October 21st, 2011
It was a perfect sunny Sydney day down on the Hickson Road wharf, where Cape Mentelle assembled 20 carefully selected cabernet wines, all from the 2008 vintage, for one of their cabernet extravaganzas.
The first of these events was staged in 1982 to assist in educating the winemaking team and also showcase the wine amongst benchmarks for the public and media.
I’ve attended a couple of the more recent versions and the opportunity to taste wines of this caliber with a typically astute group discussion is one to relish.
Served blind in three brackets, the tasting demonstrated cabernet’s prowess in various styles: St. Estephe, Saint-Julien, Pauillac, Graves, Napa Valley, Tuscany, Coonawarra, Yarra Valley, Clare Valley and, of course, Margaret River.
The best wines really showcased the ability of cabernet sauvignon to present power with elegance. When it’s on form, cabernet is a thing to truly marvel at – a true class act.
The strength of the 2008 vintage in Margaret River was also asserted beyond any shadow of a doubt. It has delivered cabernet-based wines of strength, power, intensity and elegance – more composed and ‘classically’ structured than the adjacent 2007 and 2009 vintages.
Make no mistake, Margaret River is the most successful source of full-bodied red cabernet wine from the 2008 vintage in Australia.
My notes on all 20 wines are here below. Where blend composition was available I have added it after the note. My stand-out wines of the tasting, in no particular order
La Mission Haut-Brion
Leoville Las Cases
But, as Cape Mentelle Estate Director Robert Mann reminded us before we started in, “it’s not a competition – we are here to enjoy it!” And enjoy it we certainly did.
1: Mount Mary Quintet – Yarra Valley, Australia
Mid bright red/purple, some nice meaty barrel ferment aromas here, a little red berry and cherry, hints of tobacco and cedar – smells very fresh and modern but not overdone. An elegant style. The palate’s tart and tangy with plenty of red fruit and redcurrant flavour, some acid bite, snappy fruits and a gentle squeeze of tannin. Very much mid-weight. (cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, malbec, merlot, petit verdot)
2: Vasse Felix Heytesbury – Margaret River, Australia
A deeper wine with a richer nose and riper fruit, more spice and cinnamon, more showy, with a leafy nuance too. The fruit is looking ripe, some good cherry and cassis, roasting herbs and eucalypt. The palate’s sturdy and solid, very deep tannins, very ripe and juicy, long flavours and very muscular yet not aggressive. Smooth strong tannin, deep black cherry stone finish. (71% cabernet sauvignon, the remainder malbec and petit verdot)
3: Yeringberg – Yarra Valley, Australia
Handy depth and ripeness, gently subdued toasty oak, this looks more briary with red and blue fruits, some eucalypt and red currant. A mix of red fruits on the palate, smooth-sheeted tannin and a lithe juicy style to it, actually quite elegant and showing good balance, weight and power. Tannins are more to the outer, nutty finish.
4: Leeuwin Estate – Margaret River, Australia
A decidedly herbal thread to this wine, a more resinous oak presence on the nose, the fruit is in the red berry spectrum with leafy complexity. The palate’s poised and even with good power and length, plenty of vanillin oak flavour throughout, and a sapid, juicy appeal. A vibrant wine with power and elegance, finishing fresh. (91% cabernet sauvignon, 9% malbec)
5: La Mission Haut-Brion – Graves, France
A much more swanky Bordeaux-style nose with meaty ferment-derived complexity, a wealth of baking spices and deeply ripe fruits on show. This is more deliberately styled and worked, showing coffee, mocha, ripe cassis and cherry, some chocolate and leaves. Lovely power in the mouth – slightly meaty reduction, quite strong on ripe blue and purple fruits, some herb and leaf flavour, sheets of tannin run long and even, very nicely balanced. The oak is bedded in nicely – very young and set to age nicely. (51% cabernet sauvignon, 43% merlot, 6% cabernet franc)
6: Balnaves The Tally – Coonawarra, Australia
A darker wine in the glass, the fruit is through to plums and black fruits, the oak is fresh but in the cola-like spectrum, very ripe and forthright, quite minty too, with wild herbs. More of the cola oak flavour on the palate, with plenty of cassis and smooth tannins, very even, long and nutty through the finish. The texture suggests long maceration. Needs time. (96% cabernet sauvignon, 4% petit verdot)
7: Shafer One Point Five – Napa Valley, USA
Very dark colour here, quite lifted, very high toned oak, red fruits, glossy and plenty of ‘lipstick’ has been applied, a little chocolate and red fruits. The palate has berry and mocha flavour, rich on high toast oak, dark chocolate, ripe red fruits and a quite rich, big ball of tannin, more one dimension, lacks definition. (98% cabernet sauvignon, 1% each of petit verdot & malbec)
8: Juniper Estate – Margaret River, Australia
Very impressive depth and poise here, good ripeness and swanky toasty oak, some baking spice, leaves, cassis and red cherry, great complexity and layered aromas, a little meaty ferment-derived complexity and a dusty oak edge. The palate’s ripe, even and smooth – very glossy rich fruits, supple tannins and almost compote plum and red fruit flavours, cherry, cassis, raspberry and liquorice, long and layered. Composed and elegant wine with good power and length. (91% cabernet sauvignon, remainder made up of malbec, cabernet franc and petit verdot)
9: Ornellaia – Bolgheri, Italy
A bigger richer nose with dark fruits, roasted hazelnuts, toasted bread, quiet graphite-like, some tarry elements too. Very ripe gravelly smooth tannins and rich toasty layers of fruit on the palate. The mocha oak flavour is strong, yet it’s all very well integrated with a long with a plush and even finish. (54% cabernet sauvignon, 27% merlot, 16% cabernet franc, 3% petit verdot)
10: Evans & Tate Redbrook – Margaret River, Australia
The nose is less fragrant, a more sombre wine, some eucalypt and a little gum leaf thread, bracken and dry bushland. The palate has bright red fruit flavours and density with elegance, tannins are fully formed and there’s a long juicy and commanding finish here. Very elemental and there’s deceptive tannin weight.
