Ngakirikiri speaks resolutely of place. This expressive Maori term refers to the unique soils of the Gimblett Gravels vineyard sites in Hawke’s Bay, but also captures the distinctly New Zealand character of an elite wine, built on strength of character, belief and endurance.
Villa Maria first produced this outstanding Cabernet Sauvignon in 2013, realising that such an exceptional vintage deserved to stand proudly as the company’s flagship release. The inaugural Villa Maria Ngakirikiri was crafted as a wine that will endure and show the great potential of Gimblett Gravels to deliver bottles that will flourish through a long life in the cellar.
Realising this vision set a high benchmark for Ngakirikiri, which has been maintained. It is only produced in exceptional vintages, with painstaking attention to detail making it arguably the most focused wine Villa Maria has produced.
Such studied attention to detail captures the distinctive qualities of the stony Hawke’s Bay vineyard site that was once an ancient riverbed. Its unusual gravel soils were deposited on flat land in the aftermath of an enormous flood in 1867, when the Ngaruroro River burst its banks and changed its course. Farmers thought this harsh land was worthless, but the gamble to plant red Bordeaux grape varieties in 1981 proved to be a revelation. The free draining alluvial gravels prompted vine roots to delve deeper, producing grapes with intense, earthy flavours.
Villa Maria realised this remarkable opportunity and purchased its first land in the region almost three decades ago. After the site was blessed by Maori elders, vines were planted to form an essential part of Gimblett Gravels, which was officially declared a separate 800-hectare wine growing region in 2001.
The first release of Villa Maria Ngakirikiri from the 2013 vintage (a blend of 97% Cabernet Sauvignon and 3% Merlot) is a deliberate statement of restrained power. Stern in demeanour and sturdy in stature, its complex fruit tapestry – lots of black plum and wild blackberry over a spark of graphite and a note of dried sage – is framed by fine-grained tannins that elegantly draw to a graceful conclusion.
The 2014 Villa Maria Ngakirikiri tells a significantly different Cabernet story; one of intricately entwined, sinewy flavours that speak in hushed, breathy tones rather than a roar. Sourced from a single parcel of Cabernet Sauvignon, its elegant restraint on the palate draws you into an intriguing weave of mid-palate components – a lively roll of blackberry, blueberry, mulberry and black plum at curious counterpoint with vibrant red fruit bite and tang, plus deep undertones of tar and graphite. It will be fascinating to watch this wine develop over at least two decades in the cellar.
The 2018 Villa Maria Ngakirikiri – released this year – moves in a different direction, with richer red fruits closely embracing blackberry and mulberry, and the richness of coffee grounds with a lick of vanilla adding oomph to the hint of spice. Still a lively youth, with its silky palate running long and smooth, it has the framework to go through exciting development as it ages.
Villa Maria Ngakirikiri makes a very distinctive statement – that New Zealand produces elite Cabernet Sauvignon equal to the world’s best examples, and courageously shows itself to be distinctly different, exhibiting its unique terroir that defines a very special part of New Zealand. It shoulders iconic status with confidence and assurance.
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