Grapevine Archive for Chardonnay
Evidently, it is as dangerous to dismiss as it is to assume: over the past few years, a number of wine regions and styles written off by some of us have sprung back into wine lists and affections. Australian chardonnay – the subject of this month’s Staff Choice – is certainly one such example.
As my colleague Stephanie Searle writes below, we know that some members have been turned off trying Aussie chardonnay over the years, feeling that its initial success led to a decline in quality. Wines like Pemberley’s Margaret River Chardonnay, a new addition to our range, make a compelling case for a fresh look. Here Stephanie explains why.
One of the many joys of working in the Tastings & Events Team is the opportunity to try so many different wines: choosing just one was far from easy! I have settled on a real gem that has proved to be simply stunning on every occasion that I have opened a bottle.
From just south of Western Australia’s Margaret River, this rich ripe wine delivers wonderful texture and freshness. It pleases on so many levels as notes of citrus, green apple and ripe fruit blend perfectly with subtle hints of toast and butterscotch.
If you gave up drinking Australian chardonnay back in the day when it was mass-produced, over-oaked and of poor quality, I would urge you to give this a try. It couldn’t be more different. This is new-style Australian chardonnay at its very best.
Tastings & Events Team
£15.50 – Bottle
£186 – Case of 12
View Wine Details
Michael Brajkovich MW is one of the most talented, and modest, winemakers in the world today.
Recently I had the chance to sit down with him and talk about his Kumeu River chardonnays, and couldn’t resist asking how he felt about them trouncing a clutch of eye-wateringly expensive white Burgundies in a blind tasting last year. This is not the first time Michael’s Auckland chardonnays have performed such a feat, and the sort of result that, were I a winemaker, would probably see me running delirious laps around my barrel hall.
‘Whenever we’ve put our wines against some top white Burgundies, we’ve been very happy just to be on the same page,’ Michael replies. ‘We’re happy to be considered at the same kind of level because we’re considerably cheaper; and when the results come through and we’ve done very well… it’s really nice!’
‘But it’s not the main reason we do it,’ he hastens to add. ‘We’re here to say ‘hey – here’s something that’s not exactly the same, because it’s from a different terroir, a different country – but the quality level is comparable, the style is comparable, and we are better value.’’
Kumeu River’s new 2014 wines, have recently been released in our current New Zealand offer, provide a further testament to the outstanding quality and deserved following the Brajkovich family’s wines have achieved.
‘Everything went perfectly in 2014. There was no rot, harvesting was easy, the fruit was in perfect condition and as the juices went through fermentation, we thought to ourselves, ‘this is something pretty special.’ It was pretty much a perfect-weather vintage leading right up to the end of it. It’s a generous, richer, more giving vintage than 2013. And they’re actually really good early on.’
He’s not wrong. The 2014s are truly world-class chardonnays, imbued with approachable richness and delicate refreshing balance throughout the Kumeu River portfolio.
But not quite everything went perfectly, Michael chuckled. Their top plot, Mate’s Vineyard, which is the last to be picked, became the subject of a scramble to get the grapes in before a tropical cyclone threatened to destroy the crop before it could be harvested.
All whilst entertaining the visit of New Zealand’s Prime Minister – and their local MP – John Key, and the Croatian Prime Minister, who was visiting at the time!
Thankfully the grapes were harvested – and the Prime Ministers entertained – and the fruit reached the winery in perfect condition. ‘It was during the fermentation we realised how good it was. Ok, so it was picked a few days earlier than we’d have liked but it didn’t make any difference: the vineyard matters more than the few days. It’s one of our oldest vineyards. It’s quite low-yielding, even in terms of this bumper crop, and the wine is fabulous. It really is our grand cru.’
Enter stage left: The Society’s Head of Buying, Tim Sykes, and buyer for New Zealand, Sarah Knowles MW, who visited Kumeu a couple of months later.
You can read Tim’s account of the visit here; but having tasted the 2014s in barrel, Sarah instantly began negotiating an increase in The Society’s allocation.
Kumeu River are, of course, also the source of our Society’s Exhibition Chardonnay (£13.50). This exclusive single-vineyard wine has long been popular with members, but the 2014 vintage offers something particularly special. Having picked up the Best New Zealand Chardonnay Under £15 Trophy at both the Decanter and International Wine Challenge awards, the wine offers further delicious proof of 2014’s quality here. The below video from our archive shows Michael talking about this wine, and sums up both the wine and his outlook on winemaking very well.
