Stylistically I see Margaret River cabernet at its best as intensely varietal, with blackcurrant and other dark fruits plus hints of capsicum and herbal overtones often describes as “bay leaf” or “seaweed”. While some drinkers weaned on cabernet from hotter areas regard capsicum and leaf characters as under-ripe, I disagree: they an essential part of high quality cabernet, with one proviso – that the tannins are ripe. Margaret River cabernet certainly has firm tannins in its youth, but they should be evenly mouth-coating and not grasp you around your lips and then reappear as a green, bitter finish. (Captivating Cabernet by Nick Bulleid MW, Gourmet Traveller Wine, June/July 2011)
Rob Mann, chief winemaker at Cape Mentelle, may not necessarily concur with Bulleid’s assessment of the attractiveness of herbal characters in Margaret River cabernet. Since joining Cape Mentelle in 2005, he has made significant changes both in the vineyard and the winery to minimise the herbaceous notes in the winery’s flagship cabernet sauvignon. As he told the Wine Spectator’s Harvey Steiman back in 2007: “The strong herbal, capsicum (bell pepper), bordering on eucalyptus and menthol flavors, is accepted in Australia as a regional trait. I want minimize that and go for ripe, more classical berry flavors.” (Getting the Green Out in Margaret River by Harvey Steiman, Wine Spectator, 18 October 2007)
Working with viculturist Ashley Wood, Mann has introduced new imported clones and rootstocks to create a broader spectrum of flavours in the wines, replanted vineyards at closer density to improve the flavour intensity of the grapes, and minimised as much as possible the use of artificial fertilisers.
In the winery, Cape Mentelle has invested in an automated fruit-sorting table to insure that only top quality fruit of optimal ripeness finds its way into the wines. Mann has also introduced sterile filtration for red wines (the wine flows through a membrane fine enough to remove micro-organisms) – a move wine critic Huon Hooke applauds as it eliminates the risk of Brettanomyces, a spoilage yeast which if left uncontrolled can ruin a wine. Mann told Hooke that his grandfather, legendary winemaker Jack Mann, pioneered sterile filtration in white wine, and would never have been able to create Houghton White Burgundy without it. (The Cape Mentelle Crusader by Huon Hooke, Sydney Morning Herald, 11 July 2011)
The results of all this hard work certainly seem to be paying off. Wine critic Peter Forrestal remarked that the 2008 “Cape Mentelle Cabernet Sauvignon is finer, more elegant and more fragrant than before: ripe pure blackcurrant flavours, very textured, wonderful complexity and lacy, chalky tannins.” Gary Walsh of The Wine Front described the 2008 vintage as a benchmark wine, which no doubt would please Mann, as he describes his philosophy as being in line with Cape Mentelle’s legendary founder David Hohnen, who “wanted to make one of the definining styles of Margaret River cabernet.” (Winemaker of the Year Finalist: Rob Mann Cape Mentelle, Gourmet Traveller Wine by Peter Forrestal June/July 2012)
Hohnen’s back to back wins of the prestigious Jimmy Watson Memorial Trophy for the 1982 and 1983 vintages were, of course, responsible for putting not just Cape Mentelle but the Margaret River region as a whole on the map. Mann’s rich winemaking heritage, coupled with his diverse experience as a winemaker both in Australia and the US, has given him the confidence to take an iconic wine in a new direction.
Cape Mentelle Cabenet Sauvignon is available on the Cellarit Wine Market
Photo Credit: Cape Mentelle