Category Archives: Australian Cabernet

Aug 08 2016

Newcomer Cloudburst generates extraordinary excitement!

Posted on August 08, 2016 | By merrill@cellarit.com

In 2013 the Cloudburst Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 caused a major upset at the Margaret River Wine Show. The relative newcomer – 2010 was in fact the first vintage of the cabernet sauvignon – claimed trophies for best cabernet sauvignon, best single-vineyard red and best red wine of show, beating out a host of well established and famous wineries.

And the accolades have kept mounting! Here’s a recent assessment from wine critic Huon Hooke of a sampling of the last three vintages of Cloudburst cabernets, chardonnays and malbecs: “All are superb. These are wines of great finesse, spot-on ripeness and wonderful intensity. They’re beautifully balanced and promise to be long-lived.” (A Cloud bursts in Margaret River by Huon Hooke, The Real Review 14 June 2016)

And more exultant praise for the chardonnays from Jeremy Oliver in the most recent edition of his Wine Annual: “Another leader in the chardonnay stakes is the Margaret River newcomer of Cloudburst, whose three releases to date reveal a combination of concentration and richness in wines of seamless elegance and brightness hitherto unseen in this country.” (Jeremy Oliver, Wine Annual 2016)

We hear a lot about artisanal wines, but the Cloudburst wines are the real deal. They are practically hand-made from the vineyard up by owner/winemaker Will Berliner, an ex-pat New Yorker, who studied wine at UC Davis.

According to wine connoisseur and Cloudburst fan Andrew Hamilton: “His work in the vineyard to my knowledge is unparalleled in the Margaret River region. In fact, I don’t know a single producer in the greater Margaret River region who can claim that their vineyard has never once seen a tractor besides Cloudburst. His vines are close planted Burgundy style with vines and rows equally spaced at a meter apart from one another. His approach to … Read the rest

Aug 08 2016

The Ageing Potential of Australia’s Great Wines

Posted on August 08, 2016 | By merrill@cellarit.com

The Wine Advocate’s Lisa Perrotti Brown named her top three wines for 2015. These aren’t current vintage wines, but rather rare treats she’s been lucky to sample, often in the company of the winemakers themselves. Of the three,  two were Australian – a 1982 Cullens Cabernet Sauvignon, Margaret River and a Wendouree Shiraz, Clare Valley 1995. The third – unsurprisingly I guess – was a 1967 Echezeaux, Domaine de La Romanee Conti! (I’m guessing few people in the world would have a chance to try one of those!) (Lisa Perrotti Brown’s Guide to the Best of 2015, December 2015, eRobertParker.com)

Anyway, more evidence, if any was needed, of the wonderful ageing potential of Australia’s great wines. Perrotti Brown even went so far as to say that the 1982 Cullen Cabernet Sauvignon looks “spritelier than many Bordeaux ’82s.”

And, of course, her reference to the ’82 vintage of Bordeaux won’t be lost on subscribers to The Wine Advocate. After all, this is the vintage most famously associated with the rise of the American critic Robert M. Parker Jr. As remembered by The New York Times wine critic Eric Asimov, Parker’s “clear, certain and unqualified” praise for the vintage caused “feverish excitement and a frenzied market that reached beyond professionals and connoisseurs to a new group of buyers in it for the curiosity, status and investment possibilities.” (From 1982, Glasses more than Full by Eric Asimov, The New York Times, 20 March 2012)

wendouree-shiraz-clare-valley-australia-10303447tMost of the legendary ’82 Bordeaux wines, which are nowadays bought as trophies or investments, are terrifically expensive. Fortunately earlier vintages of Australia’s great wines are far more affordable (if you can find them) and by all accounts worth seeking out!

by Merrill Witt, Editor

 

