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Wine Club Newsletter - February 2017

Kumeu River Chardonnay

Best Chardonnay Value on the Planet?

As you probably well know, we offer wine tours to various parts of the globe, going on twelve years now, Last year, it was New Zealand, a land I love for its beauty, people, food, and of course the wine. My last visit was ten years ago, in 2006. I did not have a chance to stop by Kumeu River Winery, even though we drove by it. I wanted in, but it was closed that day.

I have had Kumeu River Chardonnay on a few occasions over the years, and found it to be quite remarkable, in flavor, structure, and potential age-ability. So, this time we arranged for a tour and tasting at the winery with owner and Master of Wine, Michael Brajkovich.

I was NOT going to be denied another opportunity to visit to the winery again. Even though I was hospitalized overnight for a mild emergency medical procedure the night before, I was determined to get to the Holy Chardonnay Grail, Kumeu River, the next morning. And I did! And fortunately for Michael, I had shed my hospital gown for standard issue jeans and jacket.

The tour was a remarkable lesson in recent history, a glimpse into the insight Michael‘s parents had about planting in their chosen land, and their methodology to reach the pinnacle of producing great Chardonnay, albeit a commitment that would have to wait a decade or two to become reality.

Michael’s family (Croatia origins) began their New Zealand wine making journey in the mid 1980’s, with the thought of emulating the wines of White Burgundy, France. Shooting high, as to making wines like those from Meursault, Chassagne-Montrachet, Puligny-Montrachet, Corton-Charlemagne, Batard-Montrachet, Chevalier-Montrachet, and what the heck – Le Montrachet itself.

I think it can be rated an overall success. I am going to provide you with some excerpts from a tasting that was done with Kumeu River Chardonnay next to some of the finest wines from white Burgundy producers, judged by a panel of experienced wine judges.

Also, I did my own little panel of judges here one night with a 2011 Corton-Charlemagne by Louis Jadot ($150) and a beautiful Chardonnay from J. Rochioli ($85), and I would take the Kumeu River Chardonnay “Mates Vineyard” ($55) over both of them.

Side note, I do have a limited amount of the different vineyard designates Kumeu River makes, and would be happy to offer them to you on a first come basis. The white wine in The WineSellar Club this month was the Kumeu River Village Chardonnay, which was a spectacular buy at $20.

Jancis Robinson:
A recent blind tasting of Kumeu River Chardonnays back to 2007, comparing them with some of the finest white burgundy equivalents, suggests that Kiwi Chardonnays — at least from this top producer — can more than hold their own. As for value, they won hands down, costing a fraction of the wines they trounced.

Every one of the Kumeu River wines was fresh as a daisy and clearly had a glorious future ahead of it. Paul Brajkovich claims that their single-vineyard 2004 Chardonnays are in the peak of condition at 12 years old. (He also cited 2010 and 2007 as especially impressive vintages.)

Kumeu River Chardonnay

My office trial tasting of Kumeu River Chardonnay, It being the winner

 Kumeu River Winery

Here at the winery, after this great tasting he gave me, I told Paul to imagine me in my hospital gown . . .

2014 Kumeu River, Chardonnay, Village

Growing Region:  Kumeu, New Zealand
Varietal Composition: 100% Chardonnay
Fermentation: Stainless Steel & Used French Oak
Alcohol Content: 13.5%
Suggested Retail: $25.00
WineSellar Club Price:  $20.69

Broad Strokes: 
Past vintages 90 Points Wine Advocate: (2014 not yet rated)

I was eagerly anticipating my visit late last year to Kumeu River Winery, and I was not disappointed to say the least. Given a personal your by owner and Master of Wine, Michael Brajkovich, it became quite apparent to me that these were not only the finest Chardonnay made in New Zealand, but their Chardonnay can stand up to some of the finest White Burgundy made. At 1/3 the price!

We had one of their vineyard designates next to a 2011 Corton Charlemagne by Louis Latour ($150) and a Chardonnay by J. Rochioli, ($80) and the 2013 Kumeu River “Mates” Chardonnay ($50) showed a lot of class and integrity.

