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?