Photo Credit: eRobertParker.com

The Cellarit Wine Market has … Read the rest

Jul 07 2016

Leeuwin Estate Masterclass with Winemaker Phil Hutchison

Posted on July 07, 2016 | By merrill@cellarit.com

2014 Art Series SBRecently the Wine Advocate’s Lisa Perrotti Brown singled out “eight stellar” Western Australia producers “who are killing-it when it comes to innovation, quality and coaxing the terroir into the bottle: Cloudburst, Cullen, Frankland Estate, Leeuwin Estate, Moss Wood, Peccavi, Plantagenet and Woodlands.” (Western Australia Killing-it, 4 March 2016, eRobertparker.com)

Of course, to see Margaret River pioneer Leeuwin Estate on this list is no surprise. Still owned by its founders Denis and Tricia Horgan and now under the direction of their children and grandchildren, Leeuwin Estate has enjoyed an enviable reputation for its world-class wines for over 30 years. Langton’s Classification of Australian Wine, for example, lists a staggering 16 vintages, dating back to 1987, as top vintages for the Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay – one of only 21 Australian wines ranked “Exceptional” in the classification.

But while Leeuwin Estate has stuck to its knitting, so to speak, by keeping the focus on what does it best – chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon – innovation is still at the forefront of their winemaking approach. Indeed, one of the highlights of a recent Vintage Cellars Double Bay Masterclass with winemaker Phil Hutchison was a single variety not usually associated with Western Australia – the Leeuwin Estate Art Series Sauvignon Blanc 2014.

Typically, Margaret River wineries blend sauvignon blanc with semillon to create a Bordeaux-style white wine. But the 2014 Leeuwin Estate Art Series vintage is 100% sauvignon blanc. As Hutchison explained, the sauvignon blanc grapes are actually sourced from an 18 year-old vineyard about 20 km south of Margaret River. Here the evening southerly winds dramatically cool down the nighttime temperature in the vineyards, extending the ripening period just enough to significantly lift the subtle lemon, lime and apple aromatics in the wine. Innovative winemaking techniques, like 50% … Read the rest

May 05 2015

Henschke Cyril Henschke Cabernet Sauvignon: One of Australia’s most elegant and complex cabernet sauvignons

Posted on May 05, 2015 | By merrill@cellarit.com

In recent years a series of great vintages in Bordeaux and burgeoning Chinese demand for First Growths have put the spotlight back on cabernet sauvignon – sparking renewed reverence for its potential to produce the world’s most complex, elegant and age-worthy wines.

The return to popularity of cabernet sauvignon has also encouraged Australia’s top winemakers to narrow their product range and focus attention on perfecting their cabernet sauvignon and cabernet blends. Virginia Willcock, chief winemaker at Vasse Felix in the Margaret River, for example, told wine critic Huon Hooke, that “It’s a new era of cabernet…We are refining the style. We’re making it more subtle – less tutti-frutti and more restrained, more elegant. We’ve come back from the ‘bigger is better’ era.”  (All hail the cabs by Huon Hooke, Good Living, Sydney Morning Herald, 14 August 2012)

For me, one of the highlights of last weekend’s tasting of Henschke’s current range of red wines at Vintage Cellars Ultimo was the Cyril Henschke Cabernet Sauvignon 2010. Don’t let its approachability fool you! The ripe fruit and soft, fine tannins initially mask a real depth of complex aromas and flavours which elegantly unfold in the glass.

The Wine Spectator’s Harvey Steiman described the 2010 vintage as “soft and complex, with ripe berry and chocolate flavours, showing hints of apricot and coffee as the finish lingers gracefully. This has fine tannins and presence.” (Tasting Note, Wine Spectator, 15 June 2014)

cyril henschkeThe Henschke family has been making the Cyril Henschke Cabernet Sauvignon for almost 40 years. Fifth generation owner and winemaker Stephen Henschke released the first vintage in 1978. Its name is a tribute to his late father Cyril, who created the world-renowned single-vineyard Hill of Grace Shiraz in the late 1950s.

The Cyril Henschke is also a single vineyard … Read the rest

Jun 06 2012

Are Australia’s Top Cabernets Undervalued?

Posted on June 06, 2012 | By merrill@cellarit.com

In its promotional material for its Bin 707, Penfolds states that “Bin 707 is Penfolds’ Cabernet Sauvignon version of Grange: ripe, intensely-flavoured fruit; completing fermentation and maturation in new oak; fully expressing a Penfolds understanding of multi-vineyard, multi-region fruit sourcing.”

No-one can doubt the pedigree of Bin 707 or its status as one of the Australia’s benchmark wines. It is up there with Grange in the pantheon of Australia’s 17 most exceptional wines, as ranked by the Langton’s Classification of Australian Wine V – the form guide of Australia’s best performing and most prized wines.

But current prices of more recent vintages of Bin 707 are less than half the price of comparable vintages of Penfolds Grange. Current prices for other iconic cabernets like the Cullen Diana Madeline Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot, the Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon and the Mount Mary Vineyard Quintet Cabernets, for example, are all in the $100 to $200 price range, even though most of these wines are made in vastly smaller quantities than Grange and have almost equally impressive reputations for longevity.

But is the price discrepancy between top Australian cabernets and and their shiraz counterparts, which would also include acclaimed drops like Henschke Hill of Grace and Torbreck’s The Laird, warranted?

Certainly Australian cabernets are up against some stiff competition from overseas. Great Bordeaux cabernets like Château Margaux  and Château Lafite Rothschild are widely considered the greatest wines in the world. And in the New World, California’s reputation has largely been forged by international acclaim for a stellar line-up of cabernets from great producers like Harlan Estate, Bryant Family Vineyard and Shafer to name but a few. The top wines from all of these producers typically trade at much higher prices than comparable Australian cabernets.

For Australian shiraz the international … Read the rest

Jun 06 2012

Mount Mary Quintet: The Quintessential Cabernet Blend

Posted on June 06, 2012 | By merrill@cellarit.com

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 … Read the rest

Jun 06 2012

Cape Mentelle Cabernet Sauvigon: Taking Margaret River Cabernet in a New Direction

Posted on June 06, 2012 | By merrill@cellarit.com

In the June/July 2011 edition of Australian Gourmet Traveller Wine, wine critic Nick Bulleid MW offered the following summary of the general style of Margaret River cabernet sauvignon:

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 … Read the rest

May 05 2012

Balnaves of Coonawarra The Tally Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon: In the Style of a Fine Bordeaux

Posted on May 05, 2012 | By merrill@cellarit.com

Before joining Balnaves of Coonawarra from Wynns Coonawarra in 1995, winemaker Peter Bissell had stints working in New Zealand, Bordeaux, and as a flying winemaker for Penfolds in Russia and the South of France. But it was his time in Bordeaux that most influenced the style of the Balnaves long-ageing premium reserve cabernet sauvignon, The Tally: “One thing I picked up from Bordeaux is that structure and balance are more important than any particular flavour you might see in the wine…When I came to Balnaves we started doing more time on skins and making wines with a more obvious tannin structure. When you taste our wines you get the flavour but also the mouthfeel and texture from the tannin structure.” (Tallying up the Wins by Anthony Madigan, Wine Business Magazine, November 2010)

Bissell’s first task upon joining Balnaves was to design the new winery. It was the first winery in Coonawarra to install stainless steel open-top fermenters and also included eight, eight-tonne static fermenters. According to Bissell, “It’s like something you’d find in a small chateau in France.”

