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How New Zealand’s chardonnays are taking on Burgundy, and winning

Burgundy wines can be insanely expensive. However, for wine lovers willing to explore further afield, less pricey substitutes can be found.

In May last year, a New Zealand vs Burgundy blind tasting was organised in London, testing Kumeu River chardonnays against their Burgundy equivalents. The Burgundy line-up included such highly regarded names as Comtes Lafon, Leflaive, Drouhin, Girardin, Sauzet and Fontaine-Gagnard.

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Kumeu River, run by the Brajkovich family, received the highest score in each flight except for Maté’s Vineyard 2009, which drew with Bouchard Père et Fils’ Meursault Perrières 2009.

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Wine critic Jancis Robinson remarked, “The Kumeu wines shone because they were better made and more sophisticated. Perhaps the Brajkoviches are simply trying harder. It was not the performance of these inexpensive Kiwi wines that was shocking but the state of the white burgundies.”

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The tasting also proved that New Zealand chardonnay has ageing potential, helped by the fact the wines are bottled under screw cap, mitigating the risk of cork taint and oxidation. The oldest vintage tasted was 2007. Robinson wrote, “Every one of the Kumeu River wines was fresh as a daisy and clearly had a glorious future ahead of it.”

Kumeu River is a third-generation family business. Melba Brajkovich, the matriarch, is acting managing director and operates the winery with her three sons, Michael, Paul and Milan, and daughter, Marijana. The Brajkovich family originated in Croatia and immigrated to New Zealand in 1937. By 1944, the family had saved enough money to buy their own property and adjoining vineyards. In 1986, they started to produce a Burgundian-style chardonnay using indigenous yeast, lees ageing and malolactic fermentation.

Kumeu River is located 20 minutes from Auckland. The climate is cool due to the proximity of the Tasman Sea to the west and the Pacific Ocean in the east. The maritime climate and cooler weather conditions are key to retaining acidity for early ripening varieties of chardonnay and pinot gris.

The chardonnay fruit is hand-harvested, whole-bunch pressed, and undergoes 100 per cent barrel fermentation. Barrel maturation follows for a period of 11 months.

Here are three Kumeu River chardonnays to look out for.

Kumeu River Coddington Chardonnay 2014

Fruit is sourced from the Coddington vineyard, owned by Tim and Angela Coddington. The wine is fruit forward, rich and concentrated in style.

Lush ripe peach, melon, tropical fruit notes of pineapple. Ripe concentrated fruit on the palate, full bodied, opulent with a long finish. HK$302

Kumeu River Hunting Hill Chardonnay 2014

The Hunting Hill chardonnay has a restrained, steelier style that has been described as the “Puligny-Montrachet of New Zealand”.

Citrus, lime and some grapefruit. Intense ripe fruit, balanced acidity with some creamy notes and a long finish. HK$324

Kumeu River Maté’s Vineyard Chardonnay 2013

Considered to be the top wine from the estate, this should be kept for the long term but can be enjoyed in its youth.

Restrained smoky, mineral, citrus notes. Full bodied with crisp acidity, balanced and elegant with long, creamy finish. Will improve over the next five to 10 years. HK$388

The wines are available in Hong Kong from winenthingshk.com

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