An outstanding Margaret River v Coonawarra cabernet tasting

I attended recently a wonderful benchmarking exercise of Margaret River and Coonawarra cabernet sauvignon and cabernet blends.  A number outstanding wines were presented.  Tasted blind, there were more similarities between the regions than differences.  Nonetheless, to draw out the tasting distinctions, the Coonawarra wines tended to have a slightly fresher acidity profile, and in the aged examples, more prominent tannins.  The Coonawarra wines also, at the margins, tended to present more in the black olive descriptive territory than the blackcurrant and violet characters of Margaret River.  For those who might be inclined to doubt the quality of Australian cabernet, this tasting is a complete and emphatic response that this has little basis in fact.  Notes follow.

The Margaret River wines

Pierro Chardonnay 2009, Margaret River 
This is a classic expression of the new Australian style of chardonnay.  Its aromas remind of chicken salt, sulphides, stones, lemon and a bit of cashew.  The palate is full bodied with a saline core and between medium and long length.  The acidity falls a way a little on the finish.

Rating: Good to Very Good

Cullen Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 1995, Margaret River
Wow!  This is the best Cullen I have tasted by some margin, and an outstanding wine.  It has aromatics of blackcurrant, earth, cedar, clove, menthol, spearmint and a little licorice.  The palate has long length and is in wonderful balance.  Cloves, ripe tannins and blackcurrant complete the picture.  I understand that this is a “pre-biodynamic” Cullen and I can’t recall more recent vintages of this quality.  Biodynamics may not suit all producers?

Rating: Outstanding

Cullen Diana Madeline Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2001, Margaret River
Deeply coloured, the 2001 Cullen Diana Madeline has aromatics of black olives, cloves, french oak and menthol.  The palate is full bodied, with long length and a powerful expression of blackcurrant.  Still youthful, and a first rate cabernet blend, this wine surprised with its heft and power.

Rating: Very Good to Outstanding

Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon 1985, Margaret River
A second wow!  Cloudy in the glass.  A few swirls, and gentle and alluring aromatics of left bank Bordeaux like blackcurrant, cedar and pencil lead emerge.  The palate is exquisitely poised and balanced, with long length and a full bodied mature expression of cabernet.  This is the sort of wine that can single handedly either build or justify a reputation.  The best Moss Wood vintage I have tasted and in marvellous condition.

Rating: Outstanding

Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Margaret River
I think there is general agreement that Moss Wood’s old label (see the ’85 above) looks better than its new one (immediately above).  The 2007 is youthful in expression with aromatics of blackcurrant (with a hint of plumpness from a ripe year), cedar, violet and cloves.  The palate is an exercise in blackcurrants and cedar, with fresh acidity and structured tannins.  This needs another decade.

Rating: Very Good

Cape Naturaliste Torpedo Rocks, Cabernet Merlot 2010, Margaret River
I first time encounter with this producer, and I thought it showed very well.  Cedar, blackcurrant and gorgeous pencil lead characters on the nose.  The palate continues the theme, with long length.  Not dissimilar in style to the Moss Wood.

Rating: Very Good

Houghton Gladstones Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Margaret River
An impressive wine.  Cassis, cedar and blackcurrant, each with considerable intensity.  The palate has long length and reminders of cedar, pencil lead and blackcurrant, tied together by firmish tannins.  A long future ahead of it.

Rating: Very Good

The Coonawarra wines

Bowen Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 1998
Cloudy in the glass with aromatics of menthol, mint, dark olives, spearmint and cedar.  Blackcurrants emerge with time.  Fresh acidity, menthol, clove and licorice on the finish.

Rating: Good to Very Good

Katnook Odyssey Cabernet Sauvignon 2006
The oak plays a significant role in this wine.  It has aromatics of cedar, cloves, butter, spearmint and caramel.  The fruit is ultra-ripe, with powerful currant and prune like aromatics complemented by licorice overtones.  The palate has long length, fresh acidity, complemented by butter, cola and blackcurrant expressions.  Unquestionably this is a very good wine, but it needs another decade to integrate.  Stylistically it will bring joy or despair depending on your personal preferences.

Rating: Good to Very Good

Long term buyers of Wynns’ wines need not look away now.

Wynns Coonawarra Estate John Riddoch Cabernet Sauvignon 1996, Coonawarra
Cedar, dark olive and blackcurrant aromatics with a licorice core.  The palate is finely balanced, with fresh acidity and a gorgeous earthy character.  The tannins are still there and quite prominent, suggesting this wine could last at least another decade. An outstanding wine.

Rating: Outstanding

Wynns Coonawarra Estate Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon 1990, Coonawarra
Black olive and blackcurrant aromatics.  The palate is fully mature, with olive characters supported by fresh acidity, long length and structured tannins.  Some dried tea leaf character at the very finish.

Rating: Very Good

Wynns Coonawarra Estate Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon 1986, Coonawarra
Still a vigorous and powerful wine.  Black olive and licorice aromatics.  The palate has good length and mature dried tea leaf characters are more prominent than the 1990.  Frankly I should rate this wine as outstanding simply for tasting this good at 30 years of age and for being a wonderful example of aged Coonawarra.  But equally, I suspect it is now reaching towards the other end of its drinking window and so I have split the difference.

Rating: Good to Very Good

And a ring in…

Best’s Cabernet Sauvignon 1995, Great Western
Great Western and the Grampians are not particularly known for cabernet sauvignon.  This wine presented however much like an aged Yarra Valley example (uncannily reminding of the Wantirna Estate 1994 reviewed here).  Gently declining, this has mature and savoury expressions of tea leaves, tinned tomatoes and cassis.  The acidity is prominent on the palate, as is the dried tea leaf character.

Rating: Good

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  1. Hi Colin, Thank you kindly. Yes, I had to pinch myself finding so many exceptional wines served together, and even more than that, presenting so well.CheersSean

  2. Hello Sean,Reminds me of a line from a movie from my distant past!\”You lucky lucky….bastard\”!Great review by the way.RegardsColin R

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