Kumeu River Chardonnay vs White Burgundy Tasting: High-Def vs Old School – Sept 2015

Kumeu Tasting 2015

At a recent blind tasting in London arranged by Farr Vinters and attended by a select group of wine professionals, including Neal Martin and Jancis Robinson, Kumeu River Chardonnays were compared with some of the finest white Burgundy equivalents (not equivalent in dollar value, the Kumeu River wines being a fraction of the price). Of the four flights tasted – 2012, 2010, 2009 and 2007 – the Kumeu River wines achieved the highest score in all but one.

Here was a chance for L and I to attend a (sort-of) recreation of this tasting at Glengarry Wines new premises on the Old Hutt Road. The tutored tasting was hosted by Michael Brajkovich, winemaker at KR, and New Zealand’s first Master of Wine (MW) He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Oenology from Roseworthy College in South Australia, and is a member of the Institute of Masters of Wine in London.

Kumeu River vineyards are located 15-30kms from the ocean, west of Auckland. The climate is moderate, with a semi-tropical influence of rain and cloud cover on the vines. The first vineyard was established in 1944, but production has expanded to include grower sites that provide fruit for harvest by KR. Since the 1980’s there has been a move to lower-vigour root-stocks with less leaf growth so as to divert more energy to ripening the fruit, and the use of malolactic fermentation for biologic de-acidification of the wines.

The wines were presented in four non-blind paired flights:

PAIR ONE

Kumeu River Estate Chardonnay 2013 – $26.99 – This is a district blend from various Kumeu vineyards, and is a level above the KR ‘Village’ designation. Pale gold colour. Aromatic, clean nose, lightly oaked, a little closed. In the mouth I saw bright acid notes, fresh stonefruit and citrus flavours, mouthwatering, tight, and with a lovely finish.

Dom. Bellene Savigny Les Beaune 2010 – $49 – Produced by N Potel. Light gold vibrant colour. Aromas of honey and honeycomb, a mineral character, elusive, some botrytis perhaps. There was firmness and grip to my taste, with tannins and texture and bright ripe fruit. A sharp flinty finish. Redolent of foreign terroir. A lovely wine.

PAIR TWO

Kumeu River Coddington Chardonnay 2013 – $49 – Single vineyard wine. Aged in 50% new heavily-toasted oak Giley barrels. The forest provenance of the French oak for the barrels is important, but also difficult to prove. Michael told the old joke about how you can tell if a French cooper is lying: “His lips are moving”. Ha ha. KR aim for the ripest expression of fruit here. Pale gold colour. Peaches and apricots, firmness and purity on the nose, oak influence, delightful to smell and savour. The ripeness showed on palate, with purity of fruit concentration, ripeness, freshness and sharpness. A high-def wine. Needs another year minimum to soften. Superb. 5

Alex Gambal Puligny Montrachet 2011 – $79 – Light gold. Warm baking aromas, with vanilla, marmalade and buttered toast. Round, fully developed and ready. Mineral-y, and somewhat flat compared to the Coddington, but still immersive and delightful.

PAIR THREE

Kumeu River Hunting Hill Chardonnay 2013 – $56 – Single vineyard wine. Pale gold. This was a remarkable wine – salty, flinty, tangy. No botrytis. Picked first of all the sites. Rich fruit and ripe. Bouyant, and shows such energy! An explosion of bright citrus with charm and such persistance of flavour. Has such a great structure this will age well 8-10 years. 5

Chartron Clos de La Pucelle 2012 – $115 – A Puligny monopole. Light gold. A gorgeous nose – warm, enveloping, with hints of mushroom and botrytis, lightly oaked. In the mouth I tasted a round full wine, with all the delicious ripeness and golden fruit flavours I would expect from a fine chardonnay, and a good line of acidity to boot. Amazeballs really

PAIR FOUR

Kumeu River Mates Vineyard Chardonnay 1er Cru 2013 – $69 – Single vineyard wine. Small berry’s of the Mendoza clone contribute to the character of this wine.  Light gold. A clear, linear expression of superb quality of winemaking, site and fruit. There is more texture, fruit weight and density here of all the previous KR wines. Outstanding. 5

Bonneau Corton Charlemagne GC 2010 – $189 – From a west-facing GC site on the hill of Corton – a site to make quality, age-worthy wines no matter the vintage. Light gold. Nose of phenols, waiting-room, nervosité, flintyness, life! A stunning wine. Round, immersive, rich. To describe is to lose the essence of this. 5

Wow. The Kumeu River wines showed well against the established French rock-stars.

They showed great freshness and typicity and sense of place, whereas the French examples showed that they were from all over the place. The more youthful Kumeu wines also showed great freshness against the older and more developed Burgundys, which were able to exhibit more character and complexity from a few more years in bottle. Perhaps screwcap closures have a part to play here? It would have been interesting to see them compared with wines of the same age, but perhaps that is for next time..

A superb illuminative tasting, and many thanks to Michael Brajkovich and the team at Glengarry.

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