New Tasting Notes: Kumeu River Mate’s Chardonnay
“A website subscriber complained that I had no tasting notes for several recent vintages of Kumeu River Mate’s Chardonnay, a wine on which I recently conferred cult status. I’m guilty as charged, but I explained that Kumeu River doesn’t send out samples (to me at least) preferring to introduce their newly released wines to wine scribes at an annual lunch which I am seldom able to attend.
“I do, however, regularly taste Kumeu River’s full range of Chardonnays when I visit the winery as part of my five-week Auckland course. I’m also a good friend of winemaker Michael Brajkovich, New Zealand’s first MW (I like to call myself NZ’s first MW over 40 and under six foot tall).
“Anyway, the gap has now been filled. Kumeu’s marketing manager, Paul Brajkovich, was kind enough to send me samples of Mate’s Chardonnay from 2010 to 2014 plus a bottle of the 2006 (tastings).
“I like vertical tastings which can resemble an archeological dig by revealing the evolution of a style, vintage variation and a wine’s ability to age. It also allowed me to rank the wines although I must admit to a bit of to-ing and fro-ing before the job was done.
“My top wines were the 2014 (tasting) and 2010 Mate’s (97 points – tasting). The younger wine is due for release in March next year (ahead of the usual release date thanks to high demand). It’s a deliciously creamy wine that will probably develop well but is wonderfully approachable now. I’d have trouble keeping my hands off it quite frankly, although a price of $65 a bottle would limit it to ceremonial occasions in my house. The 2010 also hails from a cracking vintage and had the benefit of bottle age giving integration, some toasty complexity and helping to promote an ethereal texture. No rush but its great drinking now.
“In equal 3rd place were the more concentrated (but also more closed) 2013 Mate’s (tasting) and the mature 2006 Mate’s (96 points – tasting). A small frost-affected vintage in 2013 boosted flavour intensity and (I guess) acidity. This is a sleeper that deserves more cellar time than any of the other wines.
“I raised my earlier score for the 2006 from by one point from 95 (tasted in 2007), describing it as ‘glorious wine at full maturity’ although it will continue to deliver pleasure for a few year’s yet. Michael’s standard response when he’s asked how long Mate’s Chardonnay will age is six to ten years, which could be a little conservative in the case of the 2006 although storage conditions will obviously have an influence.
“The ‘difficult’ vintages, 2011 (tasting) and 2012 (tasting) came in fifth and sixth spot respectively although both are remarkably good wines and a credit to the labour-intensive selection process. A hint of hardness in the 2012 kept it in last place although that might remedy itself with a little bottle age.
“So what did I learn about Kumeu River Mate’s Chardonnay?
“Style Evolution? That’s a hard call. I don’t believe that the style has changed radically since 2006 although there might be less oak influence thanks to older and occasionally larger barrels.
“Vintage variation? Yes, the good and less good vintages stood out although not by as much as expected.
“Ability to age? Certainly. I’d say up to ten years for average storage conditions and up to 15 years in a temperature-controlled storage.