Tag Archives: Coonawarra

1996 Cabernet Sauvignon

Vintage in Focus by Barry Weinman

27th June 2015IMG_0544

I am in the fortunate position to be able to drink old wines regularly. Often, this is in the setting of dinner with friends, or a themed tasting. It is a rare treat however, to be able to drink a number of aged wines from the same vintage.

To make this tasting even more interesting, all wines were Bordeaux varietals or blends and the wines were equally divided between France and Australia. An added bonus was that 1996 was an excellent year on both sides of the globe. I could not find a bottle of Mosswood from this vintage, so substituted a bottle of the 1994 Reserve.

All wines came from the Wine and Food Society of Western Australia’s cellar. The Australian wines had been in the cellar since launch, whereas many of the French wines I purchased a few years ago when they had been shipped ex-cellar.

Opening the wines told a tale of two standards. The corks in the French wines were uniformly in great condition. Longer than the Australian’s, but also of perceptibly higher quality. The Australian wines’ corks started crumbling with a standard corkscrew, whereas the French wines’ corks came out easily without breaking.

Once again, I was very grateful to have a Durant corkscrew on hand to assist with cork removal. This remarkable device is a must for those regularly opening wines older than 15 years. Remarkably, there was no discernible cork taint in any of the wines. This was indeed a very special day!

Initially, I planned on serving the wines in matched pairs (Australia v France). On opening the wines, this plan changed as the overt power of the Australian wines would have overwhelmed the French wines.

The Wines

Perhaps the biggest surprise on the night was the Champagnes in Bracket One. Support for the three wines was equally divided across the group. The “standard” 2002 was the most accessible, making it the choice for those who value drinkability.Bracket 1

At the other end of the spectrum, the Sir Winston Churchill is a sublime wine that was the pick for the aficionados among us. Sitting in the middle and offering outstanding value was the Blanc de Blanc. A great drink!

The highlight of Bracket Two was the Roc de Cambes, coming from a fully mature vineyard that has similarities to St Emillon. This demonstrated just how good the wines from Cotes de Bourg (Cotes de Bordeaux) can be.

Bracket Three saw a step up in perceived quality, as all wines were of Grand Cru status. This was also reflected in the overall quality. The highlight was the Cantemerle, a still youthful wine of real class.

Bracket Four saw the first of the Australian wines. The change in style was immediately apparent, with the fruit more accessible. The wines retained balance and poise, but there was a degree of immediacy that, if anything, made the wines more accessible to the average drinker.

The Wynns displayed classic Coonawarra fruit and was a delight to drink. The Plantagenet was my pick. A wine that is in its prime, but one that will also last for years.

Bracket 5The final bracket consisted of three superstars. The Mosswood was the most complete drink, the 707 the most long-lived. All were brilliant wines in their own right, and equal to the best Cabernets anywhere in the world, albeit in a different style to the French. Ultimately, it was the Vasse Felix Heytesbury that was my pick for the night!

Bracket One

Pol Roger – Champagne – 2002. A rich and developed Champagne that is powerful and complex, with honeyed, aged notes. Textured and very long, this was preferred by several guests.

Pol Roger – Champagne – Blanc de Blanc – 2002. Perfumed and floral, the taut chardonnay fruit characters are clearly expressed here. Refined and delicate, yet there is latent power and excellent length. A great wine that will age well for another few years at least.

Pol Roger – Champagne – Sir Winston Churchill – 2000. The term “Less is more” comes to mind here. Very fine and delicate, yet has tremendous presence in the mouth. Elegance is the key.

Bracket Two

Lilian Ladouys – Saint Estephe – 1996. Lovely fragrant nose, with subtle spice complementing the still-fresh fruit. The palate is fully mature, with decent depth and length and a well-structured finish. Good drinking.

Roc de Cambes – Cotes de Bourg – 1996. Made primarily from Merlot, the fantastic fruit here has an almost new-world richness. Cassis and spice on the nose. The silky mouthfeel and depth of fruit on the palate are noteworthy. Considered by many to be the best wine from the Cotes de Bourg, this was a standout.

Labegorce – Margeaux – 1996. The perfumed fruit is typical of Margeaux, but the palate was starting to dry out. Perhaps not the best bottle.

Bracket Three

Clos de L’Oratoire – St. Emillon – Grand Cru – 1996. Delicious sweet fruit that has obvious power. Very long and texture, this is drinking perfectly now.

Chateau Cantemerle – Haut Medoc – 5th Growth – 1996. Sweet ripe fruit, with minty highlights. A powerful wine, with still firm tannins. The excellent length on the finish is a feature. A stand-out.

Grand Puy Ducasse – Pauliac – 5th Growth – 1996. Obvious powerful fruit, with a touch of earthy/ funky notes adding to the appeal. Fine tannins fan out on a long finish.

Bracket Four

Wynns – Cabernet Sauvignon – “Black Label” – 1996. Cassis and menthol speaks of classic Coonawarra Cabernet. The palate is not overly dense, but this is a delightful drink.

Plantagenet – Cabernet Sauvignon – 1996. Plump, fresh fruit on the nose. The palate is bright, fresh, taut and full of life. The balance is a highlight and the finish is long and fine. Excellent now, but will hold.

Irvine – Grand Merlot – 1996. A big wine, full of plump ripe fruit. Loved by some, but this was a bit overdone for me. This was, perhaps not a typical bottle, as I have enjoyed excellent bottles of this vintage in the recent past.

Bracket Five

Vase Felix – Cabernet Sauvignon – Heytesbury – 1996. Intense, powerful fruit, with leather and spice over the superb fruit. The palate is remarkably youthful, with red fruit characters. A complete wine and quite spectacular!

