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