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.
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.
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.
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%.
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.
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.
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.