Clare Valley Cabernet blends are part of Australian wine heritage, particularly if they have some Malbec adding sweet berry fruit to that stern old Cabernet. There’s also some Cabernet Franc here too but the back label is coy about percentages. Opening with all the correct clean smells of strict winemaking, cassis, red fruits, mint, tobacco and a dab of coffee and vanilla oak. Broad shoulders, square of jaw and firm of handshake. Open and guileless. It’s the depth of sweet berry red fruits that convinces, all set against firm, no nonsense tannin and acid. It’s the lingering mouth perfume of cassis that beguiles, showing beautifully ripened Cabernet. Little age weariness, just a smooth mellowing. Very tasty and firmly Clare. Nothing fancy.
13.5% alcohol. Screw cap. Was about $26 on release.
One from the cellar. The tree bark came out a little bit too easily but still seemed to have done its job. Such a volume of those typical Wendoree smells, Australian forests after rain, choc mint, cherries, blackcurrant, and something involving iron and liquorice. Huge in the mouth but still disciplined by fresh, natural acidity and a solid wall of frowning skin tannin. A reminder of Wendouree from the last century. A lasting fruit perfume smooths the structure and maybe there’s finally a suggestion of age starting to calm the austere Cabernet scaffold or is it that round Malbec swell of sweet berries? In no way diminished on day two. The 2018 vintage mail out on real paper in an envelope is due in the letter box soon. A few for the cellar and some optimism about living long enough to enjoy them.
13.2% alcohol. Cork. About $45 on release.
Maybe jour du soif is French for an AFD, whatever that may be? This is far too good to just quench a simple thirst. Stainless steel only I think and it’s so clean and pure bar a little reduction in the first small glass. Ripe and dark for a Loire red, there’s bright raspberries, sour cherries, almost plum and a satisfying build up of gravelly earth as it slips away. Just as it does, a waft of that sweet green leafiness pops up to remind us it’s Cabernet of the Franc sort. These fleshy evenly ripe flavours have great support from silky ripe skin tannin and comfortable acidity. It proved its worth by staying much more than just thirst slaking over three days. At last, a Loire red wine not spoiled by a dirty barrel.
Following a bit of a google, it seems the producer is also more widely known a Domaine du Bel Air, Gauthier Père at Fils and have been certified organic since 2000. The back label on my bottle was just Pierre et Rodolfe Gauthier. Their more expensive cuvées are finished in oak, hmmm.
13% alcohol. Cork. Think it was about $36?
From memory this is normally about half Cabernet Sauvignon with Merlot and Cabernet Franc making up the other half. If you have a Bordeaux itch, then this will scratch it with a gentle hand and leave you with enough money to buy another or even trade up to a top of the range Coleraine. Spotless perfume of red berries, dried flowers, a touch of tobacco and that old school pencil box. Beautifully judged extraction to just medium bodied, Perhaps not quite the fruit sweetness or depth of the warmer year 2016 release but it does have that pleasing drag of fine dry tannin and acidity that brings to mind those oft repeated words, gravelly and mineral. What exactly mineral means is hard to say when there are so many minerals on planet earth but it will have to do. The reviews of the 2018 Coleraine are so good, there may be extravagant purchase looming notwithstanding the archaic use of tree bark. Hawkes Bay’s own first growth.
13% alcohol. Very smooth, expensive looking bit of cork. Around $40. The Coleraine is still under $100 which in world terms is value.
Yet another Yarra Valley Cabernet, this one from under the floorboards. Still a crimson sort of red colour, as usual with Cabernet from the Valley, age is kind. Those distinctive smells of ripe blackcurrants cut with leafy green and a twang of truffle and tinned sweet corn. Little bit of blackberry to add richness. The structure has resolved, throwing a good layer of deposit on the side of the bottle. The gentle fine tannin and ripe sweet acidity that make Yarra Cabernet so attractive are there in good proportion. Sometimes a divisive set of flavours for those who find the green savoury notes difficult but for me there’s more than enough sweet fruit pushing the tang to one side. As the Pretenders sang, special, so special.
13% alcohol. Screwcap. About $30 sometime over a decade ago.
Without doubt the Yarra Valley’s best red varieties are from the Cabernet family. One day the fashion business that’s Australian wine will again trend in Cabernet’s direction, one day. In the meantime you can still buy a cleanskin with a dodgy photocopy label for under $10. It’s from the shelves of Boccaccio Cellars, the food and wine epicentre of Melbourne’s leafy suburban Balwyn where expensive German autos circle the supermarket car park and a long display of Barolo fills a shelf. This Cabernet probably comes from the vines at Hoddles Creek in the cooler altitudes of the Yarra hills and it shows with crisp red cherry and mulberry, a smidgeon of blackcurrant and a leafy edge. Despite the cool, there’s ripe tannin and a good pull of acidity. The ripeness is still there in a sort of Loire Valley way that builds length of flavour rather than width. It’s a long way from the grainy sour green of unripe Cabernet from warmer climates where sugars rise well before flavours develop. Well that’s one view, some will still see green. Still plenty here after ten years. Good honest Yarra Claret for the price of two coffees. The 2018 version still wears flares amongst the floor stacks of discounted no labels.
13.1% alcohol. Screwcap. $8!
To be truthful, I’ve found it difficult to find versions of Loire Cabernet Franc which are technically well made and not blighted by dodgy old oak or bitter sulphide reduction. It’s a beautifully expressive variety, an ancient parent of the assertively tough Cabernet Sauvignon and extremely disappointing when it ends up down the drain. A recent, acclaimed version from the famous Saumur Champigny Les Poyeux vineyard was filthy with both brett, sulphide and a lingering mousiness. Sad really that the most enjoyable efforts have been the more mass produced and commercial. This is a supermarket chain direct import from the cooperative, La Cave des Vins de Rabelais, who it seems enjoyed a good glass of wine himself. Probably made in an all stainless steel, safe yeast and whole berry ferment way for brightness but deliciously glossy from a pretty warm season. There’s bright red fruits, a touch of bubblegum and a sweet green herby drag of ruffled acidity. The first day, there was a balsamic breath to finish that raised doubts about its ability not to collapse by day two. Happily, it actually got better, more fruit weight, more even length and structure. When the Loire’s not being decimated by increasingly common spring frost, it seems global warming is certainly helping with ripening the fruit destined for the everyday table. Just about qualifies as being typical of place and grape which is impressive for the price.
13.50% alcohol, lush. Screwcap, quelle horreur. $13.99.
Waiheke island, only forty minutes by ferry from downtown Auckland, is a beautiful place of beaches, vineyards and desirable weekend escapes. A few days propping up cellar door tasting benches was both fun and interesting. For this precious and probably overly fussy wine bore, there were many wines that were just too ripe and oak showy. Such is the obvious comfort of wealth, the pricing was pretty aspirational too. This enterprise stood out a little for more moderate alcohol levels and better fruit clarity. Yes, even at 14% this appealed for its comparable freshness. It’s all relative goes the truism, when opened at home this looked quite ripe at first taste. Over time it evened out with some gorgeously lush red fruits, a splash of cassis and a delicious balance of herby Cabernet gravel bringing up the rear. A little taste of really good dark chocolate too. Clean and pure, like the sparkling sea surrounding Waiheke where the orcas crash through the swell. Such rich balance of fruit, natural cleansing acidity and sweet tannin would not be out of place in a similarly patrician Bordelais concoction.
14% alcohol. Screwcap. Was about $NZ 60? Their flagship Velvet bottling is now $NZ 750, take that Pauillac.
In such times, alcohol in the form of good wine taken internally must be the perfect sanitiser. The big boat is a connection to the big 4th growth St. Julien, Chateau Beychevelle which is almost ten times the price these days. This opened a little oddly with some dank off putting drain smells. Twenty four hours later, another tentative sniff and sip showed all was in fact well. Mulberry, something bramble, earth and gravel with a fleeting top note of red plum and raspberry Merlot, a bit of a tease like those basic Bourgognes that can only hint at the real pleasures of the crus. Nonetheless, there’s some fine sandpaper tannin and, well yes you have to say it, refreshing mineral acidity. 80/20 Merlot and Cabernet they say on the back label, the Bordeaux self regard implicit on the front.
13% alcohol. Cork. $20 at auction, think it normally retails for $25 to $30?
89 proper Claret points.
Cabernet from a chilly upland part of the Yarra Valley in a hot vintage. Still some purple in the glass and a fresh cut of blackcurrant leaf, cassis, mint with a seasoning of truffle and oak toast. Lovely mouthwatering compression of fine just ripe tannin and crisp natural acidity. Such is the low ph crunch, the flavours just got richer over three days without a hint of oxidation. There really is something special in the way Yarra Cabernet can get flavour ripe whilst hanging onto its naturally delicious bounce. More jump than a happy frog.
13.8% alcohol. Screwcap. $20 a few years ago.