This is the best new release Bowen cabernet sauvignon I have tasted in years. A deep purple in colour, it has aromas of blackcurrant and well integrated cedar. The palate is full bodied with pleasingly firm but ripe tannins and long length on the finish. Approachable now, but will be best with medium term ageing. An outstanding release. Rating: Outstanding. Abv: 14.5. Price: $28. Website: http://www.bowenestate.com.au. Reviewed: April 2020.
A recent extraordinary Wynns tasting has captured my interest in this producer’s wines. You can read the post here. Compared with the wines in that tasting, the 2013 Wynns Black Label cabernet sauvignon presents as remarkably forward and ready to drink. It has typical Coonawarra aromas of earth and blackcurrant. The palate has excellent length, with undertones of clove. Overall, this is a very good wine that, on this tasting, is approachable now. Rating: Very Good. Abv: 13.5%. Price: $30. Website: http://wynns.com.au. Reviewed: September 2019.
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.
I wasn’t taken by Leconfield’s 2017 merlot from Coonawarra. It opens to aromas of red berries. The palate is youthful, with a medium-full body. Its acidity seemed noticeable, and the fruit lacking in density. A pleasant enough wine that is ready to drink now. Rating: Acceptable. Abv: 14%. Price: $26. Website: www.leconfieldwines.com.
The new Langtons classification (classification VII) of Australian wine was released last week. It is stated to measure the performance of wines in an open market, with the condition of entry being 10 vintages and a track record in the secondary market. The list has been prepared for many years now, and is prepared by Langtons, a company that forms part of an Australian supermarket conglomerate. You can read it here.
It’s actually a pretty interesting list, even though it is easy to cynical about lists and since it’s wine, everyone has a view. The facts are it captures many, perhaps almost all, of Australia’s great wines and helps provide an easy reference point to quality Australian wine for expert and new comer alike. I think it therefore is of use.
In this post, I wanted to sift through the list to see what has changed, as that is potentially of interest in spotting trends. So, I am going to look at the promotions, demotions and departures. The latter two have seemingly, and perhaps unsurprisingly at least from producers, attracted little comment that I have seen. Here’s what I found.
Promotions at the top level (exceptional)
At the top level, there is only one move, a new entrant. The new wine is Best’s Thomson Family Great Western Shiraz. I have tasted this wine on few occasions, but it is a very good wine. There are many outstanding wines at this level. I do think though that Grange and Hill of Grace remain above most of them.
Promotions at second level (outstanding)
At the next level, twelve wines were promoted:
1 Best’s Bin 0 Great Western Shiraz
2 By Farr Sangreal Pinot Noir, Geelong
3 Charles Melton Nine Popes Shiraz Grenache Mourvedre, Barossa Valley
4 Fox Creek Reserve Shiraz, McLaren Vale
5 Henschke Euphonium Shiraz Cabernet Merlot, Barossa Valley
6 Howard Park Abercrombie Cabernet, Great Southern
7 Langmeil 1843 Shiraz, Barossa Valley
8 Leeuwin Art Series Cabernet Sauvignon, Margaret River
9 Seppeltsfield Para Liqueur Port, Barossa Valley
10 Yalumba Signature Cabernet Shiraz, Barossa
11 Yarra Yering Dry Red No. 1 Cabernet, Yarra Valley
12 Yeringberg Cabernet, Yarra Valley
These promotions are from quite a mix of regions and styles, with five wines from the Barossa and three wines from around Melbourne, namely the Yarra Valley and Geelong. But it is a strong list. I haven’t encountered a couple – Howard Park’s wine and the Seppeltsfield fortified specifically. Leeuwin’s cabernet sauvignon has improved over the years.
