In 2007 a bottle from the inaugural 1973 vintage of the Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon (only 250 cases were made) sold at Langton’s for a record $2,301!

Perhaps not surprising for a wine that is widely considered the benchmark Margaret River cabernet sauvignon and a standout on the world stage. Jancis Robinson reported that the Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon 2001 was the pick of the night at a blind tasting of eleven 2001 Bordeaux style blend wines organised for 36 wine lovers at the 2008 World Economic Forum. It beat some pretty serious competition, including the Napa Valley’s famed Screaming Eagle and Harlan Estate and even Chateau Lafite! (Jancis Robinson MW on the Davos Tasting, reprinted in Moss Wood, Late Autumn News, Issue 66, May 2008)

In my previous post, Margaret River: Australia’s Answer to Bordeaux?, I mentioned that the Margaret River experiences far less vintage variation than Bordeaux due to more reliable weather patterns. But I don’t want you to think that vintage isn’t important or that Margaret River winemakers don’t face serious challenges in the vineyards that require considerable skill and management.

In a very interesting interview with the Wine Advocate’s Neal Martin, Keith Mugford, who has co-owned Moss Wood with his wife Clare since 1985 and first started making wine for Moss Wood back in 1978, singled out the following years as the best vintages: 1975, 1980, 1985, 1990, 1995, 1996, 2001 and 2005. He explained that these were the years that the wines obtain “mulberry and black fruits, cigar and a touch of leafiness.” Cool years, such as the 1982, 1987, 2002 and 2006 vintages, produced wines with a fine texture, less concentration and according to Mugford a ‘gritty astringency’. Hot years, which include the 1976, 2000 and 2007 vintages, have a ‘sumptuous generosity’ and are earlier drinking. (A Man Named Keith by Neal Martin, May 2010).

And vineyard management seems just as hard work in the Margaret River as it is in Bordeaux, especially for a winemaker like Mugford, who hand-tends his vineyards and hand-picks his grapes! As he explained in an open letter to UK wine critic Jancis Robinson “As you know, Moss Wood is a low yielding, hand-managed vineyard, with a quality focus in its management practices that demands people to be in and around the vines and wines all the time. While wine technology is marvellous, it cannot yet match the inputs of people. To use but one example, the very specific nature of correct shoot positioning required for a high quality vine canopy cannot yet be done by a machine – very close perhaps but still not yet good enough.” (Moss Wood, Late Autumn News, Issue 66, May 2008)

In his interview with Martin, Mugford compares the 2007 vintage to the legendary 1976 – a wine that has aged spectacularly well in the bottle. Like 1976, the 2007  growing season was consistently warm, producing a wine with a similarly high alcohol level of 14.5 per cent. (The 1976 had a 14.3 per cent alcohol reading).  Here’s Martin’s glowing description of this stunning vintage:

Cropped on 6th March and delivering a healthy 14.5% alcohol, this is unadulterated Margaret River Cabernet at its very best: a complex, ethereal bouquet that keeps the senses on their toes, picking out aromas of cold tea and cedar from the brambly black fruit, the palate beautifully, succinctly balanced with an intriguing “maltiness” coming through on the finish (something I sometimes discern on François Mitjavile’s wines in Saint Emilion.)

Mugford provides a very interesting discussion about comparative pricing and value for money in his letter to Jancis Robinson, commenting that “no matter what the strength of a brand or what the wine’s story, the customer is very disheartened if quality does not match price.” At around $100 a bottle, the Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon seems like very good value indeed!

Photo Credit: Porter & Co. Wine and Spirit Merchants