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Kumeu River's 20th Anniversary Chardonnay Tasting
© Sue Courtney
20 July 2006

Wine companies, like people, keep getting older and birthdays come around every year, not only for the company but also for the wines. At first the birthdays pass unnoticed but then a milestone year arrives and it's time for celebration. For Kumeu River, this is one of those years. In 2004, they celebrated 60 years of wine making. Now they are celebrating 20 years of Kumeu River Chardonnay. It's a significant achievement because Kumeu River is one of New Zealand's great chardonnays, acclaimed as one of the New Zealand's best both at home and internationally.

The inspiration for Kumeu River's chardonnay came from Michael Brajkovich, whose education at Roseworthy Wine College in South Australia was supplemented by a stint in France working, travelling and tasting. The great white wines of the Burgundy region, which are made from chardonnay, left an impression on Michael. He returned to Kumeu, intent on emulating the style and that he did with resounding success.

The first ever review of the Kumeu River Chardonnay 1985 compared this inspirational Auckland wine to one of the great burgundies from the region of Meursault. It set the benchmark to aspire to in the years to come. And even though the wine making has evolved over the last 20 years, consistency of the simple elements has cemented Kumeu River's impressive chardonnay reputation.

The new vintage wines have just been released and now there are three chardonnays in the range. 2005 was a small vintage and quanitites produced are half of the normal production. Pinot Noir is now also a focus for Kumeu River and notes on the latest release are also included here.

Kumeu River Village Chardonnay 2005
Light gold in colour with nutty, savoury, mealy, lemon bread aromas that show little influence of oak - the aromas carry through to the palate that has a lightly glycerolic texture, lots of cornmeal, bright but delicate tropical fruit with a toastiness emerging and lemon blossom adding brightness to the finish. It's 100% barrel-ferment in older oak, which adds spiciness and complexity with minimal oak flavour. This is the lightest of the three and if being compared to a French wine, it would be closer to a Chablis style than anything else. It's ready to drink and enjoy now. 13% alc. $18.

Kumeu River Kumeu Chardonnay 2005
Light gold. Delicate barrel-ferment nuances add allure to the savoury, mealy scent. Very tight-grained, leesy, mealy and spicy with a lemon bread backbone, tropical fruit, pineapple, a touch of tangelo and nectarine. As it opens up, citrus zest creates an earthy, edgy undercurrent to the savoury backbone and the finish is long and generous. A serious wine that needs more time. 13.5% alc. $36.

Kumeu River Mate's Chardonnay 2005
A little more concentration to the bright, light gold colour and a lot more complexity to the aroma, which offers concentrated stonefruit, citrus blossoms, nuts and delicate toasty oak scents. Quite mellow wheaty notes in the savoury, delicately honeyed palate that has concentrated pear and nectarine fruit with orange zest and lots of vinous complexity. Very dry with gorgeous mouthfeel, it bodes well for the future. 13% alc. $47.

Kumeu River Kumeu Chardonnay 2003
Quite a rich aroma of nuts, oatmeal and fig with a citrussy brightness that carries through to the palate with a grilled stonefruit note in the background - this wine is totally about savouriness and nuttiness - the fruit and oak play the perfect supporting role.

Kumeu River Kumeu Pinot Noir 2005
Transparent deep ruby red. Varnishy, smoky aroma reminiscent of smoky bacon and deli meats with a touch of rose petal, rose hips and cherry then in the palate there's tar, dried winter herbs, macerated cherry fruit and an earthy, sweet mushroom backbone while the merest touch of anise adds intrigue. Clean and savoury with rose petals and oak sweetness on the finish, like all the Kumeu River pinot noirs, this shows quite firm tannins in its youth and needs time for the tannins to evolve. Decant to let the floral components evolve. 13% alc. $33.

Kumeu River Kumeu Pinot Noir 1988
It's developed a jammy character to the aromas and in the plate the fruit is sweet and juicy. The tannins are still pretty boisterous and hard, like the 2005 tannins are now, and there's a kind of mellow, medicinal, bitter leather note to the finish.

Copyright Sue Courtney
July 2006


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