Mosswood – Cabernet Sauvignon – Reserve – 1994. The most complete wine now, and an absolute pleasure to drink. The perfumed fruit retains power, but the palate is long, refined elegant and silky. A textural treat.

Penfolds – Cabernet Sauvignon – 707 – 1996. Tight and incredibly youthful, with powerful, yet restrained fruit. The palate is closed and tight, with chewy tannins that are remarkably fine. The line and length is a feature. The intense fruit builds and builds. The proverbial iron fist in a velvet glove, a great wine!

Redman Wines – December 2014

Reviewed: 1st December 2014

The Redman family are pioneers of the Coonawarra region, having been involved in growing grapes and making wine for almost a century.

Redman has stayed true to form and continues to only make red wines from grapes grown on the famous Terra Rossa soils. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Shiraz are the only varieties used.

The wines have typically been made in a savoury, food-friendly style and have often aged very well. I have enjoyed several 30 – 40 year old bottles over the years and they have been a delight.

The contrast between the 2012 Cabernet and the other two wines reviewed here was marked. The older wines have settled into their structure and develop secondary characters. With 2012 however, the primary fruit characters were allowed to shine, without diminishing the ability to age. Admittedly, 2012 was an outstanding year for Coonawarra reds.

Whilst the Redman family are trying to stay true to Owen Redman’s philosophy on making wine, they are not standing still. Currently, there is a program of vineyard rejuvenation/replanting underway. Interestingly though, the wines are still bottled with cork.



Redman – Cabernet Sauvignon /Merlot/Shiraz – The Redman – 2004 (18.3). The bottle age here is obvious, as the fruit has started to open and soften within a complex savoury frame. There are lovely minty cabernet notes on the nose. The palate is still fresh and vibrant, with the fine fruit sitting nicely with the oak. The tannins are still firm, but in combination with the acid, they keep the wine youthful and alive, whilst adding texture. An impressive wine that, whilst enjoyable now, is sure to age well for some time to come. (RRP $70. 200 dozen produced).

Redman – Cabernet Sauvignon – 2012 – (17.9). Impressive nose that has depth and power to the fruit. A classic Coonawarra Cabernet that has menthol and eucalyptus notes over blackberry fruit. The tannins are a little grippy – though this adds to the mouth-feel. A powerful (though elegant) wine that needs a few years to hit its straps. Whilst maintaining a link to the other wines, the impression is that an effort has been made to preserve the fruit characters.(RRP $29).

Redman – Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot – 2009 (17.5). Varietally correct nose, with menthol, eucalypt and herbal notes. This is a savoury wine with bright acidity carrying the finish. Though not an overt blockbuster, the fruit is supple and ripe and the mouth-feel excellent. Good depth on the palate, with excellent length and persistence to close. This is a savoury wine, with leaner fruit characters and balanced tannins and is sure to age well for a decade or more. Will sit well with food today. (RRP $35).



New Release Shiraz – August 2014

7th August 2014

Sue Hodder and the team at Wynns have been in great form of late when it comes to cooler region Shiraz. From the White Label Shiraz (Reviewed elsewhere and an absolute bargain) through to the special release wines, the 2012 vintage has proved to be outstanding.

As good as the V&A lane is, I have opted to put both the white label and black label wines into my cellar from this stellar vintage.

(The Cabernets are also in top form: Watch out for reviews in the coming month).


Wynns – Shiraz – V&A Lane – 2012 (18 – 18.5+). Chewy, dense and textured, the fruit is a little subdued, but not overwhelmed. Opens to show ripe, high quality fruit, with a core of licorce and spice. The tannins are fine though prodigious, and the length/persistence admirable. A complex, serious wine that really builds in the glass. Cellaring recommended.

Singlefile – Grenache/Shiraz/Mouvedre – Clement V – 2013 (17.8). A lovely wine that balances ripe red fruits with subtle oak and fine tannins. This has cherry/berry notes with licorice, spice and even a touch of fresh herbs. On the palate, the fruit really sings, unencumbered by overt oak and there are hints of chocolate to close. An unusual blend for the Great Southern, but one that works. (RRP $30).

Wynns – Shiraz – Black Label – 2012 (18). The proverbial iron fist in a velvet glove. Silky and refined, thought there is undoubted power sitting behind the fruit. The silky texture on the finish belies the age-ability of this wine. A lovely, mid-weight wine.

Thorn Clarke – Shiraz – Sandpiper – 2012 (17.8). Dense and ripe, yet relatively soft and approachable. Hints of menthol and spice over bright fruit characters. The palate is dense, with decent power, though the ripe fruit is accessible and delicious. Long, with fine tannins, this is a bright and clean Barossa Shiraz that is immediately enjoyable, yet capable of short to mid-term cellaring. (RRP $19).

Lamont’s – Shiraz/Viognier – 2012 – $28 (17.6). Quite a contrast to some here, in that there is obvious ripeness to the fruit. This palate is plush and textured, with the acid and tannins adding life on the finish and a touch of white pepper to close. This is not overly complex, but is a delicious fruit-driven wine. From Donnybrook.

Stormflower  – Cabernet Sauvignon/Shiraz – Dry Red – 2010 (17.5). Menthol and mint with a touch of eucalyptus oil on the nose. The palate has ripe fruit that floods the mouth. This is a decent wine, with the minty fruit carrying right through the palate. There is excellent length and persistent, with very good palate transition. Fine tannins and subtle oak frames the fruit well.


Cabernet Sauvignon – New Release – April 2014

Reviewed: 20 April 2014

This tasting offered up an interesting cross-section of cabernets from around the globe. I was pleased to see that the styles of the wines reviewed accurately reflected the region in which they were produced. This really added interest to the tasting, as the wines reflected the terrior in which the grapes were grown.

