Kumeu River chardonnays
Kumeu River chardonnays
Is it just me, or have big, buttery chardonnays become as passé as fondue sets and brown shag pile rugs?
Back in the days when big, buttery chardonnays ruled, Kumeu River Wines in west Auckland pioneered one of New Zealand’s most adventurous and internationally acclaimed white wines, the now iconic Kumeu River Chardonnay, first made in 1985.
As big as the name Kumeu River Wines is in some circles, the winery is a small, family-owned business. Often seen as a traditional wine company, it’s actually very risqué, leading the way with its “new world” take on winemaking techniques, packaging and methodology.
It was one of the first wineries to fully move to screwcaps. More significantly, it was one of the first in New Zealand to treat chardonnay to a process called malolactic fermentation, which accounts for that big, buttery chardonnay taste that polarises wine drinkers.
Initially, in the mid-1980s, Kumeu River wines were rejected for that “weird” flavour. Then we got the knack of big whites, and Kumeu River Chardonnay forged a global reputation for greatness, minus the high price tags.
Then we tired of bigness. So did the Brajkovich family winemaking team at Kumeu River. Erring on the side of adventure rather than caution, the Brajkovichs moved their wines away from buttery and towards subtlety.
Today there are five chardonnays in Kumeu River Wine’s line-up. Each one pushes the stylistic boundaries of standard southern hemisphere chardonnays by bravely defying the “big is best” approach, setting themselves apart with their elegance, restraint and wow factor.
Branch out – these wines have creamy flavours. It’s just that they are toned down a notch and are better for it.
2007 Kumeu River Village Chardonnay, RRP $19
Call it what you will – a drink-me-now, entry level or everyday wine – this supposedly uncomplicated white is far more elegant than its humble price tag suggests. Fresh and flinty it may be, but this is one big-bodied chardonnay that over-delivers for the price. Taking the crispness of great French chablis as the benchmark for the style of this wine, the Brajkovichs have crafted a wine characterised by fresh citrus flavours and a lingering finish.
2007 Kumeu River Estate Chardonnay, RRP $38
Once the jewel of the Kumeu River chardonnay crown, this wine is now the gateway to the top trio of chardonnays from this tiny winery. It’s a wonderful, edgy New Zealand white with all the flavours that woo chardonnay-lovers. There’s a hint of creaminess here, a little lemon flavour there, and gorgeous fresh acids that add nerve all the way through the palate.
2007 Kumeu River Coddington Chardonnay, RRP $45
Once upon a time the grapes from Coddington Vineyard were blended into Kumeu River Chardonnay. Now they stand alone in this rich, full-bodied white. Of all the chardonnays, this one has the most intensely rich flavours. Paradoxically, this wine has subtlety as well as power.
2007 Kumeu River Hunting Hill Chardonnay, RRP $45
Hunting Hill vineyard overlooks the better known Mate’s Vineyard and was once the farming ground of Maté Brajkovich (the founder of Kumeu River Wines), who hunted rabbits and pheasants there. This wine would taste great with both. It’s full bodied but its flavours are all about lemons, limes and lingering freshness.
2007 Kumeu River Mate’s Vineyard Chardonnay, RRP $55
The immaculately tended vines of Mate’s Vineyard mark the beginning of Kumeu township for travellers driving north from Auckland. The grapes grown here make the most rounded, elegant and weighty of all the Kumeu River wines. This wine is the essence of great chardonnay and one of the best New Zealand wines across the spectrum of styles.