It’s all about how you handle the grapes, says Kumeu River Wines’ Michael Brajkovich. Below are snippets of an article, written by Max Allen, that originally appeared on afr.com. Click here for the full story.
I love well-cellared chardonnay. I think the best examples of this great white grape are often drunk before they have a chance to develop all the complexity of flavour that can come with maturity. Look at the shelves of your local bottle-o, or the pages of the wine list in your favourite restaurant: most of the chardonnays will be from the 2018 vintage – or 2017 if you’re lucky. Yes, the wines may well be delicious – but they could be even more delicious if they were five or even 10 years older.
Not all chardonnays, mind. I’m not saying that every example of the variety benefits from extended bottle age. I’m talking about the top-shelf stuff, especially from established chardonnay regions such as Margaret River or Burgundy, and from proven producers, such as the Brajkovich family, who have been making chardonnay at Kumeu River, just outside Auckland, since the early 1980s.
Master of Wine Michael Brajkovich was in Australia recently conducting tastings of the family’s various chardonnays from the current, 2018 vintage, back to 2006. I’ve mostly tasted young, current-release Kumeu River chardonnays over the years, so I wasn’t quite prepared for how extraordinarily well the wines age: the 2007 Estate Chardonnay, for example, is still pale yellow green in colour and, at 12 years old, is as fresh and tangy as most two-year-old chardonnays out there (I’m exaggerating, but not much).
In fact, all the wines – the Estate chardonnay plus three single-vineyard bottlings, Coddington, Hunting Hill, and Maté’s, named after Brajkovich’s father – not only mature incredibly slowly but also express remarkably clear, consistent vineyard and vintage character from year to year (see reviews, below).
The key, said Brajkovich, lies in handling the grapes gently.
“All the vineyards are hand-picked, and the fruit is whole-bunch pressed into barrel,” he said. “Everything is wild fermented, and all the wines go through malolactic [the bacterial conversion of harsher acid to softer-tasting acidity]. The wines then spend a long time ageing on the yeast lees in barrel, which helps to reduce the diacetyl [buttery fatness that marks chardonnay that’s been through full malolactic].”
Special thanks to dejavuwines.com.au