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Wine Reviews
The 2001 Kumeu River release tasting

© Sue Courtney
Tasted 10 July 2001, posted 1 August 2001

The opportunity for an unparalleled tasting arose at the beginning of July, when the Brajkovich family invited a few media and trade people to a function at their Kumeu River winery to taste mini-verticals of the Kumeu River range of wine. The wines for tasting were the

  • Kumeu River Pinot Gris
  • Kumeu River Chardonnay
  • Kumeu River Maté's (single vineyard) Chardonnay
  • Kumeu River Pinot Noir
  • Kumeu River Melba Merlot Malbec

There was also the opportunity to discuss the company's new commitment to screw cap closures.

Kumeu River is unusual in this day and age, in that it is a international successful New Zealand family owned winery and sources all of its grapes from the Auckland region. The Kumeu River label contains fruit solely from the Kumeu region.

In the tasting notes that follow, the wines with prices are the current release ex-winery. Older vintages may be found in retail stores.

Michael and Jean-Laurent Michael Brajkovich was excited about the 2000 vintage. As well as excellent grapes, he was assisted by Jean-Laurent Vacheron, a winemaker from one of the most prestigious families in Sancerre. While Sancerre is famous for its Sauvignon Blanc, its premium red grape is Pinot Noir. Consequently Jean-Laurent has had plenty of experience with Pinot Noir in his home region as well as in the nearby vineyards of Burgundy where the techniques he has learnt have greatly improved the quality of his family's Sancerre wine. These same techniques he has passed on to Kumeu River. The photo shows Michael (left) and Jean-Laurent (right).

"Pinot Gris is an exciting grape variety" says Michael Brajkovich as he introduces us to the line-up of wines.

It's suited to the climate, ripens early and exhibits aromatic and floral characters. Keeping the vines to low yields provides concentration and richness with oiliness and texture in the palate. Kumeu River are still learning how to manage and manipulate in the winery. Part of the hard pressed fraction goes into old oak. They have purchased a 600L barrel, which will first be used for Chardonnay. The use of old oak adds character but retains fruitiness.

Kumeu River Pinot Gris 1998 Hints of lanolin in the aroma. Nicely textured wine with plenty of apple, stonefruit, nectarine and orange blossom character. Dry at first but sweetens up nicely in the palate. Rich, nutty and mellow. Very good length.

Kumeu River Pinot Gris 1999 Dullish scents with subtle stonefruit. Seems musty (corked) to me but surely they wouldn't serve up a corked wine so maybe it is some honey thing. Sweet sugary finish. The wine was ever so slightly corked Michael confirmed later. This led on to the topic of testing corks and Kumeu River's decision to move to screw caps.

Kumeu River Pinot Gris 2000 Apple and pear with some apricot nuances. Very textural. Fills out to a ripe rich lusciousness in the palate. Very satisfying. A long finish with dry nutty apricot lingering. NZ$25

Kumeu River Chardonnay is one of the most highly regarded chardonnay wines in the country. And now from 2000, we have wines that Michael Brajkovich regards as some of the best he has ever made. It was great to contrast with the older wines and compare to my release notes of these older wines (links at bottom of page).

Kumeu River Chardonnay 1998 Creamy, malo, milky creamy wine with lemony flavour. Pineapple, tropical fruits, rich, mealy and nutty. Very fine and balanced. Delicious, in fact. Butter candy lingers with citrus. A definitive Kumeu River style. Dry, spicy (ginger) finish. Yum.

Kumeu River Chardonnay 1999 Bigger, bolder, fruitier, plenty of lush tropical fruits and toasty oak. Less obvious malo but still very creamy. Long, nutty notes linger on finish.

Kumeu River Chardonnay 2000 Candied lemon and grapefruit peel on the nose. Plenty of grapefruit in the palate as well. Creamy texture, gorgeous oak, some tropical fruit, pineapple and fig as well. Very lifted, balanced, clean and long. Toasty oak lingers but not overtly so. NZ$35

The grapes in Maté's Vineyard, across the road from the winery, have been planted on virus-free rootstocks. The first vintage of this wine was in 1993.

Kumeu River Maté's Chardonnay 1998 Toasty, mealy, cornmeal aroma. Toasty, big and rich butterscotch, nutty and long. Drinking very well.

Kumeu River Maté's Chardonnay 1999 Hints of musk (smokers) in the aromas. Plenty of honey and lifted oak in the palate. Very balanced with higher acidity in the grapefruit spectrum.

Kumeu River Maté's Chardonnay 2000 Subtle spice/spiced honey and pear aromas. Pear nectar in the palate with gently toasted buttery oak, pineapple gums, lemon and orange citrus. Very elegant and beautifully balanced. Warm, dry, nutty (hazelnut) finish. Plenty of spice and a subtle malo influence. Pineapple and citrus linger well. NZ$45

Now to the reds -

Kumeu River Pinot Noir 1998 There's still plenty of tannins - oaky tannins. Concentrated cherry fruits with an earthy richness. Very dry, sweet fruit emerges and lingers. Ripe fruit.

Kumeu River Pinot Noir 1999 Bacony, meaty (salami-like) and stewed fruits. Kind of an 'odd' leathery nuance. Dry tannins. Like on previous tastings, it takes a while for the underlying sweet fruit to emerge.

Brajkovich Pinot Noir 2000 Sweet cherry and mushroom aromas and a good depth of 'grape garnet' colour in this lower level pinot. Strawberry and cherry flavours with a liquerish note and very nice toasty oak. Lovely sweet fruit and a delicious lingering finish with a flash of citrus. I like this and at about NZ$22 it is good value for money. $22

Kumeu River Pinot Noir 2000 Also that distinct 'grape garnet' colour of gemstones, as being marketed by Michael Hill Jeweller in his recent catalogues. Plenty of cinnamon and nutmeg spice and an interesting earthy, citrus, savoury character - one of the intrigues of this grape. Sits well in the mouth. Not velvety at this youthful stage of its life, but fine and vinous. Concentrated fruit and a lovely lifted, long finish. MB says "more tannic than in the past", but to me the tannins are so more in balance, than in the 98 and 99. Possibly the influence of the visiting winemaker, Jean Laurent-Vacheron, from Sancerre. $35

Kumeu River Melba Merlot/Malbec 1998 Dullish nose and a flattish taste. This has been one of the most affected wines in the recent battles with cork taint. However some cherry, cigar box, red berry fruit and tobacco in palate. A rustic, smoky and overripe citrus finish.

Kumeu River Melba Merlot/Malbec 1999 Deep and bright colour. Savoury and plummy with hints of cigar. Rich and round with pleasing toasty oak. Seems like an old-fashioned style of wine with it vinous sweetness ripe flavours an soft yet firm tannins. MB sums it up quite well when he says "more Italian in style than French". $27

Kumeu River Melba Merlot/Malbec 2000 (barrel sample) Amazing, intense bright, deep purple-red colour. Really rich, lifted, perfumed, smoky cigar and a hard to define brambly fruit character. Logan/boysenberry, perhaps. Like cooking berries before they become overcooked. Tar, some licorice and lots of tannins. Plenty of potential and will be interesting to try again on release next year.

Related Links: -
Testing for cork taint the Kumeu River way
Stelvins are go - NZ winemakers commit to screwcaps

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