Chatting with Sir George Fistonich of Villa Maria Estates

Sep 19, 12 Chatting with Sir George Fistonich of Villa Maria Estates

Posted by in New Zealand wine

“I’ve never met a wineblogger before, it was very nice talking to you…” That’s what Sir George Fistonich told me after we had spent about 45 minutes chatting about his Villa Maria Estates’ past, present and future. I was amused that he was amused to meet a “wineblogger”. Sir George was in town last night as part of the 50th anniversary celebration of the founding of Villa Maria Estates and that’s how I found myself chatting with him.  From the humble beginnings of leased land, George and his wife, Jane, have built Villa Maria into a well respected (and well awarded) wine brand.  I had the opportunity to chat with George and learn a bit  more about Villa Maria before a grand tasting and dinner at the BAFTA in Piccadilly. After initially talking about the history of Villa Maria, I asked George what he thought set Villa Maria apart from the rest and how they had managed to be so successful in a crowded field of brands. “Innovation and quality” was George’s reply. Villa Maria is one of the top 5 family owned wineries in New Zealand and George believes that the fact that it’s still family owned allows them to do things that wineries with shareholders just can’t do. For example, in 2001 when Villa Maria switched to all screwcaps, people thought that they were crazy, but they could do it because they had no one to answer to but themselves. As we now know, George was right in his decision to go all screwcap. Villa Maria also has the luxury of being able to do experimental plantings. They have a few hectares where they can plant basically whatever they want and see what happens. They are currently experimenting with verdelho, vermentino and arneis. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. George had brought along a sample of the arneis which we tried at the tasting and I have to say it was very good. It’s great to see a lesser known variety...

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An Evening of Swine and Wine

Swine and Wine. Sounds like my idea of a very good night indeed and my friends over at DVine Wine teamed up with Lardy Da (cute) to put on a supper club-y type dinner the other night somewhere under an arch near London Bridge. A big sparse room, with concrete floors, art pieces scattered around the walls and a rockabilly bass player in the corner greeted me as I entered and I thought, yeah, this should be a good night. What made me sure it was going to be a good night was the big paper bag full of pork crackling on the table I noticed when I sat down. Brilliant idea in lieu of bread! DVine Wine, who I’ve written about before, are all about sourcing sustainable wines, not necessarily natural wines, more like biodynamic or organic which, if they happen to be natural, well that’s just a good wine nonetheless.  Lardy Da is all about the swine and using the bits and pieces that normally get thrown out (like trotters and tails for the jelly) for their ethically sourced pork pies. The idea of pork pies and wine, well, why not? The first wine we had was a sylvaner, a lesser known grape from the great producer Domaine Ostertag. This wine was a winner round the table, a 2007 it was lusher then expected with ripe granny smith apples and a pleasing coconut flake nose, finishing off with dry, zippy lime notes. Served with a trad pork pie, it cut through the fat like a scythe. A New Zealand sauvignon blanc but not as we know it. The 2010 Urlar s.blanc was a throwback to the way NZ SB used to be – gooseberry, passionfruit and lime with none of that cat’s pee on the nose. I do hope that is falling out of favour. This was a fuller s.b. then I’m used to but delicious indeed. It was served with a pig’s head terrine which I didn’t really think had much...

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What’s for dessert? Forrest Estate Botrytised Riesling 2006

