But NZ is no one-trick pony and produces a diverse range of wines. The country has two things in particular going for it - a range of soils and micro-climates (or terroirs) and great technical skills which result in wines of both complexity and a subtlety that next-door Australia would do well to take more note of.
I have been impressed by Villa Maria's wines before - especially by a 2004 Gimblett Gravels Shiraz which I reviewed here a year or so ago and which is due another review as it continues to improve with age.
This Private Bin Merlot / Cabernet from 2009 is much younger and therefore just at the start of its life.
Labelled Hawkes Bay, an unspecified proportion of the grapes come from the Gimblett Gravels area, with small amounts of Malbec and Cabernet Franc added to the blend.
This feels a little like one of those contractual rock albums where the artist or band gathers together sundry bits and pieces that they never quite fitted onto other albums and releases them altogether. A recipe for disaster ? Not necessarily, as anyone who has listened to REM's diverse and sprawling but brilliant, end-of-contract masterpiece New Adventures in Hi-Fi will attest.
An unofficial sub-region, Gimblett Gravels is, as its name suggests, an area of free-draining, poor-quality gravelly soils that benefit from a combination of cooling sea breezes during the day and residual warmth from the stones at night to provide a long growing season and pretty much perfect conditions for Cab.
With Merlot and Cab, plus sundry other grapes, this is essentially a Bordeaux blend on Bordeaux-type soils and if we can forgive the Bordelais for chucking in a bit of whatever else is lying around, we should do the same for the kiwis - especially when the results are as good as this.
It is, however, very different from an equivalent-aged and priced Bordeaux which at this stage in its life would still be somewhat tough, tannic and unapproachable.
Dark in colour, it is dense and mouthfilling, but also soft, rounded and supple with complex raspberry and cherry fruit and some vanilla sweetness. From the Merlot, there are plums and an appealing earthiness whilst the Cab gives backbone, spice and hints of sweet tobacco. Extremely smooth and balanced, it has great length and a some gentle tannic grip on the finish.
Ready for drinking now, it doesn't feel like it has the extreme ageing potential of a top Bordeaux (but then how many people really wait ten-plus years for a wine to hit its peak these days ?) but should continue to improve and develop into something more complex for a good five more years or so, maybe more.
Cab's classic match is simple beef dishes in whatever form you prefer - we had this with griddled steak drizzled with a few drops of barrel-aged balsamic vinegar, but roast beef or a beef stew would also work.
£9.99 widely available - provided for review.
Villa Maria - http://www.villamaria.co.nz/