A smattering of the great and the good of the UK wine trade turned up for a debate last Tuesday (June 14), titled ‘What direction should New Zealand winemaking take for the future’, sponsored by Villa Maria and arranged by its UK agent, Hatch Mansfield.
The ‘elephant in the tasting room’ is: ‘Is New Zealand a one-trick pony (Sauvignon Blanc). Possibly two with Pinot Noir… The debate took place in the august presence of Villa Maria boss, Sir George Fistonich who, sadly, had misplaced his voice on the journey over.
Kiwi master of wine Peter McCombie spoke up for concentrating on and promoting regions.
UK MW Rebecca Gibb, recently returned from New Zealand, championed grape varieties. While the non-MW, ex-Waitrose buyer, the ever ebullient Joe Wadsack eulogised on behalf of NW’s premium selection.
The wines selected to demonstrate each argument were:
- McCombie’s regional troopers – Admiral Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2016 from Nelson; Villa Maria Private Bin Chardonnay from Gisborne; Villa Maria Single Vineyard Verdelho 2014 from Ihumatao and Villa Maria Reserve Merlot 2013 from Hawkes Bay.
- Gibbs’ grape specials – Left Field Albariño 2015 from Gisborne; Villa Maria Selection Sauvignon Gris 2015 from Marlborough; Villa Maria Selection Arneis 2014 from Hawkes Bay and Left Field Malbec 2014 from Hawkes Bay.
- Wadsack’s premiers comprise – Villa Maria Single Vineyard Keltern Chardonnay 2014 from Hawkes Bay; Villa Maria Reserve Pinot Noir 2013 from Marlborough; Vidal Legacy Syrah 2013 and Esk Valley Winemakers’ Reserve Merlot/Malbec/Cabernet Sauvignon 2011.
McCombie said NZ wines and grape varieties and wines should be seen in a regional context. He did not see understanding NZ regions as difficult. “They are not so complicated,” he said.
Whereas a feisty Gibb said as far as consumers were concerned, grape varieties were the clearest signpost.
“People are unaware of how diverse New Zealand is,” she cried. “Grape varieties are equally diverse, are easy to understand and have an untainted image.”
Wadsack, in giving faint praise to McCombie’s Merlot, describing the grape variety as “the lift music of the wine world”, he went onto to rave about his selection, particularly the Vidal Syrah.
Reminiscent of Boris Johnson at his best, Wadsack appealed to the assembled room to vote for him.
With Hatch Mansfield’s Patrick McGrath MW officiating, a vote was take. There appeared to be a slight majority of grape varieties but in a major kop out, the overwhelming vote was for all three.
The overall cry was for New Zealand to provide a “clear ladder (for consumers) to trade up”. It was forever thus.
My favourite wines?: Villa Maria Private Bin Chardonnay; Villa Maria Single Vineyard Keltern Chardonnay; Left Field Albariño 2015; Villa Maria Reserve Pinot Noir 2013; Villa Maria Reserve Merlot 2013; Vidal Legacy Syrah 2013.