Highlights for me were the wines from Mildara and Chateau Lariveau. I am not sure if the later wine is available in Australia, but it is worth a try if you see it. The Mildara, on the other hand, should be widely available and is the best wine that I can recall under this label, (I am not lucky enough to have tried the 1963).


Mildara – Cabernet Sauvignon – 2012 (18.5). There is lovely balance to this wine. The fruit is ripe, yet focused, with supple oak and tannins providing the framework. Very good length and quite a silky finish with the acid bringing the palate to life. Good now, but will be better with a few years in the cellar.

Moss Wood – Cabernet Sauvignon – Moss Wood Vineyard – 2011 (18/18.5+). Complex herbal notes, with menthol and eucalyptus over ripe/precise blackcurrant fruit. The finish is quite tight, with the souring acidity and fine tannins providing drive, but obscuring the fruit at present. Will be better with 5 years in the bottle. Opened to show ripe cassis-like fruit and clove/star anise spice. This wine was the sleeper of the tasting and took a day or two to really hit its straps. (RRP $120).

Evans and Tate – Cabernet Sauvignon – Redbrook – 2010 (18). Menthol and cool region fruit characters. The palate is chewy and textured, but with fine tannins and good length. There is impressive fruit and winemaking, though it needs a little time to really come together. Powerful fruit, but with the structure to carry it. This is a very good wine that will only get better with time in the bottle.

Chateau Lariveau – Canon-Fronsac – 2010 (17.8). A lighter style, with fresh, souring red fruit characters. The winemaker’s inputs appear quite restrained, allowing the fruit to drive the finish. Raspberry and spice in a wine that is elegant and refined. With air, this really opened up to show quality fruit and deft winemaking.

Saltram – Cabernet Sauvignon – Mamre Brook – 2011 (17.7). Savoury, lean, long and a touch herbal, reflecting the vintage conditions in 2011. Quite a dense, powerful wine, with tannins that are quite chewy, shutting down the fruit on the palate. That said, time will help here, as the fruit quality is excellent and the length impressive.

Yerring Station – Cabernet Sauvignon – 2012 (17.5 – 18). A leaner style, with cool-area fruit that is ripe and restrained. Redcurrant, mint, subtle herbs and menthol all come through on the palate. The tannins are fine, though ample, leaving a talc-like texture on the finish. A very smart wine, that has years ahead of it.

St Mary’s Winery – 2012 Vintage

Reviewed: 30th July 2013

There has been a lot of talk of late about the respective quality of the last few vintages in South Australia.  Despite the predictions of dire effects on the wines from the lesser years, I have seen a number of excellent wines from 2011, whilst the 2008 Grange (considered to be an atypically hot year) was recently awarded 100 points by Wine Spectator.

When it comes to the current release wines from St Mary’s, they all come from the 2012 vintage.  This vintage has been uniformly praised by winemakers and critics as being excellent in all major South Australian regions and is reflected in the quality of this year’s release.

St Mary’s is based in Penola in the Coonawarra region and they have quite a prestigious address (V&A Lane).  Interestingly, the Mulligans chose to label their wines as Limestone Coast, rather than Coonawarra.

A fascinating component of this tasting was looking at all the Bordeaux varietals vinified separately.  It gave me an insight into the various characteristics that the individual components can contribute to a blend.  Actually, this may make for an excellent dinner party activity where guests could be given the challenge of making the best blend!

For me, the highlight was the Pinot Noir.  I do not know of many pinots coming from the Limestone Coast, but this is an excellent effort that made the panel sit up and take note.


St Mary’s – Pinot Noir – 2012 (17.5).  Excellent clarity in the glass.  The nose opens with pretty red fruits that are supple and vibrant.  This is an attractive, succulent wine of some charm.  The finish is full of minerals and the texture is spot-on.  The fruit characters include cherry, strawberry, anise and a hint of white pepper.  Varietally correct and very well made.

St Mary’s – Merlot – 2012 (17).  Good quality fruit here that has been sympathetically made.  Good mouth-feel and texture to a wine that can be drunk now, or in five years.

St Mary’s – Petit Verdot – 2012 (17).  This is quite a dense wine that is packed with essence-like fruit and prodigious tannins.  This is a big, powerful wine that combines intense fruit with structure and density.  If you are going to drink this now, it needs a big steak to balance the acidity.  Given time though, this will soften and integrate into a classy wine.

St Mary’s – Cabernet Franc – 2012 (16).  Compared to the fleshy fruit that the merlot possesses, this is a “bony” wine that is angular and lean.  With this wine, you can really see the attributes that cabernet franc can bring to a blend, but at the moment, the acidity dominates the leaner, red fruit characters.

St Mary’s – Cabernet Sauvignon – House Block – 2012 (17.5+).  Balance is the key here.  This has bright red and black fruit characters set against a background of cedar, spice, aniseed and clove.  Long and mouth-watering, the bright acidity adds to the appeal.  Whilst it is not the finest wine here, it is one that has the most immediate appeal.  This wine would make a great match with food now, or will evolve and build for many years.

St Mary’s – Shiraz – 2012 (17.5).  Really deep smelling, with sour plum, spice and cedary notes.  This is well made, and the fruit is of good quality, though it needs a few years to soften and really come together.  The peppery fruit on the close rounds out a smart wine!

Margaret River v Coonawarra

Reviewed: 18th May 2013

Margaret River or Coonawarra? I often ask myself that question when I am purchasing or opening cabernet based wines. Ten years ago, I would also have included Bordeaux in the equation, but the tremendous prices being charged for decent Claret makes Bordeaux an unrealistic option for me.

