The reference point for any self-respecting Chardonnay winemaker is white burgundy wine. The Burgundy region has made classical wine, and is famous for Chablis, Corton-Charlemagne, Meursault and Puligny as well as Chassagne Montrachet. The styles of wines from these appellation varies to district and also to winemaker style, but there is a familial character which is distinctive. It’s the restrained fruit, and fine textures as well as a sense of minerality. And that difficult to describe thing called ‘terroir’.
Michael Barjkovich MW took the path of white burgundy 30 years ago when he started making the Kumeu River Chardonnay. Je used wild yeasts, and fully barrel-fermentation and aged the wine in barrel with lees-stirring, and the wine went through full MLF. Of course he’s refined his techniques somewhat, but essentially the formula hasn’t changed and the wines are really vintage expressive. Along the way, he’s introduced the single vineyard ‘Mate’s Vineyard’ named after his father, then the ‘Coddington’ and ‘Hunting Hill’ single site wines (as well as a lower tier ‘Village’ wine. More than shades of white burgundy in the tiers and nomenclature!
What is so special is that the wines behave consistently across the labels and sites, with each vintage. The ‘Estate’ wine is a village Puligny in style. The ‘Coddington’ can be compared to a Meursault. The ‘Hunting Hill’ was like a premier cru Puligny, but is may be a grand cru style now. The ‘Mate’s’ was always compared to grand cru from Puligny. Interestingly, the wines have found their place in the market, the ‘Mate’s’ fetching the highest price, followed by the ‘Hunting Hill’, then the ‘Coddington’ with the ‘Estate’ Chardonnay the most accessible.
The 2016 Kumeu River Chardonnay set came my way, it it had to be shared, so SWMBO and I took them around to the Bassinet Babes. They agreed with the accepted thoughts. The 2016 Kumeu River ‘Estate’ Chardonnay was elegant and well-proportioned, with all the subtle wild ferment and barrel-ferment notes. Perfect oaking with subtle nuttiness. No evidence of diacetyl MLF. Very nice. Normally rich and rounded, and maybe buttery, the 2016 Kumeu River ‘Coddington’ Chardonnay was more elegant than rich and fat. Maybe like a Meursault from a lighter year. It was a little richer and with deeper flavours and greater intricacies than the ‘Estate’, but not by much. But there was a big step up in the 2016 Kumeu River ‘Hunting Hill’ Chardonnay. Much more intensity, and with greater complexing detail. A touch of flint and minerals. More oak for sure. But a very well-defined wine. This was a star. In my mind, it was a match and maybe better than the 2016 Kumeu River ‘Mate’s’ Chardonnay. The latter wine was a little restrained, and without quite the penetration of the ‘Hunting Hill’, but there was more depth and layering. The differences were subtle at this stage of the line-up. Mt heart loved this just a little more.
This year, the gunflint and matchstick solids characters and lees complexities were much lighter than in a really strong year. These 2016s were still super, but I reckon there are even better years, such as the 2010s.