A wise move by an innovative company

CHEAP AND DELICIOUS:  The new season’s range from Villa Maria, including the debut Wise Owl labels.
CHEAP AND DELICIOUS: The new season’s range from Villa Maria, including the debut Wise Owl labels.

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 is arguably New Zealand's most successful wine company, and I think the fact that it is still family-owned and doesn't have to answer to several thousand shareholders means it has the flexibility to be innovative and act quickly.

Villa Maria also invests hugely in its staff, and encourages them to be innovative. The Thornbury range of wines is produced by young Villa Maria winemakers in each region where the company grows grapes; they are given a parcel of fruit and allowed to make the best wine they possibly can, using whatever winemaking tricks they like.

This year the baton has been passed to young members of the Villa Maria marketing team.

Wise Owl wines (wiseowlwine.co.nz) has 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". It also says that "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) and quality of the wines that I think will capture the imagination of consumers.

One standout for me is a blended white wine. Villa Maria won't tell us what is in the blend just yet - it's running a competition where you get to guess the makeup of the wine, with the chance to win a cash prize of $5000.

The Wise Owl 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 one, so here are my thoughts on the quality of the wine behind the colourful label:

Swooping Sauvignon Blanc 2013 - A typically 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 flavours, ripe but firm acidity, and a very good price.

Parliament Pinot Gris 2014 - 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, oozing rich aromas (maybe some passionfruit from sauvignon blanc, soft spice, ripe stonefruit, and floral lime citrus). It's 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 fruitcake-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 that 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.

The Nelson Mail