Like Edens Valley’s Irvine Wines, Margaret River’s Moss Wood is another Australian winery that has demonstrated its mastery in making first-class merlot and cabernet merlot blends. (See Cellar Picks: Don’t Overlook Australian Merlot, Cellarit Blog, 20 August 2011)

In 2000, Moss Wood’s Keith Mugford purchased the 6.36 hectare Ribbon Vale vineyard in Wilyabrup, the Margaret River sub-region responsible for the area’s best table wines. The vineyard’s gravel-loam soil over clay subsoil is surprisingly similar to the prized terroir of the right bank Bordeaux appellation of Pomerol, so it is perhaps not unexpected that the three wines produced from Moss Wood’s Ribbon Vale vineyard, Semillon Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Merlot and Merlot, are all classic Bordeaux styles.

The 2004 Ribbon Vale Cabernet Merlot is a blend of 53% cabernet sauvignon, 37% merlot and 10% cabernet franc. The merlot is added for its intense red and dark fruit characters on both the nose and the palate, and 10% of cabernet franc for its dark berry aromas.

Mugford believes that the 2004 vintage was one of the first to show the benefits of the steps that were taken to revitalise the vineyard, which was originally planted in 1977. These initiatives included re-trellising the vineyard to the “Scott Henry” system to improve fruit exposure to sunlight and facilitate easier pruning and harvesting. Bird nets were also introduced to allow a longer ripening period on the vine.

Vineyards improvements were complemented with several innovations in the winery designed to change the tannin structure of the wine in order to improve its balance and long-term cellaring ability. For example, the riper grapes were exposed to more gentle extraction techniques during fermentation and time on skins was cut from six weeks to two weeks. Only French oak is used and the barrel size has been reduced from 300 litres to 225 litres.

Mugford describes the Cabernet Merlot 2004 as “a huge leap forward for Ribbon Vale.” Campbell Mattinson of The Wine Front scored the wine 91 points:

A solid hit of flavour. Gumleaf, blackcurrant, dark earth and gravel, all ripeness and varietal character. Very, very solid wine. Nice structure, if not a tremendous amount of carry – though it could just be its youth. Nice wine. Lots of pure, juicy, balanced, attractive fruit. The longer it sat in the glass, the juicier and lengthier it became – and it drank better on day two. Very good. (The Wine Front, 7 December 2006)

Moss Wood recommends cellaring the Ribbon Vale Cabernet Merlot 2004 for at least 10 years.

The Moss Wood Ribbon Vale Cabernet Merlot 2004 ($50) is available on the Cellarit Wine Market.