An Evening with Sir George Fistonich and the Wines of Villa Maria

“Villa Maria Estate and Winemaker Sir George Fistonich invite you to an exceptional wine dinner in celebration of their 50th vintage.”   That was the invitation I received a few weeks ago.  Let me think: dinner at Hawksworth, Vancouver Magazine Restaurant Awards recent winner for Restaurant of the Year, Chef of the Year, Best New Restaurant, Best New Design and Best Upscale Restaurant?  I’m in.  Meeting and hanging out with Sir George Fistonich, owner and managing director of New Zealand’s most awarded winery?  Definitely in.  And yes, the “Sir” means he’s knighted; can’t say I’ve had a glass of wine with a Knight before…


Needless to say, I was looking forward to last week’s wine dinner.  The reception started off with some tasty bites of whipped chevre gougeres, vanilla cured salmon on a black sesame blini, and pheasant confit with fig and pinenuts, all of which paired beautifully with the chilled Villa Maria Private Bin Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc.  This lightly sparkling Sauvignon Blanc really pops with the flavours of gooseberry, passion fruit, grapefruit and melon.  It has a slight hint of herbaceousness which adds to its complexity, finishes crisp and clean, with a lingering sparkle in the mouth.  Although this wine isn’t available yet in the Province, it soon will be, and it will definitely be one to watch for.


Next was the first course, a yellowfin tuna tar tare, with whipped yuzu, avocado and puffed rice.  Two Sauvignon Blancs were paired with this course, the Villa Maria Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc 2011, and the Villa Maria Cellar Selection Sauvignon Blanc 2011.  The vibrant Private Bin is nicely balanced with fresh citrus notes and a juicy, mouthwatering acidity.  My favourite of the two, the Cellar Selection Sauvignon Blanc is beautifully intense and lively. Its vibrant palette overflows with melon, gooseberry and lime.  It has a slightly weighty mouthfeel and finishes with a crisp, delicate richness.  Delicious!


Our second course was a Szechuan spiced pork belly, with buckwheat honey glaze, heart of palm, and green papaya slaw, paired with the Villa Maria Private Bin Pinot Gris 2011.  The wine was poured first, and while we waited a few moments for our plates, I couldn’t help but give the wine a quick try.  I was immediately hit with the aromas of apple and pear, which were mirrored on the palate.  It has a soft, silky, almost textured mouthfeel and a nice dry finish that matched up perfectly to the decadent richness of the pork belly.


Third course was a seared lamb loin, with medjool date puree, crunchy rice, and a rutabaga and cous cous tian.  The savoury Villa Maria Private Bin Pinot Noir 2010 ($27.99) was chosen to go along with this dish.  A gentle sniff and my nose was filled with ripe cherry, raspberry and a touch of spice.  With its abundant red fruit on the palate, it is soft and silky, with delicate tannins and a gentle touch of oak and spice.  A delicious pinot that I’ll be turning to again in the future I’m sure.


Lastly, we finished our dinner with soy braised beef short ribs with spiced carrot puree, crunchy rice, and Asian pear.  The Villa Maria Cellar Selection Pinot Noir 2010 was called in to action here, and its dark cherry, plum and spice notes did not disappoint.  This Pinot Noir was fuller bodied than the first, with elegant flavours of plum and spice; it easily stood up to the big beefy flavours of the braised short ribs.  A delicate, lingering finish rounds out the experience, and each taste begged for another.


As our night wound down to close, we were treated with a glass of the 2006 Villa Maria Reserve Pinot Noir.  Packed with the flavours of dark cherry, red cherry, plum, the subtle hint of clove, and a long lingering finish, this elegant, classically styled Pinot was the perfect ending to a wonderful evening.
I had the honour of chatting with Sir George Fistonich for a while, and his calm, gentle demeanor made it feel like I was chatting with an old friend.  In 1961, at the mere age of 21, he leased a portion of land from his father, and with only one acre of vines, he founded Villa Maria, producing his first vintage the very next year.  Since that time, Sir George has spent the last 50 years leading the charge in New Zealand winemaking.  He is overflowing with passion for what he does and the wines he produces, and his attention to detail and love of his craft are evident in each and every one of the wines I had the pleasure of tasting.  Sir George, thank you for a fantastic evening!