NWWA – Meet the Judges: Nick Picone

Nick Picone has been in and around the Villa Maria group for more than twenty years, working as Group Chief Winemaker since 2015. Starting out as a teenager, Nick has made wines across New Zealand’s main winegrowing regions and has also completed harvests in Italy and the United States. Nick was the recipient of the Len Evans tutorial scholarship in 2004, helping initiate his presence in wine judging. A regular judge in New Zealand wine shows for 15 years, Nick has also judged for Cuisine, Winestate, Dish and New Zealand Winegrowers.

How old were you when you had your first wine ‘moment’?

“My father has a love of wine and would often put wine on the dinner table. Dad has run his own business guiding visitors to Hawkes Bay winery cellar doors for close to 30 years and was instrumental in establishing my desire to enter the industry. I was 16 years old when I tasted the Esk Valley 1990 Black label Hawkes Bay Merlot with him over dinner one night and I can still recall it vividly. How fitting that I would start my career there!”

What does your own wine cellar look like and what is your most recent addition?

“Let’s just say my fiancée isn’t that thrilled about the fact our storage cupboard under the stairs doesn’t have room for anything other than wine! I stopped counting and stocktaking a while ago. I figure the sensible thing to do would be to restart once my kids have grown up (I know from experience!). At last count, approximately 300 bottles?  My most recent additions include various wines I organised to swap with several winemakers throughout the country.

In the last 12 months, which grape have you drunk the most of?

“I tend to drink more reds than anything, particularly Cabernet-Merlot blends etc, although Chardonnay and Pinot Noir would be close behind.”

In the last 12 months, what’s the most exciting region you’ve discovered or re-discovered?

“I discovered some highly interesting wines grown on the volcanic slopes of Mt Etna (Sicily) a few years ago and I’m intrigued by their shear uniqueness. From a New Zealand perspective, I’ve recently enjoyed getting back up to speed with some good examples from the Canterbury/Waipara area.”

What has been your most memorable wine and food moment?

“That may well have been during the Cinque Terre walk In Italy in 2006, stopping for lunch and drinking locally made white wine grown produced from the slopes above us with freshly caught flash fried sardines, lightly salted with a squeeze of lemon. Very simple but incredibly memorable. I’ve had much ‘fancier’ and complicated wine and food experiences, however as a total package including location and company, that has been hard to beat!”

Wine styles continue to fluctuate. Where do you think the wine-style pendulum is swinging?

“Generally towards lighter, lower alcohol, fresher, less-oaky, highly approachable wines. Aromatic whites and Rose, supple fruity reds. New Zealand is well placed to deliver!”

What do you enjoy most about judging at the NWWA?

“This was my first judging experience at NWWA. The event was Superbly organised and coordinated, despite the challenges this year. As always, I very much enjoy the opportunity to benchmark wines in a blind tasting environment which removes all bias, through a Winemaking lens that’s always a valuable and educational exercise.”