Promotions at the third level (excellent)
At the next level, twelve wines also have been promoted:
1 Cullen Wines Kevin John Chardonnay, Margaret River
2 Deep Woods Estate Reserve Cabernet, Margaret River
3 Hentley Farm Clos Otto Shiraz, Barossa Valley
4 Hoddles Creek Pinot Noir, Yarra Valley
5 Kooyong Haven Pinot Noir, Mornington Peninsula
6 Oakridge 864 Chardonnay, Yarra Valley
7 Oliver’s Taranga Reserve Shiraz, McLaren Vale
8 Vass Felix Heytesbury Chardonnay, Margaret River
9 Wine by Farr Tout Pres Pinot Noir, Geelong
10 Xanadu Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Margaret River
11 Yabby Lake Pinot Noir, Mornington Peninsula
12 Yarra Yering Dry Red No. 2 Shiraz, Yarra Valley
I have tasted most, but not all, of these wines. Of the twelve, interestingly ten are from the Margaret River and the wine regions around Melbourne. A couple of wines here will be on a higher trajectory, with Oakridge’s 864 chardonnay the most obvious example.
Now, my spreadsheet was tested by trying to track the various movements, so if there is an error here or anywhere else in this post let me know. These are the wines that have been moved down a level:
1 Cape Mentelle Cabernet Sauvignon, Margaret River
2 Chambers Muscat, Rutherglen
3 Chambers Topaque, Rutherglen
4 Crawford River Riesling, Western Victoria
5 Dalwhinnie Eagle Shiraz, Pyrenees
6 De Bortoli Noble One, New South Wales
7 Glaetzer Amon Ra Shiraz, Barossa Valley
8 Grosset Springvale Riesling, Clare Valley
9 Majella Malleea Cabernet, Coonawarra
10 McWilliams Lovedale Semillon, Hunter Valley
11 Noon Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, McLaren Vale
12 Paringa Pinot Noir, Mornington Peninsula
13 Seppelt St Peters Shiraz, Western Victoria
14 Wynns Michael Shiraz, Coonawarra
15 Yalumba Octavius Shiraz, Barossa
This group is a bit of a mixed bag, but they all remain in the classification, so really, it is not that the wines have all suddenly undergone some misfortune. I will return to this shortly, as first I want to mention the wines left out of this classification. They are:
1 Bannockburn Serre Pinot Noir, Geelong
2 Greenock Creek RR Cabernet Sauvignon, Barossa Valley
3 Wolf Blass Platinum Shiraz, South Australia
4 Coldstream Pinot Noir, Yarra Valley
5 Katnook Prodigy Shiraz, Coonawarra
6 Lake’s Folly Chardonnay, Hunter Valley
7 Lindemans Shiraz Cabernet, Coonawarra
8 Paringa Shiraz, Mornington Peninsula
9 Petaluma Hanlin Hill Riesling, Clare Valley
10 Primo Estate Joseph, South Australia
11 Rolf Binder Shiraz, Barossa Valley
12 Sally’s Paddock Cabernet, Pyrenees
13 Savaterre Chardonnay, Beechworth
14 Wantirna Amelia Cabernet blend, Yarra Valley
15 Wild Duck Creek Estate Springflat Shiraz, Heathcote
This is a very interesting list. It would appear to reflect changing styles (rich and bold styles to more elegant), some declining fortunes and perhaps declining interest in a couple of cases.
You can slice and dice these a number of ways to work out trends, but it is interesting to look at which grape varieties and regions had the most net promotions and demotions. Here’s what I found, using a very simple method of promotions minus demotions for grape varieties and regions:
Pinot Noir, net +2
Cabernet sauvignon & cabernet first blends, net +1
Chardonnay, net +1
Shiraz & shiraz first blends, net -2
Riesling, net -3
Margaret River, net +4
Yarra Valley, net +3
Barossa Valley, net +2
Coonawarra, net -4
This is just one means of looking at this information, and wine is notoriously diverse. However, in terms of grape varieties, this may very tentatively suggest that pinot noir, chardonnay and cabernet blends are grape varieties on the up, and riesling and perhaps shiraz is not. There is a lot of movement in shiraz both up and down and a lot of shiraz on the list, so I am slow to draw strong conclusions on shiraz, but it is net down.
