Start getting excited! The big news in the world of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is that its best producer of Chardonnay (unequivocally, in my opinion) has made a return to making Sauvignon Blanc, and I have tasted an advance sample of the first vintage, 2018.
Kumeu River is based just outside Auckland and has made a speciality of making Puligny Montrachet-esque Chardonnay. In fact, these wines regularly beat the best of Burgundy in blind tastings. It is quite fitting, therefore, that the Brajkovichs should turn their hand to Sauvignon Blanc and beat the best that Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé have to offer. Kumeu River did make a few vintages of Sauvignon Blanc before, from a vineyard they rented in Marlborough’s Awatere valley, but this is something entirely new.
The Brajkovichs bought this vineyard, Ray’s Road, in Hawkes Bay in 2017, which is largely planted to Sauvignon Blanc, with a little Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The vineyard was originally planted as a joint venture between Hawkes Bay’s Trinity Hill Estate and Pascal Jolivet from Sancerre. Whilst most of the vineyards of Hawkes Bay are planted on the alluvial flats at around 30 -40 metres elevation, this vineyard is located in the hills around Raukawa on a fabulous limestone bluff at around 180 – 190 metres. For those that know their geology, limestone is a highly-prized rock formation for producing elegant, complex wine, and there are no prizes for guessing what rocks Sancerre is planted on.
Michael Brajkovich MW has long been an exponent of wild yeast fermentations, having not added a single yeast to his wines since 1986. What this means is that the wines ferment at their own pace and develop a sense of place since there is no clutter from aromatic yeast that is prevalent in Kiwi Savs. The wine is whole bunch pressed and fermented in tanks: a very simple and effective formula.
And how about the wine? Well, given that this is made by my favourite producer of white wine in the Southern Hemisphere, I knew I was going to like it, but you always have expectations, especially when it comes to NZ Sauvignon Blanc. This wine is as far removed from Marlborough Sauvignon as it could possibly be. The nose is initially muted (fair enough, the sample had just travelled from the other side of the world), but upon coaxing and warming up a little it revealed notes of acacia, flint, lemon juice, hawthorn berries and a bitter, almost quince-like note. The palate is tightly wound with a tension that is under-stated yet so thrilling. I might be going out on a limb here, but this bears remarkable similarities to the wines of Francois Cotat of Sancerre, perhaps not as rich, but certainly the tension, the minerality and the complexity. If the mission were to produce a classic Loire style Sauvignon, then Michael has massively delivered, and on his first go at it too.
The wine will be arriving in the UK early December 2018, so watch this space. It will be priced around £15, in my opinion a great price for this quality of wine.