What’s for dessert? No matter how many courses there may be for a meal, whether it be 2 or 8, I always look forward to the dessert or pudding (as they call it here in England) course. An amusing story regarding the word”pudding”. Years ago when I first came to London from California, fresh out of university, I got a job as a waitress in the West End. One night an English customer asked me if we had any puddings. I replied, unwittingly, I should add, “I’m sorry sir, but we don’t have any pudding. We do however have some very nice desserts.” Needless to say, he gave me a very strange look. At the time I didn’t realize that “pudding” was the English version of what we call “dessert” in the States. Pudding in America denotes something like a tapioca pudding, not as creamy as a mousse but similar. “Two countries divided by a common language,” indeed! After a rather delicious lunch of tapas at The Providores not long ago, Vintage Macaroon (pictured) and I were debating what to have for dessert. Rather then sharing a dessert we ended up with two desserts and two wines! Yes, we are greedy and insatiable. We’d had a bottle of riesling with lunch so we carried on with a racy New Zealand botrytised riesling from Forrest Estate and a Noble semillon from Pegasus Bay. I enjoyed the semillon but the real stand out for me was the riesling. Forrest Estate has an interesting story. It’s a winery that was founded by two Drs., John and Brigid Forrest, one a molecular biologist and the other a medical doctor, who chucked it all in to try their hand at winemaking. As they say on their site, they did it because they wanted “…a mixture of the wine ‘passion’ and a desire to achieve and be recognised and rewarded for ones efforts. In hindsight we struck upon a career which suits our personalities – a perfect blend of art...

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Jackson Estate Pinot Noir at the Stolen supper club

Somehow, I have become a foodie. How did this happen? One minute I’m just bebopping along, doing my wine thing, next thing I know, I’m reviewing Michelin starred restaurants and supper clubs. I suppose it shouldn’t be a surprise as food and wine are meant to go together and like so  many of my wineblogging breathren, I do think that wine should be drunk with food close at hand. I have to say though that the wine always takes centre stage, although I do make an effort to think about the food too. Supper Clubs, great idea but a bitch to find! Luiz and I must have spent 10 minutes looking for the Stolen Supper Club in Notting Hill. Can you blame us, here is the door, sans door number: Our charming hostess, Mia (aka Bonnie) greeted us at the door and led us into a currently being renovated flat, cue lots of exposed ceilings and plasterwork. The only thing fully in place was the brand new kitchen where her accomplice Leandro (Clyde) was busy preparing our dinner. It was looking good as she led us past the oven and into a lovely garden where the other guests were chatting and drinking. The Stolen Supper Club’s USP so to speak is that they ‘steal’ famous chef’s  recipes to re-create their dining experience in their supper club at home. This week they were replicating Mark Hix’s menu and due to the fact that Mia had spent 10 years in the London restaurant scene, Mark is a friend and kindly donated Hix napkins for the evening as well as plenty of info on his restaurants and the aperitif for the evening. The menu was from Hix Oyster and Chop House and we duly started with oysters on the half shell fresh from Billingsgate Market that morning, served with a bloody mary granita on top and naked for the purists. I liked the bloody mary granita but I like my oysters unadorned  by anything but a splash...

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Craggy Range 2008 Te Muna Road riesling

A short note today on a riesling from New Zealand. Riesling has many guises from the deliciously slatey, fruity Germans of the Mosel, bone dry yet aromatic Alsatians to the limey Australian rieslings that come from the Clare and Eden Valley. There is a riesling for everyone, no matter what your preference. And now, New Zealand has joined the club of premium riesling producers. Riesling does very well in the cool climate and and stoney soils of  Martinborough and Marlborough, New Zealand. Craggy Range has produced a real cracker of  a Riesling from their Single Estate Te Muna Road vineyards in the Martinborough region. The grapes come from 2 small terraces that are part of the famous Martinborough Terrace which has exceptional, old stony soils.   The grapes are handpicked, whole bunch pressed and go through cool fermentation before being left on the lees for 4 months. This gives the wine a complexity and body that is a hallmark of Craggy Range. I find that New Zealand rieslings seem to combine the aromatic quality of Alsace with the fruitiness of a german riesling while still retaining it’s dry character. There can be some residual sugar but I find that there is no where near as much as can be found in many German rieslings, especially those that have a few  years of age. I often find that New World rieslings go very well with Indian cuisine. I was at Mint Leaf Lounge for a dinner and  The Craggy Range Te Muna Road riesling was served with a curry, potato and mullet dish with a mustard sauce. The riesling had a vibrant, floral citrus nose, a well balanced wine with lovely passionfruit and citrus notes, it had a depth and elegance that made it a true pleasure to drink. I enjoyed  it on its own as well a with the fish, the wine neither being overpowered or overpowering the fish. Craggy Range’s riesling is a fine example of what New Zealand is doing with this...

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