It was a compelling invitation. “On behalf of the team at Villa Maria …

“We would love to invite you to our Great Chardonnays of the World tasting to celebrate International Chardonnay Day hosted by Nick Picone [chief winemaker] and Matt Deller [chief global sales and marketing officer]. This tasting will feature 12 of the best Chardonnays of the world benchmarked with our selection of Villa Maria Single Vineyard wines.”

I describe the format as a “win, win tasting”. Choose a bunch of reassuringly expensive wines from around the globe and stack them up against your own significantly less expensive wines in a blind tasting. There is a chance that your wines will perform with distinction (big win), but even if they don’t take line honours, they will probably stack up well against famous and expensive brands.

The 15 wines featured cost Villa Maria a total of $4638, an average of $309 a bottle. The three Villa Maria wines in the tasting have an average retail price of around $60 each. 

The most expensive wine in the tasting was the Domaine Leflaive Bâtard-Montrachet Grand Cru 2017, with a price tag of $1082. The least expensive wine was the Villa Maria Ihumatao Chardonnay 2019, a comparative bargain at $49.99. 

The wines were grouped into three flights, with five wines in each, including one Villa Maria single-vineyard wine. In an effort to compare apples with apples, Picone and Deller labelled the wines in the first flight as “taut, mineral and fine”, those in the second as “elegant, harmonious and ethereal” and those in the third as “dense, sophisticated and complex”. 

It was a great tasting. My top wine was also the least expensive. I love it when that happens. It was the Villa Maria Ihumatao Chardonnay 2019. That is a “big, big win”. I ordered a case. Unfortunately, there is a chance that the vineyard, next to Villa Maria’s winery in Māngere and a short drive from Auckland Airport, may be sold and uprooted, which would be a tragedy. 

Villa Maria also fared well with its other two single-vineyard wines. The Villa Maria Taylors Pass Chardonnay 2019 placed ninth out of the 15 wines and the Villa Maria Keltern Vineyard Chardonnay ranked twelfth. That’s a good result in strong company.

The wines in the tasting, in order of preference, were: 

1st Villa Maria Ihumatao Chardonnay 2019, Auckland, $49.99
Concentrated chardonnay with grapefruit, tree fruits and oyster-shell characters. Very pure and defined. Seductive wine that has the X-factor. Wonderfully textural. 

2nd Domaine Coche-Dury Meursault 2018, Burgundy, $825
Impressive concentration with layers of flavours including nutty oak and mineral/saline characters. Supremely elegant wine. 

3rd Domaine Leflaive Bâtard-Montrachet Grand Cru 2017, Burgundy, $1082
Creamy, textured wine with tree-fruit, citrus-fruit and nutty barrel fermentation characters. Gets a tick in all the boxes but lacking the X-factor. Nicely made wine with lovely acidity. 

4th Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay 2018, Margaret River, $110
Intense chardonnay with impressive depth of fruit and a hint of oyster shell. Elegant, seamless wine with impressive power delivered with great subtlety.

5th Domaine Bonneau du Martray Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru 2017, Burgundy, $440
A New World style with appealing fruit sweetness and concentrated citrus, hazelnut and ginger characters. Rich, mouth-filling wine. 

6th Domaine François Raveneau Montée de Tonnerre Chablis Premier Cru 2015, Burgundy, $475
Smooth, “peaches and cream” with a silken texture and fruit sweetness nicely balanced against fruity acidity. Appealing appley wine showing a little bottle age. 

7th Catena Zapata Whites Stones 2017, Argentina, $119.99
Rich, ripe tree-fruit/nectarine flavours with reasonably prominent oak and a saline tang. An ethereal texture. A very “New World” style. Elegant wine.

8th Walter Scott “Seven Springs Vineyard” Eola-Amity Hills Chardonnay 2018, Oregon, $190
Quite a ripe chardonnay with tree-fruit/peach/nectarine, toasty barrel fermentation characters and a flinty/mineral influence. Moderately complex wine with good weight and richness.

9th Villa Maria Taylors Pass Chardonnay 2019, Marlborough, $49.99
Bright, high-energy chardonnay with hazelnut, oyster-shell, biscuit/toast flavours plus a pleasing savoury edge. Youthful and quite chunky wine.

10th Louis Jadot Chevalier-Montrachet Grand Cru 2017, Burgundy, $750
Ripe, peachy and quite concentrated chardonnay with restrained, spicy oak. Mouth-filling wine with peppery tannins adding structure.

11th Hyde de Villaine Chardonnay 2018, Carneros, Napa, USA, $195
Accessible, ethereal chardonnay with tree fruits, white flowers, almond/marzipan and a subtle saline influence together with sweet, nutty oak. 

12th Villa Maria Keltern Vineyard 2019, Hawke’s Bay, $79.99
A controversial style that I have absolutely loved when tasted in different company but in this tasting, I found it a little too reductive. Quite intense tree-fruit, smoky and appealing mineral flavours. 

13th Errazuriz Las Pizarras Chardonnay 2018, Chile, $85
A very New World style with citrus/grapefruit, apricot and mineral characters. Fine-boned chardonnay with quite assertive acidity adding energy. 

14th Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2018, South Africa, $82
A developed wine in a “warm climate” style with an oily and slightly coarse texture and pronounced oak. Plenty of flavour. Could be a crowd-pleaser.

15th Giaconda Estate Vineyard Chardonnay 2018, Beechworth, $104
Quite reductive and a little too tough. Bottle age may help.

Bob’s Top Picks

Investment Wine

Esk Valley Heipipi The Terraces 2019, Hawke’s Bay, $160

A field blend of malbec 43%, merlot 38% and cabernet franc 19% grown on the limestone-rich, north-facing terraces at Bay View/Heipipi. Inky red with Christmas-cake dried fruit and spice character. Intense and quite complex wine that can certainly be appreciated now but promises to age well.

Weekend Wines

Top White

Flaxmore Pinot Gris 2020, Nelson, $24

Delicately fruity pinot gris with poached-pear, apple, and honeysuckle flavours. An initial hint of sweetness is balanced by fruity acidity which, with the help of fine, peppery tannins, gives the wine a pleasantly dry finish.

Top Red 

Dog Point Pinot Noir 2011, Marlborough, $60

A re-release eight years after its initial release, and at a modest $18 premium. Mellow, mature pinot noir with vibrant dark-cherry, plum, spice, cedar, dried-herb and floral/violet flavours. The wine opened up as it sat in the glass and would benefit from aeration.

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