The funny thing is that this more or less accords with what I anticipated might be seen, except for the cabernet blends. The pinot noir charge is led by the established wine regions around Melbourne – the Yarra Valley, Mornington Peninsula and Geelong. Tasmania has not yet seen its day, although I think it is coming.
In terms of movements in regions, the Margaret River, the Yarra Valley and the Barossa lead the pack for net promotions. Coonawarra has seen the most demotions. Again, these are not particular surprises. If tentative observations may be made, and there seems no reason not to make them, perhaps it is that the Yarra Valley appears to be rising with more serious producers than ever and the Margaret River has become Australia’s benchmark region for cabernet sauvignon. And Coonawarra, well, I think it could be so much more than it is. Perhaps that is a post for another day.
Another wine from the (generally) poor 2011 vintage. However, even poor vintages have their charms. In this case, I actually preferred this wine to the 2016 recently reviewed, although time will lead to the opposite conclusion. In the glass it is restrained, with gentle left bank Bordeaux like aromatics and good length on the finish. The poorer vintage also resulted in more moderate alcohol of 13.5%. 15% in principle troubles me in terms of balance for a cabernet sauvignon, although the evidence so far is that it has not caused a problem for Bowen. The 2011 is an enjoyable wine that is drinking well now. Rating: Good to Very Good. Abv: 13.5%. Price: $25+.
There aren’t many producing a fumé blanc style sauvignon blanc in Australia and I think this wine’s a bit of a success. From early picked sauvignon blanc in Coonawarra, it has seen some time on French oak. It is neither unduly green, nor unduly woody, achieving a good balance in the glass. The aromatics remind of lemon with a touch of cedar. There are more green peppers, than classic SB gooseberries. The palate is medium-full bodied and has quite good length and a dry finish, with a well judged residual sugar contribution. Rating: Good. Abv: 12.5%. Price: $25. Source: Sample.
Neither vintage nor region are clearly declared on this bottle, although my guesses are 2016 and Mudgee. Savoury, oak and smoke aromas. Smoke and spice on the palate, supplemented by sweet fruited cherries. The tannins are powdery and there is evident spritz in the glass. A bit clumsy in all (in my opinion), with an acidic finish. Rating: Acceptable. Abv: 13.5%. Price: N/A. Source: Sample.
Deep colour with restrained and savoury impression. Muted in aroma – blackcurrants mostly. Full body, spice and plums on the palate. Some evidence of oak, but not overly so. Length good, but acid impression affects the balance on the finish. Rating: Acceptable to Good. Abv: 15%. Price: $20. Source: Sample.
Deeply coloured, this wine has restrained aromatics of plum, anise and varnish. The palate is full bodied and the tannins drying. Astringent acidity on the finish detracted from this wine. Rating: Acceptable. Abv: 13.5%. Price: $16. Source: Sample.
This was the second best wine of the group. Pronounced aromas of mint and eucalyptus. Could only be Australian. Balanced palate with sweet, minty fruit and mid range length. A sound expression of Coonawarra shiraz, and a region/grape variety combination that is underrated. Rating: Good. Abv: 15%. Price: $20. Source: Sample.
Deeply coloured with a sweet expression of blackcurrant, vanilla and cedar. Pronounced in expression and plummy. The tannins are drying but in all a sound wine. Rating: Acceptable to Good. Abv: 14.4%. Price: $29. Source: Sample.
This wine was the best of the set. Lighter in colour, with an orange rim. It opens to restrained aromatics of cherry, earth and tobacco. The palate is towards full bodied, with fine tannins and a touch of bitterness on the finish. Rating: Good. Abv: 14.8%. Price: $25. Source: Sample.
Bowen Estate in Coonawarra is an estate I return to regularly as a purchaser. Their 2015 new release shiraz purchased here has 15.5% abv on the label. I’d probably prefer to see it at 14%. The wine inside is however very good. Aromas of plum, brooding mulberries and cedar. The palate is softly textured with a depth, guile and balance that delivers enjoyable drinking. (Alc: 15.5%, Region: Coonwarra, Rating: Good, Drink: now to 2027, Tasted: October, 2017)
Other vintages reviewed: