2020 Kumeu River Vineyards – New Releases, outstanding set of wines
Followers of Kumeu River will remember that we all got very excited by the exceptional 2019 vintage, which produced some of the Brajkovich’s best wines yet, but it looks like 2020 is going to be even better, with their flagship wine, Maté’s Vineyard, being awarded a perfect 100 pts, while Michael Brajkovich feels that the 2020 Hunting Hill is his best yet.
A wet winter was followed by an early, dry Spring that saw flowering take place a week or two earlier than usual, with very good fruit set. A dry December was followed by an even drier January, before drought set in through February and the March harvesting period, which was a week to ten days earlier than usual. Temperatures, however, remained cool to warm, in the mid- to high twenties, providing ideal ripening conditions and ensuring the grapes reached perfect maturity.
Kumeu River estate was established in 1944, when Mick and Kate Brajkovich and son Maté first came to the small country settlement of Kumeu, about 20 km north-west of Auckland. Despite being situated well to the north of New Zealand’s other viticultural regions, the Kumeu vineyards are cooled by the close proximity of both the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean, generating cloud cover that keeps peak summer temperatures below 30°C, enhancing the aromas and flavours during ripening. The family’s latest venture saw an exciting addition with the 2017 acquisition of a vineyard in Hawkes Bay. Rays Road, Raukawa, was originally a joint project between the well-known Sancerre producer, Pascal Jolivet, and New Zealand’s Trinity Hill, but things didn’t work out and they sold to Kumeu River, providing them with access to a superb vineyard site quite different from the Kumeu home vineyards. The soil is limestone and sits at altitude, the two factors that first attracted Jolivet as they mirror those of his native Loire, and the results of the first harvests have been spectacular.
The 2019 vintage had everyone talking, but 2020 is even better. Make no mistake, these are incredible wines the like of which only a top Burgundian producer could match in terms of quality, although they certainly couldn’t match in price. Quantities are limited, especially the ‘Cru’ wines (which can only be bought together with the Estate Chardonnay) and Maté’s, in particular, is like hen’s teeth due to world-wide demand.
Price is GBP In Bond, excluding duty, Vat and any delivery or transfer charges, per case size as indicated
The Village Wines – from fruit not used in the Estate wines but still treated in the same, serious manner. ‘Bourgogne’ level, I suppose.
2020 Village Chardonnay – £99 per 12x75cl
A touch more weight and ripeness than the 2019, but with a crisp, mineral acidity that makes it extremely refreshing. Aromas of citrus, fig and peach, and ripe white fruit on the palate. Perfect as an aperitif or with food – treat yourself! At this price, you can’t go wrong.
Surprisingly rich nose. Fine, appetising, crisp palate with just a little chewiness still evident at this point. There’s a suggestion of sweet grapefruit juice. Really clean, fresh and long. VGV 16.5, Jancis Robinson MW, 24 June 2021
2020 Village Pinot Noir – £99 per 12x75cl
Mostly from the Rays Road vineyard in Hawke’s Bay, but this year with the addition of richer fruit from Kumeu to produce a slightly fruitier wine that still has the structure and elegance of its forebears.
The Estate Wine Releases
2020 Estate Chardonnay – £195 per 12x75cl, £185 per 24 bottles, £180 per 36 bottles
It’s hard to think of a better value Chardonnay than this to be honest. Kumeu River’s Estate Chardonnay is consistently excellent, offering more than a hint of Meursault style and depth, and yet remains well below half the price of anything remotely similar in quality from Burgundy. Vintage wise, well, 2020 is as good as the best of them. Fermented and then aged 11 months in barrel. Stunning depth of flavour now, and it will just continue to get better over the next ten years.
