Michael Brajkovich has been making some of the best value Chardonnay in the world at Kumeu River from his estate close to Auckland in New Zealand. The winery has been expanding recently with vineyards sourced from Trinity Hill in Hawkes Bay – but the trademark quality is still there, writes Antipodean wine expert Roger Jones. To launch the new Kumeu River 2021 vintage, marketing manager Paul Brajkovich was in London on Monday to show all the wines and lunch with Jones at Mayfair’s exclusive 67 Pall Mall wine club.
“Is there a better value Chardonnay in the world? I doubt it… Wow! this is Estate Chardonnay but not as we know it, this blew me away, utter brilliance,” writes Jones.
Kumeu River‘s winemaker Michael Brajkovich has been high-praising the 2021 vintage from afar with quotes like “2021 was my 40th Vintage at Kumeu, and I have never seen a run of vintages of this quality before”, this follows the two outstanding vintages of 2019 and 2020. There is no question that this is another outstanding vintage, but my highlights were different to the previous two vintages, and importantly the ‘extra value’ Estate Chardonnay is a blockbuster this year, which would make many a Burgundian cry at its value, pure quality and immense perfection, closed as always under Stelvin.
With little hope for expansion around the Kumeu homestead in west Auckland, they purchased vineyards in Hawkes Bay from Trinity Hills in 2017, releasing the first Rays Road Chardonnay in 2018. I have followed this wine from the start and this fourth vintage; Rays Road Chardonnay 2021 is certainly evolving beautifully, with an extra richness now coming through, as new Chardonnay clones have been planted and are now in their second year and were able to be blended in with the older vines. (Full notes below)
However we digress, back to the Kumeu River 2021 masterclass chaired by Paul Brajkovich where we started off with bright fresh creamy Kumeu Village Cremant NV, (£19 DPD ex Vat); this was fruit-forward with ripe clean flavours, creamy textured, with a fresh tingling finish. Made from 60% Chardonnay and 40% Pinot Noir, giving a balance between red berries and floral beady notes, bottle fermented and aged on lees for 36 months before being disgorged.
Kumeu Village Pinot Gris 2021
Kumeu deliver a great Pinot Gris every year, but it does not follow the same style, with this vintage more fruit-driven with extra sweetness, which it carries very well and is a perfect match to spicy food, offering incredible value. Full, luscious, fresh, zingy stone fruit with some Pear William – being that it is a ‘red grape variety’, the sweetness softens the tannins, giving a great balance. Savoury and pleasant backbone, restrained floral perfume that gives it a luxury feel. (£8.98 DPD ex VAT)
Kumeu Village Chardonnay 2021
Produced from grapes from both Kumeu’s West Auckland vineyards and Dartmoor Valley in Hawkes Bay, and barrel-fermented in five-year-old French oak barrels; the Village is not always aged in oak incidentally, but as the 2021 was a small vintage there were barrels to be filled for safekeeping. However, unlike previous years, this was not hand-harvested because of the lack of pickers due to Covid restrictions, but the machine-picking certainly did not cause any stress. This is light and flinty, more Petit Chablis like. (£10.24 DPD ex VAT)
Kumeu River Rays Road Chardonnay 2021
Steely, edgy, with a marked flinty note, from the limestone (the homestead Kumeu Chardonnays are based on clay), delicious, clean white peaches, textured and evolving beautifully in the glass.This is vibrant and exciting, great balance between the stone fruit and the freshness from the limestone. (£18.48 DPD ex VAT)
Kumeu River Estate Chardonnay 2021
Is there a better value Chardonnay in the world? I doubt it… Wow! this is Estate Chardonnay but not as we know it, this blew me away, utter brilliance, sourced from six vineyards around Kumeu, this is focused, and classy, a nod to Puligny Montrachet, layers and layers of complexity, but staying precise, with delicious, clean, peeled stone fruit, ripe, peeled Pear William, a touch nutty and creamy… the purity is sublime. Drink now or wait up to a decade to get the full monty, a small vintage so do try and get your hands on some. (£17.15 DPD ex VAT)
Kumeu River Coddington Chardonnay 2021
Sourced from a private vineyard, named Coddington after the original owners Tim and Angela Coddington, but now in Chinese hands, who continue to allow the Brajkovich family to tend the vines. Coddington tends to be luscious and full of yellow peaches and ripe apricots, with a toasty background. The racey acidity balances it well, but overall there is a generous luscious feel to this wine. (£25.91 DPD ex VAT)
Kumeu River Hunting Hill Chardonnay 2021
First planted in 1982 and was a a significant part of the original Kumeu River Chardonnay blend, the vineyard overlooks the Mate’s Vineyard up on the slope. Replanted in 2000 and evolves magnificently, this to me is the best of this year’s Single Vineyard wines, with a nod to Meursault. Fresh, bright, lemon and lime, lifting and restraining at the same time, the beautiful seamless, lingering ripe stone fruit, creamy and sublime, a textbook Chardonnay. This has the power but it has such elegance – try sourcing a magnum to lay down, one of the best investments you will make for pure pleasure not greed. (£31.66 DPD ex VAT)
Kumeu River Mate’s Vineyard Chardonnay 2021
The first grapes from this vineyard were harvested in March 1993, the year after Mate’s death, the resulting wine being released in November 1994 to coincide with celebrations marking the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Brajkovich family’s arrival in Kumeu River. (£35.21 DPD ex VAT)
Mate’s Chardonnay is made to age and the wines start to show their distinguished quality after a decade but, of course, still provide exceptional drinking quality in youth – just make sure you decant the wine first. Ripe, rich and concentrated as it opens, but currently the wine is refined, nutty, with Pear William and delicate stone fruit. Personally I would say that the 2020 Mate’s has the edge, but that is just quibbling, this is a grand wine.
Do they produce red wine? I hear you ask, yes they do they make single vineyard Pinot Noir from Hunting Hill and Rays Road but we tried Kumeu River Village Pinot Noir 2021 which is sourced from both Hawkes Bay and Kumeu. This pretty, red fruited Pinot Noir offers excellent value, it is not trying to be dark and seductive, just a fresh vibrant summer pudding of a Pinot, fresh bright red berries then some energising frais de bois, lovely and fresh. (£10.24 DPD ex VAT)
Kumeu River’s wines are imported and sold in the UK by New Generation Wines, which is a supplier partner of The Buyer.