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Wine of the Week for week ending 11th May 2003
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Kumeu River Maté's Chardonnay 2002
Auckland, New Zealand

If you been following my reviews you may know I've been excited about the quality of the 2002 chardonnays since I first tasted some barrel samples at the Hawkes Bay Vintage Review last October. The wines carried an incredible depth of fruit and length of flavour. Now finally some of the superstar wines from the vintage are starting to be released.

Ask local kiwi wine aficionado to name five New Zealand's superstar chardonnays and you can probably safely bet that the list will include Te Mata Elston Chardonnay, Neudorf Moutere Chardonnay and at least one of the two Kumeu River labels - perhaps both. On current form I'd add the Spencer Hill Coastal Ridge too.

So if you guess that one of the named superstar chardonnays is my Wine of the Week, you'd be right, mate!. I've not tasted the Te Mata Elston, nor Neudorf Moutere nor Coastal Ridge from the current vintage so that just leaves Kumeu River. But which one?

Kumeu River Chardonnay is probably New Zealand's best-known superstar chardonnay on the international wine scene. It's probably ironic that it comes from Auckland, one of the least hyped wine regions in the country. Nevertheless it's a favourite of the Wine Spectator reviewers in the United States and has several times been included in their Top 100 Wines of the Year list. Most recently they awarded the Kumeu River Chardonnay 2001 with a very respectable 93 points - the best Kumeu River rating to date and possibly the highest they've ever awarded to a New Zealand chardonnay.

Well if the WS people thought that was good (and I have to admit this was my favourite of last year's releases) then wait 'til they try the 2002 vintage wines. As per predictions and having tasted the wines last week, I can confirm they are indeed superb. And in particular the single vineyard 2002 Kumeu River Maté's Chardonnay - they say it is the best they've ever made and I agree.

It's light gold in colour with delicate grapefruit, citrus and creamy sherbet on the nose. The delicacy carries though to the palate with floral, citrus, white peach and savoury oak flavours. It's very tight but the wine doesn't take much coaxing to reveal the treasures hiding behind its cloak. The delicacy of this wine never leaves and it is this delicacy combined with exquisite balance and power that makes it so incredible. The mealy character of the wine now comes forth on both the nose and the palate and the chardonnay flavour is rich, intense and creamy with a long and spicy but delicate oak finish that lingers with a savoury smokiness. It's a wine of great finesse. Undoubtably a superstar and at a superstar price. It's RRP of NZ$47.95 makes it one of the most expensive in the country.

In comparison the 2002 Kumeu River Chardonnay (NZ$36.95) could not be coaxed to open its cloak with such flair as the Maté's had. Light gold in colour with milky creamy aromas and milky citrus and pear flavours, the malolactic work in this wine seemed more obvious to me. Like the Maté's, however, this is another wine that grows in power. The earthy (minerally) flavours combine with spicy savoury oak and faint hints of stonefruits. I thought it just needed more time to come together.

The wines were released on May 1st. Check out the Kumeu River website for more information.

And if you intend to visit the winery on State Highway 16, Kumeu, to taste the wines at the cellar shop before you buy, be sure to take your camera to record the beautiful autumn colours the vineyard is displaying right now.

© Sue Courtney
4 May 2003

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