Monday, 30 April 2012

Is it back? Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon 2009

Moss Wood Cabernet 2009
So close yet so far...
Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 (Margaret River, WA)
14.5%, Screwcap, $120
Source: Sample

After giving old Moss Wood Cabernet something of a spray back in February, I wasn't sure what to expect with this release. Would it be more of the same? Would I again shake my head and ask 'what is happening at Moss Wood'? Or would I be bathing in the rich, warm glow of classic Moss Wood Cabernet decadence and emptying my glass?

To be honest - on first whiff at least - I thought it was (happily) more of the latter. This 2009 iteration is undoubtedly more polished than the last few vintage releases, with a better integration of oak and less artifice showing up at this stage. Of course it's still very young with a compacted, four-square sort of nose of very ripe purple fruit, topped off with a little volatility. It looks very much like a barrel sample actually, with varnishy oak and contained fruit serving as a nod to it's absolute youth, the nose somewhat reticent and serious and full of promise.

I just wish that all that promise was delivered better on the palate, for it's a wine that appears to be paying the price for it's ripeness pursuit, the long and wonderfully tannic palate marred by warm, 'I can't believe it's just 14.5%', sweet alcohol burning through the finish. The fruit too is just a little on the soupy side, with particular glacé fruit overripe flashes through the somewhat spiky finish.

Ultimately this wine presents as a conundrum. If it was a $40 red I think I'd actually be more forgiving of it's foibles, willing to see the lovely tannins and sense of sureness to the style and be more excited by the whole package (though the score wouldn't change). But, in the context of the fabulous wines that preceded it, particularly from 2005 and older (I've been lucky to drink a heap of Moss Wood from the first vintages in the 70s right through the late 80s, much of the 90s and all of the noughties. I've bought and owned a bit of it too, such is my love of the style, at least the style it used to be) it's a disappointment. A $120 disappointment at that, from a maker (and vintage) that shouldn't disappoint.

Of course, as many will point out, this is an achingly young wine, and will only really hit it's straps at the 10 year mark really. Yet I can't shake the belief that this is not as good as it should be, that the overripeness is structural and will only get worse in the bottle. Sort of like a promising high jumper with one leg slightly shorter than the other, destined to never quite make it over the top bar. Then again, it may well all integrate with another few years in the cellar and make a fool out of me. Considering the price however I'm just not personally prepared to take that punt. I'd probably like to have some in my cellar though just to see what happens...

Scoring this Cabernet then is a tricky prospect, and I'm still not sure I'm happy with the mark. I want to like it and I can see so much good in it, but I also can't hide my disappointment (again)... A score in flux perhaps? 17.5/91++

Afterthought: I do wonder if the viticulture may be to blame here (and by blame, I'm obviously noting that I'm nitpicking about a wine that I'm still calling silver medal quality). Whilst Moss Wood winemaking is well heralded, the viticulture seems somewhat forgotten, a nod to a time in Australian wine history when a makers mark was arguably more important than the terroir of the grapes that went into it. Naturally I'm just making random, possibly ill-informed judgements perhaps, but the overripeness in particular seems symptomatic of vineyard/canopy/yield issues, albeit tempered by the possibility that it is decisions in winemaking style that see the fruit hung out for longer than it should be.

Whatever the root cause though, the fact that Moss Wood's neighbours at Cullen can produce perfectly ripe Cabernet wines that sit at just 12.5% alcohol, whilst Woodlands across the road (literally) can produce similarly ripe 'icon' Cabernet based wines at 13.5%, it does beg the question of what is going on. Conversely, is it just my oversensitivity to perceived ripeness excesses perhaps? A blindspot in my approach? Could it be that my tastes have moved on whilst the wine itself hasn't?


  1. I will be interested to try it, given your comments. I love the 90s and erarly 2000s.

  2. Interesting comments on ripeness, Andrew. I see another twist in Kym Teusner's reds which are 14.5% but deliver silky elegance. I've been around a little longer than you, and remember a time when virtually none of our reds was over 13% alcohol yet all were perfectly ripe. Grange included. These days, I struggle to find wines that are on the sane side of 14%, and pass up Coonawarras that are 15%. Ridiculous. We have to get our reds back into the zone - 12.5 - 13.5%, but I suspect like you do that this means changing things in the vineyard. I also suspect that the overripe reds are the ones that get the gongs at the wine shows because they stand out, so change may not happen fast.

  3. Kim - you contradict yourself. You praise Teusner at 14.5% and then call for our reds to be taken back into the "12.5% - 13.5%" zone. Clearly it's not all about numbers.

    I've tasted a number of Aus Grenache that have held their 15% with aplomb. I've tasted other 14.5%+ wines that have been brandied and hot. Once again, it seems ABV is a poor judge of character.

    Don't get me wrong, if you can achieve what you're after at lower ABVs, then by all means do it. But if 14.5%+ is balanced and tastes good then stop chasing numbers. Just make good wines.

    Finally, on wine shows - I reckon you should take a look at what wines are taking the gongs at the good wine shows these days. I'm no fan of wine shows but...if anything, there is a backlash against heavy, soupy wines that are hard to drink at the shows that utilise good judges. Things have changed (Tassie Shiraz anyone?). You've blinked and missed the change.

  4. If I want to be dogmatic, I think 13.5% is ideal for Australian reds (I don't like to see them over 14% in general), but it has to by a region by region, vineyard by vineyard proposition. There are many a Hunter shiraz that weigh in at 14% and over that are perfectly balanced, and not even remotely steering towards over-ripe or alcohol hot. Just on Monday, I drank a Thomas Sweetwater Shiraz 2010. To great shock, I found it said 14.5% on the label. It goes to show, drink a wine first, then look at the declared ABV. I would have said 13.5%, which is around what previous vintages of said wine have been. I tasted a Cullen Cabernet Merlot 2010 at 12.5% on Saturday night. Though seemingly ripe, it looked like it was built to a lower-alcohol pseudo-claret style, and seemed somewhat contrived as a result. I simply did not derive any great enjoyment from this wine, though it was of obvious quality nonetheless, mainly because it felt forced. I'm not sure the vineyard was really expressing itself as a result.

    I drink many French wines at 12.5-13.5% alcohol that seem perfectly ripe, in their own comfort zone, and I enjoy them as a consequence. My concern is that chasing this style might not always work in Australian conditions.

    For amusement, ever heard of a 10.8% Cabernet? An extreme I guess:


  5. I think leaving a wine in barrel for 30 months may also be a problem for volatility and fruit drying up on the palate.


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