Tasting 12 Vintages of Kumeu River
Saturday, 20th October 2018 by Thomas Parker MW
Stephen Browett first visited Kumeu River Winery - and met winemaker Michael Brajkovich - in January 1990 on a visit to Auckland. He’d been tipped off about a new Chardonnay producer (first vintage 1985) by Barry Phillips who had bought the 1987 for the wine list of the legendary White Horse Inn at Chilgrove. After tasting the 1989 vintage from barrel he placed an order - Farr Vintners has shipped every vintage since then.
In 1993 the Estate Chardonnay was joined by “Maté’s Vineyard” and two further single vineyard wines “Hunting Hill” and “Coddington” arrived on the scene in 2006. After some problems with corks in the mid to late 1990s, Kumeu River shifted their entire bottling to screwcap in 2001. Michael’s wines now have a worldwide reputation and have performed brilliantly in blind tastings, including one that we hosted at Farr Vintners in 2015 where the wines outshone some of their most famous rivals from Burgundy.
Farr Vintners recently hosted the most comprehensive tasting of Kumeu River Chardonnays ever held, with Paul Brajkovich in attendance. We tasted every vintage of “Hunting Hill Chardonnay” and “Coddington Chardonnay” – that is 2006 to 2017 inclusive - and the same vintages of “Maté’s Vineyard” and the “Estate Chardonnay”. A total of 48 wines served in 4 flights of 12.
This tasting exceeded my already lofty expectations in terms of quality, consistency, and ageability. The decision to move to screwcap was fully vindicated, all 48 wines showed in immaculate condition, and though many of the wines to 2014 were very youthful, there was clear evolution, maturity, and complexity gained as the wines moved past 5 years of age. What was also striking was the vintage variation – the wines were clearly marked by the ripeness and yields achieved in each year, though due to the contrasting styles of the 3 single vineyard wines, different vintages shone for each site.
Overall, 2014, 2010, and 2007 shone as the great vintages of the last 12 years – but there was no single wine that seemed “weak” among all 48 shown. The 2015s showed particularly well as young wines with approachability. We discussed at the time whether there is any other winery that could show 48 wines from 12 vintages and have such universal success. I’m yet to think of an answer. When it is also considered that the 2016 wines are available for between £140 and £275 per dozen in bond, it is all the more remarkable how well these wines showed.
As a whole, the 2017s showed as another very good vintage for Kumeu River. The weather was cooler than normal, bringing wines with great freshness and bright acidity, juicy stone fruits and marked minerality. They are evidently very youthful at this stage, but they have great potential with a style that Paul Brajkovich considers similar but superior to the 2012s. Yields are slightly down on last year, and with the low-yielding 2018s to follow, it looks as though we could be set for lower stocks of Kumeu River in the next couple of years.
The Estate Chardonnay is a blend of six sites, and undergoes the same barrel fermentation and maturation as the single vineyard wines. The result is a wine that retains the mineral character of the top wines, but with more juicy approachability. This wine still aged extremely well across the flight – the 2009 to 2006 were all mature but not overly so. With a quick show of hands, the 2010 edged out the 2014 as the favourite, though one of the most remarkable things across the flight was the consistency of quality, despite the wines showing clear vintage character. Notes on the Estate Chardonnays follow.
2017 - Very pale at this stage, with pithy lemon and a saline edge turning to peaches and struck flint with air. More breadth on the palate, with creamy citrus and pear layered by hints of vanilla and smoke. Chalky texture with a long finish accented by grapefruit. Zippy, fresh and yet plump. 16.5/20
2016 - Still pale, with a slightly reticent nose that shows though notes of citrus and juicy pear with air. The palate is driven and pure in citrus tones, with a svelte core of fruit given generosity by a touch of sweet spice and cream. Lots of minerality, a cool, poised and elegant wine. 16/20
2015 - Pale lemon, with notes of oyster shell and preserved lemons on the nose – aromatic and expressive yet cool. The palate is silky and creamy, with citrus and stone fruits given complexity from a light smokiness and tingle from the struck match and light reduction. Long and creamy on the finish with great concentration, but also cut from waves of fresh acidity. 16.5/20
2014 - Very pale lemon given the age. Mineral, cool, and sultry on the nose with pure citrus, struck flint and smoke. Very enticing. The palate is dense and concentrated, still unfurling with over 30 minutes in the glass. Great potential and power - very youthful and primary with just that hint of lemon curd adding generosity. Very long and driven. Very impressive. 16.5+/20
2013 - Pale lemon in colour with white pepper, green and yellow apples, and hints of cream on the nose. The palate is zippy and fresh with lots of acid cut and a phenolic grip that adds real intrigue to the texture. Plenty of citrus curd and green apple through to a cool, bright finish. 15.5+/20
2012 - Pale lemon, with hints of petrol and gun smoke on the nose. This is very flinty. The palate is much more generous – with juicy stone fruits and a creamy, lightly nutty complexity. This is starting to show its maturity and is perfect to drink now. 16/20
2011 - Pale lemon with notes of struck flint and ripe grapefruit on the nose. Limey, briney and peppery on the palate, with a hint of nuttiness. Showing its maturity with hints of cream that add breadth and complexity on the finish. 15.5+/20
2010 - Pale straw, with great complexity and aromatic power – notes of cereal, fresh nut, peaches, and savoury spice, this is very enticing. The palate is chalky and yet broad, with waves of ripe fruits, fresh butter and honey bringing the concentration and power before bright acidity adds great tension and a cool edge. Really superb and harmonious, ready to drink but still with great life, as evidenced by the long finish. 17/20
2009 - A pale to medium lemon colour, with a creamy, nutty nose of lemon curd. The palate is generous, round, creamy and juicy. There is an oily richness that adds a hedonistic quality to the texture, harmonising with the cool citrus fruit at the core. Perfectly mature now. 16+/20
2008 - A pale to mid lemon, with a creamy, nutty, red apple nose. The palate is pithy and texture with a touch of struck flint over apple skins and toasted nuts. Fleshy and broad, this is now a fully mature wine. 16/20
2007 - A medium straw colour in the glass, the nose here is creamy, nutty and developed. Hints of preserved lemons come through, but this is savoury and nutty. The palate is mature, with an oily, nutty richness that is broad and rich. Fully mature and savoury on the finish. 16/20
2006 - Mid lemon in the glass with a nutty, creamy nose laced with baked apples. The palate is still juicy and broad, but the buttery, nutty character now dominates what is a fully mature, savoury and creamy expression of Chardonnay. 15.5+/20
This 2.4ha vineyard was bottled for a family reserve as an experiment since 2000, but was added to the single vineyard line-up commercially in 2006 along with Hunting Hill. Known for its luscious character, it receives 25% new oak and spends 11 months on its lees. These wines showed a ripe, juicy peach note throughout – the cooler vintages worked well to tame the ripeness and bring vibrant acidity. For our Old World minds, we typically consider this the Chassagne of the trio. In this line up 2010 was again the favourite, but 2007 was close behind.
2017 - Very pale colour. Juicy peaches on the nose, a little toastiness. Ripe and round with orchard fruit on the palate. The smoky oak is well integrated, and there is bright, taming acidity from the coolness of the vintage adding great freshness. Creamy on the finish. Forward but harmonious. 17+/20
2016 - Still very pale, with a smoky, subtle nose of ripe stone fruits. The palate has a pithy, chalky texture with generous pear and peach. Lots of cut with vibrant acidity that brings a saline yet juicy finish. 16.5/20
2015 - Classic matchstick reduction here with oodles of expressive lemon curd. This is complex, creamy, ripe and yet mineral at the same time. Prickly acidity comes in waves over ripe peaches, bringing a cool white peach precision. The finish is lightly toasty, and very long. A great Coddington. 17.5/20
2014 - Very pale at this stage, with a compact, brooding nose of great purity. Ripe pears and peaches, with just a touch of smoke. Zippy and clean on entry, the density and power of this wine comes through on the mid-palate through to the finish, which drives ripe lime and lemon, compact yet oily density, and a very long finish. All potential. Needs a couple of years at least to flesh out but should then prove to be outstanding. 17.5/20
2013 - Passionfruit, greengage and citrus on this complex and flinty nose. The palate is showing signs of creamy, nutty maturity that gives a generosity to the ripe fruits still at the core of the wine. Broad and juicy. 16.5/20
2012 - Notes of almond and cereal on the nose here complement peach curds and ripe lemon. The palate is exotic and ripe, broad and open. This is ready to drink and shows the riper side of the Coddington style. 16.5/20
2011 - Notes of orange peel, honeyed peaches and marmalade show a different side to many of the other vintages here. This is generous and viscous on the palate, earthy and chocked full of orange fruit. Broad and distinctive. 16.5/20
2010 - Powerful ripe peaches and flinty reduction pair with a light toastiness on this aromatic and complex nose. The palate is full, rich, powerful and round. There is a hint of creamy, buttery development but this still has lots of ripe stone fruit at the core. There is a light spiciness and opulent richness to the long finish that makes this very moreish. 17.5/20
2009 - Peaches and apricots on this ripe and honeyed nose. The palate shows signs of creamy, nutty development with a soft acidity that brings out riper, more exotic fruits on the palate. Mature and perfect to drink now. 16+/20
2008 - A mid lemon colour, with a nutty, mature, creamy nose. The palate is smoky and creamy, with notes of toasted cereals and lemon curd. Fully mature, for drinking over the next year or two. 16/20