Since the release of the first 1998 vintage, The Tally Reserve has consistently won high praise and a string of awards. James Halliday scored the current 2008 vintage 97 points:

Vivid crimson-purple; Like a rich little boy, has everything he wishes; a fragrant dark berry bouquet with notes of French oak, leather and spice, then a full-bodied palate with a dazzling array of flavours; however, it is in the supple texture, perfect balance and line that the greatness of the wine finally takes shape. (James Halliday, Australian Wine Companion 2011)

Doug Balnaves and his wife Annette were among the earliest to recognise the potential of Coonawarra’s famed terra rossa soil. In 1970, Doug sold his first Coonawarra property to Hungerford … Read the rest

May 05 2012

Balgownie Estate Cabernet Sauvignon: A Perrenial Favourite

Posted on May 05, 2012 | By merrill@cellarit.com

This week is so far shaping up to be all about Victorian wine. On Saturday night, we had friends for dinner and opened a magnum of the Wild Duck Creek Estate Shiraz Reserve 2003. It was absolutely sensational. Delicious ripe fruit flavours wrapped in a very balanced, medium body package with superbly integrated tannins, still firm but softened a bit from bottle age. I’m sure the wine could easily handle another five to ten years in the cellar.

Last night I enjoyed another Heathcote shiraz – a wine I wasn’t familiar with, the Syrahmi Climat 2009.  Like 2003, 2009 was a dry, hot vintage in Heathcote. Adam Foster, who makes the Syrahmi range, sourced the grapes for the Climat from the Mt Camel Ranges, 45km north of the Heathcote township. It’s a wonderfully aromatic wine with well defined fruit flavours and fine tannins. Foster opted for a 60% whole bunch fermentation – a technique commonly used in France’s Rhone Valley to enhance the fragrance of their shiraz.

I was lucky to receive a sample of the Balgownie Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2009. I’ve always been a big fan of Balgownie’s wines, and the Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 certainly didn’t disappoint.

Fruit for the Estate Cabernet Sauvignon is sourced from the 33 hectare Bendigo vineyard, situated on a gentle slope overlooking Myer’s Creek at Maiden Gully. Here the alluvial clay soils and continental climate provide ideal conditions for low yields and a long ripening period, which helps to create wines of intense flavours and great ageing potential. Originally founded in 1969 by pioneer winemaker Stuart Anderson, since 1999 the estate has been owned by brothers Des and Rod Forrester, who have expanded the winery and added another vineyard in the Yarra Valley.

The Wine Spectator’s Harvey Steiman has commented … Read the rest

Sep 09 2011

Wine of the Week: Katnook Estate Odyssey Cabernet Sauvignon – A Wine to Benchmark against a Top Bordeaux!

Posted on September 09, 2011 | By merrill@cellarit.com

In his review of the Katnook Estate Odyssey Cabernet Sauvignon 1992 the Wine Advocate’s Robert Parker asks, “Is this Australia’s answer to a top-class Pauillac?

The luxury 1992 Odyssey (100% Cabernet Sauvignon) is Katnook Estate’s top cuvee. The wine spends 30 months in French oak, and comes across as a serious Bordeaux look-alike. The dark ruby/purple color is saturated to the rim. The nose offers up reticent but promising aromas of cigar box, cedar, fruit cake, black currant, and toasty notes. In the mouth, black cherry/black currant flavors are impressive and full-bodied, with nicely integrated acidity and tannin. (Wine Advocate #119, October 1998)

You may not always agree with Parker’s assessments, but you can’t dispute the breadth and depth of his palate. If he compares an Australian Coonawarra cabernet sauvignon to a top Bordeaux you know it’s a very informed opinion, based on years of tasting wines from all over the world.

Aromas of “cigar box, cedar, fruit cake, black currant, and toasty notes” are indeed descriptors frequently used in tasting notes for the best Pauillac wines – an appellation that is home to three of the five First Growths. Pauillac wines are also admired for their concentrated flavours and voluptuous texture, so to compare a Coonawarra cabernet sauvignon to a top Pauillac is very high praise indeed.

Wine critic James Halliday jokes that Coonawarra on South Australia’s Limestone Coast and the Haut Medoc of Bordeaux prove the exception to the rule that almost all of the foremost wine regions of the world are landscapes of great beauty!  Coonawarra is a cigar-shaped strip of land only 12km long and 2km wide that is all but taken up by vineyards. The flat, bleak terrain is subject to cold, wet and windy winters and, like Bordeaux, enough vagaries in … Read the rest