There are plenty of reasons that Villa Maria has been named one of the most admired wine brands in the world for 2017. And I sipped five of them in a recent virtual tasting hosted by Snooth. Live from New Zealand, Winemaker Helen Morrison, who joined the Villa Maria Marlborough winemaking team in January 2014, shared fascinating insights about Villa Maria and a several of its exceptional wines from the Villa Maria Winemakers Collection, as a group of wine writers and industry insiders swirled, sipped, savored…and engaged in a lively banter.


villa maria

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The Wines of Villa Maria

Perfect for anytime sipping, I found the following wines exceptional. Food friendly, flavorful, and incredibly affordable, I can’t imagine not having a few bottles of wine from this outstanding producer at the ready.

Villa Maria Taylors Pass Vineyard Chardonnay 2015 ($45) – Beautiful fruit expression was noted in this striking Chardonnay, crafted using a natural approach. On the nose, aromas of lovely citrus, yellow flowers, and a hint of smoke were apparent yet subtle. Rich, broad, and fruit driven on the palate, the wine was replete with elements of citrus, ripe pear, peaches, minerality, and oak. Each sip offered a creamy texture, plenty of structure, just-right acidity and a mesmerizing finish. Pair a glass of this Chardonnay with your favorite recipe for roasted chicken or a bounty of cheeses. This is a *wow* wine!

villa maria chardonnay
Villa Maria Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc 2016 ($13) – There’s a reason this Sauvignon Blanc is incredibly popular: its palate profile. Powerful aromas of gooseberry, white flowers, flint, fresh citrus, subtle herbs, and ocean breeze were so delightful, I waited before my first sip…but not for long. On the palate, I enjoyed mouthwatering acidity and crisp, pure flavors of fresh squeezed fruit leading to a lasting, mineral driven finish. Oysters, please!

villa maria sauvignon blanc
Villa Maria Private Bin Bay Rosé 2016 ($14)- If there’s a wine that screams “Summer!”, this is it! Predominantly Merlot with a touch of Arneis that contributed softness and richness, I found lovely aromas of fresh strawberries, raspberries, a veritable garden of roses, and sweet spice. Light and refreshing, yet with intense flavors of just-picked red fruit, bracing acidity and a lingering fruit forward finish, the Villa Maria Private Bin Bay Rosé 2016 is exactly what is needed on hot summer days (and nights). You’ll love each sip of this dry wine with anything served al fresco.

villa maria rose
Villa Maria Cellar Selection Pinot Noir 2014 ($26)- You’re craving a food friendly wine? This Pinot Noir delivers. Intense aromas of red and dark cherries, purple plums, white pepper, and spice led to fresh, focused notes on the palate. I discovered a balance between snappy acidity and integrated tannins. Flavors of juicy red berries, more plums, currants, cloves, and black pepper led to a lush finish. Enjoy with a cheese and charcuterie plate, grilled salmon, or your favorite red meat dish.

villa maria pinot noir
Villa Maria Cellar Selection Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon/Malbec 2013 ($20) – Even better the second night, what’s not to love about this Bordeaux blend…from New Zealand? Blueberries, blackberries, touch of red fruit and spice were dominant on the nose. The palate burst with medium acidity, luscious red fruit, hint of forest floor, and oregano. With a round mouthfeel and long, spicy finish, I found this balanced, easy drinking wine simply lovely with cheesy burgers from the grill.

villa maria merlot/cabernet sauvignon/malbec

Villa Maria – A Commitment to Innovation and Quality

Villa Maria was founded by Sir George Fistonich, a passionate winemaker with Croatian roots. His family, who had immigrated to New Zealand in the late 1920s, expected him to embark on a career in carpentry and construction, but George had other ideas. “I grew up in an environment with wine and always enjoyed the taste of it. Being Croatian, making wine was in my blood,” George admits.

In 1961, at only 21 years old, he leased five acres of land from his father in Magere, Auckland. With a one acre vineyard, dry red and white wines were produced under the name Villa Maria, a name that was an homage to his European heritage. In the 1970s, Sir George began to expand his holdings and employ a staff. Now, Villa Maria employs over 250 permanent staff members and exports wine to over 50 countries worldwide. Villa Maria sources grapes from Marlborough and Hawkes Bay; production is in state-of-the-art facilities in Marlborough and Auckland.

Positive change and continued growth were crucial strategies to success. Sir George began to use contract growers and “led Villa Maria to become the first New Zealand wine company to initiate payment for grapes based on quality rather than a flat contract price”. He was one of the first winery owners in New Zealand to employ professional viticulturists in order to recognized consistence quality in the wines. A bold move, in 2001, Villa Maria was the first major winery in the country to declare itself a “cork-free zone”; starting with the 2002 vintage, all wines are closed with a screwcap.

Sir George Fistonich has made a commitment to innovation and quality. How does he feel when he opens a bottle of wine from Villa Maria?


Villa Maria, still family owned, is the only New Zealand winery in the top 10, placing fourth in the 2017 “World’s Most Admired Wine Brands” list. Over 200 wine industry experts considered more than 100,000 wineries for inclusion on this coveted roster compiled by Drinks International, one of the most respected drinks magazines in the world.

Why is Villa Maria the most admired winery in New Zealand? The answer is in each extraordinary sip.

Cheers! ~ Cindy

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