Kumeu River’s 2014s are available now in our current New Zealand offer. Despite securing a good allocation of these wines, supply is still limited so please don’t delay in ordering these special wines to avoid disappointment!
Society New Zealand buyer Sarah Knowles and I arrived in Auckland Friday before last, after a 26-hour flight from London. Within a couple of hours of landing we were sampling some of the greatest chardonnays that New Zealand (if not the entire Southern Hemisphere) has to offer, venturing 15 miles north of the city to the Kumeu River suburb, home to the eponymous winery.
Kumeu River is one of the first New Zealand producers with whom The Wine Society worked, and is very much a family affair. The late Maté Brajkovich first planted vines in the area in 1944, and his wife Melba is still at the winery most days, welcoming visitors from around the world and telling the Kumeu story with infectious enthusiasm.
Melba and Maté had four children, and all are closely involved in the business today, in different capacities. Michael is the winemaker, and the first ever Kiwi to be awarded the Master of Wine qualification, back in 1989. He took us on a fascinating tour of the cellar, pipette in hand, treating us to an extensive and very impressive barrel tasting of the 2014 chardonnays.
It was like being in a small Burgundy domaine, sampling wines from different vineyards and from barrels sourced from several different Burgundian coopers. 2014 is one of those rare vintages (in the Kumeu area at least) that produced high-quality grapes in copious quantity. The wines that we tasted had not begun the malolactic fermentation, but the potential was there for all to see, and Michael could barely contain his excitement for the 2014 wines, particularly after the tiny 2013 crop.
Milan Brajkovich, one of Michael’s siblings and the vineyard manager at Kumeu, then took us into a couple of the estate’s most highly regarded vineyards. Maté’s is the original vineyard, and consistently produces the best wines from Kumeu.
Members might be interested to know that The Society’s Exhibition New Zealand Chardonnay comes from a small vineyard attached to Maté’s. We are lucky to have exclusive access to this high quality fruit, and at £13.50 the wine represents a genuine bargain, giving a real flavour for the style its big brother, Maté’s. We also paid a visit to the Hunting Hill vineyard which, like all of the family-owned vineyards, is trellised using the lyre system, which ensures that yields are kept under control and air circulation is maximised, thus reducing the incidence of botrytis (rot) in this relatively humid climate.
The vineyard visit over, Sarah and I tasted newly bottled 2012 wines, which are due to be released next year. The entire range of chardonnays showed the classic minerality and crystalline freshness that Kumeu River has made its hallmarks over the past 20 years. A great visit to kick off our visit to the Antipodes.
Head of Buying
Olivier Leflaive have launched a new wine which we are offering in our duty-paid selection of White Burgundy.
Named Oncle Vincent, it is made from old vines classified as Bourgogne but well situated, sited just below those of Puligny. It is a lovely barrel-fermented wine from the super 2012 vintage which is concentrated yet fine.
Society Buyer for Burgundy
Kumeu River in New Zealand have just started harvesting fruit from their vineyards which have supplied members with exquisite chardonnay for many years.
With harvest in full swing, and perfect weather, here are some pictures taken just a few days ago (the red grapes are pinot noir).
Recently I received these fantastic photos from Michael and Paul Brajkovich from Kumeu River, source of our Exhibition New Zealand Chardonnay and perhaps the finest producers of chardonnay in the country.
These pictures were taken on 12th March at their Hunting Hill vineyard, where Paul Brajkovich says ‘Quality is outstanding but unfortunately the quantity very low due to spring frost. As you can see… the fruit is beautiful (pity we do not have more of it!). ’ Michael echoed these sentiments: ‘Everything looking really good here if very small. 2013 has potential to be even better than 2010!’
Society Buyer for New Zealand
On paper, tasting hundreds of wines sounds like a lot of fun; and it is.
Nonetheless, some tastings are inevitably more difficult than others and the respective heats for the chardonnay and rosé categories were cases in point for different reasons.
Were you to have listened in on the chardonnay heats, you would therefore have been forgiven for thinking you?d stumbled into an antiquated card game.
I often think of chardonnay as the vinous equivalent of a lightning rod: not a hugely interesting device in terms of its raw materials (with apologies to any enthusiasts who may be reading), but amazing in its ability to conduct the power the elements can throw at it. It is a relatively neutral grape but when planted in certain places throughout the world it expresses incomparably multifaceted flavours.
