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Wise Owl Wines – 20.06.14

When wines from the latest vintage are released we often see new labels being launched at the same time and this year sees a new range of wines from the Villa Maria stable.

Villa Maria are arguably New Zealand’s most successful wine company and I think the fact they are still family owned and don’t have to answer to a few thousand shareholders means they have the flexibility to be innovative and to act quickly. Villa Maria also invest hugely in their staff and encourage them in that innovation. The Thornbury range of wines is produced by a young Villa Maria winemaker who is given a parcel of fruit and allowed to make the best wine he possibly can using whatever winemaking tricks he chooses to deliver a great wine.

This year members of the Villa Maria marketing team have developed a label for Villa Maria. Wise Owl wines ( have a range of colourful labels that Villa Maria says “make a statement on the shelf and offer wine consumers a fresh perspective on the quality New Zealand wine experience”. They also say “the wine industry takes a fairly traditional approach to marketing, and often lacks the exuberance and fun seen in other beverage industries”.

While the colourful labels will certainly stand out on the shelves it is the price point (RRP $12.99 across the full range but you will find it on promotion) and quality of the wines that I think will capture the imagination of consumers. One stand out wine for me is a blended white wine and Villa Maria won’t tell us what is in the blend just yet, they are running a competition where you get to guess the makeup of the wine and have a chance to win a cash prize of $5,000. Of course the marketing team would leverage off a new range of wines to encourage us to buy the product and have some fun too.

The new Wise Owl range of wines also carry owl-inspired names; Swooping Sauvignon Blanc, Parliament Pinot Gris, Ruffled Merlot and Hooting White. Villa Maria kindly sent me a bottle of each of these so here are my thoughts on the quality of the wine behind the colourful label:

Swooping Sauvignon Blanc 2013 – typical vibrant Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc with exuberant aromas and fresh passionfruit flavours with a nice river stone mineral twist. If you are a sauvignon blanc drinker this will satisfy your every need – fresh vibrant flavours, ripe but firm acidity and a very good price.

Parliament Pinot Gris 2104 – this is an early look at the wonderful quality delivered by the 2014 vintage. With delightful fresh ripe pear aromas with a background hint of honey and a medium palate weight it doesn’t have the upfront flavour of more sophisticated versions of this variety but has a very nice long spicy finish. Again very good value for money.

Hooting White 2013 – made from a blend of who-knows-what this is an intriguing little bird, it is oozing rich aromas (maybe some passionfruit from sauvignon blanc, soft spice, ripe stonefruit, floral lime citrus) but is a bit light in flavour when you first taste it but don’t despair, it opens up in the mouth with layers of flavour building up to a long juicy finish. Dangerously easy to drink.

Ruffled Merlot 2013 – this wine is deep red in colour and as you would expect is packed with rich fruit flavours. The beauty of this wine is the complexity that comes with the ripe flavours, lovely fruit-cake-like spice and powdery tannins make it a great wine to enjoy with a nice beef roast or around the fire this winter.

I suspect many bottles of Wise Owl wines will appear on outdoor tables next summer, they certainly deliver very good quality for the price point.

The last wine comes branded as Villa Maria, the 2014 early release Sauvignon Blanc – widely available at around $15. Bursting with bright, fresh aromas of passionfruit and zesty citrus this wine is an example of full-flavoured sauvignon blanc with ripe, juicy acidity and has me just a little excited about the quality of future release wines from this vintage.

I have been writing a regular wine column for The Nelson Mail newspaper since 2000.

Unfortunately the column space is not big enough to include my thoughts on all of the many wines I taste. Hopefully this blog will fix that. It also gives me somewhere to archive the many columns I write. I will also include some favourite recipes from my dearly beloved who loves cooking and of course because wine and food simply go together. I will also point you in the direction of upcoming events and websites I think are great. Enjoy, Neil

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