Geoff Kelly Wine Reviews
Independent reviews of some local and imported wines available in New Zealand, including earlier vintages.


Kumeu River is famous above all for its chardonnay.  The most enchanting feature of these wines is their development of full physiological flavour maturity at lower alcohols,  13% or 13.5%,  when compared with the 14% and even 14.5% which is distressingly becoming the norm elsewhere in New Zealand.  This appropriate alcohol level,  plus winemaker Michael Brajkovich's classical European approach to winestyles,  makes for supremely finessed and food-friendly wines.  In particular,  the oak-handling is subtle and restrained.

The winery offers three levels of chardonnay:  the top or Reserve-level Kumeu River 'Maté's Vineyard' Chardonnay,  a single-vineyard wine named for the firm's late founder Maté Brajkovich;  the premium Kumeu River label (now simply stating 'Chardonnay'),  and an entry-level wine labelled Kumeu River 'Village Chardonnay'.  The quality of the top two wines can be gauged from the fact that one or other of them has made the Wine Spectator annual Top 100 list 6 times so far,  the most recent being the 2002.  Their website  www.kumeuriver.co.nz proudly notes that:  Every vintage of Kumeu River Chardonnay since 1991 has been rated 90 points or higher on the Wine Spectator 100 point scale.

Thus,  the annual release of the Kumeu River chardonnays (from the previous year's vintage) is eagerly awaited.  The rare (and appreciated) opportunity to assess the 2005 wines at the fully assembled final stage before the shock of bottling is reported on below.  Note the newly released wines later this year may need a little more time in bottle to recapture the elegance they show now.  The Village wine will be released in May 2006,  and the two top wines probably in September.


2005  Kumeu River Chardonnay
2004  Kumeu River Chardonnay
2003  Kumeu River Chardonnay
2002  Kumeu River Chardonnay
2005  Kumeu River Chardonnay Maté’s Vineyard
2004  Kumeu River Chardonnay Maté’s Vineyard
2002  Kumeu River Chardonnay Maté’s Vineyard
  2001  Kumeu River Chardonnay Maté’s Vineyard
2005  Kumeu River Chardonnay Village
2004  Kumeu River Chardonnay Village
2005  Kumeu River Sauvignon Blanc
2004  Kumeu River Sauvignon Blanc
2002  Domaine Roulot Meursault les Tillets

2005  Kumeu River Chardonnay Village   18  ()
Kumeu,  north of Auckland,  New Zealand:  13.1%;  $ –    [ screwcap;  release May ’06,  ’04 c. $18;  100% BF in 10% new oak,  100% MLF,  RS nil;  formerly labelled Brajkovich Chardonnay;  www.kumeuriver.co.nz ]
Lemon.  A clean,  fragrant and vividly varietal chardonnay bouquet,  showing white grading to yellow stonefruits,  plus mealy lees-autolysis and oak complexities.  Palate shows a beautiful integration of chardonnay fruit with mealy and baguette-crust fermentation complexities and light oak,  coupled with a super acid balance.  This is quite the best Village / Brajkovich Chardonnay yet,  and will cellar to five years easily.  The standard of the wine is so good,  because the crop was much reduced in 2005.  Thus all the wine was fermented in oak.  In normal years more than half of it is tank-fermented.  The Brajkovich’s misfortune therefore presents a golden opportunity to buy a (in effect) much more serious wine at the introductory price the Village wine carries.  GK 02/06

2004  Kumeu River Chardonnay Village   16 ½  ()
Kumeu,  north of Auckland,  New Zealand:  13%;  $18   [ screwcap;  sold-out;  25% BF mostly older oak,  75% s/s,  100% MLF,  RS nil;  formerly labelled Brajkovich Chardonnay;  www.kumeuriver.co.nz ]
Lemon.  Bouquet is very different on the 2004 edition of the Village Chardonnay,  when seen alongside the ‘05.  This is a much more European wine style,  with a slight reductive veil on a more citric version of chardonnay fruit,  showing white stonefruits only.  Palate likewise is narrower,  sharper,  quite austere actually relative to the ‘05,  though there is the pleasing fruit weight of chardonnay.  Cellar 1 – 6 years.  GK 02/06

2005  Kumeu River Chardonnay   18 ½  ()
Kumeu,  north of Auckland,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $ –    [ screwcap;  release Sept. ’06,  ’04 c. $36;  clone 15 and others;  100% BF in 25% new oak,  100% MLF,   RS nil;  www.kumeuriver.co.nz ]
Lemon.  Bouquet is immediately stonefruits chardonnay and clearcut barrel-ferment and lees-autolysis / breadcrust complexity,  with a hint of char,  all sweet and clean and attractive.  Palate is white stonefruits and nectarine,  the richness of MLF without the butter,  perfect acid balance for longevity,  a hint of mineral austerity,  and balanced oak including some taste of the new.  This is taut poised wine in a medium Puligny-Montrachet style,  which should cellar for 6 – 10 years.  NB:  notes based on final assembled blend,  pre-bottling.  GK 02/06