Add to this the fact that it responds well to both stainless steel and wood and in blind-tasting environs its diversity becomes profound to the point of perilous. It therefore took Joker-playing, re-tasting, olfactory scrutiny and debate before everyone was happy that the wines had all been given a chance.
Then there was the ?pink morning? scheduled for the all-important task of selecting the ready-best of our 2011 rosés. In the event, the morning erred considerably more to the grey side, being as it was the coldest of the year thus far.
For myself, this lent the tasting an element of Zen as I sought those wines that transported me most vividly to the lazy summer afternoons which I hope await me later in the calendar. Remarkably, I think it worked; in any case, the buyers? final votes revealed some very strong performances indeed.
These particular occasions impressed upon me just how much perseverance and concentration (not to mention talent) is required to taste objectively through large and/or complicated lineups. I can certainly now vouch first hand that Society members are in good hands/noses/palates with the buying team, and promise that the 2012 Wine Champions will be all the more delicious thanks to these meticulous ? not to mention egalitarian ? efforts in the tasting room.
The 2009 Chardonnay, currently listed, is rich and plump with a lovely hint of smoky oak that adds to the structure, poise and complexity of this delicious wine. It will age with ease for five years plus.
The refreshing 2007 is subtle and elegant while the 2005 tantalises with its precision, hint of orange peel and creamy texture. The 2004 is extraordinary: perfumed and peachy with silky texture and beautiful balance, certainly the wine of the tasting. The ten-year-old 2002 is showing attractive mature flavours, discreetly nutty and buttery, still lively and bright.
What was most enlightening was the consistency across all wines: they all showed subtle differences (vintages matter in the rather challenging environment of north Auckland?s rather cloudy, irregular weather), testament to the quality focus of this distinguished chardonnay family.
Buyer for New Zealand
Last week a bushfire burnt through the coastal areas west of Margaret River. The fire is now contained but it destroyed 32 houses and nine holiday chalets with damage to a further 22 homes. Fortunately there was no human cost. The fire was a result of prescribed burns by government agencies which were reignited by very strong northerly winds. The agencies do this in order to reduce fuel loads and provide protection for summer months to local seaside communities.
I have been in touch with a number of The Wine Society’s key suppliers. Moss Wood’s Keith Mugford says “We have been very fortunate and so far we been spared by the weather. The fires started about 10k south of us and the wind direction blew the flames and smoke away from us. Most vineyards seem to have been missed.”
McHenry-Hohnen were less fortunate with some damage to 2 hectares of chardonnay in their Burnside vineyard. Winemaker Ryan Walsh explains: “All okay in lives and buildings here just a little chardonnay gone from this year…..There is no long term loss in vines, the loss will only be taken for this coming vintage 2012. The Sauvignon Blanc from Burnside is untouched and looking very good for the coming 2012 vintage. Freya and I live approximately 2km North East from the Burnside vineyard and were evacuated Wednesday to Friday as a precautionary measure. We have now returned. The house is fine.” And Vanya Cullen by text “We r ok, fires are in the south, we r in north, but it is sad.”
Buyer for Australia
The first time we won this award, my boss Sebastian Payne said it was for: ‘Just doing your job’.
And what a privileged job it is. Chile continues to excite because it keeps discovering new regions and expanding its list of well-made grape varieties from its myriad terroirs and diverse climates. The remarkable Limarí chardonnays, pinot noirs and syrahs from this cool climate with many vineyards with limestone-based soils has been a very exciting new discovery. We have already moved our Society and Exhibition chardonnays to this region.
The discovery of many 50-year-old, unirrigated carignan bush vines in Maule has resulted in some superb new wines appearing on the market. Grown in a warm region of Chile, carignan is a little fleshier than in France, but still keeps its lovely perfume and thrillingly fresh and fine palate that really is perfectly designed to match a hunk of roasted or grilled protein, especially belly pork or shoulder of lamb. I’ve also been tasting some excellent cinsault and mourvèdre which I hope will soon make it to our List.
The ‘Rhône Ranger’ blends are perhaps the only missing varieties in Chile’s remarkable range and may soon appear.
If you have already tried some of our Chilean range, then thank you for your support. If you are yet to try them, then now is the time. Click here to view the full range, or here to try a special exploration mixed case we have put together to celebrate winning the award.