Ordinarily, your chances of seeing me at a tasting of 48 white wines from the same producer would be somewhere between none and next to none. But this was a bit different. I have followed Kumeu for more than a decade, ever since I read somewhere about a bloke called Stephen Browett slipping this New Zealand Chardonnay into blind tastings of serious white Burgundy and the wine always holding its own and, moreover, frequently giving Batards, Chevaliers and Corton-Charlemagnes the tasting equivalent of a good kicking. So, whilst the thought of four flights of twelve wines (2006-2017 inclusive of the Estate Chardonnay and each of the three single vineyard wines, Coddington, Hunting Hill and Matés) was a little daunting, I was very pleased to be there.
There is more history to Kumeu River than you may imagine. The Brajkovich family arrived in New Zealand in 1937, and bought their first property in 1944. This was known as San Marino Vineyards until the mid-1980s, when the current range of Chardonnay was conceived. The current offering of the Estate Chardonnay and the three single vineyard wines has existed since 2006. I think that my point here is this: they have had some practice.
Herewith some thoughts:
We tasted 48 wines and there was not one dud. This doesn’t happen. Ever. Much of this is down to the screwlids, more of which later, though in terms of sheer quality as well as cleanliness there was not one wine that I wouldn’t like to have on my table tonight.
Screwlids: after flight one I remarked to a rather clever MW that I thought that the wines tasted as if they had been frozen for later use; as in “stick yourself in the deep freeze so that you can be brought back to life at a later date and they’ll fix you up”. His response put it better – it’s Han Solo frozen in the carbonite. These wines will last and last. I couldn’t work out who Jabba the Hutt would be.
Screwlids part two: once we were on to the single vineyards, some development with age became clearer, though it appears to manifest itself in steps. As a generalisation, 2017 to 2014 taste like they were made yesterday, then there’s a step forward. 2013 is a little idiosyncratic, then 2012 to 2010 another step. Then 2009 to 2006 a little more. I asked Paul Brajkovich if they still experimented with cork and the answer was so direct as to border on the dismissive (of corks, not me, obv.): what became so clear with cork vs screwlid was that cork was SO inconsistent that it wasn’t even worth playing about with.
Style: a number of people that I know reckon that the wines from Boisson-Vadot are what you should be looking at if you like Coche-Dury and can’t afford it. For a while I agreed but I find the Boisson style a little aggressive, and the wines a little one-dimensional. If you want an affordable alternative to Coche then Kumeu is what you are after. Indeed I speculate that you could serve a 2010 or a 2015 Kumeu River Hunting Hill in a Coche-Dury bottle and your guests would be (a) none the wiser and (b) suitably impressed. It’s been a very long time since I tasted Coche-Dury Corton-Charlemagne but I reckon that a punchy vintage of Matés Vineyard could take it on. And Matés Vineyard is less than £300 a case, vs about £1,000+ for a single bottle of Coche Corton-Charlie.
Summary: these are quite brilliant wines. And they offer outstanding value for money. If they were from Burgundy they’d be double the price, and if they were from a fashionable domaine in Burgundy then they’d be four times the price. Of the 48 wines tasted, herewith a couple of favourites from each flight:
2015 Kumeu River Estate Chardonnay
“A touch of lemony punch on the nose. The beginnings of depth and maybe a touch of development. This is growing in the glass and is rather classy. Broad in the mouth with a touch of richesse. A touch of crackle. Long. This is very good. Goes on…”
2010 Kumeu River Estate Chardonnay
“A similar profile to the rest of the flight so far though this seems a little more complete on the nose. Still tight, though. Rich and punchy in the mouth. This is very complete and spot on right now. Steely. Very good.
2015 Kumeu River Coddington Chardonnay
“A step up from the Estate Chardonnay with an exotic, flamboyant character. This is more edgy than the wines that preceded it; the juicy fruit has a crackly, smoky edge. Rich and creamy. Plush. Very good.”
2010 Kumeu River Coddington Chardonnay
“Edgy again after the 2012 & 2011. And this feels like it’s holding back; there is more to come. Again there is a completeness to this – either in the wine or maybe it’s just that it’s spot on right now. Long. At a perfect stage.”
2015 Kumeu River Hunting Hill Chardonnay
“Restraint again. Very clean. Pure. A hint of lime. And punchy, buzzy fruit in the mouth. These are edgier than the Coddingtons. Very much a Coche, etc, style though this is more exotic. Seriously good.”
2010 Kumeu River Hunting Hill Chardonnay
“More development, more open, more smoke. And totally open in the mouth. Perfectly developed; at its jack-knife in the dive or the pheasant just crumpled in the air. Yes. Cracking.” – n.b.: I’m not a shooter but I have always admired this description of a perfect moment in time (though clearly not for the pheasant involved).
2017 Kumeu River Matés Vineyard Chardonnay
“This has a round, fruity, rich punch to it. The profile is very familiar but I can’t quite place it. Corton-Charlemagne? Rich and thick. This is very Burgundian. Very long indeed. Gosh.”
2006 Kumeu River Matés Vineyard Chardonnay
“As with the other wines this is the only one of the flight that is notably darker than the others though still very, very bright. The profile on the nose is distinctly mature. The most complete of the lot. Mature and lovely and perfect. Brilliant.”
Fin: it’s fair to say that I loved the 2015s and the 2010s. A much better taster than I noted a touch of CO2 on the 2015, which may well have been one of the attractions (a bit of fizz is often attractive) for me. I also may have overlooked the 2017s as they were the first in each flight, which isn’t always best. Throughout the range the Hunting Hill and the Matés are the clear superiors, though the Matés really is a biggy and needs food or time to enjoy it, probably both. The Coddington is the flamboyant, playful, juicy wine and the Estate Chardonnay is simply the opening expression of the Kumeu style, that style being so inimitably Burgundian that you could use these wines as evidence in the great terroir debate.
I thank Farr Vintners for hosting this (and inviting me) and Paul Brajkovich for presenting these fantastic wines. If you have not tried them then you are missing out.