2007 - Mid lemon in colour, with a complex, buttery nose of peaches and lemon curd. The palate offers buttered peach and a touch of preserved lemon, with fresh nuts and a light smokiness lurking in the background. Very complex and yet still powerful. Mature now and perfect drinking over the next couple of years. 17+/20
2006 - Mid lemon in colour with a buttery nose of peaches and passionfruit. The palate is concentrated and ripe, with exotic mango prominent amongst the flavours. Very solar, with a softness and creaminess that makes this mature but still drinking well now. 16.5/20
Hunting Hill has long been a favourite at Farr Vintners. Experiments on a single vineyard bottling of the site began in 2003, with more made in 2004 and 2005 before deciding to release the wine commercially for the 2006 vintage. 1,000 cases a year are made from this site, which was replanted in 2000 with the same clone as Coddington. Despite this the wines show a very different style, with steely acidity and superb minerality that remind us of Puligny Montrachet. This is in part due to the coastal breezes and cooler clay soils. The winemaking is near identical, with the only slight change being the cooper used for the barrels that mature the wine. What was immediately noticeable for this flight was the colour consistency – these wines showed a very slow rate of maturity, suggesting a great potential for improving with bottle age. In this flight the 2007 edged out the 2010, with the 2013 close behind. Given the time these wines need in bottle, it was not surprising to see that the older vintages were preferred by many tasters, but the potential in all of four of the most recent vintages was truly outstanding.
2017 - Flinty and floral on the nose with lime blossom and lemon zest. Very precise and cool. Taut on the palate with vibrant acidity and a dense, compact core of fruit that is tightly wound at this stage. Complexity from stuck match and toast through to a long and impressively concentrated finish. Great potential. 17.5+/20
2016 - Reticent on the nose, petrichor and lemon blossom with a touch of smoke. The palate is slightly softer than the 2017, with a light creaminess and pear fruit coming through over the citrus notes. Vibrant and fresh with hints of butter and cream just starting to show through. Very long finish. 17.5/20
2015 - Flinty on the nose with lemon peel, preserved lemons and gun smoke. The palate has impressive, oily concentration yet cutting steely acidity. The result is weightless power and great drive of mineral but ripe lemons and limes. This is an outstanding wine, finding the perfect line between ripeness and freshness. Very long, complex and smoky on the finish, but better in 2-3 years. 17.5+/20
2014 - Very pale and very tight on the nose. Flinty, with lime blossom and a light smokiness, but this is reticent at the moment. The power comes on the palate, which starts with a rich texture and concentration before being cut by searing, bright acidity. This has superb drive and mouth-watering citrus at the core. The flinty, toasty notes that frame the fruit are subtle and integrated. This is a magnificent wine, but almost painfully youthful at this stage. It will reward cellaring and join the 2010 and 2007 as one of the great Hunting Hills in the future. 18.5/20
2013 - Petrichor, citrus, and a touch more creamy generosity on the nose here. The palate is oily and dense but still precise due to the bright acidity. More open and giving than the 2014, with softer stone fruits alongside the higher toned lime zest. Pure, harmonious and perfectly balanced through to the long finish. This is the youngest vintage of Hunting Hill that feels ready to drink. 17.5+/20
2012 - Still a pale lemon colour, with some added richness of peaches and cream on the nose here. The palate remains steely, with bright acidity and flinty citurs dominating the fruit core. This fleshes out to the finish, with some buttery stone fruits tempering the minerality in the wine. 17.5/20
2011 - Hints of spice and orange rind complement the citrus on the nose here. Lots of glycerol on entry adds to the body on this wine, with hints of nuts and cream alongside notes of grapefruit and orange. Earthy, spicy and complex on the finish. 17+/20
2010 - Limes and lemons on the nose that are supplemented by creamy, buttery notes of development and smoky, toasted spices in the background. The palate is rich and complex with a Coche-like concentration, reduction and acidity. This has great power and vibrancy that cuts through a silky texture and lifts the riper fruit elements. This is unerring in drive yet gains greater complexity with air. Ready to drink, this has such a long finish that it should continue to evolve and improve for another 5 to 10 years. A truly superlative wine, one of the greatest Chardonnays I have tasted in recent years. 19/20
2009 - A slightly softer nose with some nuttiness here, but it still retains the vineyard character of lime, but more in curd than zest or juice. The palate follows from this with a mouthcoating creaminess and textural generosity. The acidity is still bright but less cutting, allowing for riper buttered peach notes to come though. Long and juicy on the finish. 18/20
2008 - A waxy, honeycomb nose with hints of preserved lemons, this is much more developed than the 2009. The palate is oily, giving a fullness of body and softness that makes this wine feel opulent. The textbook bright acidity comes later in the palate and tightens the more exotic fruit notes into ripe lemons. A light toasted nut note on the finish adds to the complexity. 17.5+/20
