Bright and Lively: Kumeu Winery Showed What New Zealand Chardonnay Is All About at “The Family of Twelve” Workshop

A group of Chardonnay enthusiasts along with the Wilson Daniels editorial team attended a lively and engaging New Zealand Chardonnay workshop on Monday, June 11th. The workshop was hosted by New Zealand’s ‘The Family of Twelve’ at Boston’s famed steak and seafood hot spot Grill 23 & Bar, famous for its meticulously curated wine selection. The workshop was conducted by Kumeu vineyard director Milan Brajkovich and his wife Karen Fistonich, Chairperson of Villa Maria Estates. Together, they guided participants through the regionality of New Zealand Chardonnay production and discussed the effects of aging these wines. Attendees had the chance to rediscover the dynamic grape that’s propelled New Zealand to the top of oenophiles’ lists, then seek out the country’s diverse, food-friendly white wines at their local shop.

New Zealand produces a range of styles from the green-skinned Chardonnay grape, including desirable sparkling varieties and, particularly, its namesake wine. Chardonnay is in fact grown in every one of New Zealand’s winemaking regions, owing in large part to the country’s favorable terroir. For example, Kumeu’s soil composition features a substrate of firm, salt-rich clay or sandy loam, and cool, dry climate-loving Chardonnay grapes thrive and ripen for a late February or early March harvest. All these factors culminate in an ideal environment for cultivating the highest-quality fruit, and have bolstered the winery’s long-standing reputation for winemaking excellence.

From the smallest family-owned operations to some of the most robust names in the industry, New Zealand wine country has been steadily gaining popularity among amateur enthusiasts and dedicated professionals alike. Located just northeast of Auckland, the Kumeu wines are experiencing rapid growth and ample praise for their crave-worthy Chardonnays. Founded in 1944 by Mick Brajkovich, wife Katé and son Maté, Kumeu River was one of Auckland’s pioneer winemakers that served to establish its reputation as a world-class wine region. Recent releases of Kumeu River’s signature bottle, Maté, for example, were among only 10 Chardonnays from around the world to achieve 95+/100 from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate.

Brahm Callahan, MS and Wine Director for Himmel Hospitality Group says, “Kumeu River is one of the finest examples of age-worthy Chardonnay not just from New Zealand but from around the world.”

You’ll find varying intensities of oak and fruit expression in these wines, resulting in bottles that are ideal for pairing with mild to robust seafood dishes (as well as raw fish and shellfish). Aging New Zealand Chardonnay brings forward a smooth, creamy texture, ripe stone fruit notes, a touch of honey and crisp, lemon and lime-tinged minerality that serves as a universal complement to the country’s fresh bounty from the sea. Professionals recommend aging these wines for up to 10 years for average storage conditions, and 15 years in temperature-controlled storage. Many of these wines are bottled with screwcaps, which can traditionally impact the decisions collectors make regarding aging. The tasting team, however, discovered very little variation between the cork-sealed and screwcapped bottles. Owing to these facts and the benefit of a lower price point than many of its comparable French counterparts, it’s no surprise that New Zealand Chardonnay has soared in popularity on restaurant menus and dinner tables around the world.

Left to Right: Timothy Evill of Lawson’s Dry Hills, Paul Donaldson of Pegasus Bay, Annie Millton of Millton Vineyards, Stephan Walliser of Fromm Winery, Karen Fistonich of Villa Maria, Judy Finn of Neudorf Vineyards, Clive Weston of Nautilus Estate, Aaron Drummond of Craggy Range, Pip Goodwin of Palliser Estate, Blair Walter of Felton Road, Helen Masters of Ata Rangi, and Paul Brajkovich of Kumeu River.  Photo credit Tessa Chrisp.

As part of ‘The Family of Twelve’ tasting, our team pulled together the exceptional wines for you to consider for your next glass of New Zealand Chardonnay. The standout bottles included:

  • Neudorf Moutere Chardonnay 2016: A weighty wine with strong, spicy oak notes, and saline minerality that evokes oyster shell and sea breeze.
  • Palliser Estate Chardonnay 2017: Complex, concentrated stone fruit notes shine through nutty oakiness. A clean finish makes this wine the perfect pairing for raw shellfish.
  • Ata Rangi Craighall Chardonnay 2016: Pale straw-yellow in color, this wine presents zesty peach and grapefruit to start, and finishes sweet with pastry and honey notes.
  • Craggy Range Kidnappers Chardonnay 2015: Made using Old World Chablis-inspired techniques, this pure, rich expression of the style features notes of lemon, pear and vanilla.
  • Millton Clos de Ste Anne Chardonnay 2016: This wine begins with soft, ripe tropical fruit and closes with the structure and definition necessary to stand up to richer fish dishes and aged cheese.
  • Kumeu River Hunting Hill Chardonnay 2016: Distinctive minerality carries this wine’s toasty cashew and weighty tropical fruit flavors.
  • Felton Road Block 2 Chardonnay 2016: Featuring notes of seashell and citrus blossom, fleshy peach flavors round out this complex and thirst-quenching wine.
  • Pegasus Bay Chardonnay 2016: Barrel-fermented with natural yeast, this lemon-hued Chardonnay possesses notes of lightly salted brioche and honeydew melon.
  • Lawson’s Dry Hills Reserve 2016: Floral and filled with balanced acidic fruit flavors, a light oak influence gives this subtly green-tinged wine staying power on the palate without muddling the passion fruit finish.
  • Fromm Winery Clayvin Vineyard Chardonnay 2016: The mineral notes imparted by their vineyards’ terroir are robust and provide excellent structure and low acidity. The fruit is all sourced from the Brancott Valley, mainly from the prized Mendoza clone.
  • Villa Maria Vineyard Taylors Pass Chardonnay 2016: With notes of citrus, white peach and almond, this is a true-to-form expression of New Zealand Chardonnay, down to the balanced acidic backbone.
  • Nautilus Estate Chardonnay 2016: Sweetly floral and well-integrated, this wine displays lightly salted lemon and honeysuckle on the nose and is a perfect bottle to age to reveal an enhanced creamy texture and nougat flavors.

When pairing these wines with food, look for a fish or shellfish dish with low acidity so as not to over-invoke the tart citrus notes in the wine. Grill 23 & Bar served up wonderfully complementary small bites—so we recommend you select a Chardonnay and draw inspiration from the restaurant’s hearty grilled Scottish salmon with baby zucchini and leeks or crab cakes with mango and passion fruit. You can also set up your own raw bar selection with seasonal oysters, tuna or yellowtail tartare and for special occasions, an ounce or two of domestic caviar like sumptuous yet wallet-friendly American paddlefish roe. Experience the flavors in these inimitable, food-forward bottles with the proper fare for a gastronomic experience that’s hard to match.

Alexandra Schrecengost, June 20, 2018
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June 20, 2018

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