(Wine Safari Score: 92/100 Greg Sherwood MW)