Lightly but not excessively reductive on the nose. Already quite expansive on the nose with beautiful impact on the palate: citrus, blossom and really neat acidity without much astringency. Elegant and racy – almost lightweight on the mid palate and then it is impressively persistent. A thorough delight already. VGV 17, Jancis Robinson MW , 24 June 2021
There’s a sense of calm to the 2020 Chardonnay Estate, a blend of six different sites. It is mellow, offering a plump cushion of Chardonnay goodness on the midpalate but not becoming heavy nor opulent, its youthful edge and fresh acidity tying it together into a precise finish. It offers classic subtle Chardonnay characters of Golden Delicious apple, white nectarine and a mere whiff of oak-derived smokiness. Well constructed, satisfying and elegant. 91 pts, Rebecca Gibb MW, Vinous, Nov. 2020
Single Vineyard Wines
2020 Rays Road Chardonnay – £210 per case 12x75cl
From their Hawkes Bay vineyard, the north-facing, limestone soil at 180 m provides Kumeu with a different style, distinctly more citrusy on the nose with a vibrant mineral acidity. This vintage has produced their best fruit ever, while some clonal Chardonnay plantings have reached their first year of production, providing an extra element of ripeness and richness. Mouth watering.
Neat and well integrated, quite restrained. And already very accessible though with light, fine tannins and quite opulent fruit on the front palate. Sprightly. Lemon-pastille flavour. Very long. Beautifully made. 17, Jancis Robinson MW, 24 June 2021
2020 Hunting Hill Chardonnay – £198 per 6x75cl
Hunting Hill is a vineyard that was first planted in 1982 and became a significant part of the original Kumeu River Chardonnay blend. Occupying the slope overlooking Maté’s Vineyard, it has always contributed lovely ripe and rich fruit to the Estate Chardonnay. Replanted in 2000, over the last few years it has begun to exhibit the complexity that comes from greater vine age. The 2019 was the best yet, and the 2020 is even better. This wine consistently draws comparisons with Puligny, with a little more minerality and finesse than the Maté’s. Beautiful wine.
Possibly the most complete Hunting Hill Chardonnay I’ve tasted in youth, the 2020 provides a harmonious, melt-in-your-mouth impression. It has breadth and concentration but retains a sense of elegance on the midpalate before finishing with precision and length. Yes, there’s a little bit of flint character too, but then Hunting Hill is known to be reductive; give it time. Like Forrest Gump, it runs through a finish line and keeps on going effortlessly. There’s no box of chocolates here, though; it’s all white nectarine, citrus, white flowers and a touch of smoked nuts. Vinous 95 pts Drinking window: 2023 – 2035 Rebecca Gibb MW. Tasting date: April 2021
Really nervy nose. Truly burgundian, if one is allowed to say this. Great fruit and great tension. Just the job and amazingly vibrant and persistent on the finish. You could drink this already but it will clearly last really well – though winemaker Michael Brajkovich is consistently cautious with his suggested drinking windows; ‘will improve with bottle age for four to six years’. A hint of Puligny here. 17++, Jancis Robinson MW, 24 June 2021
2020 Maté’s Vineyard Chardonnay – £210 per 6x75cl
In 1990, Maté Brajkovich reworked the land and planted Chardonnay on the site of the original vineyard that he and his family purchased in 1944, and the first grapes were harvested in March 1993, the year following Maté’s death. It is the wine that sums up Kumeu River, a wine of depth, quality and class. This 2020 is again even better than the exceptional 2019, the berries, many smaller than usual, having produced a wine with a wonderfully concentrated and rich flavour. Although unyielding right now, it will be an exceptional, sought-after wine in a few years – as good as any Meursault you could name.
Pale gold. Quite an opulent nose. I must say the nose made me think involuntarily of some Corton-Charlemagnes. Really precise and mealy with perfect balance. You could already enjoy it but it will surely become even more complex in bottle. Long and satisfying, a wine designed to soothe sore throats. Quite a triumph; easy to see why it’s the most expensive in this range. 17.5, Jancis Robinson MW, 24 June 2021
We are not going to be shy about it. We just gave a perfect score to a New Zealand chardonnay – Kumeu River Chardonnay Kumeu Mate’s Vineyard 2020. Both Contributing Editor Nick Stock and I have been saying for years that chardonnay from New Zealand is amazing, and the perfect wine has finally arrived. It’s only the second time ever that JamesSuckling.com has awarded a New Zealand wine 100 points, and it came during our biggest tasting week ever – nearly 800 wines. “They have set the standard for New Zealand chardonnay,” said Nick, who raved about all the 2020 Kumeu River Chardonnays he rated last week. “We are looking at the best set of releases ever from this winery. The Brajkovich family makes the wines and Michael Brajkovich is the winemaker, and he is relentless in finding quality.” 100 pts, James Suckling, 3 August 2021