Fortunately the quality of Australian cabernet has continued to improve and the best local wines are equivalent in quality, if not style, to the best imports. The added benefit of shopping locally is that they are invariably sealed with a screw cap, removing the inherent risks associated with cork.

Whilst the current tasting was an opportunity to look at a selection of aged cabernet-based wines, it also gave me the chance to think about the regions.

One of the biggest differences between the two has been vintage conditions. Margaret River has been blessed with an amazing run of vintages starting with 2007 and continuing right through to 2012. (Early indications are that 2013 will also be very good). Coonawarra, on the other hand, has been on somewhat of a roller coaster ride with the highs being followed by lows. Improved viticulture has helped offset some of the lows, but I think it is a good idea to keep an eye on vintage variations.

Call me a fence sitter, but at the end of the tasting, I decided that I needed to keep space in the cellar for both region’s wines. Margaret River will always be the backbone of my cellar due to a combination of familiarity, availability, quality and consistency. In the great years however, I will always make space for Coonawarra. The wines are distinctive, age-worthy and totally delicious.

Wines tasted: 20

Wines reviewed: 10


Raveneau – Chardonnay – Chablis – 2010 (17.8). This is a complex, serious wine on the nose. There is creamy oak, textural barrel ferment characters and fine, pristine fruit. The finish is very long, with lemony acid the backbone that is fleshed out by a hint of sweetness that further enhances the balance. (The warm-up wine)

Cape Mentelle – Cabernet Sauvignon – 1991 (18.2). Dense, sweet ripe fruit leaps from the glass. Think mint, eucalypt, cassis and red berries. There are hints of earth and leather courtesy of the bottle age adding to the great length and lovely texture. There is new-world density to the fruit, but old-world complexity and structure. Lovely drinking.

Wynns – Cabernet Sauvignon – John Riddoch – 1991 (17.8). Remarkable contrast to the Cape Mentelle, as this is fresh and vibrant, yet tight and restrained. There are hints of blueberry, mint, cherry, cinnamon and supple, cedary oak. A powerful wine, yet one that is balanced and restrained. Very long and near seamless, the ever-so-fine tannins providing a sprinkling of dust across the finish.

Sandalford – Cabernet Sauvignon – 2003 (18). This wine really impresses for its sweet, ripe fruit. At ten years of age, there are plenty of dark fruit characters with a touch of mint and eucalyptus. The palate is dense, structured and tannic, needing another 5 – 10 years to really unwind. There is structured oak to close. This is a powerful wine.

Wise – Cabernet Sauvignon – The Bramley – 2003 (18). This is a much softer interpretation on Margaret River cabernet compared to the Sandalford, with red fruits the primary character. There are hints of oak in the background and the very fine tannins build at the very end of the palate. The tannins are actually quite firm suggesting that this wine will still evolve, but it is in its drinking window now.

Coriole – Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot – Mary Kathleen – 1999 (18). This wine has really intense fruit with complex savoury highlights. Think coffee, cinnamon and spice. The palate is textured and long finishing with very fine tannins and supple oak. In the mouth, this is supple, savoury, spicy, fragrant and long. Delicious now, this is an elegant wine from McLaren Vale showing excellent cabernet typicity, yet also some clear regional characters.

Wynns – Cabernet Sauvignon – John Riddoch – 1999 (17.8). Opens with mint over red fruits. This is elegant and drinking very well. There are hints of blackcurrant over cedar and spice on the palate. The finish is fine and long, with the acid cutting through the silky structure. The tannins are amazingly soft and add to the texture. This wine will be a great foil to food.

Houghton – Cabernet Sauvignon – Gladstone  – 1999 (18.5). Compared to the Wynns, this has much more obvious ripe fruit characters. Blackcurrant, cinnamon, spice, mint, eucalypt and subtle, textural oak all meld into a fantastic package on the palate. Whilst refined and elegant, there is tremendous power and length to the fruit. Superb!

Parker Estate – Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot/Cabernet Franc – First Growth – 1998 (18.2). This wine approaches drinking perfection. There are fragrant red fruits, supple spice and silky tannins which combine to make this oh-so-easy to drink. The excellent length of flavours is a highlight and the fruit is very persistent. The tannins build on the finish providing the texture to accompany fine food.

Petaluma – Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot/Cabernet Franc – 1998 (18.3). Reserved and shy compared to the Parker, this is a superb wine of the highest quality. The palate is dense, ripe, textured and powerful. There are hints of fresh herbs and wonderful fruit. Very structured, yet almost seamless.


Houghton 175th Anniversary

Reviewed – 7 October 2011


To celebrate their 175th birthday, the team at Houghton, led by Ross Pamment put on a tasting to showcase the quality of the wines. This involved a mini vertical tastings of the White Classic, followed by verticals of the Wisdom chardonnay, Gladstone cabernet and finally, every vintage of Jack Mann ever produced, including barrel samples of the 2010 and 2011.

The White Classic is probably the most amazing wine made in Western Australia. Its ability to age belies its humble origins. Here is a wine that often sells for less than $8.00 that benefits from 5 to 8 years in the cellar. Even on release, this is a wine that is very easy to like. For the record, it is a blend of chenin blanc/chardonnay/verdelho/semillon/muscadelle/riesling, the muscadelle coming from an old block at Moondah Brook.

The Wisdom (formerly Regional Collection) chardonnay comes from the Sterling Road vineyard in Pemberton.

The Gladstones comes from the Batley vineyard which is a mature, dry grown vineyard in Wilyabrup, planted in 1988. The exception is the 2002, the fruit for which came from the Woodlands vineyard.

The Jack Mann, like the man it is named after, is an icon. This wine is the flag bearer for all of the Frankland region. The fruit is sourced from the Justin vineyard, and the first vintage was 1994. Apparently, the vineyard was planted from cuttings from Houghton’s vineyards in the Swan Valley. The blend varies from year to year, though cabernet sauvignon is always the main grape, with small amounts of malbec +/- shiraz to fill out the wine.

