Two years ago Xavier Bizot of Terre à Terre held a tasting comparing a selection of the ‘old world’ of the new world. A group of wines that you’d call Cabernet classics, vs some newer contenders.
Now, exactly 24 months later, he brought out the same wines and tasted them at the same place (and somewhat with the same people).
What this tasting illustrated, if anything, is that not much changes in two years. The best wines still looked godd, the worst were still bad. No alarms, no surprises.
More than that, this tasting showed that classic Cabs evolve very very slowly. Perhaps the only real contentious point was about the poor Coonawarra bracket. Xavier believes that the region can make the best Cabernet in Australia, while the group felt that Margaret River has taken over it. Historically, Coonawarra has the edge, but I’d argue it has suffered from its insularity. Things are changing, though probably not fast enough.
What do you think? Has Margs overtaken Coonawarra in the Aussie Cabernet hierarchy?
The only other point is that my tastes have changed a little too. I’m even less tolerant of excessive alcohol, and my scores are clearly higher for more subtle styles.
For this post I’ve put the original tasting note first, then the followup note second. Words are as jotted down on the day. Wines were stored under ideal conditions in the same cellar.
Cape Mentelle Cabernet Sauvignon 2012
91% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot, 1% Cabernet Franc. Sourced primarily from Wallcliffe Vineyard established in 1972. Hand picked, spends 30 days on skins, matured in 50% new/50% 1 year old Bordeaux coopered oak for 18 months. 13.5% alc., pH 3.6, TA 6g/L. RRP $94.79
Dark blood red. Strong, distinctly S of Margs township nose of twigs, eucalypt and smudgy ripe fruit. It seems riper, heavier and a little more warm around the edges than the alcohol suggests, though the considerable density is a consequence. Excellent length, the finesse of those tannins clear class and gee it’s got impact and length. Perhaps a little too heavy? High class. 18.5/20, 94/100.
11/17: Dark ruby. Still very fresh and It tastes warmer than 13.5%, again, distinctive cedar and a little eucalypt, it’s ripe and even a fraction liqeured, though the style leans towards more savouriness underneath the red fruit. Fine tannins are very classy. I feel it’s just a little warm, the fruit ripeness stretches a fraction too far to be truly great. 18/20, 93/100.
Twinwoods Optivus Cabernet Sauvignon 2012
100% Cabernet Sauvignon. From a vineyard at Cowaramup planted in early 90s on ‘pea gravel’ and another cooler site planted in 1988/89 with Houghton clone on own roots. Machine harvested, yield 10t/ha. 3 weeks on skins, 80% new oak and 15-17 months in wood. 13.7% alc., pH 3.58, TA 6.04g/L. RRP $40.
Dark blood red, though brighter than the Mentelle. Fragrant and even quite pretty, this is linear, juicy and flavoursome. It’s a more juicy, less impactful wine than the Mentelle, but perhaps more vibrancy, none of that slight bitter dryness. Energy is good, purity is great. Just overtaken by the wines either side. Maybe a little herbal? Certainly promising. 17.8/20, 92/100+
11/17: Lovely composure. It’s a medium bodied wine, one of delicacy and brightness, complete with a little herbs, some oak sweetness on a palate that you’d almost expect has some Franc. Has that Wilyabrup grunt, yet with a real finesse. Excellent wine. Really moreish. Maybe a little lean, but I like the medium bodied form. A bargain in the scheme of things. 18.5/20, 94/100.
Xanadu Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2012
90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Petit Verdot, 5% Malbec. From Timber Creek Vineyard at Wilyabrup planted in 1998 on own roots. Houghton clone. Machine harvested 5t/ha. 28 days on skins, 50% new oak for 14 months. A ‘best barrels’ blend that is then combined and spends a further 2 months in barrel. 14.5% alc., pH 3.61, TA 6.3g/L. RRP $85.
Dark, bright red. There is an openness here which makes it immediately attractive. Red fruit, lovely dry tannins and there’s a glycerol roundness in the mouth which sets it apart. Maybe without quite the thundering tannins of the Mentelle. Gee it’s got appeal though – you could drink this with relish now, yet it’s utterly structured and savoury and long. Very good. 18.5/20, 94/100+
11/17: Classic style, there’s a hint of crushed leaves to mark it as Margaret River, and despite the alcohol it never feels hot. Classy tannins and the oak folding into the fruit nicely. The alcohol does give body and sweetness though. Long and there’s a real low hum through the finish. Lovely wine. 18.7/20, 95/100.
Terre à Terre Cabernet Sauvignon 2013
95% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc. From close planted vineyard at Joanna, Wrattonbully, planted in 2004 on terra rossa. hand picked 8t/ha. 25 days on skins, pressed into single 4,000L foudre, after 12 months racked into a 5 year old foudre. 14.3% alc., pH 3.53, TA 5.1g/L. RRP $40.
Dark ruby. Lovely cranberry fruit on the nose here – really clean and pure. I love the lucidity of that red fruit. The palate builds and builds with concentrated red fruit, a little anise and finishing with quite fine, lingering tannins. The alcohol is a little intrusive, but the grace of the package is top shelf. Builds and builds. It’s even quite mid weight. Needs years to show its best and that Bordeaux tannin profile is very good. 18.1/20, 93/100+
11/17: Bright raspberry and cranberry fruit. The oak seems to be more prominent now. It’s almost cherry essence fruit, then a lean patch and then the drying, faintly stewed edge on the finish. Still unfurling, I do find this just a little more rounder through the middle now, but the tannins are looking no less sculptured. The fine tannins do build this up. 18/20, 93/100.
Balnaves The Tally Cabernet Sauvignon 2012
100% Cabernet Sauvignon. From Balnaves Dead Morris vineyard planted in 1990. Hand harvested. 33 days on skins and pressed into 50% new/50% one year old oak, matured for 18 months. 14.5% alc., pH 3.53, TA 6.2g/L. RRP $110.
Darkest wine of this bracket. Dark blood red, the nose a whallop of eucalypt, the style lavish and chunky, every bit the made wine and punctuated with very creamy oak. Creamy texture is admirable, the odd hints of jelly bean attractive. Gee it’s made though. I’m in two minds here. Right now this looks unbalanced, but in five? Will prob look great. Creamy oak so divisive. This will no doubt look great in time. Score is about where it’s at now, but on a different day it could either way. 18/20, 93/100+
11/17: Oh the oak. Eucalyptus, then a brutish wine, the caramel oak sickly sweet, the flavours turned up to 11 but the overall impression is as something of a concoction, a made wine of oak and super powered tannins. Admire the intensity, but this feels as much of an attack than anything else. Gee it’s long though. I couldn’t drink it. Impressive in its form, but not it feels just too much. 17.5/20, 91/100.
Wynns Childs Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2012
100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Childs vineyard planted in 1969 and rejuvenated in 2009. 12 months in new and seasoned French oak. 13.5% alc. pH 3.41, TA 6.9g/L. RRP $80
Dark red with some purple, the jelly bean fruit is quite pretty and probably closer to the Terre than the Balnaves. It’s mid weight, fleshy and even a little short, the finish carrying some nice red fruit but without quite the impact. Good purity, it’s just a little light on and tart. Over acidified? 17/20, 90/100.
11/17: It’s a quite sullen wine in many ways, red and black fruit, a little jelly bean and then dusty edges – like leaf litter. It’s an elegant and subtle wine, it’s not really ripe or opulent, a slow burning Cabernet. Pull it out in a decade and see if it has gained weight. Not a showstopper yet. 17.5/20, 91/100+.
Brands Laira One Seven One Cabernet Sauvignon 2012
100% Cabernet Sauvignon. 96% 2012 and 4% 2013. From Block 1 planted in 1971. Hand harvested. 7 day ferment, MLF in barrel. 100% new oak. 14% alc., pH 3.41, 7g/L TA. RRP $100.
Dark ruby. Immediately the new oak jumps out at you, a hit of red fruit to kick things off. There’s some nice leafy fruit, but it also feels a little dead and gee the acid is high. I can’t say I enjoyed this at all, though clearly it has concentration and even some proper varietal leafiness. The (added) acid sticks out again here. It will live though. 16.8/20, 89/100+
11/17: Lacquered red fruit, choc raspberry flavours with a palate that isn’t quite balanced – it’s sweet and sour. Oak tannins have softened now, but the alcohol and added acid has not. Unbalanced in its mode. 16.8/20, 89/100.
Yarra Yering Carrodus 2013
85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot. From a block off the SW corner of No.1 Cabernet block planted in 1969. Own roots, clone unknown, hand picked. 3 week maceration time. 2 barrels made, 100% French oak for 13 months. No fining or filtration. 13% alc. pH 3.39, TA 7.2g/L. RRP $250.
