Sitting down to taste the brand new releases from “an exceptional Vintage of unsurpassed quality” at Kumeu River this weekend – we’ve been looking forward to the 2019s for well over a year now, and to be honest, making space in the cellar – lockdown helped! – for a few.
Everything at Kumeu River is made in a similar way – all hand-harvested, processed at the site at Kumeu, fermented using wild yeast, and most of the wines are put in oak barrels, with a varying degree of new oak. All go through 100% malolactic fermentation, and then aged on lees for about 11 months.
Keen to taste the Rays Road Chardonnay – as when I first tried this ‘new’ single vineyard wine, I told Paul Brajkovich that my first impressions weren’t great – that it didn’t live up to the standard of the other single vineyard wines. The bar is set very, very high by Kumeu River, and I found this austere, minerally wine too acidic and closed to believe that it fitted with the other stablemates – here was a lean, mean Chablis chardonnay that wanted to kick a ball about with it’s Cote de Beaune Grand Cru siblings, but simply didn’t have the skills to make the team.
From the limestone hillside inland at Ruakaka in Hawke’s Bay, now being farmed without irrigation in an effort to drive the vine roots deep into the limestone to extract that mineral character. Fermented 20% in stainless steel, with the rest in older barrels, it shows a classic oyster-shell chalkiness, hazelnut and floral nose. On the palate it shows more of that distinctive flintiness but with a lime zest, chamomile and peach character. Acidity seems noticeably lower this year – softer and more approachable. Clearly one that’s ready to age and soften in the bottle still though. I liked this a heap more this time! I’d soften my approach so far as to say it “fits in” now. One to watch.
The next wine is the one that has made the label’s international reputation – The Estate Chardonnay. The single vineyards came later, but this wine has always been a selection of the best of the Kumeu sites. The 2019 features six sites and uses 20% new oak. Being made for over 30 years, but the Brajkovich family can’t remember a better example – a chardonnay at the peak of its game. The ’19 wine has a spring flower, roast cashew, spicy bouquet. Concentrated and slightly flinty with peach, lemon sherbert flavours, and a spritzy, lively acidity.
Mate’s vineyard has always been a single vineyard wine, but it was only in 2006 that the Coddington vineyard fruit was bottled as a single vineyard wine. It’s a step up from the Estate, but still has a very ripe, peachy character, but with a deeper richness and sweetness. More nutty oak is evident, but in line with the overall flavour and balance. Not overblown as the fine acidity maintains an edge from being too generous. Drinking beautifully immediately.
Hunting Hill is always a very fragrant style, and so it is this year. With a distinctive lime blossom fragrance. Crisp and linear, with roast chestnut, peach and spicy crème brulee layers of flavours. I can see this on the table at Christmas with a roast turkey or crayfish bisque. A more delicate and pretty wine that really sits up, and almost dances across the palate. It’s leaner and less showy than both it’s Kumeu neighbours, but with a finesse that often makes it people’s favourite. The persistant floral character keep going right through to the long, slightly quartz-like finish.
My favourite of the range has always been the Mate’s Single Vineyard Chardonnay. Smoky and concentrated with notes of preserved lemon, biscotti and nectarine. A tautness to the palate, although overflowing with a richness of golden peach, nougat and poached pear. I’ve described this as complex, almost chaotic in it’s youth; but it’s always one for the long haul – coming out just beautifully after a stretch of 7-8 years. This young one is more open than some first offerings of recent years, but still with a sense of brooding density – the nature of the Mendoza clone offering a lovely concentration but also a little tannin that can take a while to fully integrate. The rounded texture is already evident – lush and persistant. Elegantly oaked, and with a backbone of tense acidity, it’s nevertheless an opulent, heady drop. Still my favourite… and this year by quite a bit.