there are some new reviews oozing though here, but we're not deckin em up all pretty til we work out an otherwise unborn style for this sleazy rube we call drankster


that's a George Grainger Aldridge cartoon ... obviously a pre-screwcap man

28 January 2009



Chateau Latour Pauillac Bordeaux 1982

$??; ??% alcohol; cork(!); 96+++ points

For a lad of 26, this wine looked alarmingly like about five. Sublimely elegant, fragrant, tannic and tight, it simply sat there in the glass like a sultry, sulking little king, changing barely one iota over two hours on the table. While I’m not au fait with the wine’s precise composition, I could see the hard bitumen of great merlot there, with enough of the beautiful violets of cabernet franc, to add power, grace and fascination to the dandelion leaf and chicory methoxypyrazine of the cabernet sauvignon, which would be the primary grape. Having left the wine to sit until there was no food left, and my black gizzards had no room for any, it began to show little flickers of life, and its tiny hint of violet began to stir as if the faintest of zephyrs had arrived, while its flesh began to take on a slight hint of morel. This is right royal drinking indeed, and shall remain so for at least another decade. Having tasted it against its brethren in 1994, Clive Coates MW, in Grand Vins, suggested it would best be drunk before 2025 and “was not quite austere, profound, and aristocratic enough”. Enough for what? An Englishman? If this bottle was anything to go by, Clive could add another decade to his evaluation, and cross out the lines about insufficient austerity, profundity and aristocracy. I reckon this is in the class of the mighty 1961, which is still gorgeous drinking. The flavours hung on my exhalations for hours – it made me feel like a king. Tripping. From the cellar of the highly generous Peter Gago. 19 DEC 08

Cullen Margaret River Diana Madelaine 2005

$95; 14% alcohol; screw cap; 95++ points

LEFT WING WINE: I collapse, boneless, here. The lively berries, the naughty spring meadowflower freshness, the wicked lollyshop musk and bright violets and lavender that you never see in 100% cab are here, thanks to the mad persistence of Vanya Cullen’s hatred of chemicals, full bore plunge to perfect guzzling blended squish, and absolute pursuit of biodynamic hooley dooley holiness. Cab sav, franc, merlot, malbec and verdot be perfumed here, sans sprays and poisons. It friggin rocks. Close table or bedside supping now; real mushy wedding shit in a decade or so.

Cullen Diana Madeline Margaret River 2006

$105; 13% alcohol; screw cap; 94+++ points

Cabernet sauvignon, merlot, petit verdot, cabernet franc, and malbec are the varieties, in descending order of volume; the vines are thirty-eight years old. 2006 was the coolest Margaret River vintage since Diana and Kevin Cullen planted the first vines there, after the suggestion of St. John Gladstones, in 1966. It’s all biodynamic. Vanya Cullen made this ravishing red. It proves you don’t need monster alcohol to have huge flavour and pleasure, which is what this big baby delivers, thick. It’s cheeky yet plush, elegant yet intense, infant yet incredible. One of our best cabernets ever. Coq au vin or juicy lamb.


Moss Wood Vineyard Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon 2006

$??; 14% alcohol; screw cap; 94+++ points

Suspicious that I might have gone a whole point higher if I'd first seen this wine in a couple of years, I proceed nevertheless, in awe of its sheer stubborn, unflinching inertia. This wine is built to live for a very long time. It's has been open now for four days, and is beginning only now to let slip tiny shards of the beauty it will reveal as it matures. Compressed cedar and blackcurrant; wet coffee-rock and shiitake, whole fresh nutmegs and whatever else anybody has the time to watch for ... they must all come out of the hedge eventually, if begrudgingly. One almost has to go undercover. Mint and musk. The palate is similar in attitude: whilst holding all the ingredients for something wickedly sensual, it is neverthless so goddam cabernet in its composure that it has no humour. It is a beautiful, serene, unattainable sort who flicks something invisible from her shooting tweed and continues gazing out the window. It makes me feel like she'll soon hear me breathing in the cupboard. Marveer. Tobacco. Ooooh. Take your time, Ma'am ... 27 APR 09

Sevenhill Inigo Clare Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2006

$??; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 94+++ points

Now. Here’s a straight cabernet that exemplifies the east side of the dry old Clare hills, which (given humid Bordeaux, the home of cabernet), is the least likely place on Earth to be growing such a grape. But then, of course, there’s the little matter of Clare also growing stunning riesling, which comes from the freezing northern end of Germany. Very strange. Incredibly aromatic, floral, intense and confounding as much as inspiring, it almost irritates the nostrils with its audacity and promise. Above its deep carbon base tone, older than God, lie stratum after stratum of whole summery forests of eucalypt, blackberry, freshly-hewn blackwood, kalamata, aniseed, juniper berry, orris root and the slightly damp remnants of soot from somebody’s campfire. It’s loaded with the distinctive methoxypyrazine aromas which distinguish the cabernets, with all that edgy green tomato leaf, chicory and rhubarb stalk, but the incredible layers of much more sumptuous and seductive perfumes that ooze out after two days in the decanter sing pretty testament to the wonders this wine will unfold as it matures. Which will take a long, long time: maybe thirty years. Its palate is velvety, grainy, crunchy and simple still: like a great Medoc, it’s a rather insulting notion to trouble it in this, its raw infancy. It is indeed a mighty wine from a great vineyard, a great vintage, a formidable vignoble, and a canny, sensitive, understanding winesmith in Liz Heidenreich. Stunning, sobering, austere wine now; totally disarmingly gorgeous much, much later. Think Latour timeframes. If it was one degree lower in alcohol, it might be sitting at the top of my Aussie cabernet list. Check way down the bottom of the cabernet collection to see what I thought of it last October... JAN 09

d'Arenberg The Coppermine Road McLaren Vale Cabernet Sauvignon 2006
$65; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 94++ points
Since Chester Osborne walked away from the modern vineyard sophistry of constant cultivation and petrochemical spraying, and returned to his grandfather’s regime of honest simplicity, he says his best vineyards have taken a huge leap in quality and contentment. If this Coppermine’s any indicator, he’s understating it. This is bloody scrumptious, right royal wine from a truly great year. Perfect oak-derived spice, perfect depth of fruit, perfect varietal perfume (the lollyshop beside the fruiterer) and a divinely elegant, supple palate with a gradual rise of velvet tannin. It does the impossible: satisfies completely and deeply with every sip, and yet makes the drinking arm reach involuntarily for more. It’s so good, it’s almost boring. Seamless, polished, utterly slurpy sin in a simper – it does make me simper. Keep it for at least ten years, or surrender completely to that drinking arm, NOW. And simper. Simper all day long.

d’Arenberg Coppermine Road McLaren Vale Cabernet Sauvignon 2004

($65; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 94+ points)

The author of the microscopic crap on the back of this must be paid by the word, explaining the price of this expensive brute. Golds at Brussels and San Francisco may indicate they’re richer than us, can afford better spectacles, and eat with people so boring they’ve got time to read it all. But it IS magnificent cabernet, from a grand vintage and vineyard. Chicory, cassis, shiitake and cedary lignite deck its aromatic hall; leafy tannins dry off its tight yet opulent palate. Cellar! (6.1.7)

Casa Freschi Langhorne Creek Profondo 2005

$60; 14% alcohol; cork(!); 93+++ points

It’s profound indeed, this cabernet/shiraz/malbec from 600 kilograms of drought-ridden grapes per acre on the clay, sand and gravelly limestone of our troubled lakeside. It could come only from Australia. Its sharp, acrid edge of carbide and carbon leads to bright, vibrant fruit of great style and presence. Crème de cassis (blackcurrant liqueur) and soft marshmallow flesh simmer away til the droughty sand-and-velvet tannins of cabernet and malbec take over. It’s made without synthetic sprays. While it really needs five or six years of dungeon, it’s very impressive now, with juicy roast lamb, or roast quail with pine nuts and shiitake.

