When it comes to picking New Zealand's top chardonnay producer, it is no secret to followers of my ramblings that Kumeu River ranks as Number One. Two recent tastings of their newly released 2008 Chardonnays and some older ones from the cellar reaffirmed that status. So just what makes their chardonnays so good? Vineyard site - perhaps. Winemaking, most definitely. But most of all, heritage and passion. Growing grapes and making wine is what the children of Kumeu River founders, Maté and Melba Brajkovich, have ever known.
"Chardonnay is what we do," says winemaker and eldest sibling, Michael Brajkovich, so former dux of Roseworthy College and whose passion and dedication to the study of all things wine earned him, in 1989, the title of New Zealand's first ever Master of Wine.
"Chardonnay makes the best white wines in the world," he declares.
And Kumeu River's Chardonnays are right up there - from the Village Chardonnay, to the Estate wine made from a blend of grapes from several vineyard sites, to the single vineyard wines - Coddington, Hunting Hill and Maté's Vineyard.
Maté Brajkovich was only 9 years old when he arrived in Kumeu with his parents and started to tend the vineyard. Fortysix years later, in 1990, now a father himself, he replanted the vineyard across the road from the family home with Mendoza clone chardonnay. This is Mate's Vineyard. Sadly Mate passed away before wine was made from this vineyard. But Melba, his wife, and children Michael, Milan, Paul and Marijana ensure that his vision lives on. And Mate's Vineyard Chardonnay is the top f the range.
Kumeu River Maté's Vineyard Chardonnay 2008 is a lustrous citrine gold in the glass. The aromas are smoky, nutty and savoury with hints of stonefruit and while the scent is restrained in this tight young wine that characterised by a flinty undercurrent, the flavours are rich, powerful, complex and mealy and infused with finely toasted nutty oak, florals, citrus, pear and nougat. Rich and mouthfilling in the most elegant way, it shows refinement and class with an extra dimension of texture and weight that sets it apart from the others. Then after the wine has been swallowed, there's a delicious malty richness with a vinous sweetness coming through and a feeling of satisfaction that lasts for ages. A simply sublime wine from an excellent year in Maté's Vineyard.
What do you eat with Kumeu River Chardonnay? Well why not wood-fire cooked steak, fresh garden salad and potatoes. That's what the winewriters are served when they join the family for the annual winewriters lunch. The potatoes in particular are sublime. I asked Melba to share her recipe - and here it is
Hand select the potatoes to ensure you have only the best. Desiree potatoes are perfect for roasting and Agria potatoes are very good too. Peel and cut the potatoes into large chunks. Wash and take care to completely dry. Pour olive oil over the bottom of a baking dish to cover and add the potatoes. Drizzle a little of olive oil over the top and season with salt. Add whole cloves of unpeeled garlic and put the dish in the oven for the potatoes to roast, uncovered, at 180 to 200 degrees C. When you see them browning, turn them over. For perfect Melba potatoes that are crisp and crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside, it will take one and a half to two hours but a watchful eye is needed to ensure they do not over brown.
Expect to pay around NZ$50 a bottle for Kumeu River Maté's Vineyard Chardonnay 2008. Find out more from www.kumeuriver.co.nz.
© Sue Courtney
20 Jun 2010