This wine is purposefully made to emulate the White Burgundy Appellation wines. That means they are relatively inexpensive, and don’t see a lot of wood treatment. The name on the label reflects that, as does the font style. Straw-golden color, clear and a glistening wine.

Meyer Lemon and Tangerine, with a very slight touch of wood, it is definitely in the White Burgundy genre. You may recognize lime, white cranberry, watermelon, apple, pear, meringue, biscuit and cinnamon.

Medium in body and weight, robust yet refined. It’s lively on the palate, with a zingy, mouth-watering acid. It turns a bit creamy after airing, allowing a long, enjoyable finish.

Ripe pear, apple, ripe kiwi, and honeyed Chardonnay fruit are edged by the citrus components of lime, lemon and tangerine. Light hint of cream, vanilla bean, coconut and almond. In the end, it reminds me of the 50-50 ice cream bar, which had vanilla ice cream and orange popsicle on a stick. Yahoo!

Serving Suggestions:
A fabulous food wine, and as an aperitif, it rocks cheese and apples and nuts. The wine has the ability to age a few more years if you want to try that. For about $20, noting compares in the Chardonnay anywhere on the planet.

2011 Cotes-du-Rhone, Reserve, Domaine de la Janasse

Growing Region: Cotes-du-Rhone, Rhone Valley, France
Varietal Composition: 55% Grenache, 25%Syrah, 10% Carignan, 5% Cinsault, 5% Mourvedre
Fermentation: 12 Months in Foudre Tanks
Alcohol Content: 14%
Suggested Retail: $24.00
WineSellar Club Price: $20.69

Broad Strokes:              
91 Points The Rhone Report:
Over the last quarter century, Domaine de la Janasse has become one of the most highly-regarded estates in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Led by siblings Christophe and Isabelle Sabon, the estate combines the best of both traditional and modern techniques to craft a collection of truly riveting wines from “simple” value-priced VDP’s to their benchmark Châteauneuf-du-Papes.

This Cotes-du-Rhone Reserve could just about be considered a baby Châteauneuf-du-Pape, with a high degree of richness and complexity.

Label is unassuming, but I like the word “Reserve” across the etching of the Domaine. The wine looks like it has a few years of age; its youthful red coloring becoming more toned down to a robe of tempered grays.

Rich, deep fruit of cherry and dark berry, perhaps a touch of date or prune. Kirsch-like, sweet and deep, with anise, wood, some smoke, mahogany, cherry skin and earth. 

It’s medium full in body and weight. Smooth in the palate, possessing a significant amount of power without being too big. The elegance and power recalls to me the “iron fist in a velvet glove” adage.

Very ripe black cherry fruit, wood, cherry juice, black fruits and anise. The anise is quite pronounced, giving me the impression of the red and black licorice sticks of youth (without the plastic candy smell or taste).

Serving Suggestions:
This is a 2011, and it is a perfect time to be drinking this wine. It has years to go in the bottle, and will gain further complexities, but really, drink it now with BBQ meats, charcuterie, cheese.

2011 Arrels, Clos Pissarra, Sangre De Garnatxa

Growing Region: Montsant, Spain
Varietal Composition: 100% Grenache
Fermentation: Foudre Tanks
Alcohol Content: 13%
WineSellar Club Price: $24.29

Broad Strokes:              
An excellent Spanish Grenache from the Montsant region that borders Priorat. Smaller production, only 297 cases from this above average vintage and you taste the hand-crafted quality here. Arrels is located about 85 miles southwest of Barcelona in the Montsant wine region which surrounds the Priorat wine appellation. In the last decade these two areas have become the most talked about wine regions not just in Spain, but possibly in all of Europe.

The difference between Montsant and Priorat is that Priorat is much more mountainous and the soils are almost entirely made up of slate. In Montsant that same slate mixes with clay to create softer, more approachable wines in their youth, while perhaps lacking the intensity and concentration of Priorat. It is often times mentioned that Montsant is "a poor man's Priorat".