We had the privilege of tasting every Jack Mann produced to date including barrel samples of the 2010 and 2011. There is no doubt in my mind, that Jack Mann is in the top five red wines produced in Western Australia.

A special thanks must go to Houghton for generously hosting this tasting.


Houghton – Chenin Blanc/Chardonnay/Verdelho/Semillon/Muscadelle/Riesling – White Classic – 2004 (18.2). Floral notes to start then lanolin, developed caramel and spice. Has some similarity to chablis. Developed on the palate. This is quite rich and spicy. Long and textured, there is musk, pear and incense to close. More chardonnay here than is usual.

Houghton – Chenin Blanc/Chardonnay/Verdelho/Semillon/Muscadelle/Riesling – White Classic – 2005 (17.8). Tighter and more linear on the nose, it is the palate where this shines. Generous, round and complex. This will be the last of the museum releases.

Houghton – Chenin Blanc/Chardonnay/Verdelho/Semillon/Muscadelle/Riesling – White Classic – 2006 (17.7). Really fresh, with lovely perfume. This has crunchy pear on the palate, but is very youthful and tight.

Houghton – Chenin Blanc/Chardonnay/Verdelho/Semillon/Muscadelle/Riesling – White Classic – 2011 (17.2). This is much more in the style of an SSB. Floral, citrus, zesty, delicious. Good length and balance. Smart wine. Some of the passionfruit/tropical characters will settle down in the bottle. Unbelievably good wine for the price.

Houghton – Chardonnay – Regional Collection – 2002 (17). Lovely developed nose, with rich, complex aromas. Plenty of lees and oak, but the butterscotch fruit still shows through. Nearing the end of its life, this is a nice drink. Oak is a defining feature. The chardonnay for Wisdom comes from the Sterling Road Vineyard.

Houghton – Chardonnay – Regional Collection – 2005 (17.7). Much more restraint and poise here. This is balanced and tight, with complex worked characters developing in the mouth. Really builds intensity with time. Lovely citrus notes to close. Deliciously delicate.

Houghton – Chardonnay – Wisdom – 2007 (18). The style keeps evolving and improving. This remains restrained, but the ripe fruit is more apparent. Subtle pineapple flavours combine with lanolin, struck match and flint. It is the mineral notes that leave a lasting impression on the finish. Drinking a treat!

Houghton – Chardonnay – Wisdom – 2009 (18.3). More fragrant and spicy on the nose. Seamless palate, with really fine fruit. This is superb. Complex and tight. Taut and linear at the moment, this has a long future. This saw nine months lees contact and the percentage of new oak has been wound back.

Houghton – Cabernet Sauvignon – Gladstones – 2002 (18). Wow. Spectacular nose. Developed leather and earth over mint and eucalypt. Yes, there are some red fruit flavours, but this has so much more. The palate has black fruits, though the chalky tannins still hold back the fruit. The fruit for this wine came from the Woodlands vineyard.

Houghton – Cabernet Sauvignon – Gladstones – 2003 (18). Reserved and tight. This has cedary oak and plenty of very fine tannins. Lovely red fruits here, but not as complex as the 2002. These wines are remarkably restrained and tight. They will live a long time.

Houghton – Cabernet Sauvignon – Gladstones – 2004 (18.3). A great effort for the year. Gorgeous nose that suggests a cooler vintage. Think menthol, eucalypt and spice. The palate is very spicy, with more of the menthol characters. There are hints of tobacco, tea leaf and silky tannins. Develops great texture. A joy to drink.

Houghton – Cabernet Sauvignon – Gladstones – 2005 (18.4). Reserved. A very tight and restrained wine that is seamless. Everything is in place, but it is oh so youthful. This has great similarity to top Bordeaux and less to do with “sunshine” wines. Hints of menthol, blackcurrant and cedar. The oak is very fine grained and adds a silky texture. The mouth-feel is spot on. Elegant!

Houghton – Cabernet Sauvignon – Gladstones – 2007 (18.3). Much more fragrant fruit, reflecting the warmer year perhaps. Still shows restraint on the palate, but with much more fruit on show. The finish is still silky and tight, so I would like to see it again in a few years, but will not live as long as the 2008.

Houghton – Cabernet Sauvignon – Gladstones – 2008 (18.5). My favourite wine of the bracket. Gorgeous nose and palate. There is a degree of brightness here that is really appealing – there is almost a juiciness to the fruit. The length and mouth-feel are spot on as are the textural components. Chewy finish, but nothing is disjointed. The oak merely caresses the fruit. (Has a screw cap).

Houghton – Cabernet Sauvignon/Malbec – Jack Mann – 1994 (18.5). Leather, spice, menthol and licorice all in evidence on both the nose and palate. The wine is ripe, powerful, long and intense. Amazing length, in fact, an amazing wine that is at its peak.

Houghton – Cabernet Sauvignon/Malbec – Jack Mann – 1995 (18.4). More of the leathery notes and some forest floor and spice. Supple and succulent, this finishes with lovely leather, nutmeg and almost a touch of mocha. Super fine and elegant.

Houghton – Cabernet Sauvignon/Malbec – Jack Mann – 1996 (18.5). More restrained, with some mint and earthy notes. The palate is flooded with ripe fruit that is elegant and also shows supple cedary spice. Again, the length is a standout, and the slightly chalky tannins and (still) fresh acidity proved a counterpoint to the fruit. Bravo (15% shiraz).

Houghton – Cabernet Sauvignon/Malbec – Jack Mann – 1998 (NR). A lovely wine, but perhaps not the best bottle.

Houghton – Cabernet Sauvignon/Malbec – Jack Mann – 1999 (17.5). What a contrast. This is remarkably floral and fragrant. Sweet, almost candied fruit floods the palate. The acidity and tannins shut down the finish, so ultimately, the balance is probably not where I would like it to be (given the company). 30% malbec and a different style.

Houghton – Cabernet Sauvignon/Malbec – Jack Mann – 2000 (18.2). Super wine. This is more restrained than any of the previous wines to this point. Silky and supple, the velvety tannins and oak still dampen fruit expression. Elegant and beautifully weighted, this is on its way to being a star.

Houghton – Cabernet Sauvignon/Malbec – Jack Mann – 2001 (18.4). Dumb, with menthol to the fore. Menthol and spice dominate the initial palate, though the extra-ordinarily fine tannins completely shut down the finish. Again, a great wine, but it needs another decade to show its best.

Houghton – Cabernet Sauvignon/Malbec – Jack Mann – 2002 (18.5). More perfumed fruit. In fact, this is quite pretty. Touches of leather and spice on the palate are set against extra-ordinarily fine tannins. A special wine that is only part way through its life.

Houghton – Cabernet Sauvignon/Malbec – Jack Mann – 2004 (18). More menthol and earthy notes here. Leathery fruit, with a touch of dried herbs and prune. Long and textured, the mouth-feel is excellent, though the finish is drying. 2% malbec. Really savoury finish that opens up with time in the glass. Is this your style?

Houghton – Cabernet Sauvignon/Malbec – Jack Mann – 2007 (18.2). Closed and tight. Classic cabernet fruit on the palate. This is just a baby, but it has great potential and some immediate appeal. Very silky tannins on the finish make this a great drink now, but that would be a shame. (Closed with a cork).

Houghton – Cabernet Sauvignon/Malbec – Jack Mann – 2007 (18.6). Remarkable contrast, with vibrant, youthful, red berries on the nose. Spectacularly good palate that has fresh red fruits and silky tannins. The oak is a mere hint in the background. Lovely texture and length. Super! (Closed with a screw cap).

Houghton – Cabernet Sauvignon/Malbec – Jack Mann – 2008 (18.7). More restrained and taut. Spectacular palate. This has coffee and tar, but there is a core of red fruits and the finish just goes on and on. I gave this 18.7 recently, and will not disagree this time.

Houghton – Cabernet Sauvignon/Malbec – Jack Mann – 2010 (18.5). Wow. One of the best Jack Mann to date? Amazing fruit on the nose. The palate is so complete, but very youthful. Again, the oak balance is superb. It is the length that is the stand-out. This was a barrel sample that did polarise, though I loved it!

Houghton – Cabernet Sauvignon/Malbec – Jack Mann – 2011 (18.5+). Hard to assess so young. Again, there is amazing fruit quality, though the textural components are still developing. Possesses a remarkable drinkability. Another great wine, but it will take a couple of years to know how great. Bench blend, so the final wine may be slightly different.

The Perth Hyatt Cup 2011

23 August 2011


Dr Brendan Jansen

As I walked into the foyer of the Hyatt Hotel and asked for the location of the 2nd annual Perth Hyatt Cup, I felt a little as though I was asking about a horseracing event. The equine comparison turned out to be in some ways apt, as I shall return to later.

The Hyatt Cup began last year, a competition to showcase the best of Western Australia’s Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet dominant Bordeaux blends. Punters (attendees) taste the wines selected blind, and then rate them, with wines selected from either the Margaret River or Great Southern regions. Points are collated and the results made known at the end of each bracket. This year, the 2007, 2008 and 2009 vintages were featured. For my general thoughts about the greatness of WA (and Margaret River in particular) Cabernet, please refer to http://wineup.wordpress.com/2011/07/20/margaret-river-and-its-affinity-with-cabernet-sauvignon/

On the expert panel providing commentary were esteemed WA winemakers and industry pioneers Dr Bill Pannell (founder of Moss Wood, now of Picardy), Keith Mugford (Moss Wood), Rob Bowen (Domaines and Vineyards, formerly Chief Winemaker at Houghton’s) and Kim Horton (Ferngrove). 19 wines were pre-poured, in brackets of 6 or 7. We began with the 2009 vintage, moved to the 2007, and finished with 2008. The list of wines follows.


  • Cullen – Diana Madeline
  • Cape Mentelle
  • Moss Wood
  • Houghton – Jack Mann
  • Forrest Hill
  • Howard Park – Abercrombie


  • Woodlands – Shelley Anne
  • Vasse Felix – Heytesbury
  • Cape Mentelle
  • Houghton – Jack Mann
  • Howard Park – Abercrombie
  • Houghton – CW Ferguson
  • Moss Wood


  • Woodlands – Alma May
  • Fraser Gallop
  • Cullen – Diana Madeline
  • Howard Park – Abercrombie
  • Ferngrove – Majestic
  • K & B

From the first bracket, discussion ensued as to whether there was ‘typicity’ in the wines of each region that would allow them to be identified. Kim Horton suggested there may be, with cool climate features and a different quality of tannins setting the Great Southern wines apart. (Amy Burch echoed from the floor that differences in average daytime temperatures were indeed significant between the two regions).

Keith Mugford did not fully agree that regional differences were easily picked, especially with the 2009 bracket, suggesting that if indeed there was a difference in terroir, this was trumped by winemaking – use of oak, timing of picking, extent of extraction – and in ripe vintages (as all 3 vintages were), where achieving full phenolic ripeness is not an issue, “the hand of Man was more important than the hand of God”.

I agree with Keith Mugford’s comments – perhaps the choice of wines in this year’s competition for the 2009 vintage in question reflected winemaking more than terroir. And here it is appropriate to return to the horse racing analogy, perhaps “training” was more important than “pedigree” in these particular thoroughbreds.

The terroir argument received more support, however, in the second and third brackets (2007 and 2008 vintages), in that it was easier to detect regional differences, perhaps also reflecting the wines chosen (but also possibly reflecting the brilliant conditions in 2008 in particular, prompting Bill Pannell to declare that in some amazing years, wines just make themselves!) Kim Horton and Rob Bowen insightfully pointed out that the Great Southern region was also made up of very heterogenous terroirs– with Mt Barker and Frankland being very different in terms of rainfall, and as a consequence, vine vigour (with the latter subregion being drier).

Dr Pannell provided an eloquent critique of the show system, suggesting palate fatigue played a part in bigger, fuller styles gaining credit over lighter bodied, more elegant wines. He also made insightful comments about the perhaps bogus task of trying to pick a winner between the two regions. He cited the Rhone Valley, and Cote Rotie and Hermitage in particular, as examples of extremely high quality appellations, commanding equally high prices, but with very different styles. Perhaps we should trust our palates, and choose our favourites according to the style we prefer!

I for one enjoy Cabernets that are of medium body, which are varietally faithful, have all the hallmarks of Cabernet (like tomato leaf, capsicum, cassis, and cigar box when a few years old), complemented but not overly encumbered by oak, with fine, dusty but ripe (not green) tannins, good acid and the structure to allow aging. I say this as a preface to sharing my favourite wines of the tasting, as all the wines selected were of superlative quality, and my preferences simply reflect, well, my preferences.

For what it’s worth, these are the wines I awarded my highest points to, with a brief tasting note:

Forest Hill – Cabernet Sauvignon – 2009 (18). Wow! Opulent, stewed (but not over-ripe) fruit characters, varietally spot on, with nicely developed tannins on the front palate.

Ferngrove – Cabernet Sauvignon – Majestic – 2009 (18.25). Layers and layers of rich cassis, dense, rich, with chocolatey oak. Great length and all elements in balance.

Moss Wood – Cabernet Sauvignon – 2007 (18,75). Still dominated by chocolatey/mocha oak, this wine had amazing depth, palate reach, and flavours that just went on and on. Superb ripe tannin structure allied to liquorice, plum, blackcurrant and boysenberry. (The Moss Wood – Cabernet Sauvignon – 2008 also brilliant, but young and tight – 18.25 pts).

Cape Mentelle – Cabernet Sauvignon – 2008 (18.75). On the money. Dusty tannins, tomato leaf, capsicum, some development with cigar box and tobacco, ripe cassis fruit, beautiful medium palate weight, persistence and tannin structure. (I gave the Cape Mentelle – Cabernet Sauvignon – 2007 18.5 pts also).

Woodlands – Cabernet Sauvignon – Shelley Anne – 2008 (18.75). Beautiful and beguiling. Like a gentle kiss, warms your cheek for a good time after. Dense, complex and displaying currant, berry, cherry and mint, it had superlative length, and a lovely tannin structure. My wine of the night. (The Woodlands – Cabernet Sauvignon – Alma May – 2009 , not released for another year, is also a cracker – 18.25 pts).

So what were the results? Well, Margaret River came out on top – by a whisker – amongst both the tasters and the expert panel. In the end, though, the difference was far from being statistically significant, and the real winners were Cabernet Sauvignon, Western Australia, and those of us lucky enough to enjoy these wines!

John Jens and the Hyatt should be congratulated for putting on such a stellar event, and at such a bargain price. John should get a special mention for his tireless attempts at promoting WA wine, and Cabernet in particular.

If you get the chance to attend next year, go for it! I’ll bet in you having a great night!

Ciao for now!

Brendan Jansen

Coonawarra Barrel Series 14

2010 Vintage

22 July 2011

Each year, the Coonawarra Vignerons Association holds a dinner and wine auction as part of their Coonawarra Cabernet Celebration. Seven of Coonawarra’s best wine producers each provide a single barrel of wine that is sold on the night. In previous years, you could purchase a minimum of five cases from any barrel. So get a few friends together and start bidding.

So to the wines. There is only one word I would use to describe these wines – remarkable. As a collection, the quality of the wines is outstanding. There really is no weak link, though the styles do vary from one producer to another. Due to the unfinished nature of the wines, I am not awarding points, though they all would have scored 17.75 to 18.5+.

A special thanks to Max Veenhuyzen for kindly arranging this tasting.


Brands Laira – Cabernet Sauvignon – Barrel Series – 2010. The colour is a standout. The fruit on the nose is actually seductive and quite feminine. The palate is powerful, though the fruit is totally shut down by the (balanced) structural components. Give it time.

Katnook – Cabernet Sauvignon – Barrel Series – 2010. More balanced fruit on the nose, managing to integrate the fruit and structural components well. Powerful fruit, but incredible balance for an immature wine. Again, the quality French oak dominates the finish, but this is very fine grained. This will be superb and is, undoubtedly, one of the stars!

Lindermans – Cabernet Sauvignon – Barrel Series – 2010. Menthol, blackcurrant and cedar lead off on the nose. Sweet red fruits on the palate that are held back by fine, austere tannins. Really builds and shows great promise.

Majella – Cabernet Sauvignon – Barrel Series – 2010. Gorgeous colour. The nose is redolent of fragrant, high quality fruit. The palate is quite raw and the oak is a touch dominant, though there is a core of blackcurrant and cedary spice running through the finish. Impressive length. The most immature tasting wine here that needs a few years to come together, but it will blossom.

