There are not too many New World Chardonnay producers confident enough to submit their wines for a blind tasting against top white Burgundy. But Kumeu River, from Auckland in New Zealand, is one of them, discovers Tina Gellie.
Image credit: Kumeu River
Organised by UK merchant Farr Vintners, the tasting pitted one bottle of each of Kumeu River’s four Chardonnays against a flight of premier cru and village Burgundies of the same vintage from leading producers including Leflaive, Lafon, Sauzet, Drouhin, Girardin and Niellon.
The wines were served blind in four flights (arranged by style) to a group of UK wine press, as well as Farr Vintners chairman Stephen Browett, some staff and Kumeu River’s sales and marketing director Paul Brajkovich (whose scores were not included).
It was a fascinating tasting, with Kumeu River a clear winner in three of the four flights, and tied for first in another.
Looking at these results, and knowing the panel of experts were judging these wines in the same room as a representative of the New Zealand winery, you’d be excused for thinking that the Kumeu River scores were inflated to be kind. But, I don’t believe they were, and certainly not on my part.
I thought the New World Chardonnay might stand out with a richer colour or more overt aroma or flavour against Burgundy, but it wasn’t always clear cut. The tasting seemed very much like with like, the scores based purely on wine quality.
Kumeu River’s Burgundian elegance was what attracted Browett to the estate in the first place, after having tasted possibly the its first Chardonnay – a 1985. He visited New Zealand in January 1990, tasted the 1989 vintage from barrel, and immediately placed an order. Farr Vintners has shipped every vintage since of that Estate Chardonnay and subsequent single-vineyard wines, and over the past 25 years Browett has served it blind to French winemakers who have guessed they were drinking Corton-Charlemagne or Meursault.
All scores are the average rounded scores of the 14 tasters (out of 20), and all prices are per bottle in bond from Farr Vintners.
Tasting Round One
Kumeu River, Estate Chardonnay 2012 17.04 points; £11.67
Sauzet, Puligny-Montrachet 2012 (16.54 pts, £29.17); Javillier, Clos du Cromin, Meursault 2012 (16.25 pts, £26.67); Leflaive, Puligny-Montrachet 2012 (16.04 pts, £58.42); Niellon, Chassagne-Montrachet 2012 (corked, £26.67)
Brajkovich said: ‘We produced 5,000 cases in 2012. It was a rainy summer, so hand-harvesting was even more important this year. For the Estate Chardonnay, all parcels are vinified separately and blended later. The wine is fermented with wild yeasts and it stays on its lees in barrel for 12 months, with 100% malolactic fermentation. We use French oak, 20% new, and select barrels from three or four different coopers.’
Tasting Round Two
Kumeu River, Coddington Vineyard Chardonnay 2010 17.42 pts; £16.67
Fontaine-Gagnard, Les Vergers 1er Cru, Chassagne-Montrachet 2010 (16.83 pts, £38); Marquis de Laguiche, Morgeots 1er Cru, Chassagne-Montrachet 2010 (16.54 pts, £45.84); JN Gagnard, Les Boudriottes 1er Cru, Chassagne-Montrachet 2010 (16.25 pts, £35); Niellon, Champs Gains 1er Cru, Chassagne-Montrachet 2010 (16.21 pts, £39.59)
Brajkovich said: ‘2010 was a great vintage – a low-yielding but delightful harvest that produced expansive, ripe, layered, clean and concentrated fruit.’
Tasting Round Three
Kumeu River, Maté’s Vineyard Chardonnay 2009 17.17 pts; £18.33 (sold out)
Bouchard Père et Fils, Perrières 1er Cru, Meursault 2009 (17.17 pts, £40.59); Domaine des Comtes Lafon, Meursault 2009 (16.79 pts, £61.42); Joseph Drouhin, Perrières 1er Cru, Meursault 2009 (16.75 pts, £45.83); Vincent Girardin, Les Narvaux, Meursault 2009 (13.17 pts, £31.50)
Brajkovich said: ‘2009 was a good, rich, high-yielding and characterful vintage. All our Chardonnays have fine acidity, but especially in Maté’s.’
Tasting Round Four
Kumeu River, Hunting Hill Vineyard Chardonnay 2007 17.04 pts; £15
Sauzet, Hameau de Blagny 1er Cru, Puligny-Montrachet 2007 (16.71 pts, £35); Fichet, Les Referts 1er Cru, Puligny-Montrachet 2007 (16.58 pts, £47.50); Louis Carillon Champ Canet 1er Cru, Puligny-Montrachet 2007 (16.54 pts, £40.50); Joseph Drouhin, Les Pucelles 1er Cru, Puligny-Montrachet 2007 (15.92 pts, £60.83); Domaine Leflaive, Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru 2007 (12.38 pts, £116)
Brajkovich said: ‘2007 was a cooler year, with a full but late summer giving a lower than usual crop. The wines are fragrant with lemon and line blossom – almost Riesling-like – and citrus rather than peach fruit, but still with fine acidity. Our first single-vineyard wine from here was in 2006.’
Written by Tina Gellie