The packaging is awesome, brilliant, striking, powerful, and memorable. Well done! The wine is beautiful as well, medium in its red and strawberry hue, with a dark core and long legs clinging to the glass.

Lots of fruit and spice (cardamom), black cherry fruit, nearly port-like, in fact reminding me of cognac, sherry in its exoticness. There are some elegant notes of wood, herbs (mint, sage), roasted nuts, and rhubarb.

It’s medium in body and weight. It has a lovely mouth feel of silk and velvet. The fruit and complexity gain depth, and the wine seems fuller in the mouth after you swallow. It drinks like a very elegant Amarone.

Very ripe cherry, hazelnuts, wood (mahogany) and ripe citrus, like orange. The fruit profile is vaguely reminiscent of a Tawny Port, as it is long, smooth, clean, impactful, even and balanced. Check out some smoke and black pepper nuances on the finish.

Serving Suggestions:
The wine is ready now, and will hold for a couple more years. This is great with cheeses, charcuterie, appetizers, and killer with roasted loin of pork.

2012 Altvs, Cabernet Sauvignon

Growing Region: Napa Valley, California
Varietal Composition: 89% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Petite Verdot
Fermentation: 100% French Oak
Alcohol Content: 14.7%
Suggested Retail: $75.00
WineSellar Club Price: $67.49

Broad Strokes:              
92 Points, Cellar Tracker
From the winery:
Altvs is a project begun with the 2005 vintage at Merus winery in the Napa Valley. The idea: to produce hand crafted, small lot Cabernet Sauvignon based wines that celebrate the hedonistic qualities of lushness, density and ripeness while remaining true to the intensity and power of modern day Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. In a very short time since its initial release, Altvs has captured the imagination of an international audience, garnering critical acclaim through the world of fine wine.

My opinion, of course, is that the word Altvs is too small on the somewhat shy label, and the “V” is not distinctive enough to separate it from a “U”. An explanation of the origin of the name would be helpful.  Wine is black at the core, dark cherry skin bubbles on the rim.

Blackberry and boysenberry fruit with a deft touch of solid vanilla oak. Cinnamon, all-spice, white pepper, a dense forest of herbs, stone fruit, plum, toasted nuts, strapped leather and notes of fertile soil.

It’s rich and powerful without being overly extracted or sweet. Altvs has an excellent balance and presence in the palate. Velvety and silken, it gracefully glides through the palate with a sexy, mouth-watering voluptuousness.

Deep rich berry fruits, with a heady, smoky character that is countered by sweet vanilla oak, plum, chocolate and fresh berry pie. Pie dough included, and all that goes with a homemade berry pie. Then, you can add caramel and butterscotch, balsamic, cassis, cedar, lead pencil, grain, and earth essence. YUMMMM!

Serving Suggestions:
Altvs will continue to evolve and gain aging complexities for another decade or two. It would be quite nice to salt away 6-12 bottles in the cellar to enjoy 2025-2030. This is a classy, beautiful, reasonably priced Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.

Lamb Tartare Vadouvan

This is a fabulous recipe that will go perfectly with the 2011 Cotes-du-Rhone Reserve by Domaine de la Janasse

Serves One


  • 1 each purple potato
  • 3 oz lamb top, cleaned and diced
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1small shallot, diced
  • 1 level tsp cornichons, diced
  • 1 tsp vadouvan spice
  • 1 tsp hot mustard
  • 1 tsp juice lemon
  • 1 quail egg
  • ½ tsp parsley, chiffonade
  • ½ tsp chives, slice
  • As needed salt
  • fresh ground black pepper to taste


  1. Slice potato on a mandoline and fry at 300 degrees F. Season and let dry.
  2. Season lamb with salt and pepper. Add olive oil, shallot, cornichons, vadouvan and mustard.
  3. Taste and adjust seasoning.
  4. Add fresh lemon juice.
  5. Plate and put cracked quail egg on top with potato chips and garnish with parsley and chives.

Robert Sisca, Corporate Executive Chef
Garde de la Mer
Providence, R.I.

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