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Mount Mary Quintet: The Quintessential Cabernet Blend

When I was reading Jay McInerney’s article on Paso Robles blends, I couldn’t help thinking about Australia’s most renowned blended wine, the Mount Mary Vineyard Quintet Cabernets. Justin Smith of Saxum, one of Paso Robles’ most respected winemakers, told McInerney that “Blends are a great tool for winemakers to be able to bring complexity and balance to their wines, especially when working within a single site.” (Discovering the Beautiful Blends of Paso Robles by Jay McInerney, The Wall Street Journal, 15 June 2012)

Mount Mary has been putting Smith’s approach into practice for over 40 years. Back in the early 70s, Mount Mary’s founder, the late Dr John Middleton, decided that he wanted to make an elegant, low alcohol Bordeaux blend. He settled on a gentle, north facing slope in the heart of the Yarra Valley and planted it to cabernet sauvignon (46%), merlot (26%), cabernet franc (18%), malbec (5%) and petit verdot (5%). These varieties became the basis for his celebrated Mount Mary Quintet Cabernets.

Elegant, structure and complexity are the adjectives most used to describe the Quintet’s style. Middleton preferred the taut, tight and lean flavours of great old red Bordeaux, and modeled the Quintet on the classical proportioned wines he revered. When it was first released in 1979 the Quintet proved a revelation to consumers, more used to a richer style of Australian cabernet. Available only to buyers who gained a spot on the coveted mailing list, it quickly attained a cult-like status.

Today the Mount Mary vineyard is regarded as an exceptional site, and the crops are carefully managed to insure that the integrity of Middleton’s original style is maintained. (Apparently Middleton was very hands-on up until his death in 2006 at age 82.) Each variety, for example, is picked only after scientific analysis of the acid and baume levels in the grapes. The alcohol level of the Quintet rarely approaches 13 percent, and the lightness of style is even maintained in warmer vintages through careful handling of the fruit.

Middleton’s sons, David, Sam and Hugh, continue to run the small family-run winery,  taking it in a direction that respects their father’s exceptional legacy. The Quintet shares the limelight with the equally acclaimed Mount Mary Vineyard Chardonnay and Mount Mary Vineyard Pinot Noir.

As some may remember, influential American wine critic Robert Parker was dismissive of the Quintet when he first reviewed several vintages from the 1990s and early 2000s in 2005. But the Wine Advocate’s new critic, Lisa Perrotti-Brown MW, has been very complimentary, recently rating the 2006 vintage 94 points.

Merrill Witt, Editor


Back vintages of the Mount Mary Quintet Cabernets are available on the Cellarit Wine Market.


Wine and art are my two big passions and I think they complement each other really well. I love everything about wine, and especially the stories about the people who make it. Top winemakers are as fascinating as great artists! Both care passionately about what they do and want to make a difference. In my blog posts I try to give you a taste of what the best minds in the wine world are thinking and doing. View all posts by →

4 Responses to Mount Mary Quintet: The Quintessential Cabernet Blend

  1. gold account says:

    We tasted back a bit further, to 1981 in the Quintets, which turned out to be one of the best wines, still in very good condition. The Quintets possess a lovely balance which only improves with time. John Middleton often quoted a friend from Bordeaux who remarked that “good Bordeaux should finish clean like water”. John applied this mantra to the Quintet from the earliest vintages.

  2. “Blends are a great tool for winemakers to be able to bring complexity and balance to their wines, especially when working within a single site.” – This is very true, and it seems it has worked very well for Mount Mary.

  3. Not upfront fruity but a textural, ‘egoless’ winemaking fruit style. The complete fine wine contradiction, power with delicacy, intensity and length without heaviness, a lot of flavour without a lot of body.

  4. Red Bordeaux blends are known for their powerful structure and deep flavors. Dark fruits and berries such as plum and blackcurrant are commonly used to describe the cascading flavors of red Bordeaux, although there are an unlimited range of terms that have been ascribed to them. Tannins tend to be high in these wines, giving them a firm structure; the best examples can age for many decades – and the wines are priced accordingly.

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