Cape Jaffa La Luna Mount Benson Cabernet Sauvignon 2006

$??; 13% alcohol; diam cork; 93+++ points

Cape, mount, moon – don’t let the geography confuse you. This is the top red from Derek and Anna Hooper’s biodynamic explosion on the Limestone Coast. Pity their neighbours in the poor old Coonawarra haven’t caught the same moonjuice mania: this wine’s thick with complexity and rare quality. Like the best bioluny adventures, it seems to have twice as many flavour cells per drip when compared to the everyday petrochem/industrial machineworld oozings from the vast monoculture of our south-east. It’s an essence: all the best cabernet bits without any water at all. Dolmades, cassis, dried fig, velvet... Cellar, or order saltbush mutton, now!

Greenock Creek Cabernet Sauvignon 2006

($38; 16.5% alcohol; cork; 93+++ points)

Aromas: pretty herbage – Corsican mint and catnip, musk, marshmallow sugar, blackcurrant, blueberry, dried fruits: apple, fig, date, wet schist. Flavours: Christmas pudding, dry blackcurrant, mint, anthracite, spinach reduction, plenty of lignin. Texture: sinuous, lean, athletic, firm, ungiving, stiff acidity, schist/flagstone tannins. Aftertaste: very dry, very long, savoury, dried fig.

Summary: Immediately after bottling, this wine was as wide open and dippy as a 2003 Bordeaux. That was when the great heatwave ripened everything and killed many French. A month later, it’s a tight, ungiving brute of a different order altogether. Sure, it has some pretty decorations in its bouquet, and there are some live fruits immediate, but the wine’s real power lies in the dried fruits that lie compressed and velvety below. These are flavours which will take many years to unfold. Another step down are the cellar essentials: firm acidity, and tannins of flagstone, reduced spinach and lignin. So while it’s your slightly awkward and tight youth so far, it will grow into something that might not actually kill Frenchmen, but it will certainly frighten many. Fifteen years should see it relax.

Jardim do Bomfim McLaren Vale Adelaide Hills Cabernet 2006

$30; 14% alcohol; screw cap; 93+++ points

It’s a relief to drink a straight cabernet that doesn’t taste simply of nettles and tomato leaves. This is a savoury, appetising claret style of red that has both of those typical cabernet characters, but it has a lot more going for it. It’s slender, elegant and supple, and finishes with the sort of long, palate-teasing taper that certifies a good long cellaring life (fifteen plus years) but serves right now to set the salivaries dribbling for juicy pink lamb, plenty of fresh mint sauce and properly caramelised tails on those roast parsnips. While it’s obviously been bottled very recently – it’s unfair and nearly impossible to properly appraise at this juvenile stage - it is nevertheless a wine of great balance, poise and promise. Already! So go for it now, but promise me you’ll put a case or two in the appropriate dungeon for that special dinner sometime after 2020, when this beauty will no longer appear nearly so anxious.

King River Estate King Valley Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2006

$45; 15% alcohol; Diam cork; 93+++ points

The confectioner has collided with the greengrocer. Mustard cabbage, turnip greens, beetroot leaves and chicory are squashed into the starched white coat of the lolly man, who is redolent with icing sugar, musk dust, crystallised violets and raspberry gels. The palate’s prettier than both men, and their wives: dancing that fenceline between the extremes, it will eventually break down the separating class formalities, put on a uniform and we’ll have an even more royal cabernet than this rather juvenile Prince Harry pretender. Give it at least five years, maybe ten. Or have it with really characterful saucy meats now, juice dribbling. Like Tony Bilson’s venison fillet in sauce of chocolate, blood, juniper and foie gras. Tally ho! 20 NOV 08.

Moss Wood Amy’s Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon Petit Verdot Malbec 2007

$??; 14% alcohol; screw cap; 93+++ points

Yellingup and Cowaramup are the sites; the varieties lie above. The wine smells of malbec. Malbec adds the smell of gunblue. It seems to make the already black smell bluer. It adds more essential swarf than either the cabernet or the petit verdot ever have to offer – both these varieties tend to the vegetal. Think deadly nightshade. Good malbec can also add blessed intensities that range from beetroot to the flavour of the rare black pineapple, which may exist solely in my dreams. But then, grown too greedily and ripely, malbec also smells a lot like water you just used to boil a red cabbage to bits. And none of these smell anything like any of the above, other than gunblue, which I find quite alluring when it’s mixed in such intense fruits as we have here: almost blackcurrant spirit it seems, so concentrated and all. Oh yes, and the scary black pineapple. And lightning on the blackberries. Ozone. Spanish leather. All a bit martial, really. “But Signor, sometimes ze bull wins!” Beautiful wine, and cursed with extreme longevity, due to the record cool of 2006 in Maggie R balanced by the critical 45 total hours above 32 degrees centigrade the coast got to take all the greens from the berries. Well, all the extraneous greens. This is a wine from the chrome rim of heaven. Stirred with the blood of the rare black pineapple. With a few very dark greens. Hemp. Dark green chillis with no heat. Just beautifully roast green chilli pepper. In a few years, jeez.... I have drunk this very bottle carefully over five days and it still holds fresh and alert. It’s another movie. Write your own. Buy some. DEC 08

Pichon Baron 2eme cru Pauillac Bordeaux Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot Cabernet Franc 2005

$268; 13.6% alcohol; 93+++ points

A glowering moody brute of a wine, this masterly blend has a pleasing acrid whiff which serendipitously reflects the calcareous stone lying below the much more recent alluvial gravels and sands of Pauillac. There’s a dusting of pretty meadow pollens, too. Descending into the bouquet, we get very ripe raspberry fruit – a little like great nebbiolo – and then that lovely toasted richness of slowly-roasted, peeled capsicum. The flavours are dry and streamlined and of a very high gastronomic complexity and harmony. Then comes a rise of lovely drawing tannins and an acid chassis that will ever so gradually elevate the wine into heavenly realms indeed. Fifteen years minimum. The winemakers voted this top of its bracket. Royalty. 23 OCT 08

Taltarni Pyrenees Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

$31; 14% alcohol; cork(!); 93+++ points

Founded by Dominique Portet in 1969, Taltarni’s in the scrub north east of Ararat. Having grown up at Lafite, Portet’s Oz adventure was all about cabernet. Since Leigh Clarnette and his team took over, Taltarni’s dangerously resurgent. Coffee, mocha, chicory, crême de cassis, shiitake, all the opulent sophistries a great cellar can afford to spill over a great vineyard abound in this velvety, magnificent vintage. While it tends to severe, humourless austerity in this its infancy, the wine should profoundly reward most of those willing to risk that cork for about fifteen years.

Giant Steps Yarra Valley Harry’s Monster 2005

$45; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 93++ points

Phil Sexton grew it; Steve Flamsteed made it; young Harry Sexton drew the monster. Grown carefully in the right cool, and judiciously blended, cabernet, merlot, petit verdot and cabernet franc should play a merry symphony indeed. And so they do. All manner of healthy red berries and fruits swim about this glass; classic oaking and proper bottle maturation see the wine almost ready to drink, although five to ten more years will ensure its fine dry tannins assimilate and soften – the macho monster will mature into a voluptuous, sensual Brunnhilde.


Old Mill Estate Langhorne Creek Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

$??; 15% alcohol; screw cap; 93++ points

Not complex, but precisely the sort of sweet, sensual, dense slipperiness that makes the occasional Larncrk cabernet get right up and win the Jimmy Watson Trophy as a one year old - which one winemaker, John Glaetzer, did four times for Wolf Blass - this is really lovely honest wine, the blackberry entwined with the briar; straggles of deadly nightshade along the wee roadside, over the hedge for a pretty spot a hurdies fyke in the bonnie sward ... it's honest, and lovely. Because Old Mill Estate is further from the heart of the ancient Larncrk redgums, and is in fact as close to the troubled drying Lake Alexandrina as any vineyard, it lacks the minty eucalyptols that most of the district's best wines display. But you know something? Without that very Australian intrusion, the fruit is more openly expressed, and seems more Bordelaise; more like something from Pauillac, on the flat side of the river, in all those round river stones and alluviums. So you wait til you see the wines from 06 on, which were made by John Glaetzer...

d'Arenberg Coppermine Road McLaren Vale Cabernet Sauvignon 2002

($65; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 93+ points)

This rich, maturing wine, while still a tad raw, reminded me, in a big blind tasting, of cabernet from the St Julien sub-region of Bordeaux. It seemed as elegant and saucy as those quite distinctive wines can be, with the same shot of leafy tannins that make them more audacious when young, but much more satisfying at maturity. The La Grange 1961 comes to mind. It's cleansing, beautifully balanced drinking for pink lamb rack.

Grosset Clare Valley Gaia 2004

$53; 13.5% alcohol; screw cap; 93+ points

Many Bordeaux reds smell of healthy damp earth with fungi tendrils through it. It can be mistaken for sodden cork. Bordeaux’s high humidity triggers vineyard moulds which may explain this. But you wouldn’t expect it in the parched Gaia vineyard, high up Mount Horrocks, nor in the brand which was the first premium Aussie red under screwcap. Amongst the supremely elegant berries in this cab/franc/merlot blend you’ll find that earthy, fungus-like whiff, adding to its allure. It’d be exquisite with veal in a sauce of white wine, lemon, capers and sage. It’ll cellar, too.

Langmeil Jackaman’s Barossa Valley Cabernet 2005

$50; 14% alcohol; screw cap; 93+ points

Barossa cabernet sauvignon is often similar to the McLaren Vale sort: softer and less leafy than stuff from more austere, cooler areas. The Barossa offering is most easily recognised blind because of its consistent whoof of the best dark cooking chocolate. This has some distinctive leaf, sure, but it’s more like black tea mixed with that chocolate, and syrupy, mulberry and blackberry liqueur. A wisp of sooty oak adds extra edge. The palate is slender but still syrupy, with tannins that simply counterbalance all that juicy black loveliness. Perfect with crackling pork, parsnip.

Olssen Six Clare Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere 2004

$??; 15% alcohol; 93+ points

In spite of showing just one splinter of excess oak, this wine’s a beauty. It’s a streamlined, seamless, pacifying drink reflecting rare winemaking intelligence and delicate gastronomic sensitivity. It’s elegant, clean, perfectly poised, and cute. The palate’s seamlessly integrated, intense, silky and juicy, and gradually, sensuously builds to a long finish of velvet tannin. This is not blending for blending’s sake: it’s brilliant, inspired architecture to tantalise and satisfy the tongue. Send in the pink lamb and the mint sauce. 21 OCT 08

Paulett Wines Clare Cabernet Merlot 2006

$??; ??% alcohol; screw cap; 93+ points

One of the only wines in this tasting that approached felicity, this juicy, sweet, elegant beauty has a really lovely scent, with fresh wet mint, tea tin, musk, lavendar and violet decked all over its fleshy marshmallow middle. It’s full, balanced, graceful and elegant, with just the right amount of squish, and some very clever sophistry in the carpentry department. Nice go, Darky! 21 OCT 08

Lenton Brae Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon 2003

($40; 14% alcohol; screw cap; 93 points)

2003 was not ideal weatherwise, but that serious young insect, Edward Tomlinson, made a dead serious cabernet, devoid of humour, enhanced by additions of merlot, petit verdot, and, cab franc, the latter being my Mary Magdalene. (If only she knew what a fisherman I am!) Tight, aromatic, dry, velvety, elegant, aniseed balls, violets, lavender - all the buzzwords apply, especially to those who let the wine awake over a decade in their dungeons. Pink rack of lamb. (16.12.6)

Mt. Bera 4.19 Adelaide Hills Cabernet Sauvignon 2004

($20.50; 14% alcohol; screw cap; 93 points)

Cabernet’s really easy to prune and cheap to grow, the main reasons for us drinking it neat. Ask Coonawarra. But it is possible that a canny winesmith with a freaky patch of dirt will conjure a rarity that rings the sensory gongs so sweetly that you don’t crave merlot, malbec, petit verdot and the heavenly franc in there to dilute the cursed stuff. Like this hyper-neat starlet: aromatic, fit and svelte, with the muscles of a pole-vaulter. Pink rack of lamb with rosemary.


Constellation Gladstone Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon 2004

$72; 15% alcohol; 92+++ points

While this was an unlabelled sample, we agreed that it was most likely to be released under the Houghton brand. The winemakers voted this the top wine of its bracket. It’s an accomplished, rich, fleshy, creamy drink, easily identified as Margaret River – I thought it may have been Moss Wood. Perfectly balanced, harmonious and smooth, it’s packed with Ribena, cassis, roast capsicum, blueberry yoghurt, and violets. It shows beautiful malo and lees depth, and finishes long and polished, with extremely fine sweet tannins. It’s very fine drinking now, but will be more pleasing in six or seven years, perhaps a lot longer. 23 OCT 08


Hollick Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2005

$24; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 92+++ points.

Merlot has given this blend its rich lignin and bitumen complexity, adding to the tomato leaf methoxypyrazine of the fine Coonawarra cab, of which the Hollick family is a prime producer, as they should be. I suspect this wine will perform much better than its current state indicates: the screw cap is keeping it remarkably fresh and tight. The wine is not terribly complex, as Coonawarra rarely is, but it's lean and intense and very tightly packed for a long future in the cellar. It's more phenolics and lignins than outright fruits at this stage, which is not to say there aren't black cherries and blackcurrants stewing away there beneath the chalky tannins, which are also in sufficient abundance to promise at least ten years' rewarding dungeon. It must be annoying to the Hollicks that they know this will last beautifully, but few people seem to regard a wine so inexpensive as this to be a great cellaring prospect. It reminds me of some of the very early Wynns' cabernets. I wonder what it would be like if they'd let a little more oxygen in before bottling ... I reckon it'd be much more easily explained and recommended by this early stage of its life. But I'm not complaining about great fruit so prefectly preserved. You'll simply have to wait longer. FEB 09

Mt Bera 4.19 Adelaide Hills Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

$??; 15.5% alcohol; screw cap; 92+++ points

Bitumen and aniseed balls beat the blackberry bushes up these ancient mudshale slopes above Cudlee Creek. But keep your hooter in the chute, and you’ll begin to see the tight hills fruits unwind through the sooty woods: deadly nightshade; blackcurrant; black fig; morel; juniper; black cherry; kalamata. It’s humourless now, but it’ll brood away in the cellar for a decade or so, gradually letting those dangerous sensualities sneak through the tannins and acids that will preserve them ’til they’re ready. If you open it now, give it three hours in a flat-bottomed ship’s decanter. Then sacrifice a lamb.

Protero Gumeracha Cabernet Sauvignon 2006

$???; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 92+++ points

Vinified by Paracombe’s masterly Paul Drogemuller, for Frank and Rosemary Baldasso, whose high, stony vineyard is earning a formidable reputation, this is one of the cheekiest, brightest young cabernets around. It’s full of vibrant cabernet stuff, jumping black and blueberry, tea tin, cedar, lavendar: pretty much like an enthusiastic infant Bordeaux before blending. All the tannins and acids required for a long (10-15 years) stretch of cellaring are here. Try to give it time. Meantime, juicy lamb rack with mash and parsnip will zing. (2.2.8)

The Willows Vineyard Barossa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2004

$26; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 92+++ points

The Scholz’s have grown cabernet along the red-gummed banks of the North Para at Light’s Pass for yonks – their ancestor, Johann Gottfried Scholz, built a hospital there in 1845. The gums and the fast-draining red alluvium give the reds a unique eucalypt and mint twang that neatly offsets the regular dark chocolate of the Barossa. It takes well to a dash of American oak, too, giving wine that’s angular in its youth but sumptuous and succulent when it’s properly aged, which may take ages. This one’s cool and crunchy now, but will really bloom in a decade.

Wendouree Clare Cabernet Malbec 2005

$??; 13.3% alcohol; cork; 92+++ points

Almost impenetrable, and determinedly, confoundingly intense, this glowering brute had only just begun to show some of its authority when the tasting was over. It opened with the typical malbec aroma of red cabbage in the wok, even a strange Islay malt whisky peat lug reek. Gradually, ever so, tiny insinuations of red soil, blueberries and intense mulberry conserve began to grow, with some very pleasant kalamata darkness. It needs twenty-plus years in the cellar, or at least a day’s air in the decanter. Wait for it. Majestic. 21 OCT 08

Florance Kangaroo Island Cabernet Merlot 2005

$14.50; 13% alcohol; screw cap; 92++ points

The inclusion of merlot makes this wine much more of an early-drinking proposition than the austere straight cabernets. It smells like a modest Bordeaux appellation, along the lines of the bright young things Michel Dietrich makes at Haut-Rian in the Premiers Cotes. It has beautiful perfume and flesh, from the first sniff on. Mulberry, blackcurrant, musk sticks, meadow florals ... the palate follows neatly and seamlessly, with smooth, fresh berry flesh, then enough firm acidity and astringent tannins to ensure that a good decade more dungeon wouldn’t hurt at all. It’s very much in the style of the previous Florance wines, which appeared under the Kangaroo Island Trading Company brand, and always made it into my annual Top 100, out of many hundreds of Australian cabernet and cabernet-based blends. Accomplished; elegant; highly promising wine. 10 OCT 98

Knappstein Enterprise Clare Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

$??; ??% alcohol; screw cap; 92++ points

Meadow florals, like lavendar and violets and everlasting flowers, add ravishing allure to this musky perfume. And then there’s the tomato leaf methoxypyrazine, balancing, not dominating. Flesh grows in the glass as it airs. It’s a beautifully stylised wine at once clean and delicate, yet almost crunchy, with that lovely balancing green hint reappearing in the finish, like bay leaf. Stephen Hickinbotham could have made this wine at Anakie.

Lake Breeze Arthur’s Reserve Langhorne Creek Cabernet Sauvignon Petit Verdot 2003

$32; 14% alcohol; cork (!); 92++ points

Given the correct attention to detail in the vineyard, and not too much water, the old mudflats of Langhorne Creek can produce the most ravishingly aromatic cabernets. Like this. While its oak’s a little sooty, the fruit’s intense and tight, and ready to bloom in the cellar. Mulberry, blackcurrant, prune, and dried fig fruits simmer away below the classic Larncrk eucalypt/mint/floral edge. The flavours are firm and racy, as you’d expect of this blend – verdot is very late to ripen, and gives enormous natural acidity. Stunning in five years, cork willing. Or now with saltbush lamb and pink peppercorns.

Mondavi Reserve Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Cabernet Franc Petit Verdot 2004

$120; ??% alcohol; 92++ points

Here’s a big’un: all dark Iberian ham and charcuterie meats hang about its slightly sooty oak and dried fig fruit. There’s a pleasant ooze of chocolate cream, too. Considering those apparently extreme references, it’s nevertheless a smoothly assimilated and homogenised wine, and one which will be utterly sinful in about five years. 23 OCT 0*


The Willows Barossa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

$26; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 92++ points

Wafts of eucalypt regularly betray the presence of Willow cabernets: this one sent a swish of it right across the front of my computer as I sat down to address this glass. It's a refreshing, very very Australian aroma. The North Para runs through the massive redgums of the Willows vineyard: an occasional river that even less occasionally floods the whole joint with volatile eucalyptis leaves and suddenly the wines smell like they came from Avoca. But there are other good stuffs in this: muchos blackberry sugar gels and licorice, and a good wallop of blackcurrant cordial: not quite the edgy, spiritous cassis aroma, but the more natural and freely expressed Ribena. Other than that, it smells like wine. Like cabernet from the Barossa: chocolate, often as much from A. P. John oak as from the dirt and rock. Not much rock at the Willows, other than what's been used to build the old Scholz family hospital, which Johann Gottfried Scholz, the Bonesetter, did after he arrived in 1845. This one's got a bit more of a gape between its cheeky aromatic opening and the dry, dry, terra rossa tannins of its finish, but I reckon that'll all fill up and smooth out with about eight years in the hospital. FEB 09

Wirra Wirra The Angelus McLaren Vale Cabernet Sauvignon 2006

$60; 14.5% alcohol; 92++ points

Another smooth Aussie sophisticate in the truest sense of the word, this glorious composition of Sam Connew’s has dry insinuations of dusty oak, tarragon and bay leaf sprinkled upon its deep well of blackcurrant liqueur. These components are pretty well assimilated, however, and the wine leaves the lucky bibulant feeling well addressed and all the merrier for its beautiful juicy palate, balance and intensity. Give it six or seven years. 23 OCT 08

Battle of Bosworth Organic McLaren Vale Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

($24; 14.5% alcohol; cork(!); 92+ points)

Joch Bosworth, Louise Hemsley-Smith and their two baby daughters grow this without poisonous sprays in the soursobs on the scarp north of Willunga. It's highly distinctive, vibrant wine, jumping with as much health and vigour as baby Margaret Rose, whose Mum was up filling export orders seven hours after the birth last week. All juicy, fresh lollypops and spice, it's lovely with your Sunday roast, parsnips obligatory.

Neagle’s Rock Clare Cabernet Sauvignon 2006

$??; 15% alcohol; screw cap; 92+ points

This was the biggest, most assertive old Penfold’s style red in its bracket. Its scent is opulent, rich, alcoholic and heavy in a dolorous sort of way, but eventually some more chirpy marshmallow topnotes break through the 40% of the oak which is of the American Quercus alba type. Once you accept the alcohol, it’s a wine of lovely size and weight, crying out for a steak with mushroom and blackpepper cream. 21 OCT 08

Tidswell Wines Heathfield Ridge Limestone Coast Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

$22.50; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 92+ points

“The heathen live on the heath” was a mantra I learned in 1957. Nothing heathen about this bright young thing, other than the fact that the blazer boys of Coonawarra refused to have their boundary extend sufficiently to include Tidswells, who are on better red dirt over limestone than half of Coonawarra, and further from your actual Limestone Coast than Coonawarra. Boys spray on corner posts. Vibrant musk, marshmallow sugar and blackcurrant fruit gels fill the aroma; the flavours are more grown-up: dense and succulent, and precisely tannic. It’s delicious. Pink leg of lamb; rosemary; peeled spud wedges; spinach.

Zema Estate Family Selection Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2004

$45; 14.5% alcohol; cork(!); 92+ points

If any Coonawarra vigneron has stayed cool, sticking to the good old way through wave after wave of rival industrial grape doctors who’ve pursued nothing but tonnes and money, it’d be Black Duck Zema and his family, tough Italian gourmands who shocked their blue-eyed’n’blazered neighbours by daring to buy vineyards in the heart of Coonawarra’s terra rosa some 25 years back. Quite justly, Zema soon won outatown reverence for hearty “family wine” like this soulful, mellow red. It’s the sort of homely cabernet Rockford always wanted to make, and no corporate Coonawarran has matched. Duck.

Jennifer Cabernet Sauvignon 2004

$29.50; 14.5% alcohol; cork(!); 92 points

The fine print reveals that this cabernet, whose bottle is prominently devoid of appellation, comes from Bool Lagoon. It's lovely wine, being not too leafy, like many high-yielding cabernets, and not too oily like cassis, which happens when they get too ripe. It's tannin is very fine and savoury; its oak supportive rather than defining; and it's not too salty, which is common now for many south-east vineyards. Good with a pork stock soup with beans and cacciatora.

Annie’s Lane Copper Trail Clare Cabernet Sauvignon 2004

$??; ??% alcohol; screw cap; 91+++ points

Leathery, like brown boot polish, but shy, simple and withdrawing, little Annie gradually releases some of her finely fleshed fruits to fill the gaps in all those cabernet greens. It’s elegant wine, intelligently constructed, and ready for a decade of cool cellar. The only problem is there’s too much cabernet in it. Hmm. 21 OCT 08

False Cape Unknown Sailor Kangaroo Island Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2005

$18; 14% alcohol; screw cap; 91+++ points

Another vibrant blend along the lines of Bordeaux’s Premiers Cotes, this polished, elegant beauty is clean and cool. It smells like a low-alcohol Kahlua, with sliced blackcurrants, blueberries and prunes bobbing about in it, and it has a neat acrid edge of gunpowder and chalk. The tannins are along the methoxypyrazine lines of bay leaf and tomato leaf, adding a very tidy finish to a wine of considerable promise. Five to eight more years, please. 10 OCT 98

Taylor’s Clare Cabernet Sauvignon 2007

$??; 14.4% alcohol; screw cap; 91+++ points

Puppyfat. Raw pork. Blackpowder. Infant tannins overwhelming the fruit of what the maker called “a hauntingly difficult drought vintage”. Very fine tannins, but raw and leafy. And yet this is probably one of the best balanced wines in the line! It’s highly promising light to medium weight wine that’s simply too young to be on the market. It’ll be a real humdinger in a decade. 21 OCT 08

O’Leary Walker Clare Cabernet Sauvignon 2006

$??; 14.4% alcohol; screw cap; 91++ points

At first sweet and cheeky to sniff, with a pretty lollyshop bouquet of mint leaf gels, musk sticks and marshmallow sugar, this soon began to exude that slate quarry after a blast country acridity, and then the methoxypyrazine tomato leaf and deadly nightshade added their typically cabernet complexity. The aroma of the exhalation after swallowing this wine was particularly satisfying and exciting, with all those lollies and leaves. It’s very cute, clean, modern wine that will settle beautifully with five or six years cellar. 21 OCT 08

Penley Estate Phoeniz Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2006

$19; 15% alcohol; 91++ points

This was the first truly masterly cabernet in this tasting, showing more neat, lithe, cool climate character than that rather large alcohol number would insinuate. It’s elegant, yet it seems to glower intensely, with a pretty musky topnote balancing that black tea tin basement, blueberry and roast capsicum filling the middle. It has very fine balance and form, and needs about fifteen years to put some true accessibility into its thoroughbred form. Very impressive for a black dirt Coonawarra. 23 OCT 08

Chalk Hill McLaren Vale Cabernet Sauvignon 2003

($25; 14.5% alcohol; cork(!); 91+ points)

This classic example of the new generation Chalk Hill wines reflects the reasons for its maker, Jock Harvey, being elected to become the new spokesman for the whole McLaren Vale district. At once intense, yet clean, fresh and vibrant, it's a juicy fruitgum sort of drink that's actually a lot more complex and promising as a cellar prospect than you'd think at first slurp. You'll know when your slurps turn to gurgles, however. Rostbif.

Dominique Portet Heathcote Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

$??; 15% alcohol; cork(!); 91+ points

Since leaving Taltarni a decade back, Dominique Portet has built acute wines in the Bordeaux shape from the Yarra Valley and Heathcote, in the uplands north of Melbourne. Given the ideally cool, gentle weather of 2005, it’s surprising that he let this cabernet slime its way up to a Parkeresque 15%, but it’s still a lovely bloody wine, with that impossible-to-describe combo of leaf and lush – it could almost be Greenock Creek. The tannins are suitably velvety after all that gooey fruit, leaving a fig/date/fruitmince/suet/xmess pud impression. Osso bucco, acid sauce.

Rusticana Langhorne Creek Cabernet Sauvignon 2003

$20; 14.9% alcohol; screw cap; 91 points

After decades producing Newman’s estimable Horseradish from Raphanus rusticanus, Brian and Anne Meakins felt some vines coming on. So you can get top horseradish and juicy glories like this at their new treetop-level tasting room at Larngrik. Intense, inky, powerful and silky, with piquant aniseed, fennel, and the eucalypt mint typical of the Creek, this is big serious cabernet for venison roast with juniper, spuds, beets and horseradish.

Yalumba FDR 1A Eden Valley Cabernet Shiraz 2000

$34; 13.5% alcohol; cork; 91 points

While the marketing tuggers went nuts with the packaging and mumbo jumbo naming of this Eden Valley cabernet shiraz - it’s even got an aluminium medal attached - some dill then went and banged a cork in it. Said bark plug fell to bits in the neck, and took ten minutes to extract. Nice wine, though: smoky, moody and meaty, with the sort of alcohol that I love most: modest. It’s a nicely balanced, velvety drink to have with roast beef.


Ridge Santa Cruz Mountains Estate California Cabernet Merlot 2005

$70; 13.7% alcohol; cork; 90+++ points

John Cale, my Elvis, recorded a beautiful song called Mr. Wilson on Island Records, within a few years of leaving the Velvet Underground, which was a shit band without him. It was Cale's paean to Brian Wilson, of the Beach Boys. While the Beach Boys - Deni aside - were syrupy singers, all wild honey and seamless, Johnny C always had more of a grainy cinematic delivery, like a Bunuel movie. In Mr. Wilson, the refrain says "California wine tastes fine", which was the first advertisement I ever heard for such a tincture, although I suppose I'd always nursed the possibility of the vintage wine from the year 62 that lovely Lowell George sang of in Allen Toussaint's On Your Way Down on Dixie Chicken may possibly have been Californian, and that was a grainy song, too. I was into strong acid, hallucinogenic mushrooms, hash and Campari in those days, and didn't quite see myself spending the balanced of this unbalanced life soused in wine from anywhere. Which leads me to the fact that this California wine is as grainy as the sound and images of Cale's early work, like the inimitable benchmark Paris 1919, with Lowell's socket wrench Strat slide adding some theatre. ("Doers, not thinkers" Cale told me of Little Feat's contributions to those sessions, but he's friggin' Welsh.) What I mean is the fruit here is macho cabernet, a little like the heavily Amoaked Bin 707's of Penfolds about twenty years back. In case you haven't twigged, I cannot tolerate Quercus alba, the American oak which grows so quick it feels like balsa wood in your mouth and makes bourbon taste of coconut. But if you feel like John Spalvins or Hugh Morgan at any point, you should drink one of these with glee, because you'll be getting one of those old right-wing cabs that those old blokes used to relish in their old wood-panelled clubrooms, and slice $100 from the 707 price. So. Do you understand? Exclusive to Vintage Cellars and 1st Choice. 06 MAR 09

Rookery Peak Kangaroo Island Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz 2004

$50; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 90+++ points

Dense and polished, and a little towards the kalamata olive nature of Clare Valley cabernets, this staunch cutie reeks also of blueberries and baby beetroot, with glowering carbon and swarf welling menacingly below. It’s clean, elegant, svelte, stylish wine with strapping tannins that give the gums a good pucker now, but will guarantee a healthy future. Five more years, easily. It’s very fine, promising wine which benefits greatly from the shiraz inclusion. 10 OCT 98

False Cape The Captain Kangaroo Island Cabernet Sauvignon 2004

$28; 14,5% alcohol; screw cap; 90++ points

This is a good example of what we used to called claret. It’s austere, dry wine, with aromas of wet chalk and calcerious stuff, spicy toasted oak and tea tin tannin, but there’s enough fruit – dried fig; dates; dried prune – to round all that out and ensure a more comfy mouthfeel, but I wonder how long that will take? We’re thinking Bordeaux-like timeframes here. It’s a finely-structured, elegant wine made with a great deal of thought and sensitivity, but it would be nice with a little addition of a softer variety, like merlot or shiraz. 10 OCT 98

Kilikanoon Blocks Road Clare Cabernet Sauvignon 2006

$??; 14.4% alcohol; screw cap; 90++ points

A narrow and tight infant, this wine seemed to grow greener, meaner and tighter with air. It had pretty confectionery topnotes of musk and marshmallow over a simmering compote of red fruits, and it’s a as clean as a whistle, but its tannins are nowhere near married to the rest of it, and while it’s long and lingers, it simply needs at least a decade of dungeon. 21 OCT 08

Rookery Halls Road Kangaroo Island Cabernet Sauvignon 2004

$19.50; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 90++ points

This wine shows that even when quite ripe, the Island cabernet tends to severe austerity. It has pleasing blackcurrant and prune fruit gel flavours, a hint of beetroot, and some pleasant dried apple pithiness, it’s but amongst a wall of really forceful stewing greens: spinach, coffee and tea tin. It needs six to eight more years. 10 OCT 98

Johnston Oakbank Adelaide Hills Cabernet Sauvignon 2004

$20; 14% alcohol; screw cap; 90+ points

As its vineyards age, Oakbank’s becoming a more prominent sub-region of the Hills hotch-potch. This baby’s cheeky with blackberry, briar and fennel hints, and stacks of spicy dry sawn oak. This adds to its bone dry finish, where pronounced tannins counterbalance the little shot of bitter cherry left like a lozenge on the tongue. It’s not a great monument to cabernet, but a lean, lite, racy little red which will be nicer in a decade, but goes well now with juicy lamb cutlets, plenty of rosemary and pink peppercorns.

Kilikanoon Blocks Road Clare Cabernet Sauvignon 2002

$??; ??% alcohol; 90+ points

Old horse collars with the straw extruding, saddle soap, Brasso, get my drift. This wine’s starting to show old more than age. But it’s hearty and sweet, in a warm, old-fashioned way. Mellow caramel and fudge flavours dribble rudely over its burnished fruit; the finish is long and dry and lit somehow by that golden sideways afternoon light, poking long dusty needles through the holes in the tin stable walls. 21 OCT 08

Sevenhill St Ignatius Clare Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc 1998

$??; ??% alcohol; cork; 90 points

Here’s a proper oldy, blessed with a freakishly good cork. It’s probably right at its peak, and when you consider it was carefully blended to become something, one can only wonder how many of the straight cabs will get off the rank in their first decade. Bigger, richer, riper and ruder than any of the other oldies in this line-up, it still manages to show its methoxypyrazine turnip green edge to great crisp advantage. Not too bad at all. 21 OCT 08

Kirrihill Companions Clare Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2006

$??; ??% alcohol; screw cap; 89+++ points

Full, mellow and whole, this comfy comfy blend is wholesome and well-rounded, not great, but confident. Black tea, tomato leaf, fresh crushed mint, and anise – maybe fennel – add cabby edge to the cassis and milk chocolate middle. It’s wholesome, juicy, nicely-balanced wine. 21 OCT 08

Dudley Shearing Shed Red 2005

$16; 14% alcohol; screw cap; 89++ points

From the vineyards of Hog Bay and Porky Flat, named after the local wild pigs that sealers and whalers and the cowboys of the sea left behind in the days of the Island’s earliest white settlement, here’s a cheeky, juicy, impertinent rascal of a drink named after the Dudley partners old shearing shed, where they made their first wines. It’s a blend of cabernet, shiraz and merlot, which give it a perfume of mulberry, blackberry, and prune, and it’s sufficiently creamy to have a hint of borscht or Paris Creek blueberry yoghurt about it. The juicy midpalate soon surrenders to a rise of dry, astringent tannins which will carry it nicely for another three or four years. 10 OCT 98

Tim Adams Clare Cabernet Sauvignon 2004

$??; ?? alcohol; screw cap; 89++ points

Like most of these, I reckon this wine would be much better off with some warmer, richer varieties in it, Bordeaux-style. It smells like raw pork and fairy floss. It’s clean, elegant, tight and pretty. It’s pert. It’s cabernet. 21 OCT 08

Tatachilla McLaren Vale Cabernet Sauvignon 2004

($23; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 89+ points)

While such accoutrements cannot be eaten, garnishes, like blackberry leaves in the cream atop a fresh blackberry tart, can certainly enhance its aromatic allure. You don't have to eat them in this glass, which smells precisely like that, 'cause you drink it. It has a touch of Irish Moss, too, which makes me think of the Blewett Springs sands. Cellar, or steak and mushroom pie, please. (That's one bottle in the pie, another in the diner.)

Rookery Kangaroo Island Cabernet Sauvignon 200?

$19.50; 14% alcohol; screw cap; 88+++ points

Polished and beautifully perfumed, this is probably one of the best straight cabernet bouquets on the Island. Pretty topnotes of cosmetics and lipstick lead to a sensual compote of berries: blue, black and mul. Then there’s the almost sinister base tones of black tea and carbon. The palate’s buttery and creamy, elegant and fresh, but soon surrenders to a tannic finish that’s quite vegetal: spinach, rocket, peppery watercress and chicory. These will carry it for a fruitful spell in the dungeon. I’d love to see it in 2020. 10 OCT 98

Sevenhill Cellars Inigo Clare Cabernet Sauvignon 2006

$??; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 88+++ points

This wine is simply too young. It’s intense, taut and nervy. It needs at least a decade to sing in harmony; another one to achieve unison. The bouquet is brilliant youthful cabernet, with all the essentials, although the fruit is still quite shy. There are perky edgy aromas of white pepper and dried ginger, and a slender, hyper-elegant palate which reminded me of the very best of the Kangaroo Island reds which I tasted the week before. The tannins are clean, focused and austere. One for the dungeon. Patience will pay huge dividends here. 21 OCT 08

Jacob’s Creek Reserve Coonawarra McLaren Vale Padthaway Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

$14; 14.3% alcohol; 88++ points

Sophisticated spicy oak ties up this smooth, creamy stew of fig, prune, blackcurrant, blackberry and mulberry. There’s a pretty musk topnote, and dark carbon sings the bass. It’s a fairly harmonious, tight, pleasant and supple wine, with long deep green tannins that set the salivaries juicing for food. Truly amazing for a 100,000 case product. 23 OCT 08

Balnaves The Tally Coonawarra Cabernent Sauvignon 2006

$95; 15% alcohol; 88+ points

While this wine seemed a little worked and extracted, its extremely tight frame nevertheless exuded some hopes of flesh in a chocolate crême caramel way. Its oak is very pleasingly spicy, and it approaches harmony, but still displays bright green capsicum and tomato leaf, then finishes with quite angular tannins. It will take many years for all these bits to sing in harmony, let alone unison. 23 OCT 08

Scarpantoni Brothers’ Block McLaren Vale Cabernet Sauvignon 2006

$30; 15.5% alcohol; 88+ points

Winner of the 2007 Jimmy Watson Trophy, which goes to the best one year old red in the Royal Melbourne Wine Show, this famous Vales slurp is rich, juicy and fruitsweet, a little like an average-to-better 2003 Bordeaux. It’s fleshy and supple to begin, with the flavours and texture of a chocolate crême caramel, but soon those British Racing Green tannins tighten their grip and the finish is quite severe and austere, guaranteeing a long cellar life. The afterbreath is hot and alcoholic. 23 OCT 08

St Hallett Barossa Cabernet Sauvignon 2006

$23; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 88+ points

“As grape growers and wine makers in the Barossa for over 50 years...” boasts St Hallett on the back label. But Robert O’Callaghan claims to have named St Hallett for its owner Karl Lindner just before Rocky begged Doug Collett’s help for finance in the early ’eighties, left Karl, and went up Krondorf Road to open Rockford and ask Greenock Creek’s Michael Waugh, a master stonemason, to build it for him and help supply his fruit. “It’s not for sale”, the late Doug’s son, Scott Collett (Woodstock), barked when I asked him recently about prolific wine industry rumours that Rockford was on the block. But we’re talking St Hallett now: a saint that never existed. Fashionably bretty, as if it were made for the Poms, this has enough sweet fresh fruit to balance that layer of stifling coaldust, and it has enough of that acrid deadly nightshade/tomato leaf methozypyrazine edge and sweet fresh berries to lift it from the iron, smoke and shellack of the steamtrain station to the fruiterers. Intense, pruney, blackberry and acid stuff, with enough flesh to suggest it’s got a whop of shiraz in it. Not too bad. Unique to Vintage Cellars and 1st Choice.

Cape Jaffa Mount Benson Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

$23; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 87++ points

2005 was much warmer than usual along the Limestone Coast, and this wine shows that heat in its full, tough structure. Tarry cedar, coach leather, clean workhorse harness, and dried fig; maybe a hint of oloroso, give it most of its attitude. It’s clean and furry with drying tannin, but all that structure won’t get you everywhere: what the wine needs is fresh vibrant fruit, especially considering the intense efforts that have gone into growing the wine biodynamically. If it’s this constrained at three years of age, I reckon it won’t be softening for another three. Then game.

Sevenhill Cellars Clare Cabernet Sauvignon 1998

$??; ??% alcohol; cork; 87+ points

The cork had done this wine no favours. It wasn’t overt TCA, just that slightly mushroomy/wood fungus wetness that knocks the mellowing tops off old wines. It still showed a tiny hint of tomato leaf methoxypyrazine, though, amongst all that caramel fudge and squashed old mulberry. 21 OCT 08

Chapel Hill McLaren Vale Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

$30; 14.5% alcohol; 86++ points

Ripe, complex and deep, this svelte cellarer has a shot of blackpowder amongst its blackberry and moody deep greens. Its oak and tannins are a touch on the brash and overt side – it really needs a dozen years of dungeon. It’s tighter and more athletic than most McLaren Vale cabernets, which tend to be less complex and more chubby and syrupy. This wine easily won the winemakers’ vote in its bracket. 23 OCT 08

Geoff Merrill McLaren Vale Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2002

$32; 13.8% alcohol; 86 points

These vines grow in a small vineyard around Jebbry’s Mt. Hurtle winery, and are picked at the same time and co-fermented. It’s a simple wine, verdant with tomato leaf methoxypyrazine, but creamed up by that juicy merlot. It’s clean and honest, sweetish and slender, and reminds me of the low alcohol cabernet family blends Jebbry used to make for Chateau Reynella at Coonawarra in the late ’seventies. Those wines aged remarkably well – some at sub 10% alcohol – so this might do the same. It’s not cheap. 23 OCT 08

Pike’s Hill Block Clare Cabernet Sauvignon 2006

$??; 13% alcohol; 84++ points

I reckon my glass had a cardboard reek, and being too polite to interrupt a tutored tasting which the Chairman of the Clare Valley Winemakers Association had decided would be out of bounds to me, being a journalist and everything, and then me actually being there and all, I sat through it quietly like a very good boy at this wine’s expense. I couldn’t work out whether it was dusty oak or dusty cardboard from the box, and the wine looked like a leathery old coalgas sort of thing, thinning, perhaps from a little brettanomycaes. Forty minutes after pouring, however, the wine seemed prettier and fresher, and my score went from 78 to 84++. 21 OCT 08

Woolybud Kangaroo Island Cabernet Sauvignon 2006

$20; 13.5% alcohol; screw cap; 84++ points

This austere little blighter needs a good long spell in the dungeon, too. It’s an intense essence of coffee, chicory, bitter chocolate and Dutch licorice, with tannins and finishing acids that bring thoughts of turnip greens, rhubarb, and spinach to mind. Like many of the Islanders, it’s, well, put it like this: In Champagne, the pinot is lean and acidic, and makes beautiful Champagne. Go south, to warmer Burgundy, and the pinot is fuller, rounder and more fleshily fruity, so it makes beautiful red wine. While they’re very definitely red, the Island cabernets tend to be more like the Champagne fruit than the Burgundian. 10 OCT 98

Fox Gordon By George Barossa Valley Adelaide Hills Cabernet Tempranillo 2005

$23; 14% alcohol; screw cap; 84+ points

Rude boot polish, Marveer, peppery water cress and chicory make this smell a little like the old officers’ mess back in the ration days when coffee was made from chicory, and water cress from any local brook was about the only greens the poor lads could secure. There’s also the much more practical aroma of hot aviation oil, as if a mech, wiping his hands on a rag, just walked in to report to his boss. But this is a drink, so forget all that twilight martial reverie. “Easier said than done, Sir. It does indeed smell like all of the above: silky texture, prickling acidity, tobacco – but good Lord Sir, I believe there’s a lass in the mess!” “She’s the chanteuse” barks the wingco, downing his Laphroaig. Vintage Cellars or 1st Choice.

d’Arenberg The High Trellis McLaren Vale Cabernet Sauvignon 2006

$20; 14% alcohol; screw cap; 84 points

Don’t bother getting your microscope out to learn about this from the back label. Those really are flyspots. Trust me advice that this is a beautifully perfumed lolly shop to sniff, all musk and mint and magic. If you’re a little kid, when such things are far too expensive. If you’re an adult, they smell pretty good, but it’s the underlying tea tin, fresh leather and leaf that makes the whole package rather attractive. After all that, the palate’s a bit dull and dry. Watery, then tannic. There’s a hole in the middle, begging for fleshy merlot or plump shiraz. If you ask me. Ask Max Mosely, he’d be right up it.

Florance Kangaroo Island Cabernet Sauvignon 2006

$14.50; 14% alcohol; screw cap; 83+++ points

Clean, slender, simple and honest, with bone dry tannins and smoky oak, this wine has enough mulberry, prune and dried apple fruit to make it slurpable in an austere, humourless sort of way, but a little addition of softer fruit would see it more approachable a bit sooner than the ten years or so the wine really deserves. 10 OCT 98

Richard Hamilton Hut Block Mclaren Vale Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

$18; 14% alcohol; 83+++ points

Sooty oak and twists of fennel, deadly nightshade, juniper and wormwood (Artemis absinthium) add interest to this clean, tight cab from the house of Dr. Dick. It’s tannins are tight and quite green with methoxypyrazine. It needs ten years of appropriate cellar to learn love and tenderness. 23 OCT 08

Jim Barry First Eleven Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2006

$??; 14.8% alcohol; screw cap; 81 points

Sue Hodder, the Coonawarra winemaker, said this wine smelled “dry and dusty like a Tom Roberts painting” and suggested it grew in ironstone soil. Precisely. The ferruginous red dirt of Coonawarra! A ring-in! More raw oak and nettles than your actual berry fruits, it could have come from Kangaroo Island. 21 OCT 08

Leasingham Schobers Show Release Clare Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

$??; 12.8% alcohol; 81+ points

Raspberry, blueberry, mulberry, blackberry, prune and fig, all dusted with pretty confectioner’s sugar, couldn’t quite hold off the thin greens and raw tannins of this baby wine. It might eventually climb out of the simple hole, but, well ... 21 OCT 08

Jeanneret Clare Curly Red 2005

$??; 14.9% alcohol; screw cap; 80+++

Not fair. Drought year, and far, far, too young. Cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot and malbec are all in here, but all it smells of yet is nettles and jonquill. There are berries, of course, but they’ll take years to let themselves show. It’s clean, juicy and deceptive: nowhere near as simple as it currently looks. 21 OCT 08

Cono Sur Colchagua Valley Chile Caberent Sauvignon 2007

$11, 12.8% alcohol; 80++ points

This was so stewed, ripe, rude and fleshy to inhale that it reminded me of a syrupy Ocker shiraz doused with even more syrupy, peachy viognier. Its palate was much greener than that bouquet indicated, having the sort of fleshy puppyfat middle you’d expect, but a lot more raw, green methoxypyrazine finishing tannin than the bouquet forecast. Disjointed and strange, but fair dinkum cabernet, however you look at it. 23 OCT 08

Majella Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

$28; 14.5% alcohol; 80+ points

Guaranteed to win trophies – it has many – in big show judgings, this oozes winemaking sophistry more than beautiful Coonawarra fruit. Totally dominated by expensive oak, it reeks of tarragon and dried ginger as much as sap, and finishes with hard acid, and stacks of tomato leaf methoxypyrazine. It must become more accessible and supple with time, but Bacchus only knows how long that will take and whether it’ll be worth the wait. 23 OCT 08

Reilly’s Dry Land Clare Cabernet Sauvignon 2006

$??; 15(+!)% alcohol; 80+ points

Dry land indeed. I reckon this wine seems to have been pushed too hard: its methoxypyrazine edge is way too dominant, even at this extreme level of ripeness. Unhappy drought-struck vines. It has some pleasant cassis, with the raw spirit inherent there, and some pretty lollyshop sugars, but all that stewed rhubarb, with its oxalis-like cut, and wet nettles and bitter green tea tannins add up to a wine that needs ten years minimum, but even twice that might not help it much at all, poor dear thing. 21 OCT 08

Smith & Hooper Wrattonbully Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2006

$17.95; 14% alcohol; cork(!); 80 points

With a bit more black tea than the straight S&HW merlot, this slender, rather callow youngster is a nicer wine, perhaps because the cabernet component had higher alcohol and the oak provided some A. P. John Barossa chocolate. It’s a bit like the fluffy tannin that comes in a tin. Like the merlot, it reminds me somehow of a lot of commercial wine from Italy. NOV 08

Taylors St Andrew Clare Cabernet Sauvignon 2004

$??; ??% alcohol; 79+ points

Made quite deliberately with some brettanomycaes to please the British market, this wine is resultantly thin and simple. It has a shot of the old tabac – Gauloise, if you must – with spicebox and Horlicks. 21 OCT 08

Neagles Rock One Black Dog Clare Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz 2005

$??; ??% alcohol; 78+ points

Assertive oak and swampy greens cover most of the fruits in this bouquet. The flavour’s clean, and quite pretty, if a tad simple, but the wine seemed to have big time sulks. 21 OCT 08

Penley Estate Cabernet Shiraz 2007

$20; 15% alcohol; screw cap; 78 points

While Kym Tolley gets famous doing all that macho stuff, like posing for the snappers at the Coonawarra siding in his oilskin duster, he does seem to have a winemaking touch that reflects the characters of some of the more powerful and notable women which deck the halls of his ancestry in the Penfold and Tolley families. (Pen Ley, see? Brill muckotting!) This is cute wine, with a slightly upturned nose, Chanel Number 5, and a basket of bleeding red berries, prunes, figs and beets in her hand. Svelte and supple, with velvet tannins. Fairly bloody predictable, but. And, dare I ask, is it slightly salty? No? Maybe she’s just had a rough sesh on the ponies. Roast sheep with rosemary, mint sauce, mash and parsnips, but not afternoon-long quaffing.


Mildara Rothwell Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2004

$50; 14.5% alcohol; sandwich compound cork; 78++ points

So this wine is already five years old, like a Grange. What made them hold it back? Its awkward rude tannins, its bone dry, soulless guts, its empty heart, I reckon. It smells of soot and grandpa's tomato patch after the bushfire of '58; like some of them big ripe oxheart termarters half roasted, but the stakes which held 'em up have charred, and the burnt leaves smell like old burlap sacks. Highly oxidised methoxypyrazine, you call that. The price is about the same as Johnny Wade's 1982 Wynn's John Riddoch cabernet, but this is no John Riddoch 1982. This is what Mildara has come to mean: MEAN. Lean, like a jaundiced ferret, and ratty, like a rat on speed, it's not a comforting thing at all, and I doubt very much that it ever will be. I'd love to be married to the person who designated this price! Think of how much weight I'd lose! This is where Fosters think we're going. Not this little black duck. Even after many hours open, when a hint of sinuous muscle begins to grow where the fruit should be, and tendons appear to tie the yawning gap, uh-huh. I can't afford to wait for this to begin to suggest it'll eventually become a pole-vaulter, let alone a friggin drink. It reminds me of some of the late 80s Bin 707s. Raoul Merton had a men's shoe with a plastic sole and very pointy toe in 1968 that was called a 707, named after the great airliner of the day. I'd rather eat one of those shoes, brand new, than attempt to pretend this was a wholesome gastronomic item. Or even an extremely noisy transport vehicle. Uh-huh. Selah.

Chateau d’Armailhac 5eme cru Pauillac Bordeaux Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot Cabernet Franc Petit Verdot 2005

$134; 13.3% alcohol; 75 points

Brettanomycaes has gutted this wine of it fruit, leaving a sparse ribcage that reeks of tea tin, soot, and carbon. It’s all extracted tannin, with the leaves of juniper and deadly nightshade leaving their acrid edge hovering threateningly about the mouth. It may soften a little with the years, but I doubt that it’s worth the wait. Or the expense. 23 OCT 08

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