2017 Best Buys

BEST WHITE WINE BUY OF THE YEAR

Villa Maria Cellar Selection Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2016

$20.00  (down to $15)

This classy wine has pretty much everything you could hope for in a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, for $20 or less . . . often a lot less.

Positioned above the popular, lower-priced Private Bin wines and below the relatively rare, more expensive Reserve and Single Vineyard ranges, Villa Maria’s Cellar Selection wines frequently offer a magical combination of high quality and affordable price. They are made in sufficient volumes to be sold nationwide in supermarkets, and when on special can deliver simply unbeatable value.

Already awarded a gold medal at the New Zealand International Wine Show 2016, this is a five-star Sauvignon Blanc at a three-star price. Notably weighty, with concentrated, vibrant tropical-fruit flavours (Villa Maria says ‘melon and ruby grapefruit’), deliciously deep, dry and zingy, it’s a bargain at its recommended retail price of $20, but if you buy it when on promotion, you’ll be able to snap it up for around $15.

Soon after the warmest grape-growing season in Marlborough since 1998 (when camels were allegedly spotted on the horizon), Villa Maria said that ‘Sauvignon Blanc will be a highlight’. The grapes for the 2016 Cellar Selection Sauvignon Blanc were grown in the Wairau Valley and Awatere Valley sub-regions, which offer a diversity of soil types, local climates and flavour profiles.

Nick Picone, appointed chief winemaker for Villa Maria in 2015, spent four years living and working for the company in Marlborough. Sauvignon Blanc accounts for 70 per cent of Villa Maria’s total production, and Picone is optimistic about the variety’s future. He believes the demand will soon exceed supply, ‘which should trigger higher prices, allowing winemakers to work harder on high-end, textural wines with aging potential’.

The 2016 Cellar Selection Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc had a long, cool fermentation with cultured yeasts in stainless steel tanks, to retain its highly distinctive, intense regional and varietal characteristics. Maturing the wine on its yeast lees, prior to bottling, also helped to build up its palate structure and weight.

A compelling wine in its infancy, with notable body, freshness and concentration, Villa Maria Cellar Selection Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2016 is a bargain-priced partner for poultry, salads and seafood.

BEST RED WINE BUY OF THE YEAR

Church Road Hawke’s Bay Syrah 2014

$20 (down to $17)

If you haven’t yet discovered the delights of Syrah grown in New Zealand, you are not alone. Many of us are confused because Syrah, the classic red-wine variety of the Rhône Valley, in France, has long been labelled under a different name in Australia – Shiraz. But this sturdy, richly flavoured, bargain-priced 2014 red from Church Road, in Hawke’s Bay, is not to be missed.

Chris Scott has headed the winemaking team at the historic Church Road winery for 11 years, producing some of the country’s greatest Chardonnays and red blends of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. In recent years, Syrah has also captured his intense interest. Scott describes this highly affordable red as ‘a superb Syrah, displaying rich berry fruit, spice and liquorice notes accompanied by a full and supple palate’.

Why is it so moderately priced? ‘Syrah is still a relatively hard sell,’ he acknowledges. ‘It’s a new varietal name to most consumers.’ But Scott believes Syrah is producing the region’s most distinctive reds. ‘Hawke’s Bay’s top Bordeaux-style reds [from Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon] will stand up in any international comparison and they can be hard to tell apart. But in an international line-up of Syrahs, the Hawke’s Bay wines leap out, with an aromatic intensity.’

A ‘serious’ but highly approachable red, Church Road Hawke’s Bay Syrah 2014 is dark, with a very fragrant, spicy bouquet. Mouthfilling and sweet-fruited, with an array of blackcurrant, plum, spice and nut flavours, hints of black pepper and liquorice, and excellent concentration and complexity, it’s well worth cellaring, but gentle tannins also give it lots of drink-young appeal.

After an unusually warm, dry growing season, 2014 is widely viewed as an extremely strong vintage in Hawke’s Bay, especially for reds. Grown in the Bridge Pa Triangle (77 per cent) and the Gimblett Gravels (23 per cent), the wine was matured for the unusually long period of 20 months in French and Hungarian oak barriques (25 per cent new), and bottled unfiltered.

When entered in Winestate magazine’s annual regional tasting of Hawke’s Bay wines, this classy red scored a ****1/2 rating, ahead of many wines asking twice, or even triple, the price. At $20 (down to $16.99 at some retailers) it’s a steal.

Church Road suggests this sturdy, flavour-packed red will drink well for at least another three years, especially with meat, game or robust vegetarian dishes with earthy, savoury elements such as mushrooms and eggplant.

OTHER SHORT-LISTED WINES

Whites

Boundary Vineyards Tuki Tuki Road Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay 2015 (, $20)

Brancott Estate Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2016 (, $17)

Opawa Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2016 (, $20)

Peter Yealands Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2016 (, $15)

Peter Yealands Reserve Awatere Valley Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2016 (, $18)

Rapaura Springs Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2016 (, $14)

Villa Maria Cellar Selection Marlborough Chardonnay 2015 (, $20)

Villa Maria Private Bin Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2016 (, $17)

Reds

Church Road McDonald Series Hawke’s Bay Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 (, $27)

Church Road McDonald Series Hawke’s Bay Syrah 2014 (, $27)

TK [Te Kairanga] Martinborough Pinot Noir 2015 (, $25)

Vidal Reserve Gimblett Gravels Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 (, $20)

Villa Maria Cellar Selection Hawke’s Bay Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 (, $20)

Villa Maria Cellar Selection Hawke’s Bay Syrah 2014 (, $26)