2005  Kumeu River Chardonnay Maté’s Vineyard   19  ()
Kumeu,  north of Auckland,  New Zealand:  13%;  $ –    [ screwcap;  release Sept. ’06,  ’04 c. $47;  100% Mendoza clone @ lower cropping rate than Kumeu River wine;  100% BF in a little more than 20% new oak,  100% MLF,   RS nil;  www.kumeuriver.co.nz ]
Lemonstraw.  The contrast in the two wines Kumeu River and Maté’s this year is more noticeable than in some seasons.  First impressions are of great fruit richness,  yellow peaches rather more than white,  greater concentration,  and more barrel-ferment / lees-autolysis / oak integration and baguette crust mealyness.  Palate is equally impressive,  nearly an oily viscosity,  great golden queen peach fruit,  firming oak and natural acid giving an already marvellous texture which will become silkier over the next three or so years,  all leading to a long mealy finish.  All this is achieved at 13% or so alcohol,  further refining the palate quality.  This should cellar for 5 – 8 years.  Alongside the 2005 Te Mata Elston,  the Maté’s is softer,  richer,  more accessible now.  NB:  notes based on final assembled blend,  pre-bottling.  GK 02/06

2004  Kumeu River Chardonnay   18  ()
Kumeu,  north of Auckland,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $36   [ screwcap;  clone 15 and others;  100% BF in 20% new oak,  100% MLF,   RS nil;  www.kumeuriver.co.nz ]
Deeper lemon.  Kumeu River is the darker wine this year,  and has a firm and slightly closed bouquet showing both white and yellow stonefruits,  then the same careful barrel-ferment,  lees-autolysis and oak shown by the 2005.  Palate though rich in fruit,  is still quite tannic and hard from both acid and oak.  It thus seems very dry,  needing another year or two to fill out,  and soften.  This is firm Puligny-Montrachet in style,  and should cellar to 10 years.  GK 02/06

2004  Kumeu River Chardonnay Maté’s Vineyard   19 +  ()
Kumeu,  north of Auckland,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $47   [ screwcap;  100% Mendoza clone @ lower cropping rate than Kumeu River wine;  100% BF in a little more than 20% new oak,  100% MLF,   RS nil;  www.kumeuriver.co.nz ]
Lemon.  In contrast to the 2004 Kumeu River Chardonnay,  the Maté’s wine shows a softer and richer  bouquet,  totally pure and fragrant,  with almost a suggestion of acacia blossom and other white florals.  The fruit is not as dramatically pure Mendoza in character as the 2005,  there being more a mixed nectarine fruit quality complexed by lees-autolysis and baguette crust,  which is very attractive.  Palate is glorious,  oily rich,  sensational chardonnay,  fine acid balance,  near-invisible oak,  yet all the complexity derived from total barrel-ferment and lees-autolysis in barrel.  This wine reminds me of a 1969 Corton-Charlemagne which gave me immense pleasure from cellar,  in the 20 following years.  This 2004 Maté’s Vineyard Chardonnay is undoubtedly one of New Zealand's finest examples of the grape to date.  With its 13.5% alcohol,  it sets a model of restraint and subtlety which some more heavy-handed proprietors in other districts could well emulate.  Cellar 2 – 8 years.  GK 02/06

2003  Kumeu River Chardonnay   17  ()
Kumeu,  north of Auckland,  New Zealand:  13%;  $ –    [ screwcap;  clone 15 and others,  small crop due to frost;  100% BF in older oak only, 100% MLF,   RS nil;  www.kumeuriver.co.nz ]
Deeper lemon,  a flush of straw.  Bouquet in this vintage of the Kumeu River Chardonnay also shows a European connection,  there being a slight veil of a sulphur-related character which is complexing to a nutty and faintly mercaptan aroma.  Palate has all the fruit,  balance,  and style of other vintages,  but this lees-autolysis nutty character is a bit pervasive,  with a thread of bitterness scarcely noticeable in the fruit richness.  The whole impression is reminiscent of walnuts,  which are both nutty but also slightly bitey.  Some people like this complexity character enormously,  and I agree that with the right foods,  it can be good.  But for tasting,  however,  the purity of a wine such as the 2004 Maté’s wins the day for me.  Cellar 1 – 3 years.  GK 02/06

2002  Kumeu River Chardonnay   19  ()
Kumeu,  north of Auckland,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $ –    [ screwcap;  clone 15 and others,  100% BF in 20% new oak, 100% MLF,   RS nil;  www.kumeuriver.co.nz ]
Lemonstraw.  This is one of the pure sweet fruit styles in the Kumeu River premium chardonnay range,  like the ‘04 Maté’s.  White peach and stonefruits are dominant,  with marvellously mealy barrel-ferment and lees-autolysis characters complexing it.  Below,  one can just detect some of the nuttiness which is overt in the 2003,  but at this ’02 level of concentration it is great.  Palate is marvellous,  rich nearly oily stonefruits and mealy complexity,  oak totally absorbed / balanced,  the flavour lingering for ever – truly succulent.  This is exemplary chardonnay.  At a peak now,  in one sense,  but will cellar 1 – 6 years.  GK 02/06

