$1000 750ml.; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap or cork; swallowed November 2011; 96+++ points
Before the fifteen day heatwave put a sudden end to the top fruit in 2008, Penfolds consultant John Bird, who worked with Max Schubert on the 1966 Bin 620, recognized a wave of very special flavours in certain rows of Penfolds’ Coonawarra blocks 5, 10 and 20. “It transported me back to 1966 and the experimental Bin 620,” he said in a Penfolds statement. “The fruit profile is classic Penfolds. Having tasted many parcels of Coonawarra fruit it became apparent that we simply had to make this wine.”
So they followed the old recipe, picking the early-ripening Shiraz (49%) and more austere Cabernet (51%) in ideal condition before the heat hit. The wines spent a year in new oak hogsheads - 57% French; 43% American - before blending and bottling in July 2009. There are 1,000 cases available, and a few magnums and imperials for the very seriously rich. Or terribly thirsty.
The wine is the sort of rare thing that made Coonawarra famous, and while it seems obviously Australian to me, it’s probably as close as Penfolds – or Coonawarra - has got to top Bordeaux in style, the Shiraz neatly filling the role Merlot plays for the French, adding some sensual flesh to the bones and sinews of the Cabernet. (In the 1800s, before the Merlot boom, the French used Shiraz from the Rhone in their Bordeaux blends, anyway.) Then, it’s one of those impossible fleeting intensities that seems so smooth, with its components so harmonious and perfectly assimilated, that it leaves the palate puzzled as much as transfixed and transported: what was that, that just went through? An impossibly beautiful ghost? A zephyr? Something too profound for human understanding? Has it moved into me? Will I be able to drink anything else? Should I stop forever? Musk and blackcurrant, blueberries and marello cherries, perfectly fitting cedar-and-spice oak (think mace), strapping acidity … all the best things about the best red wines are here in seamless abundance. The wine is utterly beautiful to drink now, but will live for decades, just as the 66 has done.
Buy the screwcaps.
In one deft blow, this wine will do more - than any other product could possibly do - to resurrect the respect Coonawarra had before it turned itself into a sort of Riverland South with its own little Saint. The rest of the district, and the rest of the Treasury vineyards there, will have to perform miracles to justify the resurgence of oenological interest which will follow, especially in China. The scrutiny will be inscrutable.
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. 19 DEC 08
Penfolds Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon 2009
$250.00; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 96+++ points
I never thought I’d see this: my hands typing a review of an American oak Cabernet with points beyond 95. Why? How? Try this: “coffee, mocha, coffee, mocha, balsa, cedar, mahogany, rosewood, sinister tropical vines climbing smartly up the stairs … bitter lemon, orange bitters, ginger … camphor … drinks like a wild Indian adventure … lotsa citrus and ginger … hack a way through will you Stavros? … all vines and stranglers this wine … then the gentle wash of velvet as the wave recedes … you know, to me, this is still Penfolds conquering Cabernet, rather than letting it skank about all over them ... it’s the gayest wine in Australia … probably the most sophisticated in the original sense of the word … bitter viny teethmarks … now an highly polished liqueur more than a wine: a Kahlua as much as a Cabernet, and one which holds an extremely powerful position in the Coca-Cabernet steaks. [Spelling deliberate].” I simply don’t know how they did this in 2009. It’s majestic.
$250; 14% alcohol; screw cap; tasted JUN 2012; 95+++
Here we finally have Peter Gago’s French oak Cabernet. Just as the RWT French oak Shiraz offers a Francofoil to the American-oaked Grange, this one offers friendly epicurian rivalry to the ritually American-oaked Bin 707 Cabernet. Man, it’s out there on the nether edges of Cabernet territory: a wine that will take decades to understand. Its aroma set my hand off on its own, scribbling “nettles and tomatoes … curry tree … mace … blueberry … juniper … sage … wormwood … blood.” Drink it. “Fluffy … cotton wool tannins… brittle acid … nettles … Cheong’s tea-smoked deer gristle … sweet musk and violets aftertaste … lemon pith … steely flux-like acidity … extreme longevity” and so forth. It’s like you have a windscreen made out of pure Cabernet and it shattered, and only Old Father Time will have the patience to reassemble it. But it is indeed a beautiful, rare, and totally uncompromising Cabernet of the highest order, and one day it will be perfect. Penfolds have opened this new royal lineage with some very blue blood indeed. It’s too early and tight to tell, but eventually, this wine will probably blow the exquisite 707 clear off the table.
$105; 14% alcohol; screw cap; 95+++ points
Just to fully impose her dominance over Australian fine wine making, Vanya Cullen doubles her 2007 king-hell whammy with this astonishing bio-D blend of cabernet sauvignon (84%), merlot (8%); cabernet franc (4%) and petit verdot (4%). It brought to me a vision of a hot gothic/sultry-musky Marianne Faithful sitting with a knife and fork to devour a quivering gelatinous block of arterial blood, blood orange, soot, coffee, ancient oolong tea, and trainline gravel, dusted with gunpowder and the pollen of forests and fields of meadow blooms. It’s an extreme, profoundly beautiful thing. Thirty years in the cellar.
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. www.cullenwines.com.au
Chateau Calon-Sègar St Estephe Medoc Bordeaux 1959
$n/a; no alcohol listed; good cork; drunk 25 APR 09; 95 points
This part of Medoc’s northernmost tip has been vinous since the Romans, who couldn’t maintain an army without lots of wine. It smelled as fresh as a meadow in early summer: mint, chicory, rocket, peppery cress, wormwood, rosemary, black tea tin – all these bright topnotes were there ahead of the berries. And the berries were there too, of course, in their meaty way: the breath, Bordeaux forgive me, of a smoky Burgundian brimming with cassis. The palate’s long, sweet, juicy and delicious, with feathery goosedown tannins gradually turning gravelly. It squirms and wriggles in its caramel, syrupy way, like a southern pike of a certain age, who doesn’t want to get in the boat. Confit him with goosefat and you’ll have the accompanist. Stunning elegant wine.
Greenock Creek Roennfeldt Road Cabernet Sauvignon 2004$192; 16.5% alcohol; cork; tasted over a week in July 09; 94-5?+?+?+ points
Having recently drunk both the 95 Roennfeldt’s, I feel sublimely confident in saying this wine hasn’t even begun to form yet. It shows such magnificent disdain to the intruder, that it seems it feels the little matter of flowering, growing, vintage, barrel and bottling are but a frivolous bagatelle compared to the long hard work of waiting to grow up in the dark. Musk and candied lemon are the top notes. Working down, as through a perfume from the pit, we see the intense essence of entire blackberry vines, black pepper vines, and the smell of old tea tin. Then comes the slightest insinuation of your actual fruit: roast green capsicum and stewed apple. And all this is in a doughy, pastry-like pudding, perhaps like crêpes suzette. Commit it to your mouth. It has a totally teasing, entertaining, but surprising texture, like cotton wool. (Essence manufacturers market a tannin that gives this feeling, and label it “Fluffy Tannin”, a term they pinched from my wine reviews a decade or two back.) But below that cushion, the chassis is all acid. Given the wine’s sheer might, it’s strange to grasp that its spine is whippy and feminine, but so forceful that it makes the tannins seem to hang there like redundant feathers – the acidity’s so staunch, preserving tannins don’t even seem required at this stage. It’s a surly infant creature fuelled by the blood of great nuns and martyrs. The finish is not yet formed. It’s velvety and supple: a bunny rug speckled with melting chocolate chips. But there’ll be no greenstick fractures unless they’re yourn. This wine needs at least twenty years. It is actually too infant and disjointed to score accurately. After three days of air, the finish began to show gentle tar, moss, earth, and the distinctive reek of mighty swamp myrtles. A couple more days saw the emergence of a dribble of salmonberry and cranberry liqueur, and the pastry seemed to be amalgamating with the chocolate chips. Respect.
Chateau Latour Pauillac Bordeaux 1998
$1200 (?); 13% alcohol; cork; drunk 25 APR 09; 94+++ points
Lush, and deep, and perfectly formed, this complex and sultry beauty has the sulks, as its primary fruits are beginning to fade before its proper secondaries evolve: it’ll be much, much better fun in five to ten years. And more. I could go on for ages about its technical perfection and brilliant architecture, but when its fruit is in a brief out-of-fashion phase, well, you know ... choc-crême syrup wells about below spicy dry notes of mint, fennel and black tea. There are berries of course, but they’re having a root day. Year. Wait for it.
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. www.cullenwines.com.au
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
Penfolds Cellar Reserve Barossa Cabernet Sauvignon 2006
$200; 14% alcohol; screw cap; 15APR10; 94+++ points
This is confounding, exceptional wine which will begin to edge closer to perfect scores once its eighteen months worth of new French hogsheads has begun to assimilate and caress the astonishing fruit, rather than attempt to contain it. In this sense, given the Penfolds traditional obsession with forests of new American oak, this mighty wine just goes to show that you can throw a lot of French oak about, too, if you have the money. In that sheer lumberjack department, this is perhaps a little more Bin 707 than the 2007 Bin 707. But while oak is what money can buy in the cooper shop, money couldn’t buy these grapes. This is incredible wine, the like of which many “cool climate” Cabernet Doctors will never ever achieve. To entrap a feeling of its fruit, think panforte with your favourite slut. $200 is very, very cheap for a wine of this magnificence! Wait fifteen years.
Penfolds Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon 2006
$185; 14.5% alcohol; cork; tasted 20 FEB 09; 94+++ points
Before we go any further, a word about those points. I’d really like to give this, say 75 - 80++, because I can’t stand this sort of American oak, and believe that the wine will always be very, very woody – I’d prefer the bin 407. However. There are aficionados who would fight to death to protect their 707 collection, and they love the coconut and sap, so I’ve pointed it for them, not me. Rather uncertainly. This is classic modern 707, stiff and crunchy, with lumberjacks and friggin carpenters crawling all over it, as if they’re trying to contain something. “Perfect wine of the style”, I concede, “but the fruit can’t get out. John Spalvins would love it”. A blend of cabernet from Barossa, Coonawarra, Adelaide Hills and Wrattonbully, I don’t believe it’s a chance against the forthcoming 08 Coonawarra cabernet that’s all in French oak – that wine is sexiest cabernet I’ve had outside the Medoc. But there’s also an 06 Barossa cabernet from two very old cabernet vineyards in the pipeline, once again made in 100% French oak, which seems so devoid of pretension and sophistry, so open-faced and honest in its presentation and naive intensity, that it must surely be one of the best Australian cabernets ever.
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.
Greenock Creek Cabernet Sauvignon 2007
$38; 13.5% alcohol; cork; tasted over a week in August 09; 94++ points
A full three per cent lower in alcohol than the 2006, which was nevertheless reminiscent of a Bordeaux from the record heat of 03, this tight and elegant wine looks set to become one of the Barossa’s best pure cabernets since perhaps one or two of the great Seppelts’ Dorrien wines of the 70s and 80s, or the incredible Roennfeldt’s of 2001, which weighed in at 12.5%. Interestingly, the recent alluvium of this Creek vineyard immediately opposite Michael and Annabelle’s front veranda is similar to the Dorrien stuff. The wine has a classic cabernet bouquet: beneath the mischievous frivolity of its top notes (musk, nougat and confectioner’s sugar), there’s a textbook lesson in the aromas of the dark green leaves of the hemp family, with hints of tomato leaf, deadly nightshade, capsicum, and fresh jute. (These plants are all stacked, of course, with preserving tannins, and methoxypyrazine, the natural anti-insecticide of hemp, sauvignon blanc, and the cabernet family.) The berries are mainly the tannic juniper, with just the slightest insinuation of blueberry. I think we’ll see the fresh fruits truck arrive in a few years, while the staunch natural preservatives of all those tannins begin to polymerise as their work is progressively done and they gradually release their charges. But the basement is where the soul lives: roast peeled capsicum, mossy earth and porcini mushroom mysteriously glower down there, easily absorbing the oak, which seems more like the juicy dark heart of fresh-hewn blackwood. Like the grenache, this wine has a demanding astringency which draws at the mouth, setting the lubricators gushing, and drawing the blood so close to the skin that there’s a wicked intimacy about it. Stunning. Perfect in 2020.
Ulithorne Paternus McLaren Vale Cabernet Shiraz 2006
$??; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; drunk 7-8DEC9; 94++ points
Earl Warren Randall had already bought this freaky vineyard from Frank Harrison when winemakers Rose Kentish and Brian Light walked out to be crowned Bushing monarchs in 2008, so I imagine there's been some haggling for future supplies of the fruit since then. Frank is Rose's father-in-law. He planted the vineyard in 1971. Brian helped Rose with the winemaking, but it was purely her generosity of spirit and appreciation of his sage advice that saw her hand her consort's crown to him, rather than to her husband, Sam, who was surfing at Cactus on the Bight at the time of the enthronements, anyway. The vines are perched on the south-facing slopes immediately north of the Onkaparinga Gorge, between Clarendon and Samuel's Gorge. They're in real old Neoproterozoic rocks, and they don't get sprayed with petrochem crap. One of the most deserving Bushing Crown winners in years, it's magnificent cabernet, laced with shiraz of equal royalty. It's finer and more elegant than most Vales cabernet, and it's been spiced perfectly with seasoned oak. It has that dead black weight within, of the really intense great cabernet blends, but it's still elegant and lively with strapping, sinuous fruit that sassily teases the nose: it'll just hum over the next decade. Thanks to Tash Mooney for reminding me with the gift of the bottle.
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! www.darenberg.com.au (6.1.7)Lake’s Folly Pokolbin Cabernet (55%) Hermitage (45%) Dry Red Table Wine 1967
Bottle number 4291, cork, drunk JAN 2010, 94 points
“This is the first wine of the vineyard” says the label of Dr. Max Lake’s first Lake’s Folly. Upon opening, it was immediately sensuous, supple and sexy. “Charlotte Rampling in a tux, and then not in a tux” my notes suggest. It showed some age of course, but only to bring to mind Helmut Newton’s photograph of Charlotte naked on the table in which the committee of Pamplona’s Running of the Bulls meets beside the men’s hatter where you can get Boinas Elósegui de Tolosa berets. Charlotte claimed at the time it would be her last nude photographic portrait. Pretty hard to beat. Earth, sweat, menthol and mint wafted about, and then, quite precisely, eau-de-Cologne mint. The wine was perfectly lush and lovely; a gentle syrup with elegance and poise, and enough open-faced wickedness to have dear Max knocking on the lid of his box. And Helmut. Men of a kind, those two. Midnight ringers. Read my obituary of Max in the DRINKSTER archive.
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. www.casafreschi.com.au
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! www.capejaffawines.com.au
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.
Lenton Brae Wilyabrup Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon 2007
$50; 13.5% alcohol; screw cap; drunk 28JAN10-1FEB10; 93+++ points
It's hard to believe this is so modestly alcoholic: it has much more force and presence than that modest number usually indicates. It smells like the red dirt's just been rained on after the farmer's plough has turned it, with the acrid methoxypyurazine whiff of the nightshade family. Think potato leaf; maybe tomato leaf - and well, deadly nightshade, dammit. But there's musk and banana lollies too, and a veritable waller of cassis zapped by lightning so there's a stray reek of ozone. The palate's very tight and velvety, almost humourless in its austerity and reserve. The acid is lemony; the tannin as furry and dry as coal dust. I'd much prefer to see this wine in about three years; it will last for many more than that.
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
Penfolds Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon 2007
$190; 14.4% alcohol; screw cap; 15APR10; 93+++ points
Detractors of the 707 American oak philosophy might prefer this release: it seems more polite and elegantly composed than, say, that blistering bully, the 2006 Cellar Reserve Barossa Cabernet, with all its arrogant French hogsheadedness. This wine is certainly not French. It’s an elegant, stylized Cabernet which is a testament to the fruit selection skills of the Penfolds team, even in a droll, annoying year like 07. It has entertaining flecks of anise and fennel, and a heartwarming earthiness about it, like the aroma of those white tendrils you find in damp ferny soil. But then, it’s neat, tight, and bright in a very modern manner. It needs twenty years, but it’s very very fine wine now, as its show record attests: even those boofheads in the Royal Wine Show circus can see its majesty. The grapes came from Padthaway, the Barossa, and Coonawarra, and were then committed to fifteen whole months in 100% new American oak hogsheads. Wines like this are leading me to consider forgiving Missouri.
Penfolds Bin 407 Cabernet Sauvignon 2006
$44.90; 14.5% alcohol; cork; tasted FEB 09; 93+++ points
Robe (Limestone Coast), Coonawarra, McLaren Vale, Langhorne Creek and Barossa all contribute to this delightful, highly-perfumed cabernet, which I think is a pinch better than the mighty 2002. Terribly Penfolds in its style, with such density and weight without detracting one iota from its obvious cabernet source, it shows an highly intelligent use of oak – twelve months in French and American; 15% new - and a fruit selection fit only for the best parfumier’s hooter. It certainly has none of the “hole in the middle” that cabernet often shows, thus requiring padding from merlot or shiraz. Uh-huh. This is king-hell cabernet, which goes to show what we can soon be expecting from the cabernet vineyards at Robe. Fifteen years, easily. Look around, and you’ll find it for $35! I can’t understand how the one company, Fosters, can release this and discount it to such a degree, whilst expecting us to also consider buying that horrendous Mildara Rothwell (78++) at $50! That’s just plain dumb. But one key thing: the first bottle of this we opened was corked. Which means that 50% of the new release Bin 407 I’ve opened was corky. I know that’s only two bottles, but shit I hate corks.
Padthaway, Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale, Coonawarra, Wrattonbully and Robe be here. The Bin is very big. Really twitchy acid and hawthorn prickles the first nosing. The fresh peel of blackberry prickles, the boiled blue from the deepest of the violet Giant Hakeas from Bluff Knoll. Or wherever it is round there where they live but you mention the place you die. None of these grapes come from there, but I felt the Giant Hakeas deserved a mention. The sorts of vinegars and soys you’d find in the fridges of Tetsuya and Cheong. Posh American oak. Sinewy whipsnake acidity. Snicker snack. Tonight’s the nigh-yi-yi-yi-yi-yi-ya-yi-iii-yuh. T. I know Thelma will thrash me for this, but Max was a bit of a bodgie. He was so cool. You can’t speak for the dead, but I can hear the Max I knew enjoying this wine for its audacity whilst scouring it for what he called “soul” or “warmth”. Would he find it? We’ll never know. But I’m sure he’d love the chance to discuss it. In the meantime, how’s Gago and the Penfolds crew winning the best in the known universe by the jedi knights and all? How cool is that? When they’re all as old as Ray Beckwith, they’ll know how well this austere old dirtfarmer of theirs fared beneath his safe screw cap. In the meantime, I reckon that while the cowcatcher might be sharp salt-cured Padthaway spring steel, the boiling heart and molten gizzards of this locomotive wine, the engine room with the devil’s fire, is the huge bit from McLaren Vale and the Barossa. They are proto-nuclear. The rest is spring steel.
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. www.taltarni.com.au
Basket Range Adelaide Hills Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot Petit Verdot 2006
$??; 13.8% alcohol; screw cap; drunk 7-8DEC9; 93++ points
When you consider all the impenetrable bitchiness, abject bullshit, mendicant pretense, pompous presumption and outright filthy greed that have been the cornerstones of the modern Adelaide Hills wine district, it's deeply comforting to discover this gloriously honest, open-faced beauty from one of the unsung modern pioneers, Philip Broderick, who seems mainly to keep to himself, and his love, Mary. The wine is everything people seem to yearn for in the cabernet-centric blend, with its varieties selected with deep understanding and gastronomic intelligence. Minty, floral, back and blue, carbon and walnut cabinette, sexy, bright-dark fruits, musk and confectioner's sugar, perfectly entwined supportive natural acidity: it's all here in sassy, confident abundance. A lovely, bright, Bordeaux-style wine which live a breezy decade, this is the best of the Hills cabernets I've seen so far. Thanks to Tash Mooney for reminding me of the wines of a mate from the seventies!
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.
Fox Gordon King Louis Barossa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2006
$35; 13.5% alcohol; cork; drunk 7-8DEC9; 93++ points
Tash Mooney's smitten with the potential of cabernet in the Barossa ... she knows there are many greater things to be drunk about the globe, but also has a deep appreciation of what it can do when properly stroked in Germanworld. This is sweet, sensual, creamy wine, decked with a lovely tickly eau-de-cologne mint edge, and dressed in a sexy tuxedo of oak that smells like it was selected by the parfumier, Jean Deprez. Go buy a quart of Bal a Versailles - the eau de toilette will do - and you'll get my drift. Which is not to say this is a confection, a cosmetic, or a sophistry. It's rather a great-ish cabernet made with respect of the old Barossa masters, like that bright octogenarian treasure, Colin Gramp. It has beautiful poise and balance, and bright array of aromatics that have been conducted, rather than tipped or poured. Its acid, moreover, is steely and natural but buried well within the slender silky gizzards of the drink. This will be a grand cellaring number: it'll go twenty years if you don't shake it up or leave it in the sun.
Lindemans Pyrus Coonawarra 2006
$55; 14% alcohol; screw cap; tasted 21-23FEB10; 93++ points
In 1986, when their duet of minimally-pruned Cabernet-based Coonawarras were getting enormous attention because they were so easily recognised on the blind in wine shows, Lindemans were sure they'd win the Jimmy Watson with one or other of the two. But when the blending was done, some uncertain bright spark also sloshed up a blend of Cabernet sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec and Shiraz in equal proportions and entered that in the Mlebourne show as well. I was locked in a hotel room under strict embargo with the winning winemaker, Lindemans' Philip John, when he learned that this latter wine had won the Jimmy. This amused but irritated him, as the wine had no name or marketing plan, and in those days, the Jimmy was worth a cool quick million on PR and marketing terms. In an almost blind panic, a PR man blurted out "let's call it Pyrus!", and so the new line was born. So, strangely named after a pear, the wine became an instant hit, and its progeny is this here schluck. Which is probably the best one yet. It's 70% Cabernet sauvignon, 16% Cabernet franc, and 14% Merlot. It has immediately alluring, if frivolous, toptones of musk, confectioner's sugar, blackcurrant Medlar gels, and banana lollies, over its more vegetal twists of eau-de-cologne mint, briary hedgerow and old tobacco pipes. There are whiffs of onion weed and dried meadow herbs, as well, and some pleasant leathery harness. The palate reminds me much of the similar blends made by Michel Dietrich at Chateau Haut Rian, on the limestone near Cadillac on the Garonne, opposite Sauternes and Barsac, where it's warmer and drier than Medoc. The palate's sweet and juicy, sitting in philosophy and mood halfway between the straight Cabernet St. George, and the Shiraz-Cabernet Limestone Ridge. This has the austere velvet tannins of the former, but its elegant juiciness halps make it slightly more approachable now. It needs five years' cellar.
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...
Penfolds Bin 407 South Australia Cabernet Sauvignon 2009
$65; 14% alcohol; screw cap; 93++ points
This is Penfolds. Within your higher-range budget, you take the very best fruit from (in their order) McLaren Vale, Coonawarra, Robe, Mt Benson, Adelaide Hills and Barossa Valley. You make it the way you make it. Then you put it in some new French and a lot of old American hogsheads for a year, make a careful cut, and you get this essence. I shake my head. It is the classic Penfolds essence of Cabernet. It has strapping it has syrupy it has bright acid it has sap. Kaboom. It has aniseed and black chocolate. It has currants. Juniper. Cherry Heering. It is not hot from alcohol, but hot of cool. It gets up my nose. It unfolds. The tannins are ozone and Mallee. If it had feathers, they’d be dark fluorescing blue. Ahhh: blueberries! Meaty ripe blueberries. What a joy. Gippsland Blue. Woodside Cheesewrights Manon. Anything Richard Thomas ever breathed on. Anything Richard Thompson ever played. You get my drift? So is the wine finding its market? Where lies the heart of this market?
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. www.darenberg.com.au
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. www.grosset.com
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. www.langmeilwinery.com.au
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. www.lentonbrae.com (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.
Wynn’s Coonawarra Estate Cabernet 1957
$n/a; no alcohol listed; cork; drunk 25 APR 09; 93 points
Sweet, minty-fresh, brilliant ... this was a most Australian wine, and yet not at all heavy or coarse. It’s fruit’s beginning to caramelise, amongst all that chicory and cress, and there’s some volatile acidity, as if responding in style to the early Granges of Max Schubert, a direct rival. Or it may simply be lack of attention to detail: Wynn’s had no oenologist at Coonawarra at this stage. All that regarded, along with its great age, it’s surprisingly slender, elegant and bright wine: tight and zippy, but on a genteel decline.
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
Somehow the Sisters Vineyard Jim Barry helped his daughter Julie plant at Limerick, Armagh, north-east of Clare, survived the radical 12-day heatwave of 2009, settled down, and rather graciously gave us this full-on Cabernet. Picked on the Feast Day of St Macarius the Ghent, the fruit was permitted to slumber through a long (38 days!) ferment on skins and, after the secondary malo-lactic ferment finished in tank, it lay about in very fashionable French oak for two years. It is classic Clare Cabernet: olivine and tight, with many layers of alluring aromatics, from dates and figs through blueberries and moss to the acrid leaves of the nightshade family, and on through the Persian spice market hues of the oak, one quarter of which was new. The wine barely reflects that mighty alcohol number: sure, the exhalation’s a little hot, but the whole thing seems so fully entwined and complex that it still shows lovely poise. Overall, it’s velvety and mellow, and seems custom-built to accompany the winemaker’s recommended feast of Irish stew made from Protestants. The lovely little photo of our Lord and his dear Mum was given to Julie’s grandma by the local nuns in 1934. This wine, and its major Shiraz kin, The Good Catholic Girl James Brazill Shiraz 2008 ($30; 16% alcohol; screw cap; 93+ points; picked on the Feast Day of Blessed Agnello of Pisa) stamps forever the excellence of dear Jim’s vision and tireless endeavor, planting vines at the unique Armagh. This lazy, hazy vale has become a cornerstone of the entire Clare vignoble. Praised be his precious and healing name! And praised be the polite wit of Julie Barry, as much as her canny winemaking.
Juniper Estate Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon 2007$45; 14% alcohol; screw cap; tasted 07JUN10; 92+++ points
One of the most vibrant fruit wines of the year, as far as real living grapes goes, this is the first Juniper red to pass over the mechanical grape sorting table bought by Juniper before this vintage. It is incredibly bright and lively wine, full of dates, figs and bay leaf as much as the more usually expected fresh red and black berries. Licorice, too. After that wicked dance of aromatic romance, the palate seems a tad short and abrupt, but after a few good schlucks, it becomes apparent there's a bit of a warp halfway through, and there is indeed much to be loved well after that seductive start to your affair. Which makes me think it needed a touch more than the 2% Merlot, 2% Cabernet franc, and 1% Petit verdot that winemaker Mark messenger added. Once you suddenly start getting 100% clean, perfect berries into your fermenter, for the first time in your life, you've gotta rethink everything.
Koppamurra Wrattonbully Cabernet Sauvignon 2006
$??; 15% alcohol; screw cap; drunk 25-29DEC9; 92+++ points
Made by John Greenshields (whose consortium previously owned Croser's Whalebone Vineyard), from the nearby vineyards of Peter Maxwell and Ken Schurgott, this wine has teased me for days. It's rich, and fairly warm with alcohol, but has a semblance of elegance and certainly no lack of attitude. Surly, maybe, in a bullish way, with all the stewed/roast capsicum and grilled chicory greens of cabernet from the flat south-east, but with a fair dinkum fruitcake of doughy stuff in the middle, it finishes with furry tannins and a grunt or reluctance. It really doesn't want to go. A wine for engineering professors who love their steak.
Lindemans St George Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2006$55; 14% alcohol; screw cap; tasted 21-23FEB10; 92+++ points
Since the dumb old days of minimal pruning in the 'eighties and 'nineties, when this vineyard produced wine that tasted like cold tea made from tomato leaves and deadly nightshade, some sense has returned to the viticulture. And the wines are much better. Brett Sharpe has got close to classic Coonawarra Cabernet here, with a svelte, balanced claret of good length and form, but in saying so, I'll include the obvious: straight Cabernet is an austere, humourless bastard of a drink. This one smells of the nightshade family, as it's full of the standard methoxypyrazine which gives Cabernet, and the nightshades, their distinction, especially when not over-ripe. It has a layer of carbon, which may come from toasted oak (not sure), and some decorative topnotes of musk, lemon pith, dried apple, burlap, and wet chalk. The fruits are not readily forthcoming in this sanctimonious Dominican structure, but there are whispers of blackberry, prune, fig, and blueberry. The wine demands at least fifteen years in the dungeon: those tannins are savoury, sure, but far too dominant at this infant stage.
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. www.mtberavineyards.com.au
Penley Estate Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2005
$50.50; 15% alcohol; cork; drunk 7-8DEC9; 92+++ points
Suave but sophisticated Coonawarra cabernet at its lineal cassisine extreme, this woody cross-dressing claret lives, but don't dance. It has more sensuality, for example, than all that green tea minimal pruned Coonawarra crap of the eighties and nineties, and certainly more determined lust for life than the dead-grape intensities that are everywhere else since; and certainly the maker has got the cheque book out in the company of several extremely expensive coopers to deck this hall with such bows of holly and cinnamon and cloves and whatnot, but she's still a wallflower who's yet to get any ducktailed smartarse on her dance ticket, so she just sits and sits there with her new handbag on her lap, wondering how long it's gonna be before everybody discovers she's a boy.
Penfolds Bin 389 Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz 2006
$57.90; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 92+++ points
My intense native dislike of the dreaded Quercus alba, the American oak, cost this wine points, as it’s had twelve months in the stuff, 22% of it new. At the same time, my notes say “Jesus! Penfolds gets a facial! The most Australian wonder!” It IS a truly lovely wine, of stunning freshness and incredible intensity, and another of this suite which would make dear Max chuckle softly with glee. Probably the best 389 I can recall as a new release, it manages a highly entertaining see-saw between the leaf of the clarety cabernet and the intense berries and plums of the rounder, plumper shiraz. Somehow it manages to appear very modern, as the oak is nowhere near as sappy as the stuff Penfolds ordered from A. P. John, the Barossa cooper, but at the same time it doffs more than its cap to bins which bore this famous number in the past. Perhaps because of that oak, it seemed slightly more simple than the Bin 407 cabernet. Perhaps the word should be elegant. Either way, it’s a thirty year wine under screw. FEB 09
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. www.proterowines.com.au (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. www.thewillowsvineyard.com.au
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. www.lakebreeze.com.au
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. www.battleofbosworthwines.com.au
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. www.tidswellwines.com.au
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. www.zema.com.au
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. www.tidswellwines.com.au
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. www.chalkhill.com.au
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. www.rusticanawines.com
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. www.yalumba.com
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. www.johnston-oakbank.com.au
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
Lake’s Folly Pokolbin Cabernet Sauvignon 1981
11.3% alcohol; cork; drunk JAN 2010; 90+points
Nutmeg, cedar, fresh leather … this had a few of Max’s favourite smells in very cheeky harmony. This is lissome, athletic wine: a sprinter who will simply keep repeating that sprint every time a bottle is opened. Up to a point. Those minty exudations in the older wines were at their tidiest and brightest here.
Shingleback McLaren Vale Cabernet Sauvignon 2006
$25; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; tasted 13 NOV 09; 90+ points
Like an 03 from Cadillac: soot and syrup; dry finish.
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.) www.tatachillawines.com.au
Penfolds Bin 407 Cabernet Sauvignon 2007
$55; 14% alcohol; screw cap; 15APR10; 88++ points
Given the difficulties of the vintage, this could only be a Penfolds Cabernet: it has all those crisp turnip greens and watercress tannins, and all the nightshades. It’s neat and cheery, clean and bright, but it’s just not MENSA material. Thirteen months in French and American hogsheads, a third of them new, has stamped the Penfolds brand all over it. I’d wait about six years, maybe eight.
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
Forester Estate Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon 2007
$??; 14% alcohol; screw cap; tasted 29DEC9; 88+ points
Not as good as some of the old Forries: either this is a dud year or Forester hasn't quite kept up with the times, and is being left behind ... I dunno. If the latter's the case, it won't be alone: most of the wine in Australia's back there and worse. Blackberry bush and myrtle, hawthorn and blackwood are here in abundance, but there's not too much in the way of sweet soulful fruit going down. Sure, the palate's sinuous and snaky, but me want more puppy flesh and gastronomia!
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 Mentelle Margaret River Caberent Sauvignon 2006
$84; 14% alcohol; screw cap; 7-8MAY10; 88 points
Many might find this their ideal Cabernet, but I am not many, and I find this almost boringly intense and taut. It has no humour. Once the French stole this estate from the Germans I thought the sense of humour might bloom, but not this time, Mon Ami. Prunes, licorice, aniseed, fig: all that stuff's here. There's some vaguely sooty oak. I can see where it's aimed, but it seems to need more lively, supple flesh in its gizzards. The tannins are fine and persistent. It may grow some surprises in the cellar, but I'd want more plush puppyfat in there before I took that risk. More life.
Brothers in Arms Formby & Adams Cutting Edge Langhorne Creek Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz 2007
$19; 15% alcohol; screw cap; tasted 9-12MAY10; 88 points
The Shiraz adds deeper chocolate than you’ll find in this wine’s straight Cabernet twin, so the wine’s not really much like Cabernet at all, as at Langhorne the terroir of that original muddy floodflat tends to smudge the varietal differences, and the Cab is quite Shiraz-like to start with. But we have a sweetly eucalypt-influenced red with toasty oak decking its wallow of deep red fruits. The palate’s juicy and fruitsweet, with good tannins and tweaked acidity. A soulful brother of a wine, and a bargain at this price.
Lake’s Folly Pokolbin Cabernet Sauvignon 1980
cork, drunk JAN 2010; 88 points
This was a very rude wine. It smelled like freshly-flayed flesh. And musky lollypops. And that mint we saw in the ’67. It had a thin skein of coaldust across its fruit. “Patrick is like Poppa Sizz” my notes then record, indicating that one drinking partner, Patch, was reminding me of my mother’s father, a champion boxer who made train springs at day and became a street preacher by night in the slums of Melbourne. The notes do return to the job at hand: “lissome, like a young Coonawarra claret”. Mmm. I think by that I would have meant the types of wine made in Coonawarra in the ’fifties, by blokes like Ian Hickinbotham at Wynns. You can find reviews of those in the Shiraz sector.
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. www.capejaffawines.com.au
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
Brothers in Arms Formby & Adams Leading Horse Langhorne Creek Cabernet Sauvignon 2007
$19; 15% alcohol; screw cap; tasted 9-12MAY10; 87 points
Brothers in Arms became brothers at arms when the Adams boys had some sort of a thing; now it’s Formby & Adams. But the vineyards stays the same: the priceless old Metala property in the deepest black mud of Langhorne Creek. Appropriately, this is a moody old mud-plugger in the soft and soulful style that used to mean Langhorne. Blackberry briars and old railway sleepers come to mind in all that dark cooking chocolate; juniper and bay add classic regional Cabernet piquancy; there’s a twist of mentholating eucalyptol. The wine attempts little more than that: it’s one of an enormous army of $18-22 bottles designed to move juice. But this one is pure Larncrk.
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
Penley Estate Phoenix Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2008
$20; 15% alcohol; screw cap; tasted 9-12MAY10; 86 points
It’s not a miracle that the three Penley $20 jobbies – Cab, Merlot and Shiraz, are all 15% alcohol in 2008. Really dumb Australian law permits a 1.5% errancy either way of the stated number. I suspect all three Penleys are well over 15%. This is really good Cabernet, if a tad jammy. The oak is piquant and supportive of the riper nightshade leaf aromas of a classic Coonawarra Cab, and the extra ripeness has filled the donut hole that spoils the middle palates of most CCs, while sacrificing some of its leaner varietal distinction. So it’s a pleasant, warming, reasonably dignified $20 dry red we’re talking about here. The Shiraz is the real bargain of the trio.
Wynns Coonawarra Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz Merlot 2008
$20; 14% alcohol; screw cap; tasted 09JUN10; 86+ points
Coffee, dark chocolate, licorice, cigars: all the after-dinner smells be here. With some of the leafy aspects of the nightshade family. The palate's slender and bone dry with old-fashioned tannins that will carry the wine for a few years. It's a stubby, mean-hearted sort of a drink that would probably win more support if it came from Italy. We're a wierd mob. Have it with juicy lamb chops and roast parsnips, tails properly caramelised.
Yalumba The Cigar Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2009
$25; 14% alcohol; Vinocor cork; 86+ points
Yalumba was an aggressive proponent of the screw cap in the early ’eighties. Consumer resistance was very powerful because winemakers wouldn’t admit the rip off of faulty corks to their customers, who mainly felt that screwcaps looked brash and cheap, and weren’t aware that every bottle with a cork in it was affected to one degree or another by the microbiological zoo that lived in the porous bark of the Quercus suber, the cork tree. Eventually, Yalumba sold screw-capped wines with corks beneath them, to please the romanticists, which irritated the technocrats. In the name of snobbishness and romance, you had a perfect modern sanitary seal preserving forever the faults of the imperfect traditional bark plug beneath. Today, the company’s top reds have corks without screwcaps. The Cigar, which is a take-off of quirky Californian Randall Grahm’s Bonny Doon Cigar Volante brand as much as a reference to the terra rosa strip of Coonawarra, is almost half the price of the Yalumba The Menzies Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 ($47; 13.5% alcohol; Vinocor cork; 70 points). The wines were released together. The Menzies, while elegant of build, is dry and hollow, like many much cheaper wines from cooler vintages in the south of France. Its cork was short and squishy, and had no doubt damaged an already fragile wine. Two years younger, The Cigar was plugged by a similar Vinocor cork, but a slightly better one. The wine is fresher, as you’d expect, but this is as much to do with the cork as the vintage. It has better middle palate, and a pleasing, juicy viscosity, which is winey as well as fruity, silky as well as velvety, with classical Cabernet leafiness as well as a hint of smoothing, soothing blackcurrant cordial. To their credit, both wines have been made in the traditional – maybe old-fashioned - claret style, and are mercifully devoid of raw alcohol and jammy grape syrup. Cross your fingers, light up The Cigar, and wait for the roast beef and gravy.
Kirrihill Clare Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2008
$15; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; tasted 07JUN10; 85+ points"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" ... That's a review of Rookery Peak Kangaroo Island Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz 2004, $50. Unfortunately, the sorts of classical Clare wines I was likening it to are disappearing. I think this one must have some Shiraz in it, which should make them more alike. But this has so much more raw alcohol, without complex fruit to back it up, that it is nothing like what Clare should really be. Clare red should always have finesse.
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
Di Palma Family Winery Villa Tinto Barossa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2006
$??; 14% alcohol; screw cap; tasted 29DEC9; 84++ points
Cheeky. Leafy. Slight soot; cold fireplace. Lantana. Persimmon; Chinese gooseberry. In the mouth: strapping, austere, velvety - with just a lozenge of black cherry and beetroot in the middle of the tongue. If it had been like this at 12.5%, I may have understood it.
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. www.darenberg.com.au
Flying Fish Margaret River Cabernet Merlot 2008
$??; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; tasted 13 NOV 09; 84 points
Wormwood and dill gherkins. Sooty oak. Koala with anchovies.
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
Nederberg Winemaster's Reserve Caberent Sauvignon 2007$12; 14% alcohol; screw cap; tasted 14 OCT 09; 79 points
Oak oak oak. Friggin' oak. If you were a lover of raw Penfolds Bin 707 cabernet back in the days when it was totally dominated by raw American oak, you might love this. I can't. How can you call a wine "product of Australia", or "product of South Africa", if its predominant character is wood from another country? There's a slight hint of cabernet attempting to peek through a whole carpentry here. Jesus was a carpenter, but he used no oak when he made the world's most famous wine at Qana.
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
Chateau Beychevelle St Julien Bordeaux 1957
$n/a; alcohol n/a; cork; drunk 25 APR 09; 78 points
Very, very smooth, syrupy and supple wine, I thought this reflected the humid nature of Bordeaux as the opposite of the dry nature of Coonawarra. It was looking older than the stocky Wynns Coonawarra 1953, a lot more fragile and frail. It still showed quite edgy cedary oak over its musk, mint and cassis, and while its palate was still gracious and elegant, it thinned out and dried off rather quickly.
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.
Lake’s Folly Pokolbin Cabernet Sauvignon 1975
cork, drunk JAN 2010; 78 points
An initial flash of promise, rich, juicy and sweet, with caramel fudge, soon sank below a dusty metallic red dirt tannin. It wasn’t wasted, however.
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
Hickinbotham Winemakers Mt Anakie Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 80/81
$n/a; no alcohol listed; cork; drunk 25 APR 09; 67 points
When the Hickinbothams bought Mt Anakie from the Maltbys in these years, they were left the 1980 wines to finish. I remember Stephen being slightly uncomfortable with blending them with his 1981 wines, but having just got home from studies in France, was dead keen to get some money in the kick and get on with the job of showing Australia a thing or two. He was encouraged, of course, by his Merlin of a father, Ian, the maker of the Wynn’s Coonawarra Estate Claret 1953 reviewed in the Shiraz section. This wine was certainly never expected to, nor intended to last for thirty years. After some shitty stink blew away – fifteen minutes – it became sort of malty and thick to sniff, then the methoxypyrazine aromas of the hemp family took over: tomato leaf, deadly nightshade, watercress and whatnot. The finish was elegant and tight, but she’d got a bit sloppy in the guts. Stephen went on to make much greater wines than this in his short life.