Mid ruby. Spotless. There’s a reticent nose here that leaves you guessing what’s coming next. Rhubarb, gently bundling red fruit, long and very fine palate is just a sheet of silk, the balance near impeccable. There is something quite ageless Yarra about this. Oak is a backdrop, like a high quality suit – there’s loads of oak, but the shell is superior. Special. 18.7/20, 95/100
11/17: Such evenness. It’s easy to pass over a wine like this. The oak is noticeable, a slight edge of lead pencil. What is attractive, is the elegant and perfect detail. It’s still too young, I notice the oak a little too much, and it’s medium bodied, pretty and fuller. Ultimately lovely, elegant wine, pushing the Yarra flagship intensity with grace. 18.7/20, 95/100.
65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 12% Merlot, 7% Petit Verdot, 6% Malbec. Silty loam over gravel. Vines planted from 1969 to 2002, average vine age 30 years. Field blend, handpicked on 11, 19 and 25th March 2013. Hand plunged every 8 hours for 7 days, post maceration for several days, blended in stainless and matured in 40% new oak for 18 months. Bottled unfined. The fortieth release of a Yerinberg 13.5% alc., pH 3.58, TA 5.8g/l. RRP $75
Dark ruby with a little purple. Cabernet nose! Love that this smells like its five varietal components. There’s a hint of zucchini or herbs, rose water, raspberry and red fruit? The beautiful balance here makes this very fresh, life affirming and with fine but punctuating tannins. A perfect companion to the Yarra Yering oak, the spice and herbs giving this authenticity. Really rather delicious. 18.7/20, 95/100.
11/17: Meaty and has a real spiced flourish to it. Lovely elegant style, a graceful, even style with beautiful fruit. It’s understated, it smells like a Bordeaux blend with edges of leaf litter and meaty, then perfect acidity. Such lovely unforced wine. 18.7/20, 95/100.
Mondavi Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2010
94% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Petit Verdot, 2% Cabernet Franc. 90% To Kalon vineyard, remaining 10% from Oakville. Hand picked. 40 days on skins. 100% new French oak for 19 months. 15% alc., Ph 3.64, TA 7.2g/L. 15% alc., pH 3.64, TA 7.2g/L. RRP $120 (US).
Deep red. Heavy formic oak and some very ripe, mushroomy and developed fruit nose. It tastes fresher than the nose but gee this is a bruiser, the alcohol a slap across your face, the tannins a molestation. everything overripe. A caricature of a wine, if hugely powerful. Admirable intensity but I’m not sure how you can drink this. Hard to score. This wine dominated me. 17/20, 90/100.
11/17: Mushroomy and developed, there’s raspberry and blackberry, some pan juices and then formidable tannins. It’s a bit sweet and sour, the ripeness gives this a punch of flavour through the middle but I feel that it could already be fading. Superb intensity, though, and this bottle is a much better wine than last time, if still compromised by it’s alcohol. Would be a hard drink, but admirable. Faded in the glass a fraction. 17.5/20, 91/100.
Ramey Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvingon 2012
85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Merlot, 5% Malbec, 3% Petit Verdot. Napa Valley blend of 45% St Helena, 16% Napa Valley, 15% Oakville, 10% Mt Veeder, 6% Diamond Mountain, 4% Rutherford, 4% Oak Knoll. Wild fermented, 18 months in 55% new French and American oak. 14.5% alc. RRP $120.
Deep ruby. Really rather pretty, the nose a collage of mocha, capsicum and red/blackberry fruit. Mid weight and quite pretty for its alcohol, the oak a little mocha rich but quite attractive. Fine tannins, good purity. Nice wine. Maybe a little warm? 17.8/20, 92/100.
11/17: Really quite delicious. There’s a chocolate Turkish delight fragrance and slightly horsey edge, but it is just a little overworked. It’s actually a genuinely youthful wine. I like this, probably more than others at the table. Has volume. Lots of questions about Brett here. I still think the complexity wins out. 18/20, 93/100.
Ridge Vineyards Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2012
76% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Merlot. From the Monte Bello vineyard in Santa Cruz mountains. Wild fermented, short ferment time in 2012 due to rapid extraction. 19 months in American oak, 47% new, 40% one year old, the rest older barrels. 13.5% alc. RRP $100.
Volatile and a bit animal, this isn’t a great bottle, very meaty but lavish. Mooing. There’s some extravagant flavour here but it just looks on the wrong side of progression. Ordinary bottle. NR
11/17: Definitely bretty, again. I think this is a less overt bottle compared to last time, and the shape underneath is excellent. I could drink this, but the question is whether the Brett gets too much too quickly. Certainly imperfect and less the pure, though has character. 16/20, 87/100.