11: Wendouree Cabernet Malbec – Clare Valley, Australia
This has a more exotic fruit nose with ripe dark plum and a fragrant element too, plenty of eucalyptus oil and dried gum leafy smells, it stands alone in the line up. The palate opens to a composed dark cherry flavour thread showing a supple, even and quite densely-fruited palate, bigger tannins, slate-like sheets, more weight and quite ripe too. (80% cabernet sauvignon, 20% malbec)
12: Wynns John Riddoch – Coonawarra, Australia
Impressive dark hues and a complex and quite youthful nose, some slightly minty notes here, smells quite tightly wound, with an essence-like blackcurrant fruit spectrum. The palate fuses red and dark fruits and has a lithe and juicy appeal, very nicely fanned out tannins and a long, dense and very elemental finish – red fruits to close.
13: Cos d’Estournel – St. Estephe, France
A very toasty and meaty nose that has plenty of barrel fermentation and a savoury edge to it – classic Bordeaux – some ripe plum and cassis, dark ripe herbs and dark chocolate too – modern, well-made and very ripe. The palate’s very even and supple showing a ripeness that almost crosses the line, some slippery, skinsy, soapy texture through the finish. Very juicy and open. (85% cabernet sauvignon, 13% merlot, 2% cabernet franc)
14: Far Niente – Napa Valley, USA
A lot of mint here, with a quite sappy green bracken impression on the nose, mixed berry fruits here. Quite lithe and juicy tannins, very ripe with a little new oak spice and predominant red fruits. The palate’s supple, even and juicy, showing a warmth but a less profound structural frame. (90% cabernet sauvignon, 6% petit verdot, 4% cabernet franc
15: Houghton Gladstones – Margaret River, Australia
Charming nose with swanky oak and ripe dark berry fruits, mocha, cola and an impressive sense of depth and appealing ripe dark green herbal notes. The palate has impressive concentration and clarity, plenty of oak, plenty of dark berry fruit and a long composed tannin finish. Very fresh, lively and even.
16: Parker Coonawarra Estate First Growth – Coonawarra, Australia
This shows a different sense of ripeness, fruit spectrum and shape. Choc mint notes and darker ripe fruits, less fragrance and freshness – it is also slightly more tawny in the glass and shows some herbal and tomato paste aromas. The palate delivers blue fruits and ripe tannins that sit forward a little, doesn’t quite drive through the finish. (88% cabernet sauvignon, 7% petit verdot, 5% merlot)
17: Cape Mentelle – Margaret River, Australia
A very floral wine that’s also lighter colour and strong on bracken, wild herbs and cassis, cedary oak and some cherries too. The palate has terrific balance and depth, very elegant, even ripeness and a soulful flowing shape and structure, long ripe tannins finish well. An elegant Cape Mentelle Cabernet Sauvignon that should age very well.
18: Chateau Lafite Rothschild – Pauillac, France
Dark colour in the glass and a big serve of very toasty oak, plenty of meaty, charry barrel and ferment-derived complexity – the full array of charcuterie meats here. Classic Bordeaux nose turned up to eleven. The palate’s rich and ripe, very concentrated, very long – it has plenty of toasty oak flavour, concentrated cassis and black fruit flavours, it drives deep, ripe and juicy, finishing plush and convincing. (vineyard planted to 70% cabernet sauvignon, 25% merlot, 3% cabernet franc and 2% petit verdot – the varietal assemblage of the wine from vintage to vintage is not widely discussed)
19: Moss Wood – Margaret River, Australia
A very cedary wine with a ripe red fruit character that runs right through the wine, some cassis, the oak is very much on show, some liquorice, fennel seed and leafy nuances. This is showy and young – very unevolved. More red fruits in the mouth, a little cherry, lovely smooth fluffy tannins – deceptive elegance and concentration mixing it up through to the red fruited, pastry-like finish. Seamless.
20: Leoville Las Cases – Saint Julien, France
Savoury meaty nose here, nice toasty oak and a swathe of rich cassis, dark cherry and blackcurrant – very nicely ripe and concentrated, some roasting herbs too, the hint of wet concrete, herbs and mineral. Complex. The palate’s lithe, juicy and rich, the acidity is a feature, tannins are smoothly honed and very even. Shows lovely depth, power and elegance – a most complete wine that will cellar immaculately. (78% cabernet sauvignon, 12% cabernet franc, 10% merlot)