2007 - A light-medium lemon colour, with a waxy, complex nose of preserved lemons, struck flint and charred limes. The palate has perfect balance – bright acidity lifts the deceptively concentrated, oily, powerful fruit core that is starting to mature into creamy, nutty notes while preserving the brightness of citrus fruit. The smoky, flinty notes remain, but they are subsumed beneath the great power of fruit. The finish remains long, pure and saline. A remarkable wine of great harmony and power. 19/20
2006 - A medium lemon colour, with a rich and mature nose of toasted corn, beeswax and lemon rind. The palate still has a great concentration of fruit, lemons and also peaches. This is maturing in creamy, nutty notes but remains saline and zippy. Hints of petrol and struck flint add more complexity on the finish. 18/20
Maté’s Vineyard was planted in 1990. Now that the vines are over 25 years old, the wines have taken another step up in quality. The vineyard lies at the foot of Hunting Hill and is more sheltered from the breezes, adding some richness to the wines. With the Mendoza clone more prominent than in other vineyards, they also gain further concentration and some phenolic texture. The first vintage was 1993, and the winery have considered this their pinnacle ever since. There was a greater divide in the favourite wine from this flight, but 2014 prevailed, with 2010, 2009 and 2007 all tied for second place. In general, the wines seemed to be more approachable than the Hunting Hill, but retained their potential to age.
2017 - Explosive nose of peaches, toasty oak and struck match reduction. This follows on the palate, with powerful, expansive stone fruits and cream. The smoky oak is integrated and complements the fruit, which is lifted by refreshing acidity. Poised, yet very long on the finish. 18/20
2016 - Apricots, Manuka honey and toasted spices on the nose here. The palate is juicy and round, with a touch of pithiness adding textural intrigue and a smoky complexity from integrated oak. Long and vibrant, more approachable than the 2017 17/20
2015 - Still pale in colour, very powerful and aromatic. Peaches, lemons, struck flint and toasty, sweet new oak. The palate is very powerful, with creamy stone fruits and lively acidity finding the perfect balance between richness and cut. This is complex yet hedonistic, and already delicious to drink. 18/20
2014 - Still very pale. A little reticent to start, but with air there is great underlying power of ripe citrus and stone fruits. Flinty and reductive at this stage. The palate is saline on entry, preserved lemons and bright acidity keep the wine mineral and taut. Through the mid palate it expands and the core of fruit explodes through to the finish with great drive and precision. Best in the future, but a fantastic example of Maté’s Vineyard. 18.5/20
2013 - Intense citrus and peach on the nose with smoky, toasty oak. The palate is complex but still youthful, toasted spices integrated with ripe peaches before a line of acidity brings lemon curd through. The finish is lightly grippy and creamy in texture, and long in fruit. 17.5+/20
2012 - Whipped cream and lemon curd on the nose here with a touch of grapefruit. The palate is flinty, taut and mineral on entry but then expands to layers of creamy citrus. Almost milky in flavour and texture, this is round and polished through to the long finish. 17+/20
2011 - Struck match reduction and buttered peaches on the nose. This is oily, rich and full on the palate. There is an earthy quality to the fruit profile that adds a savoury touch to the core of stone fruit. Very pithy and textural, with a smoky, saline finish. 17/20
2010 - Lime blossom, white peach, gun smoke and toasted spices on this heady, complex nose. The palate has a pithy textural richness, but has a vibrant cut of acidity that refreshes the fruit into juicy stone and citrus. Expansive through the mid palate, this dovetails on the finish with a perfect harmony of fruit, nut, cream and spice. A superb vintage for Maté’s. 18.5/20
2009 - Creamy and exuberant on the nose, with lemon curd and roasted peach. The palate is juicy and ripe, but the high acidity cuts through the ripeness to bring balance. There is a peppery spiciness that builds with unctuous cream on the finish, which is round and plump. 18/20
2008 - Medium lemon in colour, with notes of toasted corn, cereal and lemon curd. The palate is rich and dense, with pithy texture and exotic, dried fruits. This ripeness continues through to the long finish, which still retains a freshness of fruit. 17.5+/20
2007 - Very creamy, with a nutty popcorn note of maturity. The palate is still juicy with fruit at the core, gaining smoky, mineral tones through the mid palate. Powerful, complex and layered, with a pithy, nutty finish. Long, and perfect to drink now and over the next 1 to 2 years. 18+/20
2006 - Creamy, smoky and nutty on the noise. The palate is juicy and full, with ripe and exotic fruits cut by refreshing acidity. Hints of toasted nuts pair nicely with sweet spices and double cream on a round finish. 17.5+/20
Other reviews of this tasting can be found here: