An extraordinary Wynns Coonawarra cabernet tasting

This was a wonderful tasting of a selection of Wynns Black Label and John Riddoch Coonawarra cabernet sauvignon wines from the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, with some quite interesting conclusions.  

Those conclusions were that the Black Label, for most vintages, served blind and side-by-side with the John Riddoch, provided the more compelling current drinking.  This might be put down to the charm of youth, but it does not, for example, explain the same conclusion being reached for the 1982, 1986 and 1988 vintages.  Plausibly, wine storage conditions will have played a part.  It would be interesting to comment on the contribution of the vineyard and winemaking operations to these vintages, but since this information is not readily available, I am limited to commenting on what was in the glass. 

The second conclusion of the tasting was that Wynns is a style of Coonawarra cabernet sauvignon that requires an uncommonly long period to show its best.  The wines from 1999, for example, appeared positively youthful at 20 years’ of age.  The wines from the 1980s were mostly just coming on song, and the wines from the 1970s ready to drink.   Of course, there were exceptions in each bracket, but the trend line was quite clear.  

Overall, this tasting showed Coonawarra at its best: soaring quality, ageworthy and an internationally distinctive, unique expression of cabernet sauvignon.  The converse thought also emerged: Coonawarra could be so much more than it is.  But it’s a pretty good reason to buy some Wynns Black Label.

One quibble.  For such a popular, collectible and ageworthy wine, it is unexpected that its producer does not provide a historical tasting notes archive.  Now part of Treasury Wine Estate’s portfolio, the Wynns website only has accessible tasting notes going back to 2010 for the Black Label and 2009 for the John Riddoch.  I had wished to learn more about these vintages and, as a reference point, the producer’s website did not help. 

Notes follow from this amazing tasting.

From the 1960s

1965.  This wine has aromas of black fruit, smoke and cedar, somewhat charming length and a leafy character.  Most certainly ready to drink, and in gentle decline.  Rating: Very Good.

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1968.  This wine had a dusty, blackcurrant and earthy aroma, which with air, seemed a little stripped and woody.  Low level TCA suspected.  Brownish too in colour.  Enough doubt not to rate.  Rating: Not Rated.

From the 1970s

1970.  Aromas of red fruits, herbs and leafs.  Smokey, and a bit muted.  But with a subtle long length.  I enjoyed this.  Rating: Very Good.

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1972.  This is an unusual wine.  Oddly rich aromas of raisins, the palate is also dominated by raisins.  The length is pleasant enough.  Rating: Good.

1976.  A Jimmy Watson winner.  Somewhat austere at first (blind) impression.  Evolved in the glass revealing leaf, earth, soft tannins and good length.  This is a subtle wine that proved compelling with time in the glass.  Rating: Outstanding.

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From the 1980s

1982 Black Label.  Aromas of smoke, opulent blackcurrant fruit, mint and a dusty character.  Prodigious length on the palate.  Clearly Coonawarra.  This is an outstanding wine that was comfortably wine of the bracket.  Rating: Outstanding*.  Abv: 12%.

1982 John Riddoch.  This is quite a complex wine, with its expression of earth and fruit.  The palate has great length and considerable complexity.  This too is plainly an outstanding expression of Coonawarra cabernet sauvignon, although quite different, and slightly shaded by the black label wine from the same year.  Rating: Outstanding.  Abv: 13%.

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1986 Black Label.  Cedar and blackcurrant aromas.  Great length and firm tannins for a wine 33 years’ old.  Another highlight.  Rating: Outstanding. Abv: 12.9%.

1986 John Riddoch.  An aroma of earth, herbs, oak, spice and smoke.  An almost youthful expression, with some raisin overtones.  Rating: Very Good.  Abv: 13.6%.

1988 Black Label.  Aromas of leaf, red fruits.  The palate has long length, with blackcurrant characters.  Another outstanding Black Label.  Rating: Outstanding.  Abv: 12.7%.

1988 John Riddoch.  Classic blackcurrant aromas, coupled with spice.  Somewhat harder tannins with a licorice overlay.  Rating: Very Good.  Abv: 12.3%.

From the 1990s

1990 Black Label.  This black label has restrained aromas of red fruits, licorice and proved quite complex with some iodine characters and brooding expression on the palate.  Rating: Very Good.

1990 John Riddoch.  This proved an outstanding John Riddoch.  It has aromas of blackcurrant, cloves and mint.  The length is long with cassis undertones.  Quite a youthful expression that will continue to improve.  Rating: Outstanding. 

1991 Centenary Shiraz Cabernet.  This was a surprise for principal reason that the shiraz was not at all obvious.  Aromas of clove and mint, with dusty tannins, a leafy character and good length.  Plainly a good wine.  Rating: Very Good. 

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1991 Black Label.  A lesser black label on this tasting.   A dusty aroma, and somewhat acidic palate.  Rating: Good.

1991 John Riddoch.  This proved a rich wine, with an aroma of saturated plums and good length.  Rating: Very Good.  Abv: 13.5%.

1994 Black Label.  Very tannic, but with good length.  Still young.  Rating; Very Good.  Abv: 13.5%.

1994 John Riddoch.  This wine presented awkwardly, with oak, cedar and quite hard tannins.  TCA suspected.  But also 25 wines putting some wear on the palate.  Rating: Not Rated.

1996.  Both the Black Label and the John Riddoch showed flashes of character of mint and blackcurrant, but seemed faulty due to a hardness of tannin and stripped nature.  Both suspected for TCA and withdrawn.  Rating: Not Rated.

1998 Black Label.  Aromas of blackcurrant, with great length and fresh acidity.  In its drinking window.  Rating: Very Good. 

1998 John Riddoch.  A slightly disappointing wine.  Firm tannins, good length, but a little hard and the oak seemed awkward.  Rating: Good.

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1999 Black Label.  The acidity on this wine presents quite firmly.  Blackcurrants, good length and youthful in expression on the palate.  It surprises to say this, but much too early to drink at 20 years of age.  Rating: Very Good.

1999 John Riddoch.  Aromas of blackcurrant and smoke.  Restrained in bearing with good length.  Rating: Good to Very Good. 

Ten Minutes by Tractor 10X Pinot Noir 2018

This is another good 10X pinot noir release from Ten Minutes by Tractor on the Mornington Peninsula. This leading producer always offers a wealth of useful regional vintage information. Specifically, the 2018 vintage saw a late budburst (20 September – two weeks later than 2016), a warm spring, perfect conditions at flowering (24 November compared with 11 November in 2016 and 5 December in 2017) and consequent good yields coupled with an early harvest (17 March, compared with 1 April in 2016). Overall, it was 10X Tractor’s shortest ever hang time of 179 days from budburst to harvest.

In the glass, the 2018 10X pinot noir is a vivid red in colour, and has a smokey, minerally aroma. The palate is quite fruity, with good length, and displays a balanced expression of cherries and spice. It gained complexity with time in the glass – a good sign. Overall, this is a good release that can be approached now. Rating: Good. Abv: 13%. Price: $34. Website: www.tenminutesbytractor.com.au. Source: Sample.

Young & Co Berry Riot French Grenache 2018

The label is certainly bright, but the wine in the glass is good and it’s smart to keep French labels simple. A Vin de France, this grenache presents as fresh and enjoyable. It has aromas of redcurrants and strawberries. The palate is spicey, with a pleasant balance and length on the finish. Ready to drink now, the wine presents as both varietal and typical of the southern French grenache style. Rating: Good. Abv: 14%. Price: $23. Website: bws.com.au. Source: Sample.

Ponsot Chambolle-Musigny Les Charmes 2015

This wine from Domaine Ponsot is in a very difficult stage of its development. It presents in a raw fashion, with very fruit driven aromas of cherry and blackcurrant and resounding acidity and hardness on the palate. It is quite a difficult wine to appreciate at this point, and needs at least a further decade of cellaring to even show its potential. I don’t think decanting will be sufficient to present it for current drinking. Reflecting on this wine across its dimensions of esteemed producer, great vintage and wonderful vineyard, it is difficult to recommend this wine at this stage. Oh well, someone has to try these wines. Sealed using the unusual Ardea seal. Rating: Good (in the future), Acceptable now. Abv: not recorded. Price: $300+. Website: http://www.domaine-ponsot.com.

Raveneau Chablis Montée de Tonnerre 2013

A first for everything, this time a Raveneau wine from Chablis, and premier cru vineyard Montée de Tonnerre in particular. A grand cru in style, this wine has a gorgeous aroma of lemon and minerals. The palate reminds of jasmine, yoghurt and has a resounding linear acidity. This is an outstanding wine that can be approached now, but will suit further cellaring of 5-10 years. Rating: Outstanding. Abv: 13%. Price: $300. Website: NA.

If you are interested in Chablis, you can click here for a much longer post from the region in 2015.

Champagne Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve

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I don’t normally post on non-vintage Champagnes, but the quality of this Charles Heidsieck wine was quite compelling.  Golden in colour, it has an overt and rather delicious aroma of biscuit and yeast.  The palate is dry, fresh, has racy acidity, together with definitive lemon and cedar notes.  This is a very attractive, special occasion style Champagne, that presents excellent value at around $95.  Rating: Very Good.  Abv: not recorded.  Price: $95.  Website: https://charlesheidsieck.com/en.  

Eight nebbiolos

Here is a belated set of notes in relation to an excellent Barolo and Barbaresco tasting in May. My observations were, in no particular order: (i) the average quality of the wines was very high, (ii) the best wines had the firmest acidity and they were actually from both Barolo and Barbaresco (I had expected the Barolo wines would be a little firmer), (iii) the two 2013 vintage wines presented particularly well, (iv) the differences between Barolo and Barbaresco in blind tasting were very slight and (v) the future appears bright for the region, at least based on these wines. In terms of local comparisons, I am yet to taste an Australian nebbiolo that has a similar character, or is in close to the same league, in terms of quality. This differs from even pinot noir. Perhaps nebbiolo is a grape variety that does not travel well. This I think is worth some further thought.

And now the wines:

Tenimenti Fontanafredda La Rosa Barolo Serralunga 1999
First up, the oldest wine of the set. This 1999 vintage Barolo has aromas of cedar, luscious fruit even at 20 years of age, and florals. The oak is slightly obvious, but the palate has good length, and is earthy. Ready to drink now, this wine continued to evolve and improve in the glass. Rating: Very Good.

CA’ del Baio Asili Barberesco 2013
Considerably younger and from a classic year, this wine opens to aromas of cherry and redcurrant. The palate has very firm and pleasing acidity, great length and herbal undertones. This is a very good to outstanding wine, that can be approached now, but will benefit from a decade or longer in the cellar. Rating: Very Good to Outstanding.

Ceretto Barolo 2010
Aromas of earth, herbs and florals. The acidity is not quite as firm, but it has great length and complexity. This wine can be approached now. Rating: Very Good. Abv: 14%.

Benevelli Piero Ravera Barolo Monforte 2010
This wine has aromas of herbs, earth and florals. The palate has firm acidity and terrific fruit. Approachable now, but will suit extended ageing. Rating: Very Good.

Bruno Giacosa Falletto di Serralunga d’Alba Barolo 2007
In a very good group, the star of this wine shone brightest. It has a herbal and blackcurrant aroma. The palate has very firm acidity and is classical in style. In its drinking window, but this is still young at 12 years of age. Rating: Outstanding. Abv: 14%.

Gaja Barbaresco 2004
This wine provided the most sui generis expression of nebbiolo in this group. It has a herbal nose running into red currants, together with a soft liquorice character. On the palate, this is an approachable, lovely wine, with softer, but fine boned acidity. Rating; Very Good. Abv: 14%.

Roagna Pajè Barberesco 2013
This proved an outstanding wine. Intensely youthful, it is firmly coiled, but with evident fruit and a herbal overlay. The palate is tannic with long length and is particularly structured. This wine has a decade or more ahead of it and, for current drinking, ideally would benefit from a few more years of slumber. Rating: Very Good to Outstanding.

Barale Fratelli Serraboella Barbaresco 2010
Herbal, redcurrant, firm acidity. Well, not much to say then on this wine, but it left a favourable impression. Rating: Very Good. Abv: 14%.

d’Arenberg The Laughing Magpie Shiraz Viognier McLaren Vale 2015

This is a very typical expression of shiraz from McLaren Vale. The 2015 vintage of d’Arenberg’s “The Laughing Magpie” has aromatics of plums and spice. The palate has good density of fruit, fresh acidity and is brooding in bearing. This wine can be approached now, but will be best with aeration and short term (2-3 years) cellaring. Rating: Good. Abv: 14.5%. Website: https://www.darenberg.com.au. Source: Sample.

Williams Crossing by Curly Flat Pinot Noir Macedon Ranges 2017

This is an excellent pinot noir from Curly Flat in the Macedon Ranges and the 2017 vintage. It has a subtle and attractive aroma of rhubarb. The palate is restrained with racy acidity, but also has a plump cherry like viscosity. Burgundian in style, this is an excellent Villages level type pinot noir, that is ready to drink now. Rating: Good to Very Good. Abv: 13.3%. Price: $29. Website: https://www.curlyflat.com. Source: Sample.

Château Cos Labory Saint-Estèphe 2003

2003 was a drought vintage in Bordeaux, and despite many of these wines being dismissed as a consequence, the vintage continues to provide very enjoyable drinking 16 years later. So some are wrong. Certainly, I would be a buyer of 2003s for current drinking. The 2003 Cos Labory has brooding aromatics of earth and cedar. The palate has reminders of licorice and earth, with good length and balance on the finish. Ready to drink now, this wine is in its best drinking window. Rating: Very Good. Abv: 13.5%. Price: $70+. Website: http://www.cos-labory.com.