Wednesday Wines – Episode 68 – The brilliant 2020s from Kumeu River

Episode 68 – 14th July 2021

The 2020 Kumeu River Releases – a Preview

There is no doubt that the Brajkovich family, at Kumeu River, makes the most famous portfolio of Chardonnays in New Zealand.  Elegant, long-lived, great value and unique these wines have every element that makes them essential additions for any serious wine collector’s cellar.  These wines land in the UK in the middle of August and the fine wine brigade (all of the usual suspects) will start offering them from 2nd August.  I have listed brief notes, thoughts and scores about each of their Chardonnays and one Pinot Gris for good measure, too.  The prices listed below are the suggested RRPs from the UK agent/importer New Generation Wines.  I suspect that most merchants will offer these wines for sale ‘in bond by the case’, which suits them fine because the majority still need a little time.

2020 Kumeu River, Village Chardonnay, Kumeu & Hawke’s Bay £15.25

Oak – 42% fermented in old French oak barriques and 58% in stainless steel tanks

There are only two wines that are, in theory, drinking now.  This one and the PG below.  Keen, bright, nicely raspy on the finish and perfectly balanced this is Michael Brajkovich’s gauntlet-throwing, entry-level wine which challenges every cheap Chablis and Mâcon to a duel knowing it will win the contest in a moment.  17/20

2020 Kumeu River, Pinot Gris, Kumeu £15.50

All stainless steel tanks.

Drinking now and looking rather sleek and sexy already, you will not be surprised to hear that this is a PG made with Chardonnay hands.  Not too rich, nicely spicy and with the merest hint of exoticism, other than that this is a Chardy in PG’s clothing and that makes it another winner.  17/20

2020 Kumeu River, Ray’s Road Chardonnay, Raukawa, Hawke’s Bay £27.75

Oak – 100% barrel fermentation in older French Oak and 100% malolactic fermentation with 11 months maturation in barrel.

While the first two wines are ready to go and eminently affordable for everyday drinking, we now take a big step up for the rest of the portfolio.  A new wine in the line-up and it pleases me greatly to see that it comes from Hawke’s Bay.  I adore Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay and I can certainly see why these coolish climate kings have chosen to seek more fruit and also more challenges in this part of Kiwiland.  I love Rays road.  Classy, layered and complete this is a very different take on this grape from the remainder of the portfolio, given that the rest come from Kumeu (north of Auckland).  There is a distinct beginning, middle and end here, which is often a challenge in a new wine and particularly I love the acid line and elegance on the finish.  18/20

2020 Kumeu River, Estate Chardonnay, Kumeu £25.25 (£54.00, magnums)

Oak – 100% barrel fermentation in 20% new French oak and 100% malolactic fermentation with 11 months maturation in barrel.

The level of oaking in these wines is always very controlled but it sticks out more in the Estate creation than in all of the other wines and this means that it definitely needs more time.  Bold, assertive and punchy, this is a grand-shaped wine for the money and the thought of opening a few magnums in five or six years’ time is indeed rather attractive.  For now, though, keep your hands off this wine!  17.5/20

2020 Kumeu River, Coddington Chardonnay, Kumeu £36.00

Oak – 100% barrel fermentation in 25% new French oak and 100% malolactic fermentation with 11 months maturation in barrel.

Coddington is my pick of the two ‘Premiers Crus’ not least because it is seamless, refined and already completely integrated.  This is a sensual wine with wonderful texture and refinement.  Sometimes Coddington looks a little light and feeble, by comparison to HH and Maté’s but in 2020 it is a shimmering beauty.  In value terms, you are still only matching up to a low-level Saint-Aubin, so this wine, again, aces it against Burgundian competition.  18/20

2020 Kumeu River, Hunting Hill Chardonnay, Kumeu £48.50

Oak – 100% barrel fermentation in 25% new French oak and 100% malolactic fermentation with 11 months maturation in barrel.

Hunting Hill is now a fifty quid proposition so you have to be a fan to get in here.  This is a commanding HH and it shows the restraint and also the structure that this label can summon up in the best vintages.  Backward, tense and self-conscious, this will be a resounding success but you must be patient.  I would be tempted to put a ‘timer’ on for eight years.  While this might sound crazy, in my experience, this will be around when this wine starts to blossom.  18/20 

2020 Kumeu River, Maté’s Vineyard Chardonnay, Kumeu £50.75

Oak – 100% barrel fermentation in 30% new French oak and 100% malolactic fermentation with 11 months maturation in barrel.

At just two quid more than HH, there is no competition, in my mind, between this wine and the aforementioned beauty if you wanted to plump for just one wine.  Maté’s is sublime in 2020 and unlike its stablemate, you can already sense the splendour here.  Juicier, more structured but in no way rich or indeed oaky, there is impressive control throughout this experience and it makes this ‘Grand Cru’ all the more attractive.  When you consider the price alongside the flavour this is a no-brainer.  So perfumed, so balanced, so long and such incredible value – what a wine. 19/20

FIN