2002  Kumeu River Chardonnay Maté’s Vineyard   18 ½  ()
Kumeu,  north of Auckland,  New Zealand:  13%;  $ –    [ screwcap;  100% Mendoza clone @ lower cropping rate than Kumeu River wine;  100% BF in a little more than 20% new oak,  100% MLF,   RS nil;  www.kumeuriver.co.nz ]
Lemonstraw.  In this year's pair,  the Maté’s benefits from decanting.  It is a little less pure than the straight Kumeu River,  showing more of the nutty and charry oak characters I have elsewhere referred to as Corbans Cottage Block character.  Supporting fruit is great,  however.  With a breath of air,  palate is waxy rich,  richer even than the matching Kumeu River,  and the nutty complexity melts away into the slightly buttery (+ve) richness to give a finish which lasts and lasts.  The nutty quality makes the wine seemed drier than the already dry Kumeu River.  These two wines make a beautifully matched but contrasting pair,  though I suspect the Maté’s will dry in cellar a little earlier than the Kumeu River.  Likewise at a peak now,  but will cellar 1 – 5 years.  GK 02/06

2001  Kumeu River Chardonnay Maté’s Vineyard   17 ½  ()
Kumeu,  north of Auckland,  New Zealand:  13%;  $ –    [ screwcap (first vintage);  100% Mendoza clone @ lower cropping rate than Kumeu River wine;  100% BF in older oak,  100% MLF,   RS nil;  www.kumeuriver.co.nz ]
Full straw,  quite advanced in fact.  One would think there was a five-year gap between the ’02 and the ‘01,  so different are they.  Bouquet here is well past the primary fruit characters of the younger wines.  Instead,  there are fragrant honey and vanilla wine-biscuit characters on abstract golden fruit (and perhaps trace botrytis),  leading into a rich palate which is almost freshly-baked peach sponge cake – very appealing.  This wine is moving past fully mature in its flavour profile,  but still has good fruit.  Plan to use it up in the next couple of years.  GK 02/06

2002  Domaine Roulot Meursault les Tillets   17 ½  ()
Meursault,  Burgundy,  France:  12.5%;  $ –    [ cork;  100% MLF ]
Lemon and some straw,  lighter than the 2002 Kumeu River.  Proprietor Michael Brajkovich opened this wine as a cross-reference for the Kumeu wines,  and as an illustration of a contemporary burgundy grower he likes very much.  Bouquet is understated alongside the New Zealand wines,  with less oak and a less dramatic varietal presentation.  There are some acacia floral notes,  melding with suggestions of high solids,  all running out into white stonefruits.  Body is less than the Kumeu wines,  and acid fractionally more.  The interplay of lees-autolysis,  baguette characters,  and fruit in the total flavour is similar,  however.  The main conclusion that can be drawn from this Burgundy village wine is that the Kumeu River chardonnays are fully up to premier cru or grand cru wines in their fruit weight,  mouthfeel,  and varietal character,  and the top Kumeu examples match them in quality too.  Cellar 5 – 8 years.  GK 02/06

2005  Kumeu River Sauvignon Blanc   16 ½ +  ()
Marlborough,  New Zealand:  12.5%;  $20   [ screwcap;  sold out;  25% MLF,  RS nil,  all s/s;  www.kumeuriver.co.nz ]
Lemongreen.  A lifted aromatic and varietal bouquet with the piquancy of light VA,  on a clearly varietal but slightly unusual soft yet mineral gooseberry richness.  The complexity turns out to be a 25% MLF component,  unusual in mainstream New Zealand sauvignon.  It would be hard to pick / identify this character,  blind.  Texturally,  the palate is fatter than the 2004,  with less Marlborough acid apparent in one sense,  though that is confused by the prickle of VA.  This is an individual statement on Marlborough sauvignon,  which is good with food.  Cellar 1 – 3 years.  GK 02/06

2004  Kumeu River Sauvignon Blanc   17 ½ +  ()
Marlborough,  New Zealand:  12.5%;  $20   [ screwcap;  sold out;  25% wild yeast,  RS nil,  all s/s;  www.kumeuriver.co.nz ]
Lemongreen,  minutely paler than the 2005.  Bouquet on this wine is clear-cut Marlborough sauvignon,  yet with a slight trace of gunflint sulphur complexing and Europeanising the wine.  Palate is sauvignon blanc at the peak of its primary flavours,  honeysuckle and red capsicum spreading into black passionfruit skins,  long-flavoured and dry.  In style,  this wine is reminiscent of some Ch. Ladoucette wines,  but it also illustrates the interesting convergence of grape chemistry good trocken German riesling and subtle sauvignon can display.  At full maturity in one sense,  but will live for years,  changing into interesting older sauvignon.  GK 02/06