Parker Estate – Cabernet Sauvignon – Barrel Series – 2010. Silky, yet restrained fruit on the nose. Firm, structured, medium bodied and elegant, this is the sleeper of the tasting. Excellent length of flavours, with fine tannins to close. A polished wine.

Yalumba – Cabernet Sauvignon – The Menzies – Barrel Series – 2010. More of the peppermint and menthol that I have come to expect from Coonawarra. Silky, supple and fine, this is an exercise in restraint. Excellent balance and length make this a very good barrel.

Wynns Estate – Cabernet Sauvignon – Barrel Series – 2010. Impenetrable nose. Whilst this is one of the most refined wines tasted, the nose gives little away. Silky and remarkably well integrated, the fruit/oak balance is spot on. Excellent fruit handled with skill, this is a wine for the long haul.

Zema Estate – Cabernet Sauvignon – Barrel Series – 2010. Dusty and less integrated than the Katnook. Again, the fruit quality is superb and the structure is spot on. It just needs time to settle down. Great length of flavour on the palate and there was plenty of peppermint and chocolate, typical of a classic Coonawarra cabernet.

Cabernet – New Release

Reviewed 25 April 2011

Home Brand and Own Brand products have received a significant amount of attention since Coles slashed the price of “Coles” milk. This is not the forum to discuss the positives and negatives of the issue, but I raise it because of Coles’ and Woolworths’ involvement in wine retailing. Coles (Owned by Westfarmers) operates under the Vintage Cellars, Liquorland and First Choice banners, whilst Woolworths has Dan Murphy, BWS and Woolworths Liquor.

For several years, there have been numerous Home Brand, Own Brand and clean skin wines available from these and even smaller independent retailers. Some of these have been recommended in these pages before.

What has changed though is the increasing amount of wines made exclusively for the big retailers under the producers own name. A stunning example of this is the Kirihill shiraz reviewed below. What a steal this wine is! The other wine of note was the Earthworks shiraz which appears to be an own brand. Both wines are available from Vintage Cellars exclusively.

These are not great wines, but they offer fantastic drinkability. At the other end of the spectrum, the Mandala Butterfly is a beautiful wine and the Mount Horricks the best cabernet I have seen from this producer for several years. Enjoy…


Mandala – Cabernet Sauvignon – Butterfly – 2008 (18.3). Shy and reserved, though there are hints of blueberries. Really high quality fruit here and very slick wine-making. The palate is silky, supple and quite seamless, though there are very fine, almost powdery tannins that build on the finish. The length, structure and mouth-feel are first class. A superb wine, but give it plenty of air if you intend to drink this in the next few years.

Mount Horrocks – Cabernet Sauvignon – 2009 (18). Classic nose of Clare Valley cabernet, showing mint, eucalypt and a core of sweet red fruits. Textured and long, this is a fine wine of real interest. Silky mouth-feel and supple oak make for an excellent finish.

Ferngrove – Cabernet Sauvignon – Majestic – 2008 (17.5 – 18+). Wow, really leaps out of the glass. Concentrated, dense and chewy, the toasty oak dominates the finish now. Powerful fruit and a classy finish suggest that this is going to be really good in a few years. A serious wine. 3 gold medals.

Cumulus Wines – Cabernet Sauvignon – Climbing – 2009 (17.5). Lovely ripe fruit on the nose, with mint, spice and a touch of leather. Continues on the palate with good density of fruit. A quality wine displaying skills in the vineyard and the winery. Long and elegant close. This is a fine wine.

Howard Park – Cabernet Sauvignon – Scotsdale – 2009 (17.5). This is an Interesting wine. Medium bodied fruit and excellent balance. Textured and silky mouth-feel with a long finish that is elegant and persistent. Needs a few years to evolve.

Kirrihill – Cabernet Sauvignon – 2009 (17.5). Crushed ants, blackcurrant and a touch of cassiss to open. Powerful palate that is all about ripe fruit, though the finish is textured, dense and fine. The silky tannins are firm, but there is excellent fruit quality. This received extra points for being a good drink right now! $12 from Vintage Cellars only.

Vasse Felix – Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot – 2009 (17.4). Concentrated fruit suggestive of a cooler area. Dense and powerful, but really tight and young. Medium bodied with a slightly savoury finish and fine tannins to close. Has potential, but I need to see this again.

Laurance – Cabernet Sauvignon – Icon – 2009 (17.3). Dense and complex nose. Really draws you into the glass. Concentrated blackcurrant and a touch of crushed ants. The finish is fine and the fruit elegant, though the structural components close down the finish. Well made, with quality fruit, this will be even better in 5 years. (I liked this despite the unusual bottle that may prove difficult to cellar).

Howard Park – Cabernet Sauvignon – Leston – 2009. (17.2). Dense and a touch dusty to open. Ripe fruit tending toward the plum spectrum, but with lovely red fruits opening up on the palate. Very good length, ripe tannins and structure, this needs a few years to open up and show its best.

Mandala – Cabernet Sauvignon – 2008 (17.2). Slightly dusty cabernet nose over a core of ripe fruit. Blueberry, blackcurrant, spice and cedary oak. The finish is firm, and the oak grip is a bit dominant at present. Good quality fruit has been handled well. Should evolve well in the medium term. (This was drinking beautifully after a couple of days on the tasting bench).

Earthworks – Cabernet Sauvignon – Barossa – 2008 (16.9). Forward fruit that is quite straightforward, but with obvious appeal. Packed with juicy fruit on the palate. Very good everyday red that has a soft and round finish. Benefits from having an extra year in bottle compared to most here. Value at $12.50.

Willow Bridge – Cabernet/Merlot- Dragonfly – 2009 (16.6). A sound, if somewhat commercial wine style. Balanced, long, juicy and not to complicated, this is good current drinking and should be excellent value.