[This bottle was provided as a sample for review purposes.]
This wine is the red corollary to the Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc I reviewed last week, but (through no fault of the SB, which I quite enjoyed) I found myself much more excited to open this bottle because it was uncharted territory for me. I (and you, and any other casual-or-more wine drinker) have had the famous Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand’s Marlborough region many times before, but I can count the times I’ve had Marlborough wine made from ANY other grape on one hand…actually, one finger. I was enthralled by The Doctors’ Riesling by Forrest Wines, a producer daring enough to take Marlborough vineyard land guaranteed to sell with SB and plant something else instead, and I’m doubly intrigued to open my very first red from this sacred Sauvignon Blanc area. The most famous region in New Zealand for Pinot Noir is probably Central Otago, located in the southern half of NZ’s South Island and known for generating Pinots with distinctive, if potentially off-putting, gamey/meaty/Band-aidy aromas; I had no idea if Marlborough would be more of the same or if it would show off its own individual Pinot style. No better way to find out…
Villa Maria’s Private Bin Pinot Noir was made from grapes sourced from multiple different subregions within Marlborough, each with its own separate microclimate. For bottles at this price point ($22ish), using grapes from different areas and making them into separate lots of wine before blending allows the winemaker more options and more ability to create a harmonious, balanced finished product; more expensive Pinots might focus on top-quality grapes from a single vineyard (a la high-end Burgundy), but wines with value price tags don’t tend to have this luxury. The good thing about using grapes from all parts of a wine region is that you can often end up with a bottle that is more than the sum of the parts, yet that still properly represents the entirety of the region. Since this is my first Marlborough Pinot, I can’t tell you if Villa Maria succeeded on this point, but I do think that this bottle of Private Bin will make an excellent reference point for any Marlborough PNs I’m lucky enough to come across in the future.
One of the best things about Pinot Noir is how it looks in the glass, and this wine was no exception, displaying a gorgeous, vibrant, translucent maroon/purple colour that was both ethereal and abundant. The delicate subtle nose avoided the questionable hallmark Central Otago aromas altogether, instead showing off much more classic Pinot notes of juicy red fruit (strawberry, cherry) mixed with eucalyptus, something I’ll pretentiously call “river spray” (that fresh smell you get when you’re standing beside a river with a strong current), copper and an underlying herbaceousness that wasn’t unlike some Marlborough Sauv Blancs I’ve had before. On the palate, it was just beyond light-bodied, with a supple texture, zingy streaks of acidity, and (somewhat surprisingly) notable levels of soft dusty tannin on the back end, all of which combined to give the wine a beautiful balance. It was a true pleasure to drink, with its graceful structure filled in by buoyant flavours of cranberry, strawberry, red flowers, vanilla and even watermelon, all softened by a slight creaminess and flowing into a long, deft finish. When you consider that good inexpensive Pinot Noir is almost an oxymoron in the wine world, this is quite an achievement. You can find solid $22 Malbecs, Cabs and Merlots without too much difficulty, but cheap Pinots are usually cheap for a reason; this one retains its Pinot-ness while still keeping its price tag down, something that I’ve rarely seen.
I can hardly fault Marlborough for sticking with its claim to fame and focusing its energies on the cash cow that is NZSB, but based on this bottle, it might want to set aside some of its resources to focus on its Pinot potential. There is nothing more you can ask of a PN at this price point: higher-end versions of this varietal may boast a stronger sense of place and additional depth and complexity, but the Private Bin is an elegant offering that both properly showcases its grape and offers fantastic value. If you’re new to Pinot and aren’t yet sure about dropping $70 on a mid-level Burgundy, start here first — you won